Maithili language

Maithili (/ˈmtɪli/;[5] Maithilī [ˈməi̯tʰɪli]) is an Indo-Aryan language native to the Indian subcontinent, mainly spoken in India and Nepal. In India, it is spoken in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand and is one of the 22 recognised Indian languages.[6][1][2] In Nepal, it is spoken in the eastern Terai and is the second most prevalent language of Nepal.[7][8] Tirhuta was formerly the primary script for written Maithili. Less commonly, it was also written in the local variant of Kaithi.[9] Today it is written in the Devanagari script.[10]

मैथिली, 𑒧𑒻𑒟𑒱𑒪𑒲
Maithili in Tirhuta script.svg
Maithili in traditional Tirhuta and recent Devanagari script
Native toIndia and Nepal
Native speakers
33.9 million (2000)[3]
  • Central (Sotipura)
  • Southern Standard
  • Eastern
  • Thēthi
  • Western (Bajjika)
  • Chhika-Chhiki (Angika)
  • Jolaha
  • Kisan
Tirhuta (Mithilakshar) (Former)
Kaithi (Maithili style) (Former)
Devanagari (Current)
Official status
Official language in
 India (8th schedule of Constitution of India)
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-2mai
ISO 639-3mai
Maithili map.png
Maithili-speaking region of India and Nepal

Official statusEdit


In 2003, Maithili was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution as a recognised Indian language, which allows it to be used in education, government, and other official contexts in India.[6] Maithili language is included as an optional paper in the UPSC Exam. In March 2018, Maithili received the second official language status in the Indian state of Jharkhand.[11]


The Language Commission of Nepal has recommended Maithili language as official language in Province No. 1 and Province No. 2, and in limited areas with specific purposes in Bagmati Province.[12]

Geographic distributionEdit

In India, Maithili is spoken mainly in Bihar and Jharkhand in the districts of Darbhanga, Saharsa, Samastipur, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Begusarai, Munger, Khagaria, Purnia, Katihar, Kishanganj, Sheohar, Bhagalpur, Madhepura, Araria, Supaul, Vaishali, Ranchi, Bokaro, Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and Deoghar as well as other districts of Santhal Pargana division.[13][14] Darbhanga, Madhubani and Saharsa constitute cultural and linguistic centers.[15]

In Nepal, Maithili is spoken mainly in the Outer Terai districts including Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusa, Sunsari, Siraha, Morang and Saptari Districts. Janakpur is an important linguistic centre of Maithili.[15]


In the 19th century, linguistic scholars considered Maithili as a dialect of Bihari languages and grouped it with other languages spoken in Bihar. Hoernlé compared it with Gaudian languages and recognized that it shows more similarities with Bengali languages than with Hindi. Grierson recognized it as a distinct language and published the first grammar in 1881.[16][17]

Chatterji grouped Maithili with Magadhi Prakrit.[18]


Maithili varies greatly in dialects.[19] The standard form of Maithili is Sotipura or Central Maithili or Madhubani dialect[20] which is mainly spoken in Darbhanga, Madhubani district and Saharsa district in Bihar, India.[21]

Origin and historyEdit

The name Maithili is derived from the word Mithila, an ancient kingdom of which King Janaka was the ruler (see Ramayana). Maithili is also one of the names of Sita, the wife of King Rama and daughter of King Janaka. Scholars in Mithila used Sanskrit for their literary work and Maithili was the language of the common folk (Abahatta).

The beginning of Maithili language and literature can be traced back to the 'Charyapadas', a form of Buddhist mystical verses, composed during the period of 700-1300 AD. These padas were written in Sandhya bhasa by several Siddhas who belonged to Vajrayana Buddhism and were scattered throughout the territory of Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. Several of Siddas were from Mithila region such as Kanhapa, Sarhapa etc. Prominent scholars like Rahul Sankrityanan, Subhadra Jha and Jayakant Mishra provided evidence and proved that the language of Charyapada is ancient Maithili or proto Maithili.[24] Apart from Charyapadas, there has been rich tradition of folk culture, folk songs and which were popular among common folks of Mithila region.[25]

After the fall of Pala rule, disappearance of Buddhism, establishment of Karnāta kings and patronage of Maithili under Harisimhadeva (1226–1324) of Karnāta dynasty dates back to the 14th century (around 1327 AD). Jyotirishwar Thakur (1280–1340) wrote a unique work Varnaratnākara in Maithili prose.[26] The Varna Ratnākara is the earliest known prose text, written by Jyotirishwar Thakur in Mithilaksar script,[16] and is the first prose work not only in Maithili but in any modern Indian language.[27]

In 1324, Ghyasuddin Tughluq, the emperor of Delhi invaded Mithila, defeated Harisimhadeva, entrusted Mithila to his family priest Kameshvar Jha, a Maithil Brahmin of the Oinwar dynasty. But the disturbed era did not produce any literature in Maithili until Vidyapati Thakur (1360 to 1450), who was an epoch-making poet under the patronage of king Shiva Singh and his queen Lakhima Devi. He produced over 1,000 immortal songs in Maithili on the theme of love of Radha and Krishna and the domestic life of Shiva and Parvati as well as on the subject of suffering of migrant labourers of Morang and their families; besides, he wrote a number of treaties in Sanskrit. His love-songs spread far and wide in no time and enchanted saints, poets and youth. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu saw the divine light of love behind these songs, and soon these songs became themes of Vaisnava sect of Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore, out of curiosity, imitated these songs under the pseudonym Bhanusimha. Vidyapati influenced the religious literature of Asama, Bengal, Utkala and gave birth to a new Brajabuli language.[28][29]

The earliest reference to Maithili or Tirhutiya is in Amaduzzi's preface to Beligatti's Alphabetum Brammhanicum, published in 1771.[30] This contains a list of Indian languages amongst which is 'Tourutiana.' Colebrooke's essay on the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages, written in 1801, was the first to describe Maithili as a distinct dialect.[31]

Many devotional songs were written by Vaisnava saints, including in the mid-17th century, Vidyapati and Govindadas. Mapati Upadhyaya wrote a drama titled Pārijātaharaṇa in Maithili. Professional troupes, mostly from dalit classes known as Kirtanias, the singers of bhajan or devotional songs, started to perform this drama in public gatherings and the courts of the nobles. Lochana (c. 1575 – c. 1660) wrote Rāgatarangni, a significant treatise on the science of music, describing the rāgas, tālas, and lyrics prevalent in Mithila.[32]

During the Malla dynasty's rule Maithili spread far and wide throughout Nepal from the 16th to the 17th century.[33][34] During this period, at least seventy Maithili dramas were produced. In the drama Harishchandranrityam by Siddhinarayanadeva (1620–57), some characters speak pure colloquial Maithili, while others speak Bengali, Sanskrit or Prakrit.[35]

After the demise of Maheshwar Singh, the ruler of Darbhanga Raj, in 1860, the Raj was taken over by the British Government as regent. The Darbhanga Raj returned to his successor, Maharaj Lakshmishvar Singh, in 1898. The Zamindari Raj had a lackadaisical approach toward Maithili. The use of Maithili language was revived through personal efforts of MM Parameshvar Mishra, Chanda Jha, Munshi Raghunandan Das and others.[36][37]

Publication of Maithil Hita Sadhana (1905), Mithila Moda (1906), and Mithila Mihir (1908) further encouraged writers. The first social organization, Maithil Mahasabha,[38] was established in 1910 for the development of Mithila and Maithili. It blocked its membership for people outside of the Maithil Brahmin and Karna Kayastha castes. Maithil Mahasabha campaigned for the official recognition of Maithili as a regional language. Calcutta University recognized Maithili in 1917, and other universities followed suit.[39]

Babu Bhola Lal Das wrote Maithili Grammar (Maithili Vyakaran). He edited a book Gadyakusumanjali and edited a journal Maithili.[citation needed] In 1965, Maithili was officially accepted by Sahitya Academy, an organization dedicated to the promotion of Indian literature.[40][41]

In 2002, Maithili was recognized on the VIII schedule of the Indian Constitution as a major Indian language; Maithili is now one of the twenty-two Scheduled languages of India.[42]

The publishing of Maithili books in Mithilakshar script was started by Acharya Ramlochan Saran.[43][44]



Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
voiceless p ⟨प⟩ t ⟨त⟩ ʈ ⟨ट⟩ ⟨च⟩ k ⟨क⟩
aspirated ⟨फ⟩ ⟨थ⟩ ʈʰ ⟨ठ⟩ tɕʰ ⟨छ⟩ ⟨ख⟩
voiced b ⟨ब⟩ d ⟨द⟩ ɖ ⟨ड⟩ ⟨ज⟩ ɡ ⟨ग⟩
voiced aspirated ⟨भ⟩ ⟨ध⟩ ɖʱ ⟨ढ⟩ dʑʱ ⟨झ⟩ ɡʱ ⟨घ⟩
Fricative voiceless (ɸ~f ⟨फ़⟩) s ⟨स⟩ (ʂ ⟨ष⟩) (ɕ ⟨श⟩) (x ⟨ख़⟩) (h ⟨ः⟩)*
voiced (z ⟨ज़⟩) (ʑ ⟨झ़⟩) (ɦ ⟨ह⟩)
Nasal m ⟨म⟩ n ⟨न⟩ ɳ ⟨ण⟩ (ɲ ⟨ञ⟩) ŋ ⟨ङ⟩
Flap and Trill consonants ɾ~r ⟨र⟩ (ɽ ⟨ड़⟩)
Lateral l ⟨ल⟩
Approximant (ʋ~w ⟨व⟩) (j ⟨य⟩)
  • Fricative sounds [ʂ, ɕ] only occur marginally, and are typically pronounced as a dental fricative /s/ in most styles of pronunciation.ः is always added after a vowel.
  • In most styles of pronunciation, the retroflex flap [ɽ] occurs marginally, and is usually pronounced as an alveolar tap /r/ sound.
  • A retroflex nasal sound [ɳ] only occurs before a voiced retroflex /ɖ/ sound.
  • Approximant sounds [ʋ, w, j] and fricative sounds [ɸ, f, z, ʑ, x], mainly occur in words that are borrowed from Sanskrit or in words of Perso-Arabic origin. From Sanskrit, puʂp(ə) as puɸp(ə). Conjunct of ɦj as ɦʑ as in graɦjə as graɦʑə.[45]

Non-syllabic vowelsEdit

There are four non-syllabic vowels in Maithili: i̯, u̯, e̯, o̯ written in Devanagari as य़, व़, य़ॆ, व़ॊ. Most of the times, these are written without nukta.


Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close ɪ iː ʊ uː
Mid e


अऽ əː o


ä äː ɔ
Diphthongs ꣾ əe̯ ॵ əo̯
ऐ aːɪ̯ औ aːʊ̯
  • All vowels have nasal counterparts, represented by "~" in IPA and ँ on the vowels, like आँ ãː .
  • All vowel sounds are realized as nasal when occurring before or after a nasal consonant.[46]
  • Sounds eː and oː are often replaced by diphthongs əɪ̯ and əʊ̯.
  • æ is a recent development.
  • ɔ is replaced by ə in northern dialects and by o in southernmost dialects.
  • There are three short vowels, as described by Grierson, but not counted by modern grammarians. But they could be understood as syllable break :- ॳ / ɘ̆ /, इऺ/ ɪ̆ /, उऺ/ ʊ̆ / . Or as syllable break ऺ in Devanagari and "." in IPA.
  • ꣾ is a Unicode letter in Devanagari, (IPA /əe̯/) which is not supported currently on several browsers and operating systems, along with its mātrā (vowel sign).


अय़(ꣾ) / əi̯ / ~ /ɛː/ - अय़सनऺ (ꣾ सनऺ) / əi̯sənᵊ / ~ /ɛːsɐnᵊ/ 'like this'
अव़(ॵ) / əu̯ / ~ /ɔː/- चव़मुुखऺ(चॏमुखऺ) / tɕəu̯mʊkʰᵊ / ~ /tɕɔːmʊkʰᵊ/ 'four faced'
अयॆ / əe̯ / - अयॆलाः / əe̯la:h / 'came'
अवॊ (अऒ) / əo̯ / - अवॊताः / əo̯ta:h / 'will come'
ऐ / a:i̯ / - ऐ / a:i̯ / 'today'
औ / a:u̯ / - औ / a:u̯ / 'come please'

आयॆ (आऎ) / a:e̯ / - आयॆलऺ / a:e̯l / 'came'
आवॊ (आऒ) / a:o̯ / - आवॊबऺ / a:o̯bᵊ / 'will come'
यु (इउ) / iu̯/ - घ्यु / ghiu̯ / 'ghee'
यॆ (इऎ) / ie̯ / - यॆः / ie̯h / 'only this'
यॊ (इऒ) / io̯ / - कह्यो / kəhio̯ / 'any day'
वि (उइ) / ui̯ / - द्वि / dui̯ / 'two'
वॆ (उऎ) /ue̯/ - वॆ: / ue̯h / 'only that'

Svarabhakti (Vowel Epenthesis)Edit

A peculiar type of phonetic change is recently taking place in Maithili by way of epenthesis i.e. backward transposition of final i and u in all sort of words.[47] Thus:

Standard Colloquial - Common Pronunciation

अछि / əchi / - अइछऺ / əich / 'is'

रवि / rəbi / - रइबऺ / rəib / 'Sunday'

मधु / mədhu / - मउधऺ / məudh / 'honey'

बालु / ba:lu / - बाउलऺ / ba:ul / 'sand'


Grammatical casesEdit

Nouns are inflected for several cases. Grammarians consider only few of them to be pure inflection.

Case name Postpositions Examples English translation Singular Inflection Plural Inflection*

(कर्ता kartā)

नेन खैतऺ छॏ। Boy is eating. ∅ (Inherent Vowel) -(अ)नऺ,


(ə)nᵊ, (ə)nɪ̆


(कर्म karma)[47]

Definite Object

(without determiners)

के ke नेनाके खिलैैतꣿ। He/she will feed the boy. Postposition used



बियाहकऺ बादऺ ऊ पालऺतꣿ नेना He/she nurture a boy, after marriage

(करण karaṇa)

सँ sɔ̃ नेनासँ गिरलऺ रहꣿ। It was fallen by the boy. -एँ ẽː** -(अ)न्हिऺ



(सम्प्रदान sampradāna)

कॅ, लॅ, लेलऺ

kæ læ, leːlᵊ

नेनाकॅ खाना खिलौ। Feed the boy the food. -(अ)ल


Postposition used ←


न, नॆ nə, ne नेनेँ पेड़ दॆखलऺकꣿ। The boy saw the tree. -एँ ẽː No forms

(अपादान apādāna)

सॆ se पेड़ऺसॆ फलऺ गिरलॏ। Fruit fell from the tree. -(अ)तः




(सम्बन्ध sambandha)

करऺ kərᵊ नेनाकऺ खॆॆलॏनऽ छॏ। The toy is of the boy. -(अ)कऺ


-(अ)रऺ (ə)rᵊ

-केरऺ, -आँँकऺ

keːrᵊ, ãːkə̆ᵊ


(अधिकरण adhikaraṇa)

मेँ mẽː (Inessive),

पर्, पॅ pər, pæ (Superessive)

छतऺपर् रखऺने छꣿ।
It is placed on the terrace. -ए eː**
-आँ ãː

(परसर्गीय parasargīya)§

अगऺलऽ महीनामेँ हॊय़तꣿ। It will happen in next month.

(In र, ड़, ढ़, ल, न, ब stems

-आ aː)



(ə)nᵊ, (ə)nɪ̆

(ə)nᵊ, (ə)nɪ̆


(सम्बोधन sambodhana)

रॏ नेनऽ! औ। O boy! Come.
  • *These forms are abundant in literature, but are less used in spoken language.
  • †It is a form came from locative.
  • Ergative is more used in eastern and southern dialects. Maithili also has parallel accusative structure and both can be used. If ergative is used, then nominative is used as absolutive.
  • Used only in neuter and inanimates.
  • §It is used, when a postposition is added to the word. Some other postpositions are-
Case name Postposition
Allative दक dəkə
Terminative तकऺ, लऻ təkᵊ, laː
Abessive बिनु bɪnʊ
Adverbial जकऻँ , सोँ dʑəkãː, sõː
Genitive adjectives Masculine object , र kɔ, rɔ
Feminine object कि, रि kɪ, rɪ
Neuter object कऽ, रऽ kəː, rəː

Some postpositions are added to the genitive too.

  • Inflectional plural is less in use than the Periphrastic one, and is mostly found in literature.
  • Periphrastic Plural is made by suffixes like सभऺ səbʰᵊ; लोकनिऺ loːknɪ̆, सबहिऺ səbəɦɪ̆, गण ɡəɳᵊ, जन dʑənᵊ could be used for animates and आरनिऺ aːrənɪ̆, सनि sənɪ for all.

Common vowel stemEdit

Case name Singular Inflection Plural Inflection
Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter
Nominative -इ ɪ -अ ɔ -अऽ əː -इनऺ ɪnᵊ -अनऺ, -अनिऺ

ənᵊ, ənɪ̆

-अनऺ, -अनिऺ

ənᵊ, ənɪ̆



-ई iː -अऽ əː -ई iː -अऽ əː
Instrumental Postposition used
-एँ ẽː Postposition used -अन्हिऺ


Dative Postposition used
-इल ɪlə -अल ələ No forms
Ergative -इयेँ ɪẽː -एँ ẽː
Ablative -इतः ɪtəh -अतः


Genitive -इकऺ ɪkᵊ, इर॑ ɪrᵊ -अकऺ əkᵊ, -अरऺ ərᵊ -ईंकऺ ĩːkᵊ -आँँकऺ


Locative Postposition used -ए eː Postposition used -आँ


Vocative -इ ɪ/ई iː -अऽ əː -इनऺ ɪnᵊ -अनऺ, -अनिऺ

ənᵊ, ənɪ̆


The difference between adjectives and nouns is very minute in Maithili. However, there are marked adjectives there in Maithili.

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Definite -क -कि/किऺ kɪ/kɪ̆ कऽ kəː
Indefinite -अ ɔ -इ/इऺ ɪ/ɪ̆ ॳ/अऽ ᵊ/əː


Pronouns in Maithili are declined in similar way to nominals. However, genetic case has a different form in most of the pronouns. The lower forms are Accusative and Postpositional. Periphrastic Plural is used to form Plurals.

Person First Grade Honour Honorofic High Honorofic
First Person हमऺ ɦəmᵊ

अपऺना ɐpᵊnaː (Inclusive)

हमऺरा ɦəmᵊraː

अपऺना ɐpᵊnaː (Inclusive)

Second Person तोँहऺ tõːɦᵊ अहाँ ɐɦãː अपऺने ɐpᵊneː
तोँहऺरा tõːɦᵊraː
Third Person Proximate ई iː ए eː
ऎकऺरा ekᵊraː हिनऺका ɦɪnᵊkaː
ए eː (Neuter)
ऎहि, ऍ, अथि eɦɪ, æ, ɐtʰɪ (Neuter)
Non-Proximate ऊ, वा uː, ʋaː ओ oː
ऒकऺरा okᵊraː हुनऺका ɦʊnᵊkaː
ऒ o (Neuter)
ऒहि, ॵ oɦɪ, əʊ (Neuter)

Writing systemEdit

Consonants in Mithilakshar

Maithili was traditionally written in their own script which is known as Mithilakshar or Tirhuta. This script is similar to the Bengali-Assamese script. Devanagari script is most commonly used since the 20th century.[49]

The Tirhuta (Mithilakshar) and Kaithi scripts are both currently included in Unicode.

Maithili calendarEdit

The Maithili calendar or Tirhuta Panchang is followed by the Maithili community of India and Nepal. It is one of the many Hindu calendars based on Vikram Samvat. It is a sidereal solar calendar in which the year begins on the first day of Baisakh month, i.e., Mesh Sankranti. This day falls on 13/14 April of the Georgian calendar. Pohela Baishakh in Bangladesh and in West Bengal, Rangali Bihu in Assam, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, and Vaishakhi in Punjab are observed on the same day. These festivals mark the beginning of new year in their respective regions.

Names and approximate lengths of Maithili months[50]
No. Name Maithili (Tirhuta) Maithili (Devanagari) Sanskrit Days (Traditional Hindu sidereal solar calendar)
1 Baisakh 𑒥𑒻𑒮𑒰𑒐 बैसाख वैशाख 30 / 31
2 Jeth 𑒖𑒹𑒚 जेठ ज्येष्ठ 31 / 32
3 Asadh 𑒁𑒮𑒰𑒜𑓃 असाढ़ आषाढ 31 / 32
4 Saon 𑒧𑒰𑒍𑒢 साओन श्रावण 31 / 32
5 Bhado 𑒦𑒰𑒠𑒼 भादो भाद्रपद, भाद्र, प्रोष्ठपद 31 / 32
6 Aasin 𑒂𑒮𑒱𑒢 आसिन आश्विन 31 / 30
7 Katik 𑒏𑒰𑒞𑒱𑒏 कातिक कार्तिक 29 / 30
8 Agahan 𑒁𑒑𑒯𑒢 अगहन अग्रहायण, मार्गशीर्ष 29 / 30
9 Poos 𑒣𑒳𑒮 पूस पौष 29 / 30
10 Magh 𑒧𑒰𑒒 माघ माघ 29 / 30
11 Phagun 𑒤𑒰𑒑𑒳𑒢 फागुन फाल्गुन 29 / 30
12 Chait 𑒔𑒻𑒞𑒱 चैति चैत्र 30 / 31


See alsoEdit

General bibliographyEdit

  • George A. Grierson (1909). An Introduction to the Maithili dialect of the Bihari language as spoken in North Bihar. Calcutta: Asiatic Society.
  • Ramawatar Yadav. Maithili Language and Linguistics: Some Background Notes (PDF). University of Cambridge.


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  1. ^ Eastern Bihar and northeastern Jharkhand in India;[1][2] Province No. 2 and Province No. 1 in Nepal)

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