Maithili (मैथिली Maithilī) is a language spoken in the eastern part of India, mainly in the Indian state of Bihar and in the eastern Terai region of Nepal. It is an offshoot of the Indo-Aryan languages which are part of the Indo-Iranian, a branch of the Indo-European languages. Linguists consider Maithili to be an Eastern Indic language, and thus a different language from Hindi, which is Central Indic in origin. In times, Maithili has been considered a "dialect" of both Hindi and Bengali but in 2003 it got the status of an independent language. An active movement was carried out to give the language an official status through its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, so that it may be used in education, government, and other official contexts. In 2004, Maithili was given an official status.
Maithili was traditionally written in the Maithili script (also known by the names Tirhuta and Mithilakshar) and Kaithi script. However, in the modern time Devanagari script is most commonly used. An effort is underway to preserve the Maithili script and to develop it for use in digital media by encoding the script in the Unicode standard, for which a proposal, has been submitted recently.
The term Maithili comes from Mithila, which was an independent state in ancient times. Maithili is a separate language, having a large Maithili-speaking community (4.5 crore, or 45 million, people) with a rich literature. The most famous literary figure in Maithili is the poet Vidyapati. He is credited for raising the importance of 'people's language', i.e. Maithili, in the official work of the state by influencing the Maharaja of Darbhanga with the quality of his poetry. The state's official language used to be Sanskrit, which distanced common people from the state and its functions. The name Maithili is also one of the names of Sita, the consort of Rama.
It is a fact that scholars in Mithila used Sanskrit for their literary work and Maithili was the language of the common folk (Abahatta). The earliest work in Maithili appears to be Varn Ratnakar by Jyotirishwar Thakur dated about 1224 AD.
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.
The Medieval age of Maithili appears to be during Karnat Dynasty when the names of the following scholars got prominence: Gangesh, Padmanabh, Chandeshwar, Vireshwar, Vidyapati, Vachaspati, Pakshadhar, Ayachi, Udayan, Shankar etc.
Vidyapati is said to have lived in the period 1350 to 1450. Vidyapati, though a Sanskrit scholar, wrote innumerable poems(songs) relating to Bhakti and Shringar in Maithili. Though equally accepted in Bengal and Mithila, his songs are the soul of Mithila and no celebration is complete without his songs. It will not be an exaggeration to say that his songs have survived in the throats of Maithil women folk. Verses of Vidhyapati are given religious importance in the culture of Mithila.
Some of the theatrical writings of the medieval age are - Umapati (Parijat Haran), Jyotireeshwar (Dhurt Samagam), Vidyapati (Goraksha Vijay, Mani Manjari), Ramapati (Rukmini Haran), Lal (Gauri Swayambar), Manbodh (Krishna Janma).
Maithili has been preferred by many authors to write humour and satire. Writers like Dr. Hari Mohan Jha took steps to bring about fundamental changes in the centuries old Mithila Culture. His work like Khatar Kaka Ke Tarang decorated mordern maithili Literature.
Maithili has now been listed in VIIIth schedule of the Indian Constitution and thus now it is one of the 22 National Languages of India. Maithali was accepted by Sahitya Academy and since its inclusion has won awards almost every year. A number of academy awards have been won for translation from other languages.
Modern Maithili came into its own after Sir George Abraham Grierson, Irish linguist and civil servant, tirelessly reasearched Maithili folklore and wrote its grammar.
See category Maithili-language books
See category Maithili Poets