Early Indian Literary Languages Other Than Sanskrit

Still according to Basham; did not cover later developments.


1. Pali - language of Sthaviravadin Buddhists; western dialect, probably spoken in the region of Sanchi and Ujjayini. still the religious language of the Buddhists of Ceylon, Burma and South-East Asia

2. Magadhi - probably what Buddha taught; official lanuage of Mauryan court; edicts of Asoka were composed in it

3. Ardha-magadhi ("Half Magadhi) - sacred language of the Jainas, and a large literature is written in it

4. Sauraseni - used in drama for the speech of women and respectable people of the lower orders

5. Maharastri -  literary language, especially popular for lyric song

6. Apabhramsa - Western India, used by Jaina writers in Gujarat and Rajasthan for the composition of poetry

7. ancestor of modern Bengali - used by a few late Buddhist writers

8. Sinhalese - development can be traced from the 2nd century B.C. down to the present day; surviving literature dates from the 9th century A.D.

9. Tamil - literature going back to early centuries A.D.

10. Canarese (now better known as Kannada) - first appears in inscriptions at the end of the 6th century, earliest surviving literature goes back to the 9th

11. Telugu - appear as a literary language in the 12th century, only becomes really important under the Vijayanagara Empire as court language

12. Malayalam - akin to Tamil; became separate language in the 11th century


If the list of world canonical texts expand, it seems to me that beyond Sanskrit and Pali (currently selected in the List of 36), at least ardha-Magadhi (for Jains) and Tamil texts should somehow be included.

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