Linguistic classification: Indo-European
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: pra
The Suryaprajnaptisutra, an astronomical work dating to the 3rd or 4th c. BC, written in Jain Prakrit language (in Devanagari book script), ca. 1500 AD.

Prakrit (also transliterated as Pracrit) (Sanskrit: prākṛta प्राकृत (from pra-kṛti प्रकृति)) is the name for a group of Middle Indic, Indo-Aryan languages, derived from Old Indic dialects.[1] The word itself has a flexible definition, being defined sometimes as, "original, natural, artless, normal, ordinary, usual", or "vernacular", in contrast to the literary and religious orthodoxy of saṃskṛtā. Alternatively, Prakrit can be taken to mean "derived from an original," which means evolved in natural way. The Prakrits became literary languages, generally patronized by kings identified with the Kshatriya caste, but were regarded as illegitimate by the Brahmin orthodoxy. The earliest extant usage of Prakrit is the corpus of inscriptions of Asoka, emperor of India. Besides this, Prakrit appears in literature in the form of Pāli Canon of the Theravada Buddhists, Prakrit canon of the Jains, Prakrit grammars and in lyrics, plays and epics of the times.[2] The various Prakrit languages are associated with different patron dynasties, with different religions and different literary traditions, as well as different regions of the Indian subcontinent.


Dramatic Prakrits

Pillar capital with addorsed lions and Prakrit inscriptions in the Kharoshthi script, British Museum

Dramatic Prakrits were those that were devised specifically for use in dramas and other literature. Whenever dialogue was written in a Prakrit, the reader would also be provided with a Sanskrit translation. None of these Prakrits came into being as vernaculars, but some ended up being used as such when Sanskrit fell out of favor.[3]

The phrase "Dramatic Prakrits" often refers to three most prominent of them: Sauraseni, Magadhi, and Maharashtri. However, there were a slew of other less commonly used Prakrits that also fall into this category. These include Pracya, Bahliki, Daksinatya, Sakari, Candali, Sabari, Abhiri, Dramili, and Odri. There was an astoundingly strict structure to the use of these different Prakrits in dramas. Characters each spoke a different Prakrit based on their role and background; for example, Dramili was the language of "forest-dwellers", Sauraseni was spoken by "the heroine and her female friends", and Avanti was spoken by "cheats and rogues".[4]

Maharashtri, the root of modern Marathi, is a particularly interesting case. Maharashtri was often used for poetry and as such, diverged from proper Sanskrit grammar mainly to fit the language to the meter of different styles of poetry. The new grammar stuck which leads to the unique flexibility of vowels lengths, amongst other anomalies, in Marathi.[5]

As a Vernacular

Prakrit is foremost a native term, designating "vernaculars" as opposed to Sanskrit. Some modern scholars follow this classification by including all Middle Indo-Aryan languages under the rubric of "Prakrits", while others emphasise the independent development of these languages, often separated from the history of Sanskrit by wide divisions of caste, religion, and geography.[6] While Prakrits were originally seen as "lower" forms of language, the influence they had on Sanskrit, allowing it to be more easily used by the common people, as well as "Sankritization" of Prakrits gave Prakrits progressively higher cultural cachet.[7]

Ardhamagadhi ("half Magadhi"), an archaic form of Magadhi which was used extensively to write Jain scriptures, is often considered to be the definitive form of Prakrit, while others are considered variants thereof. Prakrit grammarians would give the full grammar of Ardhamagadhi first, and then define the other grammars with relation to it. For this reason, courses teaching "Prakrit" often teach Ardhamagadhi.[8]

Pali (the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism) tends to be treated as a special exception, as classical (Sanskrit) grammars do not consider it as a Prakrit per se, presumably for sectarian rather than linguistic reasons.

Each Prakrit represents a distinct tradition of literature within the history of India. Other Prakrits are reported in old historical sources, but are no longer spoken (e.g., Paisaci).


According to the dictionary of Monier Monier-Williams, the most frequent meanings of the Sanskrit term prakṛta, from which the word "prakrit" is derived, are "original, natural, normal" and the term is derived from prakṛti, "ma kristiane king or placing before or at first, the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance". In linguistic terms, this is used in contrast with saṃskṛta, "refined". Traditionally, many[who?] have believed that the Prakrits are older than Sanskrit, and that it was from the Prakrits that Sanskrit was refined. However, from a comparative Indo-European point of view, Sanskrit (especially Vedic Sanskrit) is closer to reconstructed Proto-Indo-European than are the Prakrits, so that Sanskrit belongs to a linguistically earlier stage of history.

Some scholars[who?] restrict the use of the term "Prakrit" to the languages used by Hindu and Jain writers only; others[who?] include the Buddhist languages, such as Pali and Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, and the inscriptional Prakrits. Other Prakrits include the Gāndhārī, and Paisāci, which is known through grammarians' statements[citation needed]. The modern languages of Northern India developed from the Prakrits, after the intermediary stage of the Apabhramsa language.


Icon for Wikipedia links to pages in the Prakrit Languages language (Pra)
  • National Institute of Prakrit Study And Research. Shravanabelagola Karnataka, India
  • Banerjee, Satya Ranjan. The Eastern School of Prakrit Grammarians : a linguistic study. Calcutta: Vidyasagar Pustak Mandir, 1977.
  • Daniels, Peter T., The World's Writing Systems. USA: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Deshpande, Madhav, Sanskrit & Prakrit, sociolinguistic issues. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993.
  • Pischel, R. Grammar of the Prakrit Languages. New York: Motilal Books, 1999.
  • Woolner, Alfred C. Introduction to Prakrit, 2nd Edition. Lahore: Punjab University, 1928. Reprint Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, India, 1999.


  1. ^ Daniels, pg. 377
  2. ^ Woolner, Alfred C. (1928). Introduction to Prakrit (2 (reprint) ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9788120801899. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Woolner, pg. v.
  4. ^ Banerjee, pg. 19-21
  5. ^ Deshpande, pg. 36-37
  6. ^ Deshpande, pg. 33
  7. ^ Deshpande, pg. 35
  8. ^ Woolner, pg. 6

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  • prâkrit — [ prakri ] n. m. • 1842; sanskr. prâkr(i)ta « dénué d apprêt, usuel », opposé à samskr(i)ta « parfait » ♦ Ling. Ensemble des langues et dialectes de l Inde ancienne issus du sanskrit ou développés parallèlement à lui. ● prakrit nom masculin… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Prakrit — Prākrit (translittéré également sous la forme Pracrit) (Sanskrit : prākṛta प्राकृत (de pra kṛti प्रकृति)) est une langue indo aryenne dérivée du sanskrit classique et d autres dialectes indo aryens[1]. Le mot lui même a une définition assez… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Prâkrit — Prakrit (translittéré également sous la forme Pracrit) (Sanskrit : prākṛta प्राकृत (de pra kṛti प्रकृति)) est une langue indo aryenne dérivée du sanskrit classique et d autres dialectes indo aryens[1]. Le mot lui même a une définition assez… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Prakrit — (Sanskrit, प्राकृत, n., prākṛta) (auch mittelindische Sprachen genannt) ist die Bezeichnung für diejenigen indoarischen Sprachen, die in der sprachgeschichtlichen Entwicklung auf das Altindische folgen. Sie wurden etwa in der Zeit vom 6. Jhd. v.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Prakrit — Pra krit, n. [Skr. pr[=a]k[.r]ta original, natural, usual, common, vulgar.] Any one of the popular dialects descended from, or akin to, Sanskrit; in distinction from the Sanskrit, which was used as a literary and learned language when no longer… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Prâkrit — Prâkrit, allgemeiner Name der ältern indischen Volkssprachen, soviel wie »naturwüchsig, vulgär«, im Gegensatz zum klassischen Sanskrit (»ausgearbeitet, vollendet«), der Hochsprache. Die Prâkritsprachen sind Töchter des alten oder vedischen… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Prakrit — (d. i. abgeleitet), ist im Allgemeinen der Name für die Indischen Volkssprachen im Gegensatz zum Sanskrit, der Heiligen u. Schriftsprache, jedoch verstehen schon die altindischen Grammatiker unter P. bes. die indischen Volksmundarten, welche in… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Prakrit — Prākrit (im Sanskrit prākṛtam, »gewöhnlich«, »vulgär«), Name einer Anzahl mittelind. Dialekte, die schon frühzeitig inschriftlich und literarisch verwendet worden sind. Grammatik von Pischel (1900) …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Prâkrit — Prâkrit, s. ind. Sprachen …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Prakrit — popular dialect of ancient northern and central India (distinguished from SANSKRIT (Cf. Sanskrit)), sometimes also applied to modern languages, 1766, from Skt. prakrta natural, original (opposed to samskrta prepared, refined ), from pra before,… …   Etymology dictionary

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