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Apabhramsa Language and Literature

Apabhramsa Language and Literature
Item Code: NAS565
Author: H. C. Bhayani
Publisher: B L INSTITUTE
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788120840508
Pages: 72
Other Details: 9.50 X 7.50 inch
weight of the book: 0.15 kg

The BUT organized a Workshop on Prakrit for a month beginning from tenth June 1989. The present booklet was prepared by Prof. H. C. Bhayani as introductory lectures for the participants. We thought the lectures will be useful for others also who are interested in getting a bird's eye view of the Apabhrarhga language and literature, which besides forming a link between Middle Indo-Aryan and the New Indo Aryan periods, have their own significance and importance. Hence they have been published as a booklet. In view of the absence of such an introductory aid so far, it is hoped that the effort will be appreciated as meeting a genuine need. We thank. Prof. Bhayani for readily agreeing to prepare the booklet.


The term Apabhrarilga' has been used in several different senses in the earlier tradition as well as in modern scholarly writings. Principally Ap. is the name of the standardized literary language, that was in use onwards from about the sixth century by the side of Sanskrit and Prakrit. It spread from Western and Northern India down to South, and even five or six centuries after the rise of New Indo-Aryan languages (onwards from about AD 1000) it was still used by some specialized groups for lyrical and narrative verse compositions, mostly of a religious character.

Primarily Apabhrarmsa meant 'falling away from an established standard', then, 'a substandard or "corrupt" speech usage'. Patalljali (second century BC) has observed that people use several corrupt forms (apabhrariga) in the place of a standard or correct word-form. From this time down to the modern period the terms apabhrathia or apabhrasta have been used, as also the term preikrta, for the popular or 'uncultured' dialects or linguistic usages of various regions, as against saritskrta, the language of the cultured. In many a traditional reference, Apabhrarmsa was equivalent to desabhcisas, regional spoken dialects.

In many works of literature and poetics, however, Apabhrarmsa has been counted as one of the four (or sometimes, six) traditionally recognised languages of literature: the other three being Saritskrta, Pralgta and Pagaci. In the context of drama sauraseni and Magadhi, besides a few other stage-dialects are also traditionally noted. In such cases the term prakrta stands for Maharastri only. Otherwise it is a class name for the Middle Indo-Aryan literary languages excluding Pali.


Considered from the view-point of the history and evolution of Indo-Aryan languages, the Apabhrarhga language belongs to the Middle Indo-Aryan stage. Traditional grammars too have treated it as one of the several varieties of Prakrit. Linguistically, however, it is more developed than the other Prakrits. As against the latter, representing the middle phase of Middle Indo-Aryan, ApabhrarilAa represents its later phase, and in several respects it can be looked upon as a transitional development between Middle and New Indo-Aryan. Some of the characterizing tendencies of New lndo-Aryan languages had their beginning in Apabhrarmsa.

The linguistic criteria which, for the convenience of analytical studies, are assumed to divide the Middle and New stages of the Indo-Aryan languages (i.e. the Prakrit including Apabhrarhga on the one hand and the modern Indian languages of the North from their earliest stage onwards on the other) are:

1. An inter-vocalic group of consonants is preserved in the early stage, it is mostly simplified with the compensatory lengthening of a previous short vowel in most of the languages of the latter stage.

2. Wider and characteristic employment of postpositions supplementing or supplanting the case-terminations (in Noun Inflection), use of auxiliaries (in the Verb-Inflection), and widespread use of the compound and conjunct verbal constructions, are definitely established in the New Indo-Aryan stage; in the earlier stage we can scan their beginnings only. Thus the analytical tendency is seen gathering strength in the Modern stage.

Regarding the precise historical circumstances under which Ap. arose and got established, we are quite in the dark. We do not know anything specific about either the time or place of its origin or about its early character. It can be, however, said generally that more or less the same factors were responsible in the case of both Prakrit and Ap. for their successive formation and subsequent standardization for literary purposes the 'high' language, becoming fixed by standardization etc. moved farther and farther away from the ordinary language of the people, creating thereby an ever-widening communication gap. To bridge this gap there starts a process Of colloquializing the archaic literary language at various levels. In course of time this mixed language becomes again standardized and the colloquializing process is repeated.


Essentially Ap. is the standard Prakrit (i.e. Sauraseni at the earlier stage, Mahardsrtri at the later) colloquialized: In phonology and lexicon they differ little. But there are characteristic differences between their morphologies and some syntactical features. In practice, however, the difference between Prakrit and Apabhrariiga as literary languages is obscured because of considerable admixture of Maharagtri forms in Ap. The situation is further complicated by the fact that there was continuous linguistic and literary domination of Sanskrit and Prakrit over Ap. during the heyday of Ap. literature, and like Apabhraritha, Prakrit too on its part was quite prone to continuous lexical borrowing from colloquial dialects.

Literary Apabhrariiga, like the literary Prakrits was considerably 'artificial'. It was a special language, which, though strongly dominated by Sanskrit and maintaining dominant feature of the `Prakrit' stage in its phonology, attempted to a limited degree to adopt its morphology and expressions and, to a slight extent, its lexicon) to the constantly changing spoken idioms of the period. This fact of being continuously open to reinforcement through an undercurrent of living speech forms slowly worked for undermining the rigidity that Apabhramsa had attained as a highly standardized literary language, fostered in the linguistic surroundings of centuries of aristocratic and stylized traditions.

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