The word "Maithili" written in Devanagari script
Native toIndia and Nepal
Native speakers
22 million (2000)[1]
Early forms
Devanagari and Tirhuta script (the original script of Maithili language)
Official status
Official language in
Regulated bySahitya Akademi, Maithili Academy, Maithili - Bhojpuri Academy, Delhi, Nepal Academy
Language codes
ISO 639-2mai
ISO 639-3mai
Maithili-speaking region of India and Nepal

Maithili (English: /ˈmtɪli/[3]) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in parts of India and Nepal. It is native to the Mithila region, which encompasses parts of the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand as well as the Nepalese Koshi and Madhesh Provinces. It is one of the 22 official languages of India.[4][5][6] It is the second most commonly spoken language of Nepal.[7][8][9] It is also one of the fourteen provincial official languages of Nepal.[10]

The language is predominantly written in Devanagari, but the historical Tirhuta and Kaithi scripts retained some use until today.

Official status

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.[4] The 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]

Gopal Jee Thakur of the Bharatiya Janata Party is the first Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha who speaks in the Maithili language in the Parliament of India.[12] He is currently the MP for Darbhanga.[13]

The Language Commission of Nepal has recommended Maithili be made an official administrative language in Koshi province and Madhesh Province.[10]

Geographic distribution

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 and Deoghar as well as other districts of Santhal Pargana division.[14][15] Darbhanga, Madhubani, Saharsa and Purnia constitute cultural and linguistic centers.[16]

In Nepal, Maithili is spoken mainly in the Outer Terai districts including Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusa, Sunsari, Siraha, Morang and Saptari Districts.[16][17] Janakpur is an important linguistic centre of Maithili.[16]


In the 19th century, linguistic scholars considered Maithili as a dialect of a Bihari language along with other languages of Bihar. Hoernlé compared it with the Gaudian languages and recognised that it shows more similarities with the Bengali language than with Hindi. Grierson recognised it as a distinct language and published its first grammar in 1881.[18][19]

Chatterji grouped Maithili with the Magadhi Prakrit.[20]


Maithili varies greatly in dialects.[21] The standard form of Maithili is Sotipura also called Central Maithili,[22] which is mainly spoken in Darbhanga, Samastipur and Saharsa districts in Bihar, India.[23]

Origin and history

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 (Abahattha).

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 the Siddhas were from the 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.[28] Apart from Charyapadas, there has been a rich tradition of folk culture, folk songs and which were popular among the common folks of the Mithila region.[29]

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.[30] The Varna Ratnākara is the earliest known prose text, written by Jyotirishwar Thakur in Mithilaksar script,[18] and is the first prose work not only in Maithili but in any modern Indian language.[31]

In 1324, Ghyasuddin Tughluq, the emperor of Delhi invaded Mithila, defeated Harisimhadeva, entrusted Mithila to his family priest and a great Military Scholar 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 /Brajavali language.[32][33]

The earliest reference to Maithili or Tirhutiya is in Amaduzzi's preface to Beligatti's Alphabetum Brammhanicum, published in 1771.[34] 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.[35]

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.[36]

During the Malla dynasty's rule Maithili spread far and wide throughout Nepal from the 16th to the 17th century.[37][38] 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.[39] One notable Malla King who patronised Maithili was Bhupatindra Malla who composed 26 plays in the Maithili language during his lifetime.[40]

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.[41][42]

Publication of Maithil Hita Sadhana (1905), Mithila Moda (1906), and Mithila Mihir (1908) further encouraged writers. The first social organisation, Maithil Mahasabha,[43] 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 recognised Maithili in 1917, and other universities followed suit.[44]

Babu Bhola Lal Das wrote Maithili Grammar (Maithili Vyakaran). He edited a book Gadya Kusumanjali and edited a journal Maithili.[45] In 1965, Maithili was officially accepted by Sahitya Academy, an organisation dedicated to the promotion of Indian literature.[46][47]

In 2002, Maithili was recognised 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.[48]

The publishing of Maithili books in Mithilakshar script was started by Acharya Ramlochan Saran.[49][50]


Main article: Maithili Grammar § Phonology


Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close ɪ ⟨इ⟩ ⟨ई⟩ ʊ ⟨उ⟩ ⟨ऊ⟩
Mid e ⟨ऎ⟩ ⟨ए⟩ ə~ɐ ⟨अ⟩ əː ⟨अऽ⟩ o ⟨ऒ⟩ ⟨ओ⟩
Open æ~ɛ ⟨ऍ⟩ a ⟨ॴ⟩ ⟨आ⟩ ɔ ⟨अ꣱⟩
Diphthongs əɪ̯ ⟨ऐ⟩ əe̯ ⟨ꣾ⟩ əʊ̯ ⟨औ⟩ əo̯ ⟨ॵ⟩

The following diphthongs are present:[52]

अय़(ꣾ) /əe̯/ ~ /ɛː/ - अय़सन (ꣾ सन) /əe̯sən/ ~ /ɛːsɐn/ 'like this'
अव़(ॵ) /əo̯/ ~ /ɔː/- चव़मुख(चॏमुख) /tɕəo̯mʊkʰ/ ~ /tɕɔːmʊkʰ/ 'four faced'
अयॆ /əe̯/ - अयॆलाः /əe̯laːh/ 'came'
अवॊ (अऒ) /əo̯/ - अवॊताः /əo̯taːh/ 'will come'
आइ /aːi̯/ - आइ /aːi̯/ 'today'
आउ /aːu̯/ - आउ /aːu̯/ 'come please'
आयॆ (आऎ) /aːe̯/ - आयॆल /aːe̯l/ 'came'
आवॊ (आऒ) /aːo̯/ - आवॊब /aːo̯b/ 'will come'
यु (इउ) /iu̯/ - घ्यु /ɡʱiu̯/ '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'

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.[52] Thus:

Standard Colloquial - Common Pronunciation

अछि /ətɕʰi/ - अइछ /əitɕʰ/ 'is'
रवि /rəbi/ - रइब /rəib/ 'Sunday'
मधु /mədʱu/ - मउध /məudʱ/ 'honey'
बालु /ba:lu/ - बाउल /ba:ul/ 'sand'


Maithili has four classes of stops, one class of affricate, which is generally treated as a stop series, related nasals, fricatives and approximant.

Labial Dental/
Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m ⟨म⟩ n ⟨न⟩ ɳ ⟨ण⟩ (ɲ) ⟨ञ⟩ ŋ ⟨ङ⟩
voiceless unaspirated p ⟨प⟩ t ⟨त⟩ ʈ ⟨ट⟩ ⟨च⟩ k ⟨क⟩
aspirated ⟨फ⟩ ⟨थ⟩ ʈʰ ⟨ठ⟩ tɕʰ ⟨छ⟩ ⟨ख⟩
voiced unaspirated b ⟨ब⟩ d ⟨द⟩ ɖ ⟨ड⟩ ⟨ज⟩ ɡ ⟨ग⟩
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⟩
Rhotic unaspirated ɾ~r ⟨र⟩ (ɽ) ⟨ड़⟩
aspirated (ɽʱ) ⟨ढ़⟩
Lateral l ⟨ल⟩
Approximant (ʋ~w) ⟨व⟩ (j) ⟨य⟩


There are four series of stops- bilabials, coronals, retroflex and velar, along with an affricate series. All of them show the four way contrast like most of the modern Indo-Aryan languages:

Apart from the retroflex series, all the rest four series show full phonological contrast in all positions. The retroflex tenius /ʈ/ and /ʈʰ/ show full contrast in all positions. /ɖ/ and /ɖʱ/ show phonological contrast mainly word-initially.[53] Both are defective phonemes, occurring intervocalically and word finally only if preceded by a nasal consonant. Word finally and postvocalically, /ɖʱ/ surfaces as [ɽʱ~rʱ].[54] Non-initially, both are interchangeable with [ɽ~ɾ] and [ɽʱ~rʱ] respectively.[53]


/s/ and /ɦ/ are most common fricatives. They show full phonological opposition. [ɕ], which is present in tatsama words, is replaced by /s/ most of the times, when independent, and prevocalic [ʂ] is replaced by /kʰ/, [x][53] or /s/. [ɕ] occurs before /tɕ/ and [ʂ] before /ʈ/. [x] and [f] occurs in Perso-Arabic loanwords, generally replaced by /kʰ/ and /pʰ/ respectively. [x] and [ɸ] also occurs in Sanskrit words (jihvamuliya and upadhmaniya), which is peculiar to Maithili.


/m/ and /n/ are present in all phonological positions. /ŋ/ occurs only non-initially and is followed by a homorganic stop, which may be deleted if voiced, which leads to the independent presence of /ŋ/. /ɳ/ occurs non-initially, followed by a homorganic stop, and is independent only in tatsama words, which is often replaced with /n/. [ɲ] occurs only non-initially and is followed by a homorganic stop always. It is the only nasal which does not occur independently.

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.


Main article: Maithili grammar


An example declension:

Case name Singular Inflection Plural Inflection
Feminine Masculine Neuter Feminine Masculine Neuter
Nominative -इ ɪ -आ/अ꣱ aː/ɔ -इन ɪn -अन, -अनि

ən, ənɪ̆

-अन, -अनि

ən, ənɪ̆



-ई iː -ई iː -आ aː
Instrumental Postposition used
-एँ ẽː Postposition used -अन्हि


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


Genitive -इक ɪk, इर ɪr -अक ək, -अर ər -ईंक ĩːk -आँँक


Locative Postposition used -ए eː Postposition used -आँ


Vocative -इ ɪ/ई iː -आ/अऽ aː/əː -इन ɪn -अन, -अनि

ən, ənɪ̆


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

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Definite -का/क꣱ kaː/kɔ -कि/कि kɪ/kɪ̆ का/कऽ kaː/kəː
Indefinite -आ/अ꣱ aː/ɔ -इ/इ ɪ/ɪ̆ अ/अऽ ᵊ/əː


Main article: Maithili grammar § Pronouns

Pronouns in Maithili are declined in similar way to nominals, though in most pronouns the genitive case has a different form. The lower forms below are accusative and postpositional. The plurals are formed periphrastically.

Person First Grade Honour Honorofic High Honorofic
First Person हम ɦəm

अपना ɐpᵊnaː (Inclusive)

हमरा ɦəmᵊraː

अपना ɐpᵊnaː (Inclusive)

Second Person तोँह tõːɦᵊ अहाँ ɐɦãː अपने ɐpᵊneː
तोँहरा tõːɦᵊraː
Third Person Proximate ई iː ए eː
ऎकरा ekᵊraː हिनका ɦɪnᵊkaː
ए eː (Neuter)
ऎहि, ऍ, अथि eɦɪ, æ, ɐtʰɪ (Neuter)
Non-Proximate ऊ, वा uː, ʋaː ओ oː
ऒकरा okᵊraː हुनका ɦʊnᵊkaː
ऒ o (Neuter)
ऒहि, ॵ oɦɪ, əʊ (Neuter)


Consonants in Mithilakshar

Beginning in the 14th century, the language was written in the Tirhuta script (also known as Mithilakshara or Maithili), which is related to the Bengali-Assamese script.[55] By the early 20th century, this script was largely associated with the Mithila Brahmans, with most others using Kaithi, and Devanagari spreading under the influence of the scholars at Banaras.[56] Throughout the course of the century, Devanagari grew in use eventually replacing the other two, and has since remained the dominant script for Maithili.[57][55][56] Tirhuta retained some specific uses (on signage in north Bihar as well as in religious texts, genealogical records and letters), and has seen a resurgence of interest in the 21st century.[55]

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

Devanagari Tirhuta Transcription
Image Text IAST IPA
𑒏 ka /kə/
𑒐 kha /kʰə/
𑒑 ga /gə/
𑒒 gha /gʱə/
𑒓 ṅa /ŋə/
𑒔 ca /t͡ɕə/
𑒕 cha /t͡ɕʰə/
𑒖 ja /d͡ʑə/
𑒗 jha /d͡ʑʱə/
𑒘 ña (/ɲə/) /nə/
𑒙 ṭa /ʈə/
𑒚 ṭha /ʈʰə/
𑒛 ḍa /ɖə/
𑒜 ḍha /ɖʱə/
𑒝 ṇa /ɳə/ or /nə/
𑒞 ta /t̪ə/
𑒟 tha /t̪ʰə/
𑒠 da /d̪ə/
𑒡 dha /d̪ʱə/
𑒢 na /nə/
𑒣 pa /pə/
𑒤 pha /pʰə/
𑒥 ba /bə/
𑒦 bha /bʱə/
𑒧 ma /mə/
𑒨 ya (/jə/) /d͡ʑə/ or /e̯/
𑒩 ra /rə/
𑒪 la /lə/
𑒫 va (/ʋə/) or /bə/ /o̯/
𑒬 śa (/ɕə/) /sə/
𑒭 ṣa /ʂə/ or /sə/ or /kʰə/
𑒮 sa /sə/
𑒯 ha /ɦə/
Devanagari Tirhuta Devanagari Tirhuta Transcription
Independent Dependent
Phonetic Traditional Image Text Phonetic Traditional Image Text Romanisation IPA
𑒁 [a] [b] a[c]/∅[d] /ə/ or /ɐ/ or /ə̆/[c] or ∅[d]
अ꣱/अ/अ' अऽ[e] ◌꣱/◌/◌' ◌'[f]/ ◌ऽ[e] å /ɔ/ ~/ʌ/
𑒂  𑒰 a/ă /a/
ā /аː/
𑒃 ि  𑒱 і /ɪ/
not possible in initial position or independent (after vowel) ि'[g] ि ĭ/i /ɪ̆/
𑒄  𑒲 ī /іː/
𑒅  𑒳 u /ʊ/
not possible in initial position (after vowel) ु'[h] ŭ/u /ʊ̆/
𑒆  𑒴 ū /uː/
𑒇  𑒵 /r̩/ or /rɪ/
𑒈  𑒶 /r̩ː/ or /riː/
𑒉  𑒷 /l̩/ or /lɪ/
ऍ/ऐ [i] ॅ/ै æ/ê /æ/ ~/ɛ/[i]
 𑒺 e /е/
𑒋  𑒹 ē /еː/
𑒌 ◌ꣿ  𑒻 ai /ai/
āі /аːі/
 𑒽 о /о/
𑒍  𑒼 ō /оː/
𑒎  𑒾 au /au/
āu /aːu/


Main article: Maithili literature

Sample text

The following sample text is Maithili translation of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Maithili in the Tirhuta alphabet

𑒁𑒢𑒳𑒔𑓂𑒕𑒹𑒠 𑓑: 𑒮𑒦 𑒧𑒰𑒢𑒫 𑒖𑒢𑓂𑒧𑒞𑓁 𑒮𑓂𑒫𑒞𑒢𑓂𑒞𑓂𑒩 𑒁𑒕𑒱 𑒞𑒟𑒰 𑒑𑒩𑒱𑒧𑒰 𑒂 𑒁𑒡𑒱𑒏𑒰𑒩𑒧𑒹 𑒮𑒧𑒰𑒢 𑒁𑒕𑒱। 𑒮𑒦𑒏𑒹𑒿 𑒁𑒣𑒢–𑒁𑒣𑒢 𑒥𑒳𑒠𑓂𑒡𑒱 𑒂 𑒫𑒱𑒫𑒹𑒏 𑒕𑒻𑒏 𑒂𑒍𑒩 𑒮𑒦𑒏𑒹𑒿 𑒋𑒏 𑒠𑒼𑒮𑒩𑒏 𑒣𑓂𑒩𑒞𑒱 𑒮𑒾𑒯𑒰𑒩𑓂𑒠𑒣𑒴𑒩𑓂𑒝 𑒫𑓂𑒨𑒫𑒯𑒰𑒩 𑒏𑒩𑒥𑒰𑒏 𑒔𑒰𑒯𑒲।

Maithili in the Devanagari alphabet

अनुच्छेद १: सभ मानव जन्मतः स्वतन्त्र अछि तथा गरिमा आ अधिकारमे समान अछि। सभकेँ अपन–अपन बुद्धि आ विवेक छैक आओर सभकेँ एक दोसरक प्रति सौहार्दपूर्ण व्यवहार करबाक चाही।

Maithili in IAST

Anuccheda Eka: Sabha mānaba janmataha svatantra achi tathā garimā ā adhikārme samāna achi. Sabhkẽ apana-apana buddhi ā bibeka chaika āora sabhkẽ eka dosarāka prati sauhardapurna byabahāra karabāka cāhī.


Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They possess conscience and reason. Therefore, everyone should act in a spirit of brotherhood towards each other.

See also


  1. ^ Grierson and Hoernle used ◌॰ for pronounced schwa, and ◌• for the absent schwa in some of his works.
  2. ^ Sometimes ◌' or even ◌ऽ is used for word final pronounced schwa, however not all of them are treated same, often only used to avoid confusion.
  3. ^ a b The notation a can be used for non-final weak schwa, Maithili weakens the non-final schwa, instead of deleting it (pronounced as /ə̆/). Grierson also used a for the purpose, but sometimes used apostrophe (') also for the purpose.
  4. ^ a b Final schwa is deleted in Maithili, though written in native scripts.
  5. ^ a b In older texts, ◌꣱ or ः are used, not in current use though.
  6. ^ ◌' is used only word finally.
  7. ^ Grierson used ि् .
  8. ^ Grierson used ु् .
  9. ^ a b Occurrence of æ~ɛ is a recent phenomenon.


  1. ^ Maithili at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "झारखंड : रघुवर सरकार कैबिनेट से मगही, भोजपुरी, मैथिली व अंगिका को द्वितीय भाषा का दर्जा". Archived from the original on 21 March 2018. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Maithili". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  4. ^ a b "Constitutional provisions relating to Eighth Schedule" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
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Further reading