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Classical Languages of India List, Criteria and Significance

Context: The Union government has decided to modify the criteria for granting classical status to languages.

  • The Linguistics Expert Committee of the Culture Ministry submitted a report on October 10 last year, suggesting changes to the criteria.
  • Over the years, States and literary circles have demanded classical status for languages such as Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, and Maithili.
  • In January 2024, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar announced that the Centre has decided to include Farsi (Persian) as one of the nine classical languages in India.

What is Classical Language of India?

  • Currently in India, 6 languages enjoy the ‘Classical’ status: Tamil ( 2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kannada (2008), Telugu (2008), Malayalam (2013), and Odia (2014).
  • These languages are considered classical because they have an independent literary tradition and a vast amount of ancient literature.
  • Sanskrit is the oldest of the classical languages.
  • All the Classical Languages are listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
8th Schedule of the Constitution
  • Purpose: Lists the official languages of the Republic of India.
  • Constitutional Provision: Part XVII of the Indian Constitution addresses official languages in Articles 343 to 351.

Constitutional Provisions Related to the Eighth Schedule:

  • Article 344(1): It mandates the President to constitute a Commission five years after the Constitution commences.
  • Article 351: This article focuses on the promotion and development of the Hindi language to enable it to express all elements of India’s composite culture.
  • Criteria for Inclusion: There is no fixed criteria for a language to be considered for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule.
Official Languages
  • Languages Included: The Eighth Schedule lists 22 languages: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili, and Dogri.
  • Initial Languages: Initially, 14 languages were included in the Constitution.
  • Amendments:
    • Sindhi was added by the 21st Amendment Act of 1967.
    • Konkani, Manipuri, and Nepali were included by the 71st Amendment Act of 1992.
    • Bodo, Dogri, Maithili, and Santhali were added by the 92nd Amendment Act of 2003, effective from 2004.

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Farsi as India’s New Classical Language

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar announced during his visit to Iran that the Government of India has decided to include Farsi (Persian) as one of the nine classical languages in India under the New Education Policy. This move aims to deepen cultural ties, reflecting a commitment to fostering understanding of Farsi’s rich heritage in the Indian educational framework. The recognition emphasizes the cultural, literary, and linguistic connections between Iran and India, with Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Malayalam, and Odia already holding classical language status in India.

6 Classical Languages In India

Classical Language Description
Sanskrit An ancient classical language often referred to as the “language of the gods.” Originated in the Vedic era and recognized as classical on January 26, 2005. Sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Well-defined grammar, extensive vocabulary, and significant impact on Indian languages. Used in ancient texts such as Vedas, Upanishads, and Mahabharata.
Tamil Known as the “Ancient Dravidian Jewel,” spoken mainly in southern India. Recognized as a classical language in India in 2004. With a history spanning over two millennia, Tamil has a vibrant literary tradition, including Sangam literature. Distinct script and significant contributions to literature, art, and music.
Telugu The language of Andhra Pradesh, officially recognized as classical in 2008. Origin dating back to ancient times, known for lyrical beauty in Telugu poetry. The Telugu script is one of the oldest writing systems in the world.
Kannada The official language of Karnataka, recognized as classical in 2008. History of over 2,000 years with contributions from ancient poets like Pampa, Ranna, and Harihara. Kannada script derived from ancient Brahmi script with unique characters.
Malayalam Primarily used in the state of Kerala, recognized as classical in 2013. History dating back to the ninth century, believed to have evolved from Proto-Tamil-Malayalam.
Odia Spoken primarily in Odisha, recognized as classical on February 20, 2014. Origin dating back over 2,500 years, evolved from Prakrit and Sanskrit. Acknowledged for historical, literary, and cultural importance.

Criteria for Declaring Classical Languages in India

The Ministry of Culture provides guidelines regarding Classical languages.

  • The language must have early texts or recorded history dating back 1500-2000 years.
  • The language must possess a significant body of ancient literature or texts that are considered a valuable heritage by its speakers.
  • The literary tradition of the language should be original and not derived from another speech community.
  • The classical language and its literature should be distinct from its modern form, with a potential discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or derivatives.
Criteria Description
Antiquity Language must have a documented history spanning 1,500 to 2,000 years, showcasing resilience and enduring relevance over historical periods.
Literary Tradition A substantial body of ancient literature of exceptional quality in various genres such as poetry, drama, philosophy, scientific treatises, and religious texts.
Influence on Other Languages Language must have influenced the development of other linguistic systems, shaping the linguistic landscape of the region.
Distinct Grammar and Structure Possession of a well-defined and distinct grammar and linguistic structure, ensuring originality and differentiation from other languages.
Living Tradition Strong and vibrant literary and cultural traditions are actively practised and celebrated by a significant number of people, emphasizing the language’s ongoing relevance in contemporary society.

Benefits Accorded to Classical Languages in India

Once a language is designated as a Classical language, the Human Resource and Development Ministry offers several benefits to promote it:

  • Two major annual international awards are established for distinguished scholars in classical Indian languages.
  • A Centre of Excellence for studies in Classical Languages is created.
  • The University Grants Commission is asked to establish a certain number of Professional Chairs for the Classical Languages, initially in Central Universities.

The recognition of a language as classical in India comes with other several advantages, showcasing its historical, cultural, and linguistic significance:

  • Preservation of Cultural Heritage: Classical languages are viewed as important repositories of ancient literature, scriptures, and cultural heritage. Recognition aims to safeguard and promote this rich cultural legacy.
  • Official Language Status: Classical languages often receive official language status in states where they are predominantly spoken, ensuring their use in government offices, educational institutions, and other official domains.
  • Grants and Funding: Financial assistance and grants are provided by the government to support research, documentation, and promotion of classical languages. This aids in scholarly activities, the publication of books, and the translation of ancient texts.
  • Educational Opportunities: Classical languages are included in the curriculum of educational institutions at different levels, contributing to their preservation and continuity.
  • National Fellowships: Scholars and researchers specializing in classical languages are eligible for national fellowships and scholarships, supporting their academic endeavours and research initiatives.
  • Cultural Events and Festivals: Cultural festivals and events celebrate the magnificence of classical languages, fostering awareness and captivating the curiosity of people, particularly the youth.
  • Promoting Tourism: Classical languages contribute to heritage tourism, attracting visitors interested in exploring historical and cultural aspects associated with these languages.
  • International Recognition: Being recognized as a classical language brings international prestige and visibility, fostering collaborations with international scholars and institutions for academic exchange.

Importance and Significance of Classical Languages

Classical languages play a vital role in preserving cultural identity, promoting multilingualism, advancing academic and intellectual pursuits, preserving ancient knowledge, promoting art and literature, facilitating cultural exchange, and fostering global understanding. These languages are not only repositories of ancient wisdom but also contribute to the vibrant tapestry of India’s diverse heritage. Their recognition as classical languages is a testament to their enduring impact on various facets of Indian culture.

Classical Languages of India UPSC

India’s classical languages, including Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Odia, are celebrated for their profound literary and cultural legacy. Recently, the government designated Farsi as the ninth classical language under the New Education Policy, aiming to deepen cultural ties. Criteria for classical status include antiquity, literary tradition, influence on other languages, distinct grammar, and a living tradition. Recognized classical languages enjoy official status, grants, educational inclusion, fellowships, cultural events, tourism promotion, and international recognition. These languages play a crucial role in preserving cultural identity, fostering multilingualism, and contributing to India’s diverse heritage.

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Classical Languages of India FAQs

How many classical languages are there in India?

Currently there are six languages that enjoy the 'Classical' status in India

Who declares classical language?

Government of India

What is the oldest language in India?

Sanskrit language

What are the 22 official language of India?

They include, besides Sanskrit, the following 21 modern Indian languages: Assamese, Bangla, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Kannada, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Santali, Sindhi, and Urdu.

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