Classical languages of India

Union Minister for Culture recently announced that the Ministry had decided to grant the classical language status to Malayalam. Spoken by over 30 million people, Malayalam was the only major language in south India that had not been classified as the classical language. Belonging to the family of Dravidian languages, Malayalam has a rich heritage of perhaps more than 2,300 years.

Here is some background information:

Article 343 and Article 351 and Special Position of Sanskrit

Hindi, as we know had become a symbol of nationalist feelings during the freedom struggle of India and the leaders encouraged its use. We have been told that the Sanskrit had lost the position of official language of the Union by a casting vote. Article 343 gave Hindi the status of official language of the Union. For Sanskrit, there is a special status mentioned in article 351, whereby Sanskrit was given a position of the primary source language for many languages including Hindi.

Calls for Classical Languages

The first call for a classical language was given by Tamil academicians. They claimed that the Sangam anthologies should be considered as classical languages. It’s an ancient language and the old Tamil is the prototype of the Dravidian family of languages. The government took a note and then consulted the experts of the Sahitya Academi. Later a committee was established and some criteria were established to grant the status of Classical Languages.

Criteria for Classical Languages in India

The government of India currently follows the following criteria to determine the eligibility of language to be considered for classification as “classical language”:

  • High antiquity of its early texts/ recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years.
  • A body of ancient literature/ texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers.
  • The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community.
  • The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

Current Classical Languages

Tamil was the first Classical Language of India. The government declared Tamil (in 2004), Sanskrit (in 2005). These two languages are undoubtedly parental sources for many languages belonging to the Indo-European family and the Dravidian family of linguistic groups. Later the government declared Kannada and Telugu (in 2008) as classical languages of India.In 2013, Malayalam was also given status of classical language. In 2014, Odiya was also given the status of Classical language.
With this the following six languages are included in the list of Classical Languages:

  1. Tamil (since 2004)
  2. Sanskrit (since 2005)
  3. Telugu (since 2008)
  4. Kannada (Since 2008)
  5. Malayalam (since 2013)
  6. Odiya (since 2014)

The case of Malayalam

It has been alleged that the current criterion discriminates against Malayalam, which as a member of the Dravidian family of languages is equal on every count to its sister languages of Telugu and Kannada.

The land area between Tirupati and Kanyakumari was known in ancient days as Tamilakam, or Dakshina patha in Sanskrit. It inherited a common tradition and culture.

Tamil was the earliest derivative from the Proto-Dravidian language, followed by Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. All these came under the influence of Sanskrit, the least affected one being Tamil. The other three are equal in all respects and share common traits.

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    actually i have no antipathy against malayalam!! but i want to get the facts right here!!…first of all “malayalam’s antiquity is 2300 years”..pls dont kid!!…..modern kerala is called as “chera Nadu” in tamil and one of the three princely tamil states as is shown by ashoka’s girnar inscription and sangam tamil poetry!!….in fact first of the five epics of tamil language silappadhikaram is authored by a keralite residing at kodungallur,kerala…..8th century chera king kulasekara alwar ,one of the 12 vaishnavite bhakti saints of tamil has authored beautiful works in only tamil and sanskrit!! ..and moreover still 17th century there is no mention of malayalam as a language in tamil works!!..the first tamil work was printed at kollam only!!…..there is irrefutable evidence that malayalam doesnot fit in the first criteria although it has modern excellent poetry!!….then the reason for govt to accord the status is of pure political pressure … in the case of italian marines shoot out at kerala coast ..ended in the arrest of marines!! think about this !!..more than 500 fishermen were killed by srilankan navy but still no action is coming !!…..political enlightenment in kerala is very high!!

    • Ashwin Nambiar

      Your entire argument lies in reference to and relies wholly on only Tamil literature and scriptures not having a mention of Malayalam, this itself is a fundamental flaw. The evidence provided proving the antiquity and proud heritage of Malayalam have been duly recognised and accepted (the proofs were widely reported in print media when classical language status was accorded to malayalam). Your arguments don’t prove anything substantial.

    • Ramakrishnan

      VISWANATH is true. I’ve studied in kerala during my school time. They are very rude

  • rimjhim

    Viswananth above is true. I have gone to Kerala and have seen very rude behaviour towards their Tamil brothers and sisters.

  • abhinav jain

    Now odiya is also a classical language….

  • uttam

    Ya, now odiya is also a classical language but it is not updated in the article…

  • Sumit

    What about Maithili Guys, which is base of many language like, Hindi, Marathi, Gujrati, Bengali Assamese etc.

    As British ruler hamper this language did not get yet recognition it deserves. And it is somehow ancient like Sanskrit and Tamil. And no doubt considered as a sweetest language compare to all.

    because caste base politics it is projected as language of Brahmin and dialect Bhojpuri as language of Yadav and lower caste. This is major era and as well Lalu era responsible for its downfall.

    • Tanmay

      Dear Sumit,

      Yes I agree Marathi and Maithili should tagged with classical language. in case of Maithili there is no continues literal link due to various political cause. the script of Maithili is used by Assami and Bengali Language but its know as Bengali or Assami script. Kamrup prakriti is acceptable as they have ancient history but Bengali view is not acceptable. in real the script is Maithili. people should work on it. I agree Due to British Raj the recognition move to Bengal and the glory of Maithili shifted to her branched language… root is Maithili so it should be Classical language.

  • Srinivasa

    Very soon, every language will become a classical language due to either actual or political reasons..

    • Ramakrishnan

      In that case they have to break seeing the script concept

  • pramod

    Classical language status of tamil is due to political pressure . It already losts its dravidian culture just it forget its parents………..

    • Ramakrishnan

      Well, tamil language doesn’t derived from any language including sanscrit

    • SUdalaimani


    • Vinoth

      Tamil is first language of the world man. So you didnt know please shut your mouth.punda

  • Kulbhushan

    Only English and Hindi should be used as Indian/Classical/National/Cultural/.. blah blah… useless categorization is leading to unnecessary wastage of time money and resources… Lets think out of the box guys and help Mother India cover cultural,linguistic & religious gap between each children of her…

  • sabyasachi panda

    odia bhasa bharat ka ek sastriya bhasa hai jo buhut pehle hona tha ayur yaha arya bharatiya bhasa ka pehla (classical language) sastriya bhasa hai ……jai hind

  • sabyasachi panda

    Oria (odia)officially spelled odia is an indian language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.It is the predominant language of the Indian state of Odisha, where native speakers comprise 95% of the population and it is spoken in parts of West bengal,Jharkhand,Chhattisgarh,Telangana and Andhra pradesh Odia is one of the many official languages’ in India. It is the official languages of Odisha and the second official language of Jharkhand and West bengal. Odia is the sixth Indian language to be designated a Classical language in India on the basic of having a long liteary history and not having borrowed extensively from other languages. Ancient Form of Odia language in 2nd Century BC Rock edict King Ashok::The script in the ediets of Ashok in 2nd century BC at Dhauli and jaugada and the inscriptions of Kharavela in Hati Gumpha of Khandagiri give us the first glimpse of possible origin of Odia language. From the point of view of language, the inscriptions of Hati Gumpha are near modern Odia and essentially different from the language of Ashokan edicts. A point has also been made as to whether Pali was the prevalent language in Odisha during this period. The Hati Gumpha inscription , which are in Pali,are perhaps the only evidence of stone inscriptions in Pali. This may be the reason why the German linguist prof. Hermann oldenberg mentioned that Pali was the original language of Odisha. Poet Jayadeva’s literary contribution::Jayadeva was a Sanskrit poet . He was born in an Utakal Brahmin family of (Puri)Bhubaneswar in circa 1200 AD. He is most known for his composition,the epic poem Gita Govinda,which depicts the divine love of the Hindu deity Krishna and his consort Radha,and is considered on important text in the bhakti move ment of Hinduism About the end of the 13th Century and the beginning of the 14th the influence of Jayadeva’s literary contribution changed the pattern of versification in Odia…………….AME SAMASTE BHARATIYA….(HIMANSHU PANDA…CUTTACK BHUBANESWAR…..ODISHA INDIA……JAI JAGANNATH…….JAI HIND…….MERA BHARAT MAHAN

  • SUdalaimani

    One of the latest language, which changed from Tamil (Dravida family) to Indo Aryan language. But we can get Oriya’s old name was Oratta nadu from Tamil Literature.

    Where ever mentioned Indo —— language like Indo Aryan language all were created from Tamil (Dravida family) only, because Tamil is THE PRIMARY CLASSICAL LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD

    Mother language for all language of world

    • jagannath

      you are the reason why the whole india hates the portion of people in tamil nadu who forget patriotism when they talk about vocal supremacy…for u we ca’t have Sri Lanka as our friend,u stupods don’t know that the sinhalese with whom u fight in sri-lanka are the descendants of Odisha parents. before commenting on my mother tongue, don’t underestimate the power of a Odia. KIYA :-)

  • Suresh

    Comment first of all only mother languages has to be called classical languages. Not daughter languages like Telugu Kannada Malayalam oria etc… Rest are daughters of Tamil and Oria is daughter of Sanskrit. There should be only two or three classical languages in India. Like Tamil Sanskrit and Urdu.


    Tamil is really having all the quality of works from ancient time onwards and that kind of works transfered or copied into various languages. Further it is used for enrich their languages and at the same time they demolised or restricted the main works to reached common people by using their power in kingdom as Chief presit or religious guru because they conveyed message to god using Sanskrit for maintain their power in kingdom and unable to understand the common people. In prolong period of continuation changed the important from tamil language to Sanskrit and also diveded the people by cast system to enjoyed as religious guru. Finally that became practised and belongs to their caste or family. Over a periods that work lost its root and introduced as new form with little change.

    In India it is very clear all happened by political power, that is why list of classical languages increased and in the future all the languages becomes classical language.

  • Bhushan

    There are two things you need to look all Dravidian Languages are inherited from Sanskrit. The Second thing you Kannada king or Tulluva Dyanasty mpw called Tullu emperor Sri Krishna Devarayya said that telugu is the Sweetest Language of all the languages in the Country. Even though he is Kannada emperor but he is proud to say as a telugu King. He wrote in his own Literature Amuktha malyada. Subramania Bahartiyar the Tamil Poet said telugu is the sweetest Language along with arvam (Tamil).

  • raghu

    hello people Tamil is not the mother language for Kannada.
    Kannada is a language which is as independent as Tamil, don’t write what ever you feel.
    check kandamil a ancient language which gave rise to both Kannada and Tamil simultaneously

  • Pravin Rajendran

    yes correct raghu tamil and kannada are twin brothers

  • Gopikanta Ghosh

    I am amazed we have so many classical languages. India is great