Classical Languages in India

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Jun 1, 2022, 11:15

Any language with independent literature and a large and ancient body of written script may be considered a classical language. They are dead languages since the spoken dialect of the languages has evolved further away from the classical written language across generations.

India is a land with diverse cultures and equally diverse languages. While Hindi is considered the official language of India, there are 22 other languages in India as per the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The Indian Government 2004 decided to declare languages that meet certain criteria as "Classical Languages of India".

The Classical Languages in India are listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. The Ministry of Culture provides guidelines to be fulfilled to be categorised as a classical language in India.

List of 6 Classical Languages in India

Presently, there are six languages which enjoy the 'classical' status.

The six Classical Languages in India are -

Tamil

A Dravidian language spoken in Tamil Nadu was declared so in the year 2004.

Sanskrit

Belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European languages and considered the language of Hindu philosophy, was declared so in 2005.

Kannada

A Dravidian language spoken widely across Karnataka, whose script evolved from the Kadamba script during the 5th century, was declared a classical language in the year 2008.

Telugu

A Dravidian language spoken mostly in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was declared as such in the year 2008.

Malayalam

A Dravidian language whose oldest literature work can be traced back to the 9th to 11th centuries is spoken mostly in the state of Kerala, Puducherry and Lakshadweep, it was declared a classical language of India in the year 2013.

Odia

An Indo-Aryan language whose earliest literary work can be traced back to the 10th century, and is widely spoken in the states of Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, was given the classical status in the year 2014.

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Guidelines for the Classical Languages in India

For a language to be given the 'classical' status, there are a few guidelines which are listed below -

  • It should be ancient, and there must be proof of its earlier script or recorded history over a period of 1500 to 2000 years.
  • The literature should be original and not be borrowed from some other language or speech community.
  • There must be a body of antique texts, and it must be considered a valuable heritage across generations of speakers.
  • The language and literature must be distinguished from the modern, and there may also be a discontinuity between the language and its later forms.
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Benefits of Classical Languages in India

Once a language has been granted the 'classical' status, the Ministry of Human Resources and Development of India provides benefits to promote Classical Languages in India.

Some benefits it may provide are -

  • A Centre for Excellence for studies in such classical languages is set up.
  • Two major annual awards for scholars in such classical Indian languages will be given.
  • The University Grants Commission (UGC) is requested to create and start in the Central Universities, a requisite number of Professional Chairs for the Classical Languages so declared.
  • The University Grant Commission (UGC) also grants research projects for the promotion of these Classical Languages in India. In the year 2016-17 and 2017-18, it released funds of Rs 56.74 lakh and Rs 95.67 lakh, respectively, for the same purpose.
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FAQs on the Classical Languages in India

Q1. How many languages are considered Classical Languages in India?

The number of languages considered classical in 6 Classical Languages in India.

Q2. Which was the first Classical Language in India?

Tamil, declared so in the year 2004, is the First Classical Language in India.

Q3. Which are the six Classical Languages in India?

Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam and Odisha are the six Classical Languages in India.

Q4. Who grants the status of Classical Languages in India?

If the criteria issued by the Ministry of Culture are satisfied, then the Government of India grants the status of Classical Languages in India.