The meaning of ‘Prakrit’ is ‘Natural’. The word prakrit is used for the group of languages spoken in ancient India.
Jainism has a great relation with Prakrit Languages. In ancient India Sanskrit was spoken only by Vedic Bramhins, while common people’s language was Prakrit. Jains always promoted their religion through people’s languages. So most of ancient Jain literature was written in various Prakrit Languages.
Some of the Prakrit Languages:
Ardhmagadhi was the language of people in Magadh, Bihar. This language are spoken between 600 BCE to 100 CE. Vardhman Mahavir and his Ganadhars gave sermons in Ardhmagadhi. Mahavir’s teachings were transmitted to next generation through the oral tradition. Later the teachings were compiled by Shrideverdhigani in 454CE. Of course the language was affected by time & Jain Maharashtri Language. So the compiled verses are closer to Jain Maharashtri Language.
The famous & popular Namokar-Mantra is in Ardhmagadhi language.
Shourseni was being spoken at Shoorsen (Mathura)region of North India between 100BCE to 500CE.
Digamber Jains wrote their philosophical literature in Shourseni language. The Shatkhandagam and Acharya Kundkund’s works are in Shourseni.
In Sanskrit dramas of Bhas,Kalidas etc. Shourseni is used for dialogs of servants, jokers,
c)Jain Maharashtri :
This was language of non-agamic Jain literature. Biographies of Teerthankars, Monks, Stories, Puorans like paumchariya were written in this language.
Jain Maharashtri was a language closer to Ardhmagdhi on one hand and to Maharashtri on the other hand.
d) Maharashtri : This language was used for Jain epics and songs. Modern Marathi language is next step language in the evolution of Maharashtri.
e) Apbhransh : The meaning of Apbhransh is ‘Vulgar’ or ‘Impure’. Apbhransh is not a single language but there are many Apbhransh languages which were born from various Prakrit Languages. Apbhransh languages were spoken between 500CE to 1000CE. There is lot off jain literature written in Apbhransh languages in medieval period.
Most of the modern Indian languages have were roods in Prakrit Languages. Following tables shows the details :
Modern Indian Language Roots in
Western Hindi, Urdu,Punjabi Shourseni Apbhransh Eastern Hindi Ardhmagdhi Apbhransh Marathi, Konkani Maharastri Apbhransh Bangla,Udia,Assamese,Bhojpuri Magdhi Apbhransh Gujrathi,Rajasthani Nagar Apbhransh Kasmiri Paishachi Apbhransh
The classic Sanskrit language also has its roots in old prakrit language spoken in North-India in Vedic & Prevedic period.