The Prakrits are a group of vernacular Middle Indo-Aryan languages used in India from around the 3rd century BCE to the 8th century CE. The term Prakrit is applied to the middle period of Middle Indo-Aryan languages, excluding earlier inscriptions and the Pali; the Prakrits were used contemporaneously with the prestigious Classical Sanskrit of higher social classes. Prākṛta means "natural", as opposed to saṃskṛta, which means "constructed" or "refined"; the Prākrṭa Prakāśa defines the meaning of the name “Prākṛta”: prakṛtiḥ saṃskṛtam | tatrabhavaṃ tata āgataṃ vā prākṛtam || The same definition is given by the prakrit grammarian Acharya Hemachandra in his grammar of Prakrit. The dictionary of Monier Monier-Williams however interprets the word in the opposite sense to what the Prakrit grammarians say - "the most frequent meanings of the term prakṛta, from which the word "prakrit" is derived, are "original, normal" and the term is derived from prakṛti, "making or placing before or at first, the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance".

In linguistic terms, this is used in contrast with saṃskṛta, "refined". Modern scholars have used the term "Prakrit" to refer to two concepts: Prakrit languages: a group of related literary languages the Prakrit language: one of the Prakrit languages, which alone was used as the primary language of entire poemsSome modern scholars include all Middle Indo-Aryan languages under the rubric of'Prakrits', while others emphasize the independent development of these languages separated from the history of Sanskrit by wide divisions of caste and geography; the broadest definition uses the term "Prakrit" to describe any Middle Indo-Aryan language that deviates from Sanskrit in any manner. American scholar Andrew Ollett points out that this unsatisfactory definition makes "Prakrit" a cover term for languages that were not called Prakrit in ancient India, such as: the language of Ashoka's inscriptions the language of inscriptions of India, labeled "Monumental Prakrit", "Lena Prakrit", or "Stupa dialect" the language of inscriptions of Sri Lanka, labeled "Sinhalese Prakrit" Pali, the language of the Theravada Buddhist canon the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Gandhari, the language of birch-bark scrolls discovered in the region stretching from northwestern India to western ChinaAccording to some scholars, such as German Indologists Richard Pischel and Oskar von Hinüber, the term "Prakrit" refers to a smaller set of languages that were used in literature: Scenic Prakrits These languages are used in plays, as secondary languages Their names indicate regional association, although these associations are notional Primary Prakrits These languages are used as primary languages of literary classics such as Gaha Sattasai This includes the Maharashtri Prakrit or "Prakrit par excellence", which according to Dandin's Kavya-darsha, was prevalent in the Maharashtra region, in which poems such as Ravana-vaho were composed.

According to Sanskrit scholar A. C. Woolner, the Ardhamagadhi Prakrit, used extensively to write the scriptures of Jainism, is considered to be the definitive form of Prakrit, while others are considered variants of it. Prakrit grammarians would give the full grammar of Ardhamagadhi first, define the other grammars with relation to it. For this reason, courses teaching'Prakrit' are regarded as teaching Ardhamagadhi. Medieval grammarians such as Markandeya describe a systematized Prakrit grammar, but the surviving Prakrit texts do not adhere to this grammar. For example, according to Vishvanatha, in a Sanskrit drama, the characters should speak Maharashtri Prakrit in verse and Shauraseni Prakrit in prose, but the 10th century Sanskrit dramatist Rajashekhara doesn't abide by this rule. Markandeya, as well as scholars such as Sten Konow find faults with the Prakrit portions of Rajashekhara's writings, but it is not clear if the rule enunciated by Vishvanatha existed during Rajashekhara's time. Rajashekhara's himself imagines Prakrit as a single language or a single kind of language, alongside Sanskrit and Paishachi.

German Indologist Theodor Bloch dismissed the medieval Prakrit grammarians as unreliable, arguing that they were not qualified to describe the language of the texts composed centuries before them. Other scholars such as Sten Konow, Richard Pischel and Alfred Hillebrandt, disagree with Bloch, it is possible that the grammarians sought to codify only the language of the earliest classics of the Prakrit literature, such as the Gaha Sattasai. Another explanation is. Most of the surviving Prakrit manuscripts were produced in a variety of regional scripts, during 1300-1800 CE, it appears that the scribes who made these copies from the earlier manuscripts did not have a good command of the original language of the texts, as several of the extant Prakrit texts contain inaccuracies or are incomprehensible. Prakrita Prakasha, a book attributed to Vararuchi, summarizes various Prakrit languages Prakrit literature was produced across a wide area of South Asia, from Kashmir in the north to Tamil Nadu in the south, from Sindh in the west to Bengal in the east.

Outside India, the language was known in Cambodia and Java. Prakrit is wrongly assumed to hav

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