On a search about languages of Bihar you come across a YouTube video titled “Hritik Roshan learning Bihari language for his movie super 30”. As if the title wasn’t embarrassing enough, the content is appalling. The actor can be heard boasting that he practiced “Bihari” everyday for 2-3 hours. This is not an isolated instance of blatant ignorance and the gross simplification of the linguistic diversity of the state. Ask any Bihari living outside of state how often they come across ignorant requests of saying something in Bihari by their peers. “Say something in Bihari na” echoes similar ignorance faced by Indians abroad in questions like “You speak Indian right”? Both statements are not only problematic but mocks the linguistic and cultural diversity of the state and country respectively. Bihar has not only one but five major languages and dialects. Bhojpuri, Magahi, Maithili, Angika and Bajjika are the major languages and dialects spoken in the state. Hindi and Urdu are also spoken extensively.
Angika with approximately 30 million speakers is largely spoken in Eastern Bihar. It includes the areas of Araria,Katihar, Purnia, Saharsa, Supaul, Begusarai, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Munger etc. It is spoken in Jharkhand and Nepal too. Previously Anga lipi was used to write Angika but now it has been replaced by Devnagari. Angika is considered to be one the oldest languages of the world.
Bajjika, with about 11.5 million speakers, is native dialect of areas including Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Sheohar, Samastipur and parts of Sitamarhi and Champaran. Bajjika is also spoken in parts of Nepal. Erstwhile Vrijjika and Brijjika, Bajjika derives its name from Vrijji, a small kingdom that ruled Vaishali around 600 BCE. Kaithi was the script used for this language which now has been replaced by Devnagari. Magahi, with nearly 18 million speakers, is spoken primarily in Patna, Nalanda, Gaya, Nawada, Jehanabad and Aurangabad. Magahi in ancient times was considered crude and uncouth by the elites in comparison to languages like Maithili. It was spoken widely by the common masses.
Devanagari had replaced the historically used Kaithi as Magahi’s script. Maithili, with approximately 50 million speakers, is the native language of the Mithila region. This region includes places like Darbhanga, Madhubani, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Katihar, Madhepura etc. It is the second most spoken language of Nepal. Maithili dates back to the 14th century with Varna Ratnakara being the earliest known text written in the language. Maithili is rich in literature with prominent writers like Vidyapati. Darbhanga and Madhubani are the linguistic and cultural centers of the language. Maithli is the only language from Bihar that is recognised by the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution. Earlier Mithilakshar or Tirhuta was used to write Maithili, presently Devanagari is the widely used script.
Bhojpuri is widely spoken in western Bihar, Eastern UP and middle Terai regions of Nepal. Western Bihar includes Bhojpur, Buxar, Siwan, Rohtas etc. Due to immigration of Girmitiya Mazdoor or indentured laborers during Colonial regime, Bhojpuri is widely spoken in countries like Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji, Mauritius etc. According to an Article by India Today- ORGI’s 2001 abstract of speakers’ strength of languages and mother tongues says 33,099,497 people identified Bhojpuri as their mother tongue. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed the Lok Sabha in 2018 that “the estimated number of Bhojpuri speakers across the world is approximately 28.50 lakhs”. Despite these figures and growing demand, Bhojpuri still awaits its inclusion in the 8th schedule of the Indian constitution. Bhojpuri literature has produced gems like Raghubir Narayanand and Bhikari Thakur. Given the rich linguistic heritage and diversity of the state, this constant ignorance and over simplification by calling every or any language of the state as Bihari is deeply problematic. It reeks of the willed ignorance that is generally associated with the state. We the people of Bihar need to preserve our rich linguistic heritage by holding on to our native languages and unique culture.