By the 6th cent. BC the people of India were speaking and writing languages that were much simpler than classical Sanskrit. These vernacular forms, of which there were several, are called the Prakrits [Skt.,=natural]. One very important and early Prakrit was Pali (see Pali canon
), which became the language of the Buddhists. However, most of the literature generally called Prakrit is devoted to Jainism
. The sacred texts ( Siddhanta
) of the two main sects of the Jains employed three types of Prakrit. The oldest sutras of the Svetambara sect are written in Ardha-Magadhi, while later books are in Maharastri. The Svetambara canon, written in verse and prose, received its final form in AD 454. The sacred books of the Digambara sect are written in Savraseni. An important source of knowledge of Prakrit is the Sanskrit drama. Kalidasa
is included among many dramatists, who, in order to obtain a realistic effect, had the common people in their plays speak in Prakrit. See Sanskrit literature
See M. Winternitz, A History of Indian Literature (2 vol., tr. 1927–33, repr. 1971).
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