The Brief History of Bhojpuri; mother tongue of the part of Bihar & UP

Among the Bihari languages, Bhojpuri covers much the largest territory consisting of an area of approximately 73,100 square kilometres of western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh and also the southwest part of Nepal. Thus, unlike other ‘Bihari’ languages, Bhojpuri is spoken in two adjoining states in India, and two contiguous countries of South Asia, India and Nepal. Furthermore, it is also the chief lingua franca of sizeable communities of Bhojpuri speaking settlers in Mauritius, Trinidad Guyana and Surinam . Fiji Indians are fond of saying that their Hindi is derived from Bhojpuri. All this does in a way accord Bhojpuri the state of an International language.

Extends to the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh with roughly the districts of Basti, Azamgarh, Varanasi and Mirzapur marking the western flank. In Nepal, Bhojpuri is spoken in the Tarai tract bordering India from Baharaich in Uttar Pradesh to Champaran in Bihar, and includes such places in Nepal as Kailali on the west and Mahottari on the east. On its western border, Bhojpuri meets Avadhi, with a transition area.

Bhojpuri gets its name from a place called Bhojpur in Bihar, now also the name of the district where it is situated. It is believed that Ujjain Rajputs claiming their descent from Raja Bhoj of Malwa had established an important principality here which fought the Mughals of Delhi in the 16th century and the British in 1857. The name Bhojpuri for the language seems to be established by the 17th century and first appears in writing in1789. It is denoted by other local names too.

As a language spread over an area of almost 45,000 square miles, Bhojpuri obviously has dialects, essentially four of them, identified in the literature as

1- Standard Bhojpuri (also referred to as Southern Standard), 2- Northern Bhojpuri, 3- Western Bhojpuri and 4- Nagpuri .A fifth one, Tharu Bhojpuri, is also recognised as the Bhojpuri spoken in the Nepal Terai and the adjoining areas in the upper strips of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, from Baharaich to Champaran. Some of the places in the Nepal Terai, from west to east, are Kailali, Dang, Rupandehi, Bhairawa, Butwal, Chitwan and Mohottari.

Chuprah Village (Chhapra). January, 23 1832 Artist: Woodcock, Harriot Mary
Chuprah Village (Chhapra). January, 23 1832 Artist: Woodcock, Harriot Mary

Southern Standard Bhojpuri covers the areas of Bhojpur, Rohtas, Saran, parts of Champaran in Bihar, and Ballia and eastern Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. One may also come across a local name ‘Chaparahiya’ in Saran.

Northern Bhojpuri covers the areas of Deoria, Gorakhpur and Basti in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Champaran in Bihar. Local names include ‘Gorakhpuri’ for the language in Deoria and eastern Gorakhpur, and ‘Sarwariya’ in western Gorakhpur and Basti. The variety spoken cast of Gandak river between Gorakhpuri Bhojpuri and Maithili in Champaran has a local name Madhesi (Madhya desiyar 11,029 returns by that name in 1971).

Western Bhojpuri includes the areas of Varanasi, Azamgarh, Ghazipur and Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh ‘Banarasi’ is a local name for the Banaras Bhojpuri. There is a very popular general name ‘ Purabiya’ for (curiously enough) Western Bhojpur, obviously used by Hindi speakers to the west of them.

Nagpuria is the dialect spoken to the south of the river Son, in the Palamu and Ranchi districts in Bihar. It has Chattisgarhi contact and may have a Chattisgarhi flavour in its nominal forms. It is also called ‘Sadani or ‘Sadri’, as also ‘Diku Kaji’ by the Munda population there.
Population of Bhojpuri Speakers 

Dependable population figures for Bhojpuri, as for other Bihari languages, are hard to come by. Part of the reason, of course, is the designation Hindi used by its speakers for one reason or another in response to census questions. The 1961 census lists the figure at 7,964,755, and the 1971 census figure is 14,340,564. For 1994, Crime (1996) provides the figures 23,375,000 for India and 1,370,000 for Nepal bringing the total to 25 million and making it the 37th most spoken language in the world. However, taking into account the long-time overseas settlers using Bhojpuri extensively as a lingua franca in their communities in Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Surinam, we can add at least another 2 million to bring the total to 27 million. 

History of Bhojpuri 

Some scholar enthusiasts like to trace the literacy history of Bhojpuri from Siddha Sahitya itself, as early as 8th century A.D. The so called Bhojpuri forms that they may find that early may be nothing more than common developments shared by the whole northern complex of language-dialects stretching from the Midlands to the East. However, Kabir’s contribution of ‘nirgun’ poetry to Sant Sahitya certainly qualifies as recorded literature in Bhojpuri in the 15th century. Kabir’s language was Western Bhojpuri, more specifically, ‘Banarasi’ (notwithstanding some edited conformity to the preferred literacy diction). The nineteenth century has such works as Deviksaracarita by Ramdatta Shukla (1884), Badmasdarpan by Teg Ali Teg (1895), and Jangal me Mangal and Nagari Vilap by Ram Garib Chaube in the later half of the nineteenth century. Publication activity in Bhojpuri has been significant, both in volume and quality. The script for them, of course, is Devanagari. Kaithi, the script originally used, is restricted to informal family communication. Bhojpuri is very actively used by its educated speakers in just about all situations except formal education and government.




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