Ancient Prakrit Languages of India
The meaning of `Prakrit' is `Natural'. The word prakrit is used for a 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:
Adhdhamagahi (Ardhmagadhi) : Ardhmagadhi was the language of people in Magadh, Bihar. This language was spoken between 600 BCE to 100 CE. Vardhman Mahavir and his Ganadhars (Chief Disciples) gave sermons in Ardhmagadhi language. Mahavir's teachings were transmitted to next generation through oral tradition. Later the teachings were compiled by Shrideverdhigani in 454CE. Until that time the language was affected by time & influenced by Jain Maharashtri language. So the compiled verses are closer to Jain Maharashtri Language.
The famous & popular Namokar-Mantra (also called as Navakar Mantra) of Jains is in Ardhmagadhi language.
Shourseni : Shourseni was being spoken in 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, Labours etc.
Jain Marhatti (Jain Maharashtri) : This was language of non-agamic Jain literature. Biographies of Teerthankars & great Acharys, Stories, Purans 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.
Marhatti (Maharashtri) : This language was used for Jain epics and songs. Gathasaptshati is a famous work in Maharashtri language. This book was compiled by Haal, a Satavahan King. Modern Marathi language is second next step language in the evolution of Maharashtri.
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 their roots in Prakrit Languages.
Western Hindi, Khadi Boli, Urdu, Punjabi languages have their roots in Shourseni Apbhransh language.
Eastern Hindi has its root in Ardhmagdhi Apbhransh
Marathi and Konkani languages have their roots in Maharastri Apbhransh
Bangla, Udia, Assamese and Bhojpuri languages have their roots in Magdhi Apbhransh
Gujrathi and Rajasthani languages have their roots in Nagar Apbhransh
Kasmiri language has its roots in Paishachi Apbhransh
You may also like to read: Siribhoovalaya: Multilingual Encyclopedia of Ancient India