the language of the madhyadesa and the eastern which was the language of
the prachya countries. The first regarded as conservative, was the purest form
of Aryan speech. A new form of it had come into existence – Samskrita,
described by Panini as bhasa – which became the vehicle of expression of the
elite or the brahmins. The inscriptions of Asoka present broadly three distinct
local dialects. There is a Prakrit or Aryan speech of the north-west, as in the
edicts at Mansehra and Shahbazgarhi. Then, there is a Prakrit of the east,
found in eastern inscriptions of Asoka and elsewhere, which was the
language of Asoka’s court at Pataliputra. Thus in Rajputana in western Uttar
Pradesh, in north-western Uttar Pradesh (Kalsi) and in central Uttar Pradesh
(Allahabad), the eastern dialect was employed as much as in eastern Uttar
Pradesh, Banaras (Sarnath) and Bihar (Lauriya, Rummindei and Barabar
caves). Finally, the Rock edicts of Girnar in the west represent a slightly
modified form of midland dialect, though even in that part of the country, the
eastern official language was used in inscriptions.
     The dominant language of Asoka’s court was Prakrit or the Magadhi the
language spoken by the people at large. The edicts first written in Pataliputra
in that language were sent to far away places for publication after being
engraved on stone. The eastern Prakrit became an important vehicle of
religious culture of the Buddha and Mahavira. But this dialect seems to have
lost its influence with the decline of the Mauryan empire. The midland,
forming the real heart of India, gained its natural place and discourses of the
Buddha were rendered in the midland dialect, the precursor of the Sauraseni
apabrahmsa of early medieval times (600-1200 AD). Pali, linguistically the
literary form of midland speech, was taken to Ceylon by Mahendra from
Ujjain, via Pataliputra and Tamralipti.
     But even in this period, classical Sanskrit established from the time of
Panini, did not lose its importance. It was cultivated by the Brahmanical
schools and other grammarians – Katyayana and Patanjali, belonging to the
Maurya and Sunga periods respectively – who raised the language to a high
level of development. The language, simplified at the hands of Panini, had
become distinct from that of the Vedas and came to be increasingly used in
the growing body of epic and poetic literature.
     There was a good deal of grammatical activity during the Mauryan
period. In Sanskrit grammar, Panini     (5th century BC) had already written the