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Apabhrangsha last stage of the medieval Indian Aryan language Pali-Prakrit. The term is supposedly derived from apashabda or apabhrast. The first mention of Apabhrangsha is found in Patanjali's Mahabhasya (2nd century BC). Patanjali used the term to mean words derived from sanskrit but not accepted in polite vocabulary. prakrit grammarians like Purusottam (12th century) mentioned Apabhrangsha. However, they referred to it as a separate language rather than the final stage of Prakrit.

The view now current about Apabhrangsha is that it is the final stage of all Prakrit languages and that different Indo-Aryan languages evolved out of it. According to this view, Magadhi Prakrit of eastern India gave birth to Purvi Apabhrangsha and this in turn spawned three Bihari languages Bhojpuri, Magahi and Maithili-and three Gaudiya languages- Bangla, Assamese and Oriya. Western Shauraseni Apabhrangsha gave birth to Hindi. Apabhrangsha was current roughly from 1st century BC to 17th century AD, mostly among the lower classes.

The first evidence of the use of Apabhrangsha in a literary work is found in Natyashastra by Bharat (2nd/3rd century), which quotes several shlokas composed in Apabhrangsha. Further examples are to be found in Shvetamvar Jainas' Agamagrantha, later Buddhist writings such as Lankavatar, Lalitavistar, Mahavastu etc, and in Bimalasuri's work Paumachariyam (3rd century) written in Maharashtri Prakrit. The songs of the fourth act of kalidasa' play Vikramorvashiyam (1st century/4th century AD) are also composed in Apabhrangxha.

Literature written in Apabhrangsha was regarded with a great deal of respect by rhetoricians such as Bhamaha (7th century) and Dandi (8th century), who divided poetry into three main linguistic genres: Sanskrit, Prakrit and Apabhrangsha. They expressed the view that verses composed in Apabhrangsha were not inferior to those in Sanskrit or Prakrit. Later, Purusottam termed Apabhrangsha as a language of the elite.

Most books in Apabhrangsha were works by Jains, who wrote various versified biographies, ethics, dialectics as well as Jain philosophy in this language. The most ancient biographical text, as well as the most ancient text in Apabhrangsha, is Svayambhudev's Paumachariu (7th/8th century), which describes the life of ramachandra in 56 sandhis (cantos) and 12,000 slokas. Some other important versified biographies are Dhahil's (or Dahil's) Paumasirichariu (10th century), Puspadanta's Mahapurana, Jasaharachariu and Nayakumarachariu, (10th century), Haribhadra's Neminahachariu (12th century) and Padmakirti's Parshvapurana (14th century). Another significant text in Apabhrangsha is Dhavalakavi's Harivangxhapurana, based on the mahabharata story of Krishna-Balaram and Kuru-Pandava.

A number of poetic works based on different legends were written in Apabhrangsha, including Bhavissayattakaha by Dhanapal (10th century) and Sudarshanacharita by Nayanandi (11th century). Singhasen wrote Mehesarachariu (15th century) in his own name, as well as Dahalakthana-Jayamala and Jivanadharacharita under the name of 'Raidhu'. Several books based on Jivanadharacharita were written later. Karakandachariu composed by Kanakamar Muni (17th century) is a biography of the Jain sage Karakanda, who was revered by both the Jain and Buddhist communities. Kathakos by xhrichandra (10th or 12th century) is a collection of 53 stories.

Jain writers showed considerable ability in composing works on ethics. Jinaduttasuri (1075-1154 AD), a contemporary of Hemchandra and a disciple of Jinavallabh Suri, became famous by composing three treatises on ethics. His Chachchari, in praise of Acharya Jinavallabh Suri, is a short lyrical poem. His two other ethical works are Upadexharasayanarasa and Kalasvarupakulaka. Suprabhacharya's Vairagyasara (1771 AD) is also an important ethical work in verse.

The Jain scholar Joindu was an erudite philosopher who is credited with over a hundred books. There is some confusion about his dates, which vary from the 7th to the 10th century. Joindu's Paramatmaprakasha, Yogasara, Shravakacharadohaka and Dohapahuda are important philosophical texts. Some other significant works of philosophy are Devsen's Savayadhammadoha (9th century), Rajsingha's Pahudadoha (10th century) and Abhaydev Suri's Jayatihuyanastotra.

Jains used Pashchimi and Daksini Apabhrangsha in their literary work. Bangali Buddhists, such as kahnapa (7th century) and Sarhapa (10th century) mainly used Purvi Apabhrangsha. The dohas or devotional verses of Kahnapa and Sarhapa are in the nature of sermons, but have considerable poetic merit. Dakarnavatantra, another book in this genre, introduces rhyme in verse, giving rise to the growth of poetic metres in local languages. Prakritapaingala by Pingalacharya (c 14th century) and Kirtilata by vidyapati (15th century) are two other fine books composed in Purvi Apabhrangsha. Prakritapaingala discusses both matra and varna metres with examples, among them, gaha, viggaha, uggaha, doha, rola, chhappaa, kavvalakkhana and doai in matra metre and panchal, mandar, malati, mallika, rupamala, totak, chasar and chachchariin varna metre. The slokas cited by Pingal as examples are of considerable literary value. [Shashwati Halder]