Bhojpuri is a language spoken in parts of north-central and eastern India. It is spoken in the western part of state of Bihar, the northwestern part of Jharkhand, and the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh (UP), as well as adjoining parts of the Nepal Terai. Bhojpuri is also spoken in Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago and Mauritius. The variant of Bhojpuri of the Surinamese Hindustanis is also referred to as Sarnami Hindustani, Sarnami Hindi or just Sarnami and has experienced considerable Creole and Dutch lexical influence. More Indians in Suriname know Bhojpuri compared to Guyana and Trinidad where the language is largely forgotten.
Bhojpuri is part of the Eastern-Hindi or Bengali continuum of languages which once extended from Assam and Bengal to Ballia. While the rest of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh slowly adopted the new Hindi standard (Khadi Boli), the language remained strong in the areas between Patna and Benaras.Some scholar trace the literacy history of Bhojpuri from Siddha Sahitya itself, as early as 8th century A.D. Kabir’s contribution of ‘nirgun’ poetry to Sant Sahitya certainly qualifies as recorded literature in Bhojpuri in the 15th century.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.
The scholar, polymath and polyglot Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan wrote some works in Bhojpuri. Other eminent writers include Viveki Rai. The number of Bhojpuri writers is small compared to the number of speakers. Some other notable Bhojpuri personalities are legendary freedom fighter Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, first president of India Rajendra Prasad, Manoj Bajpai, and former Indian prime ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri and Chandra Shekhar. Bihar Kokila Padma Shri Sharda Sinha is a famous Bhojpuri folk singer.
Number of speakers
According to an article published in Times of India, a total of 150 million people in India speak Bhojpuri. An estimated 70 million people in Uttar Pradesh and 80 million people in Bihar speak Bhojpuri as their first or second language. There are 6 million Bhojpuri speakers living outside of Bihar and Purvanchal. These areas include Nepal, especially Birgunj, Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Uganda, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. This makes the total Bhojpuri speaking population in the world close to 90 million. However, the official figures of the 2001 Indian Census are much lower, showing 33 million speakers of the Bhojpuri dialect under the Hindi language sub-family.
Bhojpuri dialects, varieties, and creoles are also spoken in various parts of the world, including Brazil, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, South Africa, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, many colonizers faced labor shortages and were unable to obtain slaves from Africa due to the abolition of slavery; thus, they imported many Indians as indentured servants to labor on plantations. Today, many Indians in the West Indies, Oceania, and South America still speak Bhojpuri as a native or second language.
The Bhojpuri language has been heavily influenced by other languages in many parts of the world. Mauritian Bhojpuri includes many Creole and English words, while the language spoken in Trinidad and Tobago includes Caribbean and English words.
The Sunday Indian, Bhojpuri Association of India and Global Bhojpuri Movement has launched a worldwide movement for the Recognition, Promotion and Preservation of Bhojpuri Language, Art, Culture, Literature and society.
The Bhojpuri-speaking region, due to its rich tradition of creating leaders for building post-independence India such as first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad followed by many eminent politicians and humanitarians like Dr. Krishna Dev Upadhyaya, was never devoid of intellectual prominence which is evident in its literature.
Bhojpuri became one of the bases of the development of the official language of independent India, Hindi, in the past century. Bhartendu Harishchandra, who is considered the father of literary Hindi, was greatly influenced by the tone and style of Bhojpuri in his native region. Further development of Hindi was taken by prominent laureates such as Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi and Munshi Premchand from the Bhojpuri-speaking region. Bhikhari Thakur, known as the Shakespeare of Bhojpuri, has also given theater plays including the classics of Bidesiya. Pioneer Dr. Krishna Dev Upadhyaya from Ballia district devoted 60 years to researching and cataloging Bhojpuri folklore. Dr. H. S. Upadhyaya wrote the book Relationships of Hindu family as depicted in Bhojpuri folksongs (1996). Together they have cataloged thousands of Bhojpuri folksongs, riddles and proverbs from the Purvanchal U.P, Bihar, Jharkand and Chotta Nagpuri districts near Bengal.
The Bhojpuri literature has always remained contemporary. It was more of a body of folklore with folk music and poems prevailing. Literature in the written form started in the early 20th century. During the British era, then known as the "Northern Frontier Province language", Bhojpuri adopted a patriotic tone and after independence it turned to community. In later periods, following the low economic development of the Bhojpuri-speaking region, the literary work is more skewed towards the human sentiments and struggles of life.
A recent publication (2009) 'Bhojpuri-Lok Sahitya: Lok Geeton Ki Samajik Sanskritik Sandarbh Evam Prishthbhumi" (Bhojpuri Folk Literature: Social and Cultural Landscape of Folk Songs) by Dr. Dharmveer Singh (Publisher: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Bhavan, P.O. Box 1160, Chowk, Varanasi-221001, India) contains an exhaustive research on the historical and social background of the origin and temporal development of this language in greatest detail. This book is exhaustive in its approach and is a gem for anyone who is interested in Bhojpuri as a language. The most impressive aspect of the book is the collection of folk-songs that the author has gleaned from various sources. With the advent of modern technology and effect of cinema, these folk-songs are becoming extinct. This book preserves not only the songs in a written form but also provides the context in which they should be viewed and appreciated.