SOAS University of London

South Asia Department

Selected Texts from the Sanskrit Epic

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year
This is a language-based module for second and third year students with a good basic knowledge of Sanskrit.

It may be taken as part of a joint degree in Sanskrit and another subject, or as a part of a degree in South Asian studies, or as part of a degree in the Study of Religions. The aim of the module is two-fold: to increase the ability to read Sanskrit texts, and to introduce students to the content and religious background of Sanskrit epic literature. Material for the module will be selected from the Mahabharata (and/or the Bhagavadgita) and the Ramayana. Both epics are important for understanding Indian culture, past and present.


A good basic knowledge of Sanskrit.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate...

  1. an increased ability to read and understand Sanskrit epic texts
  2. an increased ability to apply the knowledge of Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary (including the use of Sanskrit-English dictionaries)
  3. a familiarity with content and religious background of the Indian epics


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

The passages to be read, translated, interpreted, and discussed in class in this language-based module are selected from the ancient Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Both epics are important for understanding Indian culture, past and present. The material is arranged according to progressive difficulty, starting with ch.1 of Book 1 of the Ramayana (a brief account of the events), followed by a passage from the Ramayana proper (e.g. the encounter with Surpanakha or the abduction of Sita in Book 3) in the first term. The second term will be dedicated to the Mahabharata (e.g. the famous game of dice in Book 2 or scenes from the battle books).

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (80%); coursework (20%), consisting of two pieces of assessed homework (5% each), to be submitted on the first day after the first Reading Week and the first day of the second tem, and one essay (10%), to be submitted on the first day of the third term.

Suggested reading

  • The Valmiki-Ramayana, critically edited by G.H. Bhatt [etc.], 7 vols., Baroda 1960-1986.
  • H.P. Shastri (transl.), The Ramayana of Valmiki. 3 vols., London 1952-1959, 2nd revised edition 1962. [Translation of the Vulgate based on the Southern Recension.]
  • R.P. Goldman (ed.), The Ramayana of Valmiki , an epic of ancient India. Vol. 1 transl. by Goldman, vol. 2 and 3 by S.I. Pollock. Princeton University Press 1984, 1986, 1991.
  • The Mahabharata, for the 1st time critically edited by V.S. Sukthankar, F. D. Edgerton etc. Poona 1927-1966.
  • J.A.B. van Buitenen (transl.): The Mahabharata. Vol. II: 2. The Book of the Assembly Hall. 3. The Book of the Forest. Chicago 1975.
  • M. Monier-Williams: A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. 1st ed. OUP 1899 [Many Indian reprints]
  • J. L. Brockington, Righteous Rama:the evolution of an epic. Delhi 1985.
  • J.L. Brockington: The Sanskrit epics. Leiden 1998.
  • John D. Smith, ‘Old Indian: the two Sanskrit epics’ in A.T. Hatto, ed., Traditions of heroic and epic poetry. Vol. 1: The traditions (London: The Humanities Research Association, 1980).
For reference:
  • Th. Oberlies: A Grammar of Epic Sanskrit. Berlin 2003.
  • S. Sørensen: An Index to the Names in the Mahabharata. London 1904-25 (repr. Delhi 1963).
  • E.W. Hopkins: The Great Epic of India. New York 1901 (repr. Calcutta 1969).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules