SOAS University of London

South Asia Department

South Asian Culture

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The purpose of this module is to give students a general introduction to the diverse culture of South Asia, from ancient times to the present day. It also incorporates training in essay-writing technique, oral presentation and library skills. It is organised into four separate modules, taught by a specialist teachers, and covering the cultures of ancient, medieval, colonial and contemporary South Asia.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with a two-hour lecture and a one-hour tutorial class contact each week.

Scope and syllabus

The following are the major areas of investigation:

  • Sanskrit language, literature and the epics
  • Cultural forms of South Asian Islam
  • Persian and Mughal culture
  • Poetry of devotion (Bhakti)
  • The culture of Lucknow and Urdu
  • Language identity and language movements in modern South Asia
  • Literature and nationalism
  • Partition and literature
  • Dalit literature: caste identity and protest
  • The family and modernity
  • Indian cinema
  • The culture of the South Asian diaspora

This module is core for students taking BA South Asian Studies and BA South Asian Studies and ...
This module is compulsory for students taking BA Hindi/Nepali/Sanskrit/Urdu and ...

Method of assessment

One three-hour written exam taken in May/June (60%); 4 (x 1,500 word) pieces of coursework (40%) to be handed in on Friday of week 4 of each 4 week module. A schedule of teaching will be given to you by the course convenor.

Suggested reading

South Asian Culture readings are posted on Moodle.

Module 1: Early and Classical India
  • Ali, Daud. Courtly Culture and Political Life. Cambridge: Cambridge UP (2004)
  • A.L. Basham (ed.), A cultural History of India (1975)
  • Blurton, Richard, Hindu Art, London: British Museum Press (1992)
  • J. Brockington, The Sanskrit epics (1998), pp. 18-40H. Scharfe, Education in Ancient India (2002),
  • Mary Cummings, Lives of the Buddha in the Art and Literature of Asia, Ann Arbor: Center for E.
    South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1982
  • Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, Louvain: Université Catholique de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1988
  • Pollock, Sheldon (trans. and Introduction), The Rāmāyana of Vālmiki, Book 2, Ayodhyā. Princeton: Princeton U.P, 1986.
  • Schwartzberg, Joseph, ed. An Historical Atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  • Smith, John D. (trans. and Introduction) The Mahabharata, Penguin 2009.
  • Thapar, Romila. Śakuntalā: texts, readings, histories, New Delhi: Kali for Women (1999)
  • Witzel, Michael, "Autochthonous Aryan? The Evidence of Old Indian and Iranian Texts" (
Module 2: Sultanate and Mughal India

General Resources on Islam in South Asia and South Asian literature:

  • Eaton, Richard M., ed. India's Islamic Traditions 711-1750. New Delhi: Oxford University Press (2003).
  • Asher, Catherine B., and Cynthia Talbot. India before Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 25-52.
  • Barbara Daly Metcalf, ed., Moral conduct and authority: the place of adab in South Asian Islam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 333-56.
  • Bruce B. Lawrence, Morals for the heart: conversations of Shaykh Nizam ad-Din Awliya recorded by Amir Hasan Sijzi (New York: Paulist Press, 1992),
  • Ibn Battuta, The Rehla of Ibn Battuta (India, Maldive Islands and Ceylon). Translation and Commentary. Translated by Mahdi Husain. 2nd (reprint) ed, Gaekwad's Oriental Series No.122. 
  • Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1953. Reprint, 1976., pp....
  • Eaton, Richard M. Essays on Islam and Indian History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Richards, J.F. "The Formulation of Imperial Authority under Akbar and Jahangir." In Kingship and Authority in South Asia, edited by J.F. Richards. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. Reprinted in Alam, M., and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds. The Mughal State, 1526-1750. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 126-167.
  • Muzaffar Alam, ‘’The culture and politics of Persian in pre-colonial Hindustan’ in Sheldon Pollock, Literary cultures in history: reconstructions from South Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 131-98.
  • Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, ‘A long history of Urdu literary culture, part 1: naming and placing a literary culture’ in Pollock, Literary cultures in history, pp. 805-63.
  • University Press, 2006.
  • John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer, Songs of the saints of India. Second ed. (New Delhi: OUP, 2004)
  • Dalrymple, William. White Mughals. London, 2002. Chapter 1.
Module 3: Colonialism & modernity
  • Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Awadh in revolt, 1857-1858: a study of popular resistance, New Delhi: Oxford University Press (1984)
  • Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, tr. E.S. Harcourt and F. Hussain, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989. (essays written in early 20c)
  • The Lucknow Omnibus, New Delhi: Oxford University Press (2001)
  • Bernard Cohn, ‘The Command over Language and the Language of Command’, Colonialism and its forms of knowledge: the British in India (Princeton University Press, 1996
  • C.A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament. Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 1993.
    Alok Rai, Hindi Nationalism, Delhi: Orient Longman, 2001.
  • Christopher King, One Language, Two Scripts: the Hindi movement in nineteenth century north India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994, JA410 /729241
  • Vasudha Dalmia, The Nationalization of Indian Traditions, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001, ch. 4.
  • Tapan Raychaudhuri, ‘Europe reconsidered: perceptions of the west in nineteenth-century Bengal, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 1-25
  • M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and other writings, ed. J. Parel, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 39-52 and 59-74.
  • Saadat Hasan Manto, ‘Black Margins’ (1948), Mottled Dawn, New Delhi: Penguin India, 1997.
  • Rajinder Singh Bedi, ‘Lajvanti’, in Alok Bhalla, Stories about the Partition of India, Delhi: Indus, 1994, 4 vols.
  • Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence: voices from the Partition of India, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1998, pp. 3-26, 109-119
  • Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, Borders and Boundaries: women in India’s Partition, New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998, JA954.04 /937567 and other copies
  • Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering partition : violence, nationalism, and history in India, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Module 4: Post-colonial South Asia
  • Ian Talbot, India and Pakistan, London: Arnold, 2000
  • Arjun Dangle (ed.) Poisoned bread: translations from modern Marathi Dalit literature (London: Sangam Books, 1992
  • Omprakash Valmiki, Joothan: a Dalit's life (trans. Arun Prabha Mukherjee, Calcutta: Samya, 2003 JA305.568 /906510 )
  • Oliver Mendelsohn and Marika Vicziany, The untouchables : subordination, poverty and the state in modern India, Cambridge University Press, 1998, ch. 4
  • Rajendra Yadav, Strangers on the Roof (Sara Akash, 1952; E. trans.) New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1994
  • Gloria G. Raheja and Ann G. Gold, Listen to the Heron’s Words: reimagining gender and kinship in North India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, JA306 /822004 and other copies)
  • Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: a guidebook to popular Hindi cinema, London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Rachel Dwyer and Divia Patel, Cinema India: the visual culture of the Hindi film (London: Reaktion Books, 2002, JA791.43 /829944 and other copies)
  • N. Ali, V.S. Kalra and S. Sayyid (eds), A Postcolonial People: Asians in Britain (London: Hurst, 2006, JA305.8914 /964141 and other copies)
General histories:
  • Burton Stein, A History of India (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998) JA954/76390 and other copies
  • Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermun, A History of India (London: Routledge, 1992)* JA954 /916888 and other copies
  • Peter Robb, A History of India (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)* JA954 /844265 and other copies
  • Catherine B. Asher and Cynthia Talbot, India before Europe (Cambridge: CUP, 2006)
Also very useful:
  • Francis Robinson (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) L J954.003 /659002 and other copies
  • Benjamin Walker, Hindu World: an encyclopaedic survey of Hinduism, Vols. 1 & 2 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968) Ref. J294.503 /214734


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules