SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

Selected Texts from the Sanskrit Epic (PG)

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This is a language-based module for postgraduate students with a good basic knowledge of Sanskrit.

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 may be selected from the Mahabharata (and/or the Bhagavadgita) and the Ramayana. Both epics are important for understanding Indian culture, past and present. Additional texts important to the broadly understood Hindu tradition may be introduced.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

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


  • Two porfolios of marked homework, translation or essay agrred with the convenor (1,000 words each) (10%)
  • One essay (3,000 words) (20%
  • One exam (3 hours) (60%)

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). Additional texts may be introduced to meet student interests.

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). 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules