SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Epic Narratives in India and Asia

Dr Sven Bretfeld (NTNU Trondheim), Dr Csaba Dezső (Eötvös Loránd University), Dr Laxshmi Greaves (Leiden), Dr Kevin McGrath (Harvard), Dr Ulrike Roesler (Oxford), and Dr Michael Willis (British Museum)

Date: 13 February 2018Time: 2:00 PM

Finishes: 13 February 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Senate House Room: S116

Type of Event: Workshop


Outlining the Bhārata, Vyāsa's First Poem

Dr Kevin McGrath (Harvard)

The paper examines the use of two terms used by the poets: 'jaya' and 'dhyāna'. The first of these words is shown to indicate the earliest rendering of the poem; then, the argument is developed to demonstrate how such a primary work was initially inspired. The second term, 'dhyāna', is shown to lie at the basis of Vyāsa's compositional technique; the word also uniquely occurs in relation to two of the heroes, Kṛṣṇa and Bhīṣma, whom I argue are characters who are crucial to the narrative formation of the epic. This final ordering however, concerns not so much the act of inspiration but of early textual 'edition'.

The Tibetan Ramayana(s): the Story of Rama and Sita, or the Story of Rama and Ravana?

Dr Ulrike Roesler (Oxford)

While the spread of the Ramayana into South East Asia is well-known and well-documented, the spread into Central Asia is documented in a fairly haphazard way through fragments in various languages, including Khotanese, Uighur, and Tocharian. The most complete version, however, is the Tibetan Rama story preserved among the Dunhuang manuscripts.

A closer investigation of these Tibetan fragments comes to the following conclusions: a) The Tibetan Ramayana was intended as a heroic epic, and the true heroes are Rama and Ravana, rather than Rama and Sita. b) The Tibetan Rama story from Dunhuang shares certain elements with the Ramayana tradition in South East Asia and must therefore be understood as part of this wider tradition. c) Later literary adaptations of the Rama story composed in Tibet between the 13th and 20th centuries seem to follow the story line of the Dunhuang version; the Rama story from Dunhuang has thus had a long-lasting impact on Tibetan literature, even if the fragments themselves had been hidden away until their re-discovery in the 20th century.

Responses by 
  • Dr Sven Bretfeld (NTNU Trondheim), "The Cultural Role of the Indian Epics in Sri Lanka" 
  • Dr Csaba Dezső (Eötvös Loránd University), "The Character of Sītā in Gupta-Period Kāvya Literature"
  • Dr Laxshmi Greaves (Leiden), "Epic Stories in Terracotta Plaques"
  • Dr Michael Willis (British Museum), "The Persian Translation of the Epic in the Mughal Court"


Registration is required of all participants.

Organiser: SOAS, University of London

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0) 20 7898 4893

Sponsor: European Research Council