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Indian literary sources
Source Author Language Date Notes
Veda Samhitas Various Sanskrit 1st m.

Gives account of life of people in addition to philosophy, religion etc
Arthashastra Chanakya Sanskrit 4th c. BCE Covers Mauryan period under Chandragupta Maurya

Treatise on statecraft, economy and military strategy
Sangam literature Various Tamil c. 600 BCE – 300 CE Primarily Dealt with everyday themes

Foreign Literary Sources

Source Author Language Date Notes
Indika Megasthenes Greek 4th c. BCE Ambassador of Seleucus I to court of Chandragupta Maurya

Used by later writers Strabo and Arrian
Describes geography, politics, various kingdoms, caste system
Indica Arrian Greek 1st c. CE Considered one of most important sources about India

Covers travel of Alexander’s officer Nearchus from India to Babylon
Covers geography, esp. Indus and Ganges
Describes social structure
Describes seven castes, physical appearance, absence of slavery
Used Indika (Megasthenes) as source
Geographica Strabo Greek 1st c. CE Descriptive history of people and places all over the world

Consists of 17 volumes of material
Fa-Hien Chinese Around 400 CE Travelled to India/Ceylon to obtain Buddhist scriptures

Epigraphical Sources

Note that more than 55% of epigraphical inscriptions in India are in Tamil
Inscription Location Attributed to

Indus valley inscriptions IVC c. 2600 – 1900 BCE Indus script remains undeciphered
Edicts of Asoka All over India Asoka

3rd c. BCE
In Praktrit, Sanskrit, Greek

Heliodorus pillar Besnagar

(Madhya Pradesh)
c. 110 BCE In Sanskrit (Brahmi)

Dedicated by Heliodorus to god Vasudeva
Heliodorus was the Ambassador of Indo-Greek king Antialcidas to court of Sunga king Bhagabhadra
Describes relationship b/w Sungas and Indo-Greeks
Hathigumpha incription Udayagiri


(150 BCE)
In Prakrit (Brahmi script)

Main source of info about Kharavela
Mentions conflict with Demetrius
Mentions conflict with Uttarapatha
Rabatak inscription Rabatak


127-151 CE
In Bactrian (Greek script)

Describes Kushan dynasty
Halmidi inscription Halmidi

c. 450 CE Oldest inscription in Kannada (Brahmi script)


Important ancient Sanskrit literature

Work Category Author

Mahabharata Epic Vyasa
Ramayana Epic Valmiki
Ashtadhyayi Treatise on grammar Panini

(5th -4th c. BCE)
One of the earliest known grammars of Sanskrit
Nirukta Treatise on grammar Yaksa
Mrichakatika Play Shudraka

(2nd c. BCE)
Set in Pataliputra

Hindi film Utsav was based on this
Karnabhara, Charudatta Play Bhasa

(1st BCE – 4thCE)
Bhasa wrote about 13 plays

He is considered to be one of most important Sanskrit authors (after Kalidasa)
Urubhanga Play Bhasa Based on Mahabharata

Depicts story of Duryodhana after fight with Bhima
Madhyamavyayoga Play Bhasa Based on the Mahabharata
Malavikagnimitram Play Kalidasa

(4th -5th CE)
Gupta period
Tells the story of King Agnimitra falling in love with servant girl Malavika

Agnimitra was the son and successor to Pushyamitra Sunga
Abhijanasakuntalam Play Kalidasa Tells story of king Dushyanta and his marriage to Shankuntala

Considered to be Kalidasa’s most popular play
Vikramaorvasiyam Play Kalidasa Story of king Pururavas in love with celestial Urvashi
Raghuvamsa Poetry Kalidasa Kings of Raghu dynasty
Kumarasambhava Poetry Kalidasa Story of birth of Karthikeya
Rtusamhara Poetry Kalidasa Describes six seasons using context of love
Meghaduta Poetry Kalidasa Story of a Yaksha sending a message to his lover through a cloud

One of Kalidasa’s most popular poems
Ratnavali Play Harshavardhana

(590-647 CE)
Story of king Udayana and princess Ratnavali

Contains one of the earliest references to festival Holi
Nagananda Play Harshavardhana Describes prince Jimutavahana’s self-sacrifice to save serpents
Priyadarsika Play Harshavardhana
Kiratarjuniya Poetry Bharavi Describes contest b/w Arjuna and lord Shiva
Shishupala Vadha Poetry Magha

Important Ancient Literature in Tamil

Note that Sangam literature itself contains about 2400 poems by more than 470 poets. For obvious reasons, not all of them can be listed here
Work Category Author Notes
Ettuthokai Poetry Various

(600 BCE-
300 BCE)
Part of Sangam literature

Ettuthokai contains 8 anthologies:
Ainkurunuru, Akananuru, Purananuru, Kalittokai, Kuruntokai, Narrinai, Paripatal, Patirrupattu
Each of these anthologies in turn contain hundreds of poems by multiple authors
Deals with two themes: Akam (personal life) and Puram (war, politics)
Pathupattu Poetry Various Part of Sangam literature

Pathupattu contains 10 idylls (mid length books):
Tirumurugattruppatai, Kurinjipattu, Malaipatukatam, Maturaikkanji, Mullaipattu, Netunalvatai, Pattinappalai, Perumpanatrupatai, Porunaratruppatai, Sirupanatrupatai
Deals mainly with themes of nature
Tolkappiyam Grammar Tolkappiyar Earliest available work of Tamil literature
Aimperumkappiyam Epics Various Collection of five large narrative epics

The five epics were: Silappadhigaram, Manimegalai, Sivaka Chintamani, Valayapathi and Kundalakesi
Specific epics described below
Silappadhigaram Epic Ilango Adigal

(1st c. CE)
Describes story of Kannagi in her quest to save husband Kovalan

Describes in detail life, politics, trade, settlements of Greeks etc
Story evolves in themes of three: three kingdoms, three heroes, three heroines etc
Considered one of most important ancient Tamil literature
Manimegalai Epic Seethalai Sathanar

(1st-2nd c. CE)
Story of Manimegalai, daughter of Kovalan

Sequel to Silappadhigaram
Sivaka Chintamani Epic Tirutakkatevar Story of man who becomes king and then renounces throne
Valayapathi Epic Unknown Work lost
Kundalakesi Epic Nagakuthanar Original work lost, only fragments survive

Supposedly describes story of Buddhist monk Kundalakesi
Tirukkural Ethics Thiruvalluvar Couplets of ethics

Contains 1330 couplets
Thirukkural remains the book translated into most number of languages in the world


Work Subject Author Notes
Vedanga Jyotisha Astrology Lagadha

(1st c. BCE)
Describes rules for tracking motion of sun and moon
Yavanajataka Astrology Sphujidvaja

1st-2nd c. CE)
Translated it mean “Nativity as per the Greeks”

It is a collection of astrology-related ideas borrowed from Greek world
Gives rules for building horoscopes
Surya Siddhanta Astronomy Establishes rules to determine motions of stellar objects
Paulisa Siddhanta

(Doctrine of Paul)
Astronomy Based on works of Paul of Alexandria

(c. 378 CE)
Romaka Siddhanta

(Doctrine of the Romans)
Astronomy Based on works of Rome

It is the only Indian work based on the tropical system
Vasishta Siddhanta Astronomy Attributed to sage Vasishta
Panchasiddhantika Astronomy Varahamihira

(c. 550 CE)
Work that compares five treatises on astronomy viz. Surya Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta, Vasishta Siddhanta and Paitamaha Siddhanta
Sulba sutras Mathematics Baudhayana (c. 800 BCE), Apasthamba (c. 600 BCE), Katyayana (c. 200 BCE) Baudhayana enumerated the Pythagoras theorem. He also described square root of 2 and geometric shapes such as squares and rectangles

Apasthamba and Katyayana developed these principles further
Chandahsastra Mathematics Pingala

(4th-2nd c. BCE)
First known description of binary numeral system in the world

Also describes Pascal’s triangle, binomial theorem and Fibonacci numbers
Aryabhatiya Astronomy, mathematics Aryabhata

(c 522 CE)
Introduced decimal value notation

Describes heliocentric model of solar system
Explained lunar and solar eclipses
Gave duration of one year as 365 days 6 hrs 12 min 30 sec
Gave value of pi (3.1416)
Correctly calculated earth’s circumference as 24,835 miles
Aryabhata’s principles are still in use for fixing the Hindu calendar Panchanga
Mahabhaskariya Mathematics, astronomy Bhaskara I

(c. 600 – 680 CE)
Representation of numbers in positional system

Solved Wilson’s theorem and Pell equation
Brahmasputasiddhanta Mathematics, astronomy Brahmagupta

(c. 630 CE)
Describes solution of linear equation

Solve system of simultaneous indeterminate equations
Sum of series
Introduced the concept of zero
Formula for cyclic quadrilaterals
Rebutted the idea that moon is farther from earth than the sun

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