South Asian Canonical Texts - List of 36

This is another list of 36 texts. The concept is similar to the List of 36 in that it tries to balance genres and traditions. It seeks to include important traditions with important texts originating in what we currently call South Asia - comprising of modern states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lank and Maldives - thus Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Islam are all included, yet Zoroastrianism is excluded. (Tibetan work of Tsong Kha Ba was included here; but this is out of expediency, so that I don't need to use a slot in this list for Nagarjuna and another slot in the East Asian list for Tsong Kha Ba.) Also similar to the List of 36 is its end date at the end of 19th century, and thus excludes key works / authors in the first half of the 20th centuries such as Tagore, Iqbal, Gandhi, etc.


The list also tries to be balanced by including texts written in languages other than Sanskrit, and seeks a balanced representation of texts originating from the southern part of South Asian - I define it as from Deccan and below, thus including modern Indian states of Maharashtra, Goa, together with the 4 Dravidian states (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Malayalam), Sri Lanka, and theoretically, the Maldives. The only unclear part is whether Orissa should be included or not - but this remains mostly theoretical, as there is only one text included which might have been from that area -- Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. For this text, I classify as South India as it is the general region where Mahayana Buddhist sutras first emerge anyways.  


This is part of the longer List of 150 World Canonical Texts - and as such I have NOT included works on grammar (Panini) and literary theories (which would still be too advanced for any list-reader who tries to get a first-hand sense of what the basic texts are like). (As a rule, in the List of 150, I have also excluded works purely important as historiographical theories). 


Most of my data collection and deliberation about the list has been documented in my blog here.  The dates used here are by no means authoritative: primarily for philosophers I took dates from Karl Potter's  online bibliography for Encyclopedia's of Indian Philosophy; for other texts I mostly rely on Basham (1967, 1984), cross-checked with books I happen to have on hand.

Table Form

Traditions Genre Total
History Philosophy Literature
Buddhism - Original / Hinayana 3. Samyutta Nikaya (Pali)  17. Mahavamsa
(Pali, South) 
16. Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga
(Pali, South)
Buddhism - Mahayana  8. Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (South)   13. Maitreya's or Asanga's Yogacarabhumi; 32. Tsong Kha Ba's Ocean of Reasoning commentary on Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (South)  7. Asvaghosa's Buddhacarita 4
Jainism      14. Umasvati's Tattvartha Sutra/Bhasya    28. Hemacandra's Trisastisalakapurusacari-tra/Parisistaparvan 2
Hinduism - Vedic / 
Classical / General
1. Rg Veda;
2. Early Upanisads 

4. Kautilya's Arthasastra; 9. Manava Dharmasastra; 10. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra; 20. Sankara's Brahmasutrabhasya (South); 23. Udayana's Nyayakusumanjali 

5. Mahabharata; 6. Ramayana; 11. Pancatantra; 12. Bhartrhari's Satakatraya; 15. Kalidasa's Works; 18. Hala's Sattasai (Prakrit, South); 19. Bana's Kadambari; 25. Somadeva's Kathasaritsagara; 29. Kaviraja's Raghavapandaviya (South)

Hinduism - Bhakti /
21. Bhagavata Purana(South)   27. Ramanuja's Bhagavadgitabhasya (South) 30. Jayadeva's Gita Govinda  3
Hinduism - Bhakti /
    24. Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka 22. Manikkavachakar's Tiruvacakam (Tamil, South) 2
Sikhism - Bhakti    34. Adi Granth
(proto-Hindi / Punjabi)
Islam    33. Abul Fazl's Akbarnama (Persian) 26. Hujwiri's Kashf al-Mahjub (Persian); 35. Shah Waliullah's Hujjat Allah al-Baligha (Arabic) 31. Amir Khusrau's Works (Persian); 36. Ghalib's Divan (Urdu) 5
Total 6 2 13 15 36

List Form

No. Title Date used
for Ordering
 Language  "South"?
1 Rg Veda  1000B.C.  Sanskrit  N
2 Early Upanisads 500B.C. Sanskrit  N
3 Samyutta Nikaya 400B.C. Pali N
4 Kautilya's Arthasastra 100B.C. Sanskrit N
5 Mahabharata 100B.C. Sanskrit N
6 Ramayana 50B.C. Sanskrit N
7 Asvaghosa's Buddhacarita  90A.D. Sanskrit N
8 Vimalakirtinirdesasutra 150A.D. Sanskrit Y
9  Manava Dharmasastra 200A.D. Sanskrit N
10  Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 300A.D. Sanskrit N
11  Pancatantra 320A.D. Sanskrit N
12 Bhartrhari's Satakatraya  350A.D. Sanskrit N
13 Yogacarabhumi 360A.D. Sanskrit N
14 Umasvati's Tattvathasutra/bhasya 400A.D. Sanskrit N
15 Kalidasa's Works 300A.D. Sanskrit N
16 Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga 425A.D. Pali Y
17 "Hala's" Sattasai 450A.D. Prakrit Y
18 Mahavamsa 450A.D. Pali Y
19 Bana's Kadambari 650A.D. Sanskrit N
20 Sankara's Brahmasutrabhasya 710A.D. Sanskrit Y
21 Bhagavata Purana 850A.D. Sanskrit Y
22 Manikkavachakar's Tiruvacakam 900A.D. Tamil Y
23 Udayana's Nyayakusumanjali 984A.D. Sanskrit N
24 Abhinavagupta's Tantraloka 1014A.D. Sanskrit N
25 Somadeva's Kathasaritsagara 1050A.D. Sanskrit N
26 Hujwiri's Kashf al-Mahjub 1088A.D. Persian N
27 Ramanuja's Bhagavadgitabhasya 1120A.D. Sanskrit Y
28 Hemacandra's Trisastisalakapurusacaritra/ Parisistaparvan 1172A.D. Sanskrit N
29 Kaviraja's Raghavapandaviya 1182A.D. Sanskrit Y
30 Jayadeva's Gita Govinda 1190A.D. Sanskrit N
31 Amir Khusrau's Works 1325A.D. Persian N
32 Tsong Kha Ba's Ocean of Reasoning Commentaries On (Nagarjuna's) Mulamadhyamakakarika 1408A.D.
33 Abul Fazl's Akbarnama 1602A.D. Persian N
34 Adi Granth 1604A.D. Proto-Hindi/Punjabi N
35 Shah Waliullah's Hujjat Allah al-Baligha 1762A.D. Arabic N
36 Ghalib's Divan 1869A.D. Urdu N


1. This list include 12 non-Sanskrit texts: Pali (3), Persian (3), Tamil (1), (proto-) Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu (2), Prakrit (1), Arabic (1), Tibetan (1).


2. This list includes 9 works from southern parts of South Asia, across genres: religious classics (2), history (1), philosophy (3), literature (3).


3. Many of the genre-classification are based on how we would see the texts or authors nowadays, not necessarily how the tradition sees it. E.g. Mahabharata is considered smrti and ithasa, thus might be called "history"; Tiruvacakam is in a way not unlike Rg Veda in that it is both poetry and scripture; Amir Khusrau is now mostly seen as a poet, yet his works are also consulted as historical sources.


4. For the 8 "Traditions", one can also combine into bigger groups:

Buddhism (7), Jainism (2), Hinduism/Sikhism (22), Islam (5). This general mix tries to weigh influence (both in South Asia and rest of the world) by current population affiliated with the traditions together with age of the tradition (older traditions have more weight - as more possibility of influencing later texts).


5. For Kalidasa and Amir Khusrau, I used "Works" to represent their primary literary output - as it is hard to say which single text is most representative - a situation similar to say for Shakespeare. For Kalidasa, most important works include Abhijnanasakuntalam (drama), Kumarasambhava (epic poetry) and Meghaduta (shorter poetry). For Amir Khusrau, his third diwan (collection) called Ghurrath-ul-Kamal is among his most important works, and so does his historical masnavis Ashiqe and Noh Sepehr.


6. 7 of these 36 texts are included in the list of 36 World Canonical Texts: Rg Veda, Samyutta Nikaya, Mahabharata, Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika, Manava Dharmasastra, Kalidasa, and Sankara's Brahmasutrabhasya.


7. I have not spent much time on balancing the length of the texts in this list.