Ancient Buddhist Literature – Part-1

Ancient Buddhist Literature - Part-1

Ancient Buddhist Literature


  • Suttapitaka which contains the main teaching or Dhamma of Buddha. This was written by Ananda.
  • Vinaypitaka which contains the rules of conduct and discipline applicable to the monastic life of the monks and nuns in the sangha. This was written by Upali.
  • Both Suttapitaka and Vinaypitaka were written in the first Buddhist council.
  • Abhidamma Pitaka which is a philosophical analysis and systematization of the teaching and the scholarly activity of the monks. This was written by Mogaliputta Tissa.
  • Abhidamma Pitaka was written during the third Buddhist council.
  • The three texts, Sutta PitakaVinaya Pitaka and Abhidamma Pitaka, together are known as Tripitakas or the Three Baskets of Buddhism.
  • Divyavadana is a Sanskrit anthology book which talks about ‘karma’ and its influence on present life.
  • Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa talks about the relations between Ancient India and Sri Lanka. It gives an idea about the spread of Buddhism in the island nation. It is written in Pali Language.
  • Milinda Panha consists of a dialogue between the Indo-Greek King Menander I or Milinda and sage Nagasena where Milinda asks questions on Buddhism to the sage.


Books by Buddhist travellers to India:

  • A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms is written by Chinese Buddhist traveller Fa-Hien who came to India during the reign of Chandragupta II.
  • Great Tang Records on the Western Regions is written by Chinese Buddhist traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited India during the reign of Kanishka.


Ancient Jain Literature:

  • Agam Literature are collections which contain Lord Mahavira’s preaching which was compiled by his followers.
  • Agamas is a collection of 46 texts viz, twelve Angas, twelve Upangas, ten Prakirnakas, four Mulasutras, six Chedasutras, and two Chulika Sutras.
  • Anga-agamas are texts which contain the direct preaching of Lord Mahavira compiled by Gandharas. Gandharas are Mahavira’s direct disciples. There are 12 Angas.
  • Ang-bahya-agams (outside of Ang-agams) which are expansions of Anga-agams.
  • Nonagam Literature which are commentary and explanations of Agam literature, as well as independent works gathered by ascetics and scholars.
  • Niryuktis written by Bhadrabahu is a short commentary on the original 12 sacred books.
  • Kalpa Sutra and Uvasaggaharam Stotra which are biographies of Jain Tirthankaras are also written by Bhadrabahu.
  • Ratna Karanda Sravakachara written by Samanta Bhadra talks about life of a Jaina householder.
  • Civaka Cintamani, an epic of tamil literature, written by Tirutakkatevar also deals with Jain philosophies.


Ancient Plays

  • Mricchakatika written by Sudraka which is about the love between a young man and a rich courtesan.
  • Svapnavasavadattam witten by Bhasa, the main theme of which is the sorrow of Udayana for his queen Vasavadatta, whom he believed to have perished in a fire.
  • Karnabharam another play by Bhasa depicts Karna gifting his his armor and earrings to Lord Indra before the Kurukshetra War.
  • Other plays of Bhasa include Pancharātra, and Pratijna Yaugandharayaanam, Pratimanataka, Abhishekanataka, Balacharita, Dutavakya, Karnabhara, Dutaghatotkacha, Charudatta, Madhyamavyayoga and Urubhanga.
  • Vikramorvasiyam is a play which talks about the love story of King Pururavas and Urvasi is written by Kalidasa.
  • Malavikagnimitram, another play by Kalidasa is the love story of Agnimitra and the beautiful handmaiden of his chief queen named Malavika.
  • Abhijnanasakuntalam one of the most famous works of Kalidasa gives the story of King Dushyantha who is cursed to forget his love Shakuntala and their child Bharata.
  • Mudrarakshasa by Vishakhadatta gives an account of the rise of Chandragupta Maurya.


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