The great national epics of India, the Maha·bhárata and the
Ramáyana, reached their definitive form around the beginning
of the common era. By their authority and comprehensive
character they dominated Hindu literature for several
centuries, as familiar episodes and themes were reworked. But
Buddhism and Jainism developed their own literary traditions.
From early in the common era, a vast creative literature of
novels, short stories, plays and poetry began to develop.
Some took their subject matter from the national epics or the
Buddhist scriptures, but many other sources also provided
This new literary culture was vibrant and vivid. The dramatists
wrote plays about palaces full of dancing girls, and gardens
where peacocks screeched at the approach of the monsoon
and elephants trumpeted in the stables, eager for combat or
mating. Courtiers intrigued for influence and promotion.
Merchants set off on their voyages with sadness at separation,
and returned with joy and vast profits. The six seasons spun by
at breakneck speed. Lovers kept their trysts in the cane groves
down by the river. Holy men preached that worldly pleasures
were worthless, and often were exposed as hypocrites.
This second flowering of classical Sanskrit literature lasted
for more than a millennium. We shall bring to a worldwide
audience the text of the two national epics, and fifty or
more titles from the heyday. We hope that readers will find
much to enjoy.
(Photograph by Nora Feller http://www.norafeller.com/)