The most recommended Sanskrit books

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to Sanskrit, and here are their favorite Sanskrit books.
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Book cover of Translating Wisdom

Mohammed Rustom Author Of The Essence of Reality: A Defense of Philosophical Sufism

From my list on Sufi philosophy.

Who am I?

I am a Professor of Islamic Thought and Global Philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Perpetually drawn to ideas and concepts that seek to explain the underlying nature of things, I predictably read and write books on such topics as consciousness, self-awareness, mysticism, God, philosophy of religion, metaphysical poetry, and virtue ethics. The titles listed here are in my own area of expertise (Sufi philosophy). Intellectually rigorous and spiritually informed, they each represent perfect points of entry into Sufism, which is an ocean without a shore.  

Mohammed's book list on Sufi philosophy

Mohammed Rustom Why did Mohammed love this book?

The findings in this book have opened my eyes to a truly unique moment in the history of cross-cultural translation and non-Western philosophy by showing how pre-modern Indian metaphysical teachings in Sanskrit were refashioned by the Persian Sufi philosophical tradition in early modern South Asia. I particularly recommend Translating Wisdom because it clearly points to an alternative quest for wisdom for those who wish to escape the stranglehold of Anglo-American and European epistemic systems.

By Shankar Nair,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Translating Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A free open access ebook is available upon publication. Learn more at www.luminosoa.org.

During the height of Muslim power in Mughal South Asia, Hindu and Muslim scholars worked collaboratively to translate a large body of Hindu Sanskrit texts into the Persian language. Translating Wisdom reconstructs the intellectual processes and exchanges that underlay these translations. Using as a case study the 1597 Persian rendition of the Yoga-Vasistha-an influential Sanskrit philosophical tale whose popularity stretched across the subcontinent-Shankar Nair illustrates how these early modern Muslim and Hindu scholars drew upon their respective religious, philosophical, and literary traditions to forge a common vocabulary…


Book cover of Yoga: Immortality and Freedom

Stephen H. Phillips Author Of Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy

From my list on yoga philosophy and psychology.

Who am I?

As a professional sanskritist and academic, I have travelled to India well more than twenty times, for fellowships, conferences, and (fortunately) months of study with a traditional Sanskrit pundit, the great N.S. Ramanuja Tatacharya. But my first trip was when I was twenty, dropping out of college and travelling from a kibbutz in Israel to India (overland no less, after a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul in 1971) where I was graciously admitted into a yoga-ashram school. There I began learning Sanskrit as well as various yoga techniques. I stayed that time for two years. “All life is yoga,” says Sri Aurobindo, and I have long wished my life to be that since “yoga” is for me practically a synonym for “right living.”

Stephen's book list on yoga philosophy and psychology

Stephen H. Phillips Why did Stephen love this book?

This book provides a historical overview of yoga philosophy and psychology and is a great introduction to the study of yoga. It was originally written in French by Mircea Eliade, who became the dean of Religious Studies all over the world, for decades training graduate students at the University of Chicago. The book is now a little dated on certain topics such as tantra and the yogic practices of Buddhism. Nevertheless, it stands as the preëminent classic in the field of yoga studies. It has a bouncy but elegant style and has been a favorite in the courses I have taught on yoga at the University of Texas at Austin.

While a student in India in his early twenties, Eliade had an affair with the daughter of his Sanskrit teacher, the renowned and august scholar, Surendranath Dasgupta. There is apparently a novel by Eliade in Romanian about this and another…

By Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Yoga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this landmark book, first published in English in 1958, renowned scholar of religion Mircea Eliade lays the groundwork for a Western understanding of Yoga. Drawing on years of study and experience in India, Eliade provides a comprehensive survey of Yoga in theory and practice from its earliest antecedents in the Vedas through the twentieth century. A new introduction by David Gordon White provides invaluable insight into Eliade's life and work, highlighting the key moments in Eliade's academic and spiritual education, as well as the personal experiences that shaped his worldview. Yoga is not only one of Eliade's most important…


Book cover of Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling

Sohini Sarah Pillai Author Of Many Mahābhāratas

From my list on Mahabharata poems, plays, and novels.

Who am I?

I’m Assistant Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College and my research focuses on the Mahabharata, an epic narrative tradition from South Asia. As an Indian-American kid growing up in suburban Boston, my first introduction to the Mahabharata tradition was from the stories my grandmother told me when she would visit from Chennai and from the Mahabharata comics that she would bring me. Many years later, my friend and colleague Nell Shapiro Hawley (Preceptor of Sanskrit at Harvard University) and I began to work on a project that would eventually become our edited volume, Many Mahābhāratas. I’m excited to share some of my own personal favorite Mahabharatas with you here.

Sohini's book list on Mahabharata poems, plays, and novels

Sohini Sarah Pillai Why did Sohini love this book?

Considered to be the longest poem in the world, the Sanskrit Mahabharata is comprised of around 1.8 million words (for comparison: the combined length of the seven Harry Potter books is barely 1.1 million words). At 928 pages, Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling is by no means a short book, but it does make the massive Sanskrit epic very accessible for general readers. While the Sanskrit Mahabharata is primarily composed in couplets called shlokas, Carole Satyamurti’s masterful retelling is in blank verse, which is the meter of my two favorite English epics: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Jack Mitchell’s The Odyssey of Star Wars. I also especially love the way Satyamurti presents Karna, the secret elder brother of Pandavas and one of the greatest tragic heroes in world literature. 

By Carole Satyamurti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mahabharata as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Mahabharata, originally composed some two thousand years ago is an epic masterpiece, "a hundred times more interesting" than the Iliad and the Odyssey (Wendy Doniger), it is a timeless work that evokes a world of myth, passion and warfare while exploring eternal questions of duty, love and spiritual freedom. A seminal Hindu text, it is one of the most important and influential works in the history of world civilisation.

This new English retelling, innovatively composed in blank verse, covers all the books of the Mahabharata. It masterfully captures the beauty, excitement and profundity of the original Sanskrit poem as…


Book cover of The Bhagavad Gītā

Stephen H. Phillips Author Of Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy

From my list on yoga philosophy and psychology.

Who am I?

As a professional sanskritist and academic, I have travelled to India well more than twenty times, for fellowships, conferences, and (fortunately) months of study with a traditional Sanskrit pundit, the great N.S. Ramanuja Tatacharya. But my first trip was when I was twenty, dropping out of college and travelling from a kibbutz in Israel to India (overland no less, after a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul in 1971) where I was graciously admitted into a yoga-ashram school. There I began learning Sanskrit as well as various yoga techniques. I stayed that time for two years. “All life is yoga,” says Sri Aurobindo, and I have long wished my life to be that since “yoga” is for me practically a synonym for “right living.”

Stephen's book list on yoga philosophy and psychology

Stephen H. Phillips Why did Stephen love this book?

Bhagavad Gītā. This is an indispensable primary source for yoga philosophy and practice, and there are many translations: by Edgerton, Easwaran Eknath, Van Buitenen, Sargeant, A. Mahadeva Sastri, H. Maheshwari, Mascaro, and others.

Unfortunately, the Gītā has been used for political ends, but I daresay it transcends politics. It continues the traditions of meditation of older Upanishads—jñāna-yoga, the “yoga of knowledge”—and introduces karma-yoga, the “yoga of action,” with principles that can be applied in practically every endeavor of life. No longer does practice require seclusion. Although the context is a battle, Krishna, the yoga teacher, urges ahiṃsā, “non-injury,” and other yogic values that can be put into play in practically anything that you do. Bhakti-yoga, the “yoga of devotion and love,” is a third broad type of practice laid out in the Gītā. Eliade disparages bhakti as yoga for the masses but surely it…

By Winthrop Sargeant (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bhagavad Gītā as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An interlinear edition of the spiritual classic that provides devanagari, transliterated Sanskrit, and English versions of the Gītā.


Book cover of Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Shweta Mahendra Author Of Many Visions, Many Worlds: Musings on the past and future of human civilization

From my list on connecting past, present and future civilization.

Who am I?

I have been a dreamer since my childhood and chasing my dream is the goal of my life. Dreams do not have a visible purpose the destiny is hidden behind dreams. While following my dreams, I had started searching for my origin, because I felt connected to some unknown place. I travelled to various ancient sites of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Indus civilizations and explored that these civilizations were very disciplined and advanced. Still, we are not able to unfold so many mysteries. I see the future in the past and present is just a stem in between, this inspired me to write a book.

Shweta's book list on connecting past, present and future civilization

Shweta Mahendra Why did Shweta love this book?

This has original Sanskrit shlokas and is very well explained with the meaning of each word.

Bhagavada Gita is the base of philosophy of life. The relation of body and soul is beautifully presented. Krishna was a great philosopher, and this book teaches us how to live in this world with detachment when the time comes you must look everything as immortal.

The importance of karma without expecting the result is the key to happiness. No expectations, no regrets and sadness. Whatever happens, happens for good, this message makes life easier.

Book cover of My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru

Liam Bell Author Of The Sleepless

From my list on communes and cults.

Who am I?

I don’t think I’m alone in considering cults and those who join cults fascinating, but I’ve also always found it frustrating when non-fiction accounts or documentaries focus on the logistics of how the communes operate rather than finding out the why. Why do people join a cult, why do they stay, why do they follow increasingly erratic and dangerous instruction? For me, researching cults for my new novel The Sleepless – about a commune whose disciples believe that sleep is a social construct – was about finding out about the characters, the individuals, who are drawn into organisations which often ask you to relinquish that self-same sense of individuality.

Liam's book list on communes and cults

Liam Bell Why did Liam love this book?

Many people learnt of the Bhagwan Rajneesh and his followers through the Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country, but Tim Guest is able to tell a much more personal tale of innocence corrupted in this memoir of growing up in the communes of the Orange People.

One of the most remarkable aspects of it is that, with time now having passed and the opportunity for reflection, he is often able to pick out the poignant and funny moments as well as the scandalous or salacious details…

By Tim Guest,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Life in Orange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the age of six, Tim Guest was taken by his mother to a commune modeled on the teachings of the notorious Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Bhagwan preached an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, chaotic therapy, and sexual freedom, and enjoyed inhaling laughing gas, preaching from a dentist's chair, and collecting Rolls Royces.

Tim and his mother were given Sanskrit names, dressed entirely in orange, and encouraged to surrender themselves into their new family. While his mother worked tirelessly for the cause, Tim-or Yogesh, as he was now called-lived a life of well-meaning but woefully misguided neglect in…


Book cover of The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice

Alexandra DeSiato Author Of Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses: A Practical Workbook for Integrating Themes, Ideas, and Inspiration Into Your Class

From my list on yoga teachers who feel stuck in a rut.

Who am I?

My passion for teaching yoga stems from over a decade as a yoga teacher. I’ve taught a variety of populations including college athletes, aging practitioners, and prenatal and postpartum moms and people. I’ve written two books on yoga; one is about how we can use yoga as we age healthily and the other is a helpful guide for yoga teachers who would like to incorporate philosophical theming in their classes. I know what it means to feel stuck in a rut as a yoga teacher, and I have so often counted on these well-loved books to help me find my way out of that rut and into inspired teaching. 

Alexandra's book list on yoga teachers who feel stuck in a rut

Alexandra DeSiato Why did Alexandra love this book?

Desikachar’s clear wisdom in The Heart of Yoga can’t be understated. Returning to this book reminds me of why I love yoga, why I teach yoga, and why I do yoga. Much of the value of this book is in Desikachar’s simple prose and exposition regarding yoga philosophy. He ends many chapters with a Q & A section, answering questions he anticipates readers will have. And while there are translations in abundance of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Desikachar’s translations have real-world applicability. His approach to yoga helps us understand why the practice has endured for so many years—and it reminds yoga teachers that bringing yoga to our students is an undertaking of immense importance. 

By T.K.V. Desikachar,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Heart of Yoga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, was one of the greatest yogis of the modern era. Elements of Krishnamacharya's teaching have become well known around the world through the work of B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, who all studied with Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father all his life and now teaches the full spectrum of Krishnamacharya's yoga. Desikachar has based his method on Krishnamacharya's fundamental concept of viniyoga, which maintains that practices must be continually adapted to the individual's changing needs to achieve…


Book cover of Thirteen Plays of Bhasa

Anand Neelakantan Author Of Asura: Tale of the Vanquished: The Story of Ravana and His People

From my list on Indian mythology.

Who am I?

Anand Neelakantan is an Indian author, columnist, screenwriter, television personality, and motivational speaker. He has authored eight fiction books in English and one in Malayalam. His debut work Asura, The Tale of the Vanquished is based on the Indian epics of Ramayana. His next book series was Ajaya-Roll of the Dice, Ajaya – Rise of Kali based on the two books on the epic Mahabharata told from Kaurava perspective. Anand's books voice the suppressed party or the defeated party. In his fifth book Vanara, the legend of Baali, Sugreeva, and Tara also follow the same pattern of expressing the defeated side.

Anand's book list on Indian mythology

Anand Neelakantan Why did Anand love this book?

Bhasa, the ancient Indian poet and dramatist, who lived two thousand two hundred years ago, was perhaps the first one to think of an alternative ending to Mahabharata in his play, Pancharatra. His Oorubhanga was the first play to be sympathetic to Duryodhana, the antagonist of Mahabharata. In Pratihna- Yaugandharayanam, one of the classical Sanskrit plays in this collection, a wooden elephant in which soldiers hide is used, making us wonder whether the Trojan horse was inspired by this ancient play or vice versa. No one has reimagined Mahabharata more boldly than this dramatist of antiquity.

By A.C. Woolner (translator), Lakshman Sarup (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thirteen Plays of Bhasa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This translation is of thirteen Sanskrit plays discovered in South India by the late Pandit Ganapati Sastri and edited by him in the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series. It comprises the following titles: 1.Pratijnayaugandharayana, 2.Svapnavasavadatta, 3.Carudatta, 4.Pancaratra, 5.Madhyamavyayoga, 6.Pratima-nataka, 7.Dutavakya, 8.Dutaghatotkaca, 9.Karnabhara, 10.Urubhanga, 11.Avimaraka, 12.Balacarita, and 13.Abhiseka. Sastri attributed all the thirteen plays to Bhasa and the prevailing opinion of the scholars is in agreement with him, though the available evidence is not conclusive and so the question still remains open. The translation was done by two eminent Sanskrit scholars. It was published s early as 1930 and a reprint is now…


Book cover of How the Nagas Were Pleased & The Shattered Thighs

Sohini Sarah Pillai Author Of Many Mahābhāratas

From my list on Mahabharata poems, plays, and novels.

Who am I?

I’m Assistant Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College and my research focuses on the Mahabharata, an epic narrative tradition from South Asia. As an Indian-American kid growing up in suburban Boston, my first introduction to the Mahabharata tradition was from the stories my grandmother told me when she would visit from Chennai and from the Mahabharata comics that she would bring me. Many years later, my friend and colleague Nell Shapiro Hawley (Preceptor of Sanskrit at Harvard University) and I began to work on a project that would eventually become our edited volume, Many Mahābhāratas. I’m excited to share some of my own personal favorite Mahabharatas with you here.

Sohini's book list on Mahabharata poems, plays, and novels

Sohini Sarah Pillai Why did Sohini love this book?

The Urubhanga or the Shattered Thighs is one of six Sanskrit Mahabharata dramas that are attributed to the playwright Bhasa (ca. 200 CE). There are two things about the Shattered Thighs that I find particularly fascinating. The first is that the hero of the play is Duryodhana, the leader of the one hundred Kauravas who is usually seen as the villain of the Mahabharata tradition. The second is that the Shattered Thighs violates one of the central rules of Sanskrit dramas by (spoiler alert!) depicting the central hero of the play physically dying on stage. There are multiple English translations of the Shattered Thighs, but I recommend the one by Andrew Skilton because it includes detailed endnotes that are helpful for non-specialist readers. 

By Harsha, Bhasa, Andrew Skilton (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How the Nagas Were Pleased & The Shattered Thighs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two tragic plays that break the rules: both show the hero dying on stage, a scenario forbidden in Sanskrit dramaturgy. King Harsha's play, composed in the seventh century, re-examines the Buddhist tale of a magician prince who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save a hostage snake (naga). The Shattered Thighs, attributed to Bhasa, the illustrious predecessor to ancient Kali*dasa, transforms a crucial episode of the Maha*bharata war. As he dies from a foul blow to the legs delivered in his duel with Bhima, Duryodhana's character is inverted, depicted as a noble and gracious exemplar amidst the wreckage of the fearsome…


Book cover of Maya: A Novel

Daniel Simpson Author Of The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices

From my list on the truth of yoga.

Who am I?

I've been studying yoga in various forms since my first trip to India in the 1990s. I began as a curious tourist, attending the world's biggest human gathering (the Kumbh Mela). After working as a foreign correspondent—initially for Reuters then The New York Times—I returned to university, earning a master's degree in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation. I've since taught courses at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, on yoga teacher trainings, and via my website. The Truth of Yoga is the book I wish I'd found when I started exploring.

Daniel's book list on the truth of yoga

Daniel Simpson Why did Daniel love this book?

Sometimes fiction speaks truer than facts. This adventure set in India in the 1970s brings to life what it means to balance yogic ideas with a Western mindset. It's a mixture of hippie idealism, academic disillusionment, and searches for meaning as things fall apart. Beautifully written and wise, it evokes the common ground between yoga and Buddhism—particularly on causes of suffering and how to transcend it. 

By C.W. Huntington Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning debut novel on sex, loss, and redemption.

It is 1975 and India is in turmoil. American Stanley Harrington arrives to study Sanskrit philosophy and escape his failing marriage. When he finds himself witness to a violent accident, he begins to question his grip on reality.

Maya introduces us to an entertaining cast of hippies, expats, and Indians of all walks of life. From a hermit hiding in the Himalayan jungle since the days of the British Raj, to an accountant at the Bank of India with a passion for Sanskrit poetry, to the last in a line of…