Sources of Indian Civilization

Foreign Cultures 12

(HDS 3401)

Spring 2006: Tues. and Thurs at 10:00

Instructor: Diana L. Eck



Office: The Study of Religion, Barker Center, 3rd Floor

Phone: 495-5781; email:     

Class Website: http://

Teaching Fellow: Blain Auer


An exploration of the ideas, ethics, narratives, and religious movements that have shaped a complex civilization from the Indus Valley to Mahatma Gandhi. Readings in primary sources - Vedas and Upanishads, Buddhist and Jain texts, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti and Sufi poets, Sikh gurus and Muslim kings, and modern thinkers and reformers. Attention to the interrelation of these traditions and the ways in which these sources continue to be of significance to the understanding of modern India.





Feb. 2              Th.      Introduction: Points of View

Feb. 7              Tu.      Indus Civilization & Aryans: The Controversy

Feb. 7              Tu.      “Altar of Fire” Film on a 20th century Vedic fire-rite in Kerala (7:00 p.m.)

Feb. 9              Th.      The Vedic World: The Body-Cosmos



• Burton Stein, A History of India, Parts I and II

• Sources of Indian Tradition, pp. 1-28, “Cosmic and Ritual Order.”

• Romila Thapar, “Ideology and the Interpretation of Early Indian History” in Interpreting Early India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp.  1-22. (Course Reader)

• T.N. Madan, “Religion in India,” (Daedalus, Volume 118, Number 4, 1989), pp. 115-146.  (Course Reader)


For Section Discussion: The Vedic Hymns in Sources of Indian Tradition & The Vedic Sacrifice as seen in “Altar of Fire.”



Feb. 14            Tu.      What are the Upanishads?

Feb. 14            Tu.      “The Fourth Stage” A Film on Renunciation in India Today

Feb. 16            Th.      Internalizing Ritual in the Upanishads



• Ainslee Embree, ed. Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 2, “The Ultimate Reality in the Upanishads.”

• Patrick Olivelle, “Introduction,” The World’s Classics: Upanisads, pp.xxiii-lvii. (Course Reader)

• Joel Brereton “The Upanishads” in Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, Eds. Approaches to the Asian Classics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 115-135. (Course Reader)

• The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1-4; The Katha Upanishad (entire); The Chandogya Upanishad ( Part 5, Chapter 1 and Part 6, Chapters 1-16) On the course website.

• Stein, A History of India, Part II (Continued).


For Section Discussion: Sources of Indian Tradition, pp. 30-39 and the text of portions of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (, Katha Upanishad (, and Chandogya Upanishad.



Feb. 21            Tu.      The Jain Tradition: Mahavira

Feb. 21            Tu.      “Frontiers of Non-Violence,” A Film on Jain Traditions in India Today

Feb. 23            Th.      The Jain Tradition: Ahimsa , Ordinary and Extraordinary



Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 3, “The Basic Doctrines of Jainism,” Ch. 4, “Jain Philosophy and Political Thought.”

• Padmanabh Jaini, “Mahavira and the Foundations of Jainism” in The Jaina Path of Purification (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979), pp. 1-41.


For Section Discussion: Discussion questions on Jain Texts



Feb. 28            Tu.      The Buddhist Tradition: Siddhartha Gautama in the Indian Context

Feb. 28            Tu.      “Footsteps of the Buddha,” A film on Buddhism in South Asia today

Mar. 2             Th.      The Buddhist Tradition: The Representation of the Buddha



Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 5, “Theravada Buddhism,” and Ch. 6, “Mahayana Buddhism.”

• Peter Harvey, “The Buddha and His Indian Context” in An Introduction to Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 9-31.

• Partha Mitter, Indian Art, “Buddhist Art & Architecture,” pp. 13-31.


Section Discussion: Buddhist Texts and Images of the Buddha



Mar. 7             Tu.      The Purusharthas: Kama, Artha, Dharma, Moksha

Mar. 9             Th.      The Bhagavad Gita: On the Field of Dharma



Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 8, “Dharma,” Ch. 9, “Artha,” Ch. 10, “Kama,” Ch. 11, “Moksha.” 

• Barbara Stoller Miller, trans. The Bhagavad Gita, entire.


Section Discussion: The Bhagavad Gita



Mar. 14           Tu.      The Mahabharata: The Pandavas and Kauravas

Mar. 14           Tu.      “The Mahabharata,” A film by Peter Brook

Mar. 16           Th.      The Mahabharata: The Forest



• Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan, The Mahabharata.  pp. 1-88

• J.A.B. Van Buitenen, tr. “Introduction,” to The Mahabharata: The Book of the Beginning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973). (Course Reader)


Section Discussion: The first half of the Mahabharata



Mar. 21           Tu.      The Mahabharata: The Great War

Mar. 21           Tu.      “The Mahabharata,” A film by Peter Brook

Mar. 23           Th.      The Mahabharata: Revenge and Reconciliation



• Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan, The Mahabharata, pp. 89-216


Section Discussion: The Great War of the Mahabharata


Apr. 4             Tu.      Songs of the Saints: The Love of God –Mirabai and Sur Das

Apr. 6             Th.      Songs of the Saints: Devotion to the Formless –Kabir and Ravidas



• John Stratton Hawley & Mark Jurgensmeyer, tr. Songs of the Saints of India;.

Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 12, “The Songs of Medieval Hindu Devotion.”  

• Partha Mitter, Indian Art, Ch. 3, “Hindu Art and Architecture” and Ch. 4,  “Minority Traditions, Ideal Beauty, and Eroticism.”


Section Discussion: The Voices of the Bhakti Poets



Apr. 11           Tu.      Islam in India: Kings, Courts, and Cultures

Apr. 11            Tu.     “Mughal-E-Azam” A film by K. Asif

Apr. 13            Th.     Islam in India: Sufis



Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 13, “The Foundations of Islam in India,” Ch. 14, “The Muslim Ruler in India,” Ch. 15, “Islamic Mysticism in India.”

• Partha Mitter, Indian Art, Ch. 5, “The Turko-Afghan Sultanate of Delhi,” Ch. 6, “The Mughal Empire,” Ch. 7, “Rajasthani and Pahari Kingdoms.”

• Burton Stein, A History of India, Ch. 3 and 4.


Section Discussion: Akbar and Aurangzeb



Apr. 18           Tu.      The Sikhs: Guru Nanak and the Sikh Community

Apr. 18           Tu.      “Frontiers of Faith: World Sikhism Today”

Apr. 20           Th.      The Sikhs: Guru Gobind Singh and the Khalsa



Sources of Indian Tradition, Ch. 16, “Sikhism: Faith and Practice.”

• Hawley and Juergensmeyer, Songs of the Saints of India, on Nanak.

• Wilfred Cantwell Smith, “The Crystallization of Religious Communities in Mughal India,” in W.C. Smith,  On Understanding Islam (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1981), pp. 177-196. (Course Reader).

• W. Owen Cole and Piara Singh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1990), Ch. 1, “The Religious Background of Guru Nanak” and Ch. 2, “The place of the Ten Gurus in the Sikh Religion,” pp. 1-18. (Course Reader)

Selections from the Sacred Writings of the Sikhs (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 27-51. (Course



Section Discussions: The writings of Nanak and Sikh Texts




Apr. 25           Tu.      Contexts of Colonialism: The Encounters

Apr. 25           Tu.      “Rabindranath Tagore,” A documentary by Satyajit Ray

May 27           Th.      Contexts of Colonialism: Hindu and Muslim Developments



Sources of Indian Tradition, Vol. II, Chapter 1, “The Opening of India to the West,” Chapter 2, “Leaders of Hindu Reform and Revival,” Chapter 3, “Nationalism Takes Root: The Moderates,” Chapter 4, “The Marriage of Politics and Religion: The Extremists,” Chapter 5,”Leaders of Islamic Revival, Reform, and Nationalism.”

• Burton Stein A History of India, Ch. 5-7.

• Partha Mitter, Indian Art, Part III, “Colonial Art & Architecture.” 


Section Discussions: Nineteenth Century Indian Voices



May 2             Tu.      Gandhi and Tagore

May 2             Tu.      “Gandhi,” A film by Richard Attenborough

May 4             Th.      Gandhi and Modern India


Sources of Indian Tradition, Vol. II, Chapter 6, “Mahatma Gandhi: Nationalist India's Great Soul,” Chapter 7, “Other Nationalist Leaders in the Decades Before Independence.”

• Burton Stein, A History of India, Ch. 8 & 9


Section Discussions: Gandhi and his Opponents



Ainslee T. Embree, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition: From the Beginning to 1800 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988)

Stephen Hay, Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India and Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

Burton Stein, A History of India (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1998).

Partha Mitter, Indian Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Barbara Stoller Miller, The Bhagavad Gita (New York: Bantam Books, 1986).

Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan,  The Mahabharata (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965).

John Stratton Hawley & Mark Jurgensmeyer, Songs of the Saints of India  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Foreign Cultures 12 Course Reader (Available for purchase at the Harvard Coop).


Books are ordered for purchase at the Harvard Coop and the Divinity Bookstore (14 Divinity Ave.). They are also on reserve in Lamont library. In addition to the reading ordered for purchase, there is a Foreign Cultures 12 Course Reader, which includes a carefully selected group of required readings. Within a few weeks, we will also provide some annotated bibliographies on the course website that may well serve as the starting point for your term paper.



There will be a set of films shown in the semester that will be integral to the course.  The “India on Screen” series will be each Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. Occasionally we may also repeat them in the hour from 9:00-10:00 just before class. 





(1)  Active section participation, which includes attending section and posting a brief contribution to the discussion in advance of the section. On the weeks we have short papers, this will mean posting one of the main points of your paper. The sections will meet on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.

(2)  Four short three-page papers will be due in section during the weeks beginning of Feb. 27, Mar. 20, Apr. 10, and Apr. 24.   These, along with your section participation, will cumulatively constitute 1/3 of the course grade. There is no mid-term exam.

(3)  Term Paper. This gives you a chance to explore a topic germane to the subject matter of this course and close to your own interests as they develop. This paper should be about 12-15 pages in length.  A term paper bibliography will be posted on the web, and guidelines for the term paper will be distributed. You should begin discussing your interests with your section leader early in the term, and look through materials we cover late in the semester to discover possible topics there. Your own paper topic and bibliography should be submitted in final form to your section leader by Tuesday, April 25.  The paper is due the last day of reading period: Wednesday, May 17, by 5:00 p.m. in Barker 307.  The term paper will constitute 1/3 of the course grade.

(4)  The final exam will constitute 1/3 of the course grade.