Pali Literature

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Pali Literature


works in the Pali language. The first works of Pali literature appeared at the beginning of the Common Era in India and Sri Lanka. As Buddhism spread, other works originated in Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Pali literature as a whole is Buddhist, and its core is the Tipitaka, the Buddhist canon. Other versions of the canon exist, including Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tibetan, and Chinese. The Pali canon, a product of the Theravada school of Buddhism, is the most complete version, forming a vast literature with a great variety of genres and themes. The canon is divided into three sections: Vinaya Pitaka, Abhidhamma Pitaka, and Sutta Pitaka. The Vinaya Pitaka describes the Buddhist monastic discipline and the organization of the early Buddhist community. The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains an exposition of the basic Buddhist doctrine, the dhamma. The Sutta Pitaka is one of the most remarkable parts of the canon in its artistry, breadth of content, and variety of genres and styles.

The Sutta Pitaka consists of five main parts: Digha-nikaya, Majjhima-nikaya, Samyutta-nikaya, Anguttara-nikaya, and Khuddaka-nikaya. Among the most noteworthy individual works in the Sutta Pitaka are the Dhammapada, a collection of verse sayings that has great artistic merit; the Suttanipata, one of the oldest parts of the canon, which contains Buddha’s thoughts on the path to salvation; and the Jataka, some 550 legends, chiefly of folkloric origin, about the incarnations of Buddha. The Sutta Pitaka also includes the Theragatha and Therigatha, anthologies of ancient Buddhist lyric poetry; the Maha-Parinibbana Sutta, an account of the last days and death of Buddha; and the Dhamma-cakkappavattana Sutta, Buddha’s famous Benares sermon. Closely connected with the canon is the Paritta, an anthology of texts used in incantations and magic rites.

Outstanding noncanonical works include the Milindapanha, a masterpiece of philosophical literature composed no earlier than the late second century, and the Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, and Culavamsa, historical chronicles that recount events in the history of Sri Lanka.

Pali literature flourished in Sri Lanka from the fifth century, with an enormous literature of canonical commentary being produced. Buddhaghosha is noteworthy for his famous commentary Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification), a compendium of Buddhist doctrine and philosophy. Buddhadatta was the author of five guides to the canon, and Dhammapala also wrote famous commentaries.

A new period in the history of Pali literature began in the 12th century. To this period date the Jinacarita, a narrative poem about Buddha; grammars, lexicons, and works on poetics by Kacchayana and Moggallana; and subcommentaries to commentaries on the canon. In Burma and Indochina, Pali literature developed later and with a significant dependence on the works written in Sri Lanka.

Pali literature, as one of the great literatures of the past, is studied in Europe, the USA, India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, and Japan.


Minaev, I. P. Ocherk fonetiki i morfologii iazyka pall St. Petersburg, 1872.
Elizarenkova, T. Ia., and V. N. Toporov. Iazyk pall Moscow, 1965. (Bibliography.)
Bode, M. H. The Pali Literature of Burma. London, 1905.
Malalasekera, G. P. Pali Literature of Ceylon. London, 1928.
Law, B. C. A History of Pali Literature, vols. 1–2. London, 1933.
Sankrityayana, R. Pali sahitya ka itihas. Lucknow, 1963.
Warder, A. K. Pali Metre. London, 1967.


References in periodicals archive ?
One important sculpture of Buddha is depicting the scene of his descent from Tusita heaven where he is believed to have given sermon to his mother Mayadevi and the place where he descended from heaven is famous as Sankassa in Pali literature and identified with the fortified city of Sankisa in Farukhabad district, incidently which was also excavated by Dr Mani from 1995 to 1997.
In a paper on "Women and the Arahant Issue in Early Pali Literature," however, Ellison Banks Findly (76) argues that women "were not granted arahant status by virtue of the prevailing social standards.
On the formation of titles, compare also von Hinuber, Entstehung und Aufbau der Jataka-Sammlung [Mainz: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur, 1998], 7-12; A Handbook of Pali Literature [Berlin: de Gruyter.
The second volume in the same series, Oskar von Hinuber's A Handbook of Pali Literature (1996), was prohibitively expensive when it first appeared, but was later made available as a reasonably-priced paperback.
In a new three-volume series, the first two fascicles of which are here being reviewed, he raises three questions which could not be treated in detail in his Handbook of Pali Literature (1996).
Pali literature from Southeast Asia will be for the most part ignored.
Hinuber, A Handbook of Pali Literature (Berlin, 1996), [section]179.
The investigation, centering on a critical examination of canonical and non-canonical Pali literature, as well as debates among archaeologists, linguists, and historians of religion, renders this the first fairly comprehensive study of relic veneration among South Asian Buddhists.
Although it is a handbook and necessarily has a somewhat restricted size, its treatment of Pali literature is very wide ranging and complete.
The first part of the original grammar describing the Pali literature has been suppressed altogether, and rightly so.
This paper develops topics covered in the author's Pali Literature (1983), to which it provides an important continuation and complement.