By John P. Clay
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 inspiration.
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.