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Poems of the First Buddhist Women

A Translation of the Therigatha

Translated by Charles Hallisey

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$19.95 • £17.95 • €18.95

ISBN 9780674251359

Publication Date: 02/23/2021


192 pages

5-1/4 x 8 inches

Murty Classical Library of India


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The Therigatha has a lot of claims on our attention. It is among the first poetry of India; among the first poems by women in India; the first collection of women’s literature in the world. But these claims should not obscure its status as poetry. While the poems embody the world-view and morality of early Indian Buddhism, making them invaluable historical documents, they repay the reader’s attention generously.—Neel Mukherjee, New Statesman

An austere and revelatory compendium of poems composed over two thousand years ago by Buddhist nuns.—Kanishk Tharoor, Los Angeles Review of Books

Therigatha is a collection of Pali poems attributed to the earliest Buddhist nuns. Though it is a part of the major Theravada Buddhist canon and has been well known to scholars for a long time, these beautiful verses haven’t reached the general public who might be interested in Buddhism…We see Buddhists meditating on women’s bodies as they grow old and lose their beauty, but this time the Buddhists in question are women, and their analysis, though rooted in the same assumptions, is markedly different…The poems of the Therigatha are not narratives; rather, they are dialogues, meditations, and songs, and they carry a more intimate tone that is beautifully expressed in Hallisey’s fluid translation. These poems present a cacophony of different voices of women struggling to find themselves in Buddhism against the prevailing assumptions of their day.—Eric M. Gurevitch, Public Books

It is a welcome and significant development that these poems have been included and acknowledged as part of world literature… Hallisey’s book will ensure that this work receives a broader audience. His illuminating introduction gives an admirably distilled historical, literary and metrical history of the verses, placing them both within traditions of Buddhist practice and in the literary forms to which they are notably akin in subsequent Indian poetry.—Sarah Shaw, Religious Studies Review

Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women is marvelous not only in that it is an archive of poetry in a language no longer in use but also in that it is the world’s first known collection of literary work by women—documenting the aspirations and achievements of women from nearly two thousand years ago. These poems or utterances that introduce their readers to the practice and intricacies of Buddhism also serve as a testament to the multiplicity of faith and cultural experience in the Indian sub-continent.—Pragya Tiwari, India at LSE blog

We can only welcome an undertaking like the Murty Classical Library of India, which intends to inject fresh blood directly into the circulatory system of the English language. Any intelligent reader cannot fail to be favorably impressed in the presence of the variegated offerings of the series’ first titles… The Murty Classical Library offers a surprising array of texts that are in any case capable of broadening the all-too-restricted horizons of the average Western reader.—Roberto Calasso, New York Review of Books

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