© 2015 by Kit Patrick

Special episodes

The first special episode on matters away from the main storyline. This week we look at the influence of Persia on India. Includes an extended rant about modern historians. Apologies.

A bonus special episode on Alexander the Great's stampede through India. We take a look at how his antics would've seemed to Indians who encountered him.

This week we travel down to the three great kingdoms of South India: the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras. Sources are hard to find. We read them all and discover a unique culture with beautiful poetry and great cities.


This week, we tackle the thorny issue of caste, and how important it was to day-to-day life in ancient India.

We're joined by Prakhar Manas for a discussion of caste in ancient history, and it's effect on modern India.


In this episode, we look at how religion affected the life of the average ancient Indian.What rituals and sacrifices did an ancient Indian householder perform? What different religious views and ways of life did an ancient Indian have to choose between? Download, and find out.

We look at the lost religion of ancient India. We see its doctrines and seemingly harsh practices through the eyes of rival sects. And we ask how the apparent hostility between these sects changed the lives of average ancient Indians.

The guilds of ancient India. Trusted by townsfolk, feared by kings. This week, we find out how to join an ancient guild, and what to expect once you're a member. Then we take a voyage across Mauryan India with a member of a merchant guild.

Introduction to the podcast. What we will be talking about, where, and how I'll screw it up.

A wander through the mahajanapadas who dominated northern India during the 6th cenutury b.c. This is the world of Buddha and Mahavira.

The story of Bimbisara, ancient king of Magadha. He was a contemporary of the Buddha and Mahavira, and by cunning marriages and warfare doubled the size of Magadha and more than doubled its prestige.

The downfall of Bimbisara king of Magadha. The rise of his son Ajatashatru to the throne, and two of his wars.

This week we breeze through three dynasties of kings in one jam-packed episode. None of them end well. The dynasty of Bimbisara comes to an end in bloody infamy. The dynasty of Sushinga comes to an end in bloody betrayal. And the dynasty of the nine Nanda comes to an end because of... well listen and find out!

This week, we witness the founding of the great Mauryan empire. It will become unmatched in its size and power until the modern era. But it all starts with a young man, Chandragupta Maurya, his cunning teacher Kautilya, and their plot to overthrow a kingdom.

This week, we look at the cunning statesman Kautilya. He wrote a book crammed full with cunning ideas on how to rule a kingdom. And he had personal experience backing up these ideas: together with his student he conquered a kingdom and founded an empire. If you want to learn about ruthless cunning from someone who has been there and done that, listen on.

This week we look at the tall tales about India told by three Greek ambassadors to the courts of Mauryan emperors.

The first of three podcasts on the great emperor Ashoka. We meet his wives, and hear of his path to power over the bodies of his brothers. We go right up until the defining moment of his life, on the battlefield at Kalinga.

On the battlefield at Kalinga the victorious emperor Ashoka decided to follow his conscience, no matter what. This week we find out where Ashoka's conscience lead him. We about hear his messages to his people, carved in his famous edicts, and how they changed daily life for them.

Sovereignty is only possible with assistance; a single wheel cannot move alone. Ashoka the Great took this maxim to heart, and built a huge government machine to assist him. This week, Ashoka must struggle to avoid being crushed by the wheels of his own machine.

A generation after Ashoka's death his empire had vanished. This week, we meet some of the emperors desperately hanging on as their world decays around them. And we test the accusation that Ashoka's empire collapsed because he was more interested in being a good man than in being a good ruler.

Further reading

A selection of some of the most accessible and best secondary texts for anyone interested in taking it further. Please contact me using the form below for more specific recommendations, or if I've left anything huge off.


* = Accessible primary source (I've left out all the trickier primary sources).

*** = I read this with a huge smile on my face all the way through.

The best introductory texts

***Singh, U. (2008). A History of Ancient and Early medieval India: from the Stone Age to the 12th century. Pearson Education India. My personal favourite

***Thapar, R. (1990). A history of India, volume 1. Penguin. The classic

***Habib, I., & Jha, V. (2004). Mauryan India: A People's History of India. Tulika Books. 

Kulke, H., & Rothermund, D. (2004). A history of India. 4th edition. Routledge. Best of the western introductions

***Raychaudhuri, H. (2006). Political history of ancient India. Genesis Publishing Pvt Ltd. Old but good.

Cities and urbanisation
  • Erdosy, G. (1995). City states of north India and Pakistan at the time of the Buddha in Allchin, F. R., & Erdosy, G. (1995). The archaeology of early historic South Asia: the emergence of cities and states. Cambridge University Press.

  • Chakrabarti, D. K. (1995). The archaeology of ancient Indian cities. Oxford University Press, USA.

  • ***Schlingloff, D. (2014). Fortified Cities of Ancient India: A Comparative Study. Anthem Press.

Republics and kingdoms
  • ***Sharma, J. P., & Sharma, J. S. (1968). Republics in ancient India.

  • Thapar, R. (1984). From lineage to state: Social formations in the mid-first millennium BC in the Ganga Valley. Bombay: Oxford University Press.

The legend of Bimbisara
  • ***Silk, J. A. (1997). The composition of the Guan wuliangshoufo-jing: Some Buddhist and Jaina parallels to its narrative frame. Journal of Indian philosophy, 25(2), 181-256.

Sources on Chandragupta
  • *Viśākhadatta. (1827). The Mudra Rakshasa, Or the Signet of the Minister: A Drama.

  • ***Mookerji, R. (1966). Chandragupta Maurya and his times. Motilal Banarsidass.

Kautilya's Arthashastra & some commentaries
  • *Rangarajan, L. N. (1987). Kautilya: The Arthashastra (edited, rearranged and translated by LN Rangarajan). The translation by Kangle is a bit easier.

  • Trautmann, T. R. (1971). Kautilya and the Arthasastra: A Statistical Investigation of the Authorship and Evolution of the Text. Brill. Dry but important.

  • Boesche, R. (2002). Moderate Machiavelli? Contrasting The Prince with the Arthashastra of Kautilya. Critical Horizons, 3(2), 253-276.

  • Boesche, R. (2005). Han feizi's legalism versus kautilya's Arthashastra. Asian Philosophy, 15(2), 157-172.

Megasthenes on India
  • *Megasthenes. (1877). The fragments of the Indika of Megasthenes. Tranlsated by McCrindle.

  • Brown, T. S. (1955). The reliability of Megasthenes. American Journal of Philology, 18-33.

  • Bosworth, A. B. (1996). The Historical Setting of Megasthenes' Indica. Classical Philology, 113-127.

  • Nichols, A. (2008). The complete fragments of Ctesias of Cnidus: Translation and commentary with an introduction (Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida).

  • Muntz, C. E. (2012). Diodorus Siculus and Megasthenes: A Reappraisal. Classical Philology, 107(1), 21-37.

My favourite books on Ashoka
  • ***Mookerjee, R. (1962). Asoka.

  • *Hultzsch, E. (1969). Inscriptions of Asoka. Delhi: Indological Book House. The classic.

  • ***Thapar, R. (1973). Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. Oxford University Press.

  • Bongard-Levin, G. M. (1985). Mauryan India. Sterling Publishers.

  • Thapar, R. (1987). The Mauryas Revisited. Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

  • *Strong, J. S. (1989). The legend of King Aśoka: A study and translation of the Aśokāvadāna. Motilal Banarsidass.

  • Jamison, S. W. (2012). Reimagining Asoka: Memory and History.

  • ***Kumar, A. (Ed.). (2013). Chanakya: The Kingmaker and the Philosopher. Hachette UK.

  • Dozens more.


Main episodes

Cyrus and Persia
  • *Holland, T., & Cartledge, P. (2013). Herodotus: the histories. India gets a passing mention in volume 2. Great fun.

  • *Kuhrt, A. (2013). The Persian Empire: a corpus of sources from the Achaemenid period. Routledge.

  • Hoping to have a book out myself on this soon.

  • Many many more, but this is perhaps for another podcast.

Sources on Alexander the great in India
  • *Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus, Arrian, Plutarch and Justin are all available online for free, and good fun.

  • The relevant parts are collected in M'Crindle, J. W. (1816). The invasion of India by Alexander the Great. Cosmo Publications.

  • Smith, V. A. (1999). The early history of India. Atlantic Publishers.

  • Also, check out the Alexander the great podcast at http://alexanderthegreat.life/ for much more.

Early South India
  • Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1929). The Pandyan Kingdom. From (lie Earliest Times to the Sixteenth Century. Still somewhat useful.

  • Maloney, C. (1970). The beginnings of civilization in South India. The Journal of Asian Studies, 29(03), 603-616. Fun. 

  • Abraham, S. A. (2003). Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using archaeological evidence to identify the Tamil kingdoms of early historic South India. Asian Perspectives, 42(2), 207-223.

  • Mahadevan, I. (2003). Early Tamil Epigraphy. From the earliest times to the sixth century ad.

Some of the huge literature on caste etc. in ancient India
  • Chanana, D. R. (1960). Slavery in ancient India: as depicted in Pali and Sanskrit texts. New Age Printing Press... for People's Publishing House Private

  • Jha, V. (1986). Candala and the Origin of Untouchability. The Indian Historical Review, 13(1-2), 1-36.

  • Sharma, R. S. (1990). Śūdras in ancient India: A social history of the lower order down to circa AD 600. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.

  • So much more, not all of it reputable.

On religion in Ancient India
  • Dasgupta, S. (1922). A history of Indian philosophy (Vol. 2). Motilal Banarsidass Publ.. The best, but a touch dry.

  • Chakravarti, U. (1988). The social dimensions of early Buddhism (p. 252). Oxford University Press, USA.

  • Gethin, R. (1998). The foundations of Buddhism. Oxford University Press. A fantastic teacher.

  • Dundas, P. (2002). The Jains. Psychology Press. My favourite introduction to Jainism.

  • You really can't do much better than checking out the History of Indian Philosophy Podcast. It's available on itunes and at the http://historyofphilosophy.net/ website. They have reading lists there too.

  • Many many more.

On Ajivikism
  • Barua, B. M. (1920). The Ajivikas. University of Calcutta. Old, but still useful.

  • ***Basham, A. L. (1951). History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas, a Vanished Indian Religion (Vol. 7). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Still the best in my opinion.

Books on guilds and traders
  • Chandra, M. (1977). Trade and trade routes in ancient India. Abhinav Publications.

  • ***Thaplyal, K. K. (1996). Guilds in Ancient India: A Study of Guild Organization in Northern India and Western Deccan from Circa 600 BC to Circa 600 AD. Taylor & Francis.

  • Lahiri, N. (1992). The archaeology of Indian trade routes (up to c. 200 BC).

How to read and love the great Indian epics...
  • ...for those who like novels: Ashok Banker's 'Prince of Ayodhya' series is his version of the Ramayana. He's just started his version of the Mahabharata with 'The forest of stories'. Somewhat constroversial, but very accessible.

  • ...for those who like comics: Amar Chitra Katha is a very famous producer of comic books in India. They have done a huge version of the Mahabharata, which is great fun. They've also done both Valimiki's and Tulsidas' Ramayana (they are quite different). Somewhat controversial, but annoys a different sort of person to those annoyed by Ashok Banker's work.

  • ...for those who like the real deal: my favourite translation of Valmiki's Ramayana is the by Arshia Sattar. My favourite translation of the Mahabharata is by Kamala Subramaniam.

Free books online
Things that inexplicably didn't make it to these lists
  • ***Mookerji, R. K. (1998). Ancient Indian Education: Brahmanical and Buddhist(Vol. 11). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Bliss!

  • ***Majumdar, R. C., Raychaudhuri, H., & Datta, K. (1948). An advanced history of India. Macmillan. My grandmother's sister is an eminent historian in India. This was the book she recommended to me. It's great. Thanks.

  • Pereira's 'Hindu Mythology' is a book which seems to have vanished from the internet, and thus from existence in any full sense. But it's an excellent reference.

  • All the vedas, most of the Buddhist and Jain primary sources. Actually, these not making the lists above is explicable: they are very very difficult to read. Often they are only easily available in Sanskrit or some even trickier language. Penguin does condensed editions of the Upanishads and the Rig Veda, but many reckon learning to read them in the original language is the only way. I agree.