A native of Mumbai, India, Indira Viswanathan Peterson specializes in Sanskrit and Tamil literature, Hinduism, and South Indian cultural history and classical music. Her book Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (Princeton University Press, 1989) is the first study and translation of the Tamil devotional hymns of the Shaiva saints of south India, and a study of the performance of the hymns in South Indian temples. Her newest book, Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (State University of New York Press, 2003), is an introduction to the Sanskrit court epic genre through the analysis of a celebrated sixth-century poem.
Nearing publication is Imagining the World in Eighteenth-Century India, her book on the innovative eighteenth-century Tamil dance-drama genre called the "Kuravanci" or "fortune-teller" drama. In this book, through a study of the fortune-teller drama in its folkloric, courtly, and performative dimensions, she illuminates the relationship between literature and social history in early modern India and offers comparisons with European opera.
Indira Peterson is known as a leading scholar of classical Sanskrit literature and Hinduism, and of Tamil literature and South Indian religion, performing arts, and cultural history. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the German government's Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and other foundations for scholarly research.
Peterson is the editor of Indian literature from the beginnings to the twentieth century for the Norton Anthology of World Literature (2001) and has authored the Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia article on Indian literature (2001). In addition to her scholarly writing and teaching about the performing arts, she has given recitals of classical South Indian (Karnatak) music in the U.S. since 1977.
Indira Peterson teaches The Classical Literature of India; Indian Women: Literary and Cultural Perspectives; The Great Epics of India: Representations and Interpretations; Hinduism; Sacred Narratives in the Hindu Tradition; Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore: Nonviolence, the Nation, and the World; Indian Civilization; Sanskrit language; and Modern Indian Fiction.
- "The Maratha connection," The Hindu, January 13,2011.
- "Indira Peterson Keynotes Houston Conference," Office of Communications, June 29, 2010.
- "MHC Profs Speak 50-Plus Languages," Office of Communications, March 13, 2008.
- "MHC's Petersons Speak at Santa Fe," Office of Communications, December 12, 2007.
- "Awards Times Four: Decatur, Fink, Gill, and Peterson," College Street Journal, April 27, 2001.