Indira Viswanathan Peterson

Professor Emerita of Asian Studies
Indian and comparative literature (classical and modern); Sanskrit and Tamil language; Hinduism; South Indian performing arts (music, dance, and drama) and cultural history; women and gender in South Asia

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. 

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Books and Presentations

"Mobilizing Chola and Martha Pasts in Colonial South India: King Serfoji II's Reinvention of The Great Temple at Thanjavur". Presentation. Yale University, 2013.

"Writing and the Inscription of Power in South Asia". Presentation. Duke University, 2013.

"The Great Temple at Thanjavur: Southern India: One Thousand Years, 1010 to 2010". Presentation. Sotheby's 72 & York, 2011.

The Great Temple at Thanjavur: One Thousand Years, 1010-2010. George Michell and Indira V. Peterson. Mumbai: Marg, 2010 (February 16, 2011).

Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India. Martha A. Selby and Indira V. Peterson, eds. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007, pp. 59-86. SUNY Series in Hindu Studies, Wendy Doniger, ed.

Performing Pasts Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India. Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Davesh Soneji, eds. Delhi: Oxford University Press (January 1, 2008).

Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiråtårjunâya of Bhåravi. Albany: State University of New York Press. (Mar 27, 2003).

Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints. Indira Viswanathan Peterson. January 1, 1991


Editor, Indian literature (600 B.C. to the 20th century), The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Second Global Edition (2002). New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. Chief Editors: Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack.

Editor, Indian literature, One-volume edition of the Expanded Sixth Edition of The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. W.W. Norton, 1997. Maynard Mack et al., editors.

Editor, Indian literature (600 B.C. to the 20th century), in the Expanded Sixth Edition of The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. 2 volumes and Instructor's Guide. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995. Chief Editor: Maynard Mack.