Indira Viswanathan Peterson

Professor Emeritus 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

Indira Peterson is a leading scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil literature and Hinduism, and South Indian cultural history and performing arts, especially Karnatak music and early modern dance drama. Other interests include translation, European-Indian culture contact, and comparative literature. Peterson has published widely on these subjects. She has held a number of research fellowships, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The American Institute for Indian Studies, the Social Science Research Council, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Peterson’s major publications are: “Poems to Śiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints” (1989), “Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kirātārjunīya of Bhāravi” (2003), and “Arjuna and the Hunter”, the first complete English translation of the Sanskrit literary epic Kirātārjunīya, in the Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press (2016). Other publications include: George Michell and Indira Peterson, “The Great Temple at Thanjavur: A Thousand Years. 1010 – 2010” (2010); “Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in modern South India, co-edited with Davesh Soneji” (2008); and “Tamil Geographies: Cultural Constructions of Space and Place in South India, co-edited with Martha Selby” (2007). Peterson was the editor of Indian literature for “The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces” (Expanded 6th Edition, 1995), and “The Norton Anthology of World Literature” (2001).

Indira Peterson has recently completed “Tanjore Renaissance: King Serfoji II and the Making of Modern South India,” an intellectual biography of the royal polymath and innovator Serfoji II. Also in progress are the monographs “Drama, the Court, and the Public in Early Modern India” and “An Enlightenment Library in 19th century India: The Personal Collection of King Serfoji II of Tanjore (r.1798-1832)”.

Recent Honors

The South Asia Center and the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania is hosting a conference in honor of Indira V. Peterson (Asian Studies, Emeritus). The New Cultural Histories of South India Conference will be November 9-10, 2019 and will explore Aesthetics, Social Change, and the Politics of Culture.