Reading List, and Thanks to Event Attendees

Edit: I created this list for one particular presentation, but I’ve been using it for many ensuing presentations.

Welcome to any new readers who I might have picked up from the Hinduism 101 presentation I did at the Orangeburg Library, or at any subsequent events. To older readers: I apologize for not advertising it on this page beforehand. I’ll advertise future presentations on this page before anywhere else, but this time the event “sold out” before I got the chance.

For those who attended, here is the powerpoint I used (ppt), and here is the handout and glossary (docx) I used.

There were also many requests for a more detailed book recommendation list on Hinduism. I’m linking to Amazon out of convenience, but if you look around you might be able to find a better deal. This list will probably undergo frequent revision. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comment section, or to disagree with any of my selections.


Hindu man reading the Bhagavad Gita. Image source: TrekEarth

Note, an * next to a text will denote that it is “Advanced,” either because it is very difficult to read, because its very specialized, because its an academic tome, or all three.


The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism, by Linda Johnsen (Sounds absurd, but best intro to Hinduism I’ve ever read)

Hinduism for Dummies, by Dr. Amrutur V. Srinivasan (Much like the first book. Some people I work with say that this is even better than the first one, but I haven’t finished it so I cannot affirm that. Its at least on par though.)

Indian Mythologyby Veronica Ions (More of an art book, but art is a good way of learning about Hinduism at an intro level. Contains sculptures and paintings from across the Hindu world, as well as easy to understand explanations of the deities or stories they depict)

The Vedanta Way to Peace and Happiness, by Swami Adiswarananda (Relatively introductory text focusing on applying Vedanta philosophy to practical life)

The Hindu American Foundation also maintains an intro-level reading list here.

For Children or Teens (also good intro for adults):

Any comics from Amar Chitra Katha (Children love these, and there are thousands of them)

Saint Vyasa’s Mahabharata, and Valmiki’s Ramayana, from Dreamland (Dreamland explains the epic in concise and dramatic narrative, and gives frequent and vibrant illustrations)

The Little Book of Hindu Deities, by Sanjay Patel (Wonderful illustrations by a Pixar animator) [Other great Sanjay Patel titles include Ramayana: Divine Loophole and Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth]

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, by Devadutt Pattanaik (Great for young adults or adults. Explains Mahabharata in simplified way, through narrative, non-fiction asides, and illustrations)

Indian Mythological Tales, from Tiny Tot (Stories from the epics and the Puranas illustrated for Children. Also check out 101 Indian Festivals, Best of Hanuman Tales, and 101 Great Indian Saints all from the same publisher)

Ancient Texts:

The Rig Veda, Translated and excerpted by Wendy Doniger (Doniger is controversial, but I don’t have a problem with this volume. It communicates the style of the original well, and excerpts/rearranges them in a way which is compelling to a modern reader)

The Principal Upanishads, by S. Radhakrishnan (The most complete and well documented/footnoted Upanishads collection I’ve found, though it is dense. If impossible, then the most important individual Upanishad to read in my opinion is Chandogya )

The Mahabharata, by Kamala Subramaniam (Highly readable retelling of the Mahabharata)

The Bhagavad Gita, by A. Parthasarathy (Contains lengthy commentary on each verse from Vedanta perspective. Very representational of modern Advaita Vedanta philosophy)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Juan Mascaro (Just a translation, Contains no commentary)

The Bhagavad Gita, by Eknath Easwaran (Supposedly contains a very clear commentary which touches both on philosophical and historical issues, but having not read it myself I cannot attest to the quality)

Srimad Valmiki Ramayana Parts 1 and 2, from Gita Press (Slightly dense, but accurate translation of Ramayana. Full translation with English and Sanskrit side by side.)

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Edwin F. Bryant (Contains lengthy commentary on each verse from a number of perspectives)

Classical Hindu Mythology, by CorneliaDimmit & J.A.B. van Buitenen (Stories excerpted from the Puranas)

The Complete Kama Sutra, by Alain Daniélou (The original English translation of the Kama Sutra)

The Arthashastra, by Kautilya (My preferred version of the Arthashastra, a text on ancient Indian statecraft, political economy, organizational management, and military strategy)

Modern Writings:

Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda (Explanation of Vedanta and Yoga philosophy through a highly readable narrative)

The Hindu View of Life, Radhakrishnan (Very brief and readable explanation of Hindu beliefs with a focus on its Monism and Monotheistic traits)

The Wonder That Was India, A.L. Basham (History of India from the most ancient times until the arrival of Islam. Explains the development of all major Aastika and Naastika traditions)

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, by Gupta Mahendranath (Stories, parables, and dialogues from one of the most influential Hindu teachers of modern times as compiled by one of his disciples)

The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal Vol. 2: Philosophy, Culture, and Religion: Ethics and Epics, by Bimal Krishna Matilal (My personal favorite of the modern philosophers who engage with Hinduism. He is a Harvard educated philosopher, but treats Hinduism in an irreverent and curious manner, and also in a style easily recognizable as etic, i.e. an examination from within the tradition. Though this is an academic text, it is very easy to read.)

Vivekananda: A Biography, by Swami Nikhilananda (The life of the Hindu teacher who first introduced Hinduism to the west. He was Ramakrishna’s disciple)

Principles of Tantra, by Sir John Woodroffe (The most heavily researched and non-sensationalized work I’ve seen on Hindu Tantra. Or if Kundalini medtation is the only focus of your interest, his book The Serpent Power is also great)

Indian Philosophy Volume 1, and Indian Philosophy: Volume 2, by Radakrishnan (The most detailed and thorough analysis of all Indian philosophical schools which I’ve ever read. Covers even obscure heterodox sects.)

Talks and Essays of Swami Dayananda, Swami Dayananda (Philosophical writings of one of the foremost living Advaita Vedanta swamis)

Freedom from the Bondage of Karma, by Swami Rama (A series of lectures in which Swami Rama explains the metaphysical mechanism of Karma in Hinduism, and how to break free of it)

The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture, by Sri Aurbindo (Essays on religion, history, politics, aesthetics, literature, and more by a respected Bengali Indian freedom fighter turned yogi, philosopher and poet)

Vedic Architecture and Art of Living, by B.B. Puri (Text explains all the major temple architecture styles and their symbolic significance, as well as a section on Vedic mathematics)

Kashmir Saivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism, by Kamalakar Mishra (Sympathetic philosophical exposition of the most well known Tantric system)

Heterodox Traditions (other than Buddhism and Jainism):

*The Naturalistic Tradition in Indian Thought, by Dale Riepe (An examination of the materialist and naturalist elements in various schools of ancient Indian philosophy. Good for dispelling the notion that Hinduism and Indic religions are purely idealistic, or focused on the supernatural)

**The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700, by Jonardon Ganeri (This doesn’t describe heterodox schools of thought in the “naastika” sense, but they are heterodox insofar as they are substantially different from the rest of the orthodoxy. Ganeri describes the origin of what we would consider “modern” philosophy. A school of pluralistic, rationalist, skeptical philosophers called the Navya Nyaya which arose in Bengal around the 1400s. They looked at Hindu texts much in the way many modern Hindus do. Not as inherently valid, but as presenting philosophical insights worthy of rigorous examination. Very challenging read, but very rewarding.)

*The Tattvopaplavasimha, by Jayarasi Bhatta (The most bizarre Sanskrit text I’ve ever read. It expounds an extreme form of skepticism or epistemological nihilism. Very dense and difficult to read, but philosophically unique in world literature.)

*Carvaka/Lokayata: An Anthology of Source Materials, by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (An excellent primary source text. It contains fragments which reference Charvaka/Lokayata from Buddhist Jain and Hindu sources. It also has an excellent intro and supplementary essays. Somewhat dense, and very hard to find)

Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (By far the best text on the historical development of Lokayata in relation to Tantra and mainstream Hinduism. No link listed, because it is essentially impossible to find legally. If you come across a copy, buy it immediately if only for resale value. Some libraries have copies.)

History and Doctrine of the Ajivikas: A Vanished Indian Religion, by A.L. Basham (A text on a heterodox sect which rejected the efficacy of Karma, was highly pessimistic, as opposed to the Hedonistic Lokayata, and had a strong belief in fate)

Meditations from the Tantras, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (A book of different meditation practices derived from Tantric teachings)

Poems from the Sanskrit, by John Brough (Sanskrit poems on unusually heterodox subject matter. I wrote a full review of it here)

The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen (I actually kind of dislike this book for being lazily written and repetitive, but I’m including it on the list anyway because a lot of people seem to like it. It does a good job of highlighting the hetrodox traditions, and tradition of argumentation within India)

Political or Ideological Writings:

Arise Arjuna: Hinduism and the Modern World, by David Frawley (A defense of Hindu Nationalism, positing that Hinduism is uniquely pluralistic and inclusive, and that this philosophy should form the basis of a Hindu spiritual and political revival. Frawley is controversial.)

*Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths Chetan Bhatt (A historical illustration of how Hindutva grew out of Indian Independence struggles and Colonial discourses, through the radicalizing, transformative period of the 1980s-90s, into its modern form)

Hind Swaraj, by Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi’s treatise on home rule, caste, civilization, and morality showing strong Hindu and Jain influences. This edition has a great introduction, and additional writings in the back.

The Laws of Manu, by Wendy Doniger and Brian K. Smith (Hindu law text which was most influential in the modern period, particularly after it was appropriated by the British under Anglo-Hindu Law. Also important are the other “minor” Law Books, though they didn’t influence Anglo-Hindu law as strongly.)

Warning to the Hindus, Savitri Devi (It warns of the dangers which Hindus would face post-independence, and explains the core differences between Hinduism and Abrahamism which result in violence. The author was a western “convert” to Hinduism, and a sympathizer with far right wing European parties of the 1930s)

*Hindu Nationalism: A Reader, by Christophe Jaffrelot (Contains essays and speeches from Hindu Nationalist leaders and associated thinkers from independence until the present)

Bal Gangadhar Tilak: His Writings and Speeches, by Bal Gangadhar Tilak (The writings of an independence leader who could be considered the first Hindu Nationalist. He employed Hinduism as a tool to resist British colonialism)

Invading the Sacred: An Analysis Of Hinduism Studies In America, by Krishnan Ramaswamy and others (An analysis of the portrayal of Hinduism in American educational institutions and academic literature showing that it is often exoticized, eroticicized, and not treated with academic rigor)

Why I am Not a Hindu, by Kancha Illaiah (One of the foremost Dalit writers and activists explains the differences between upper caste Hindu and Dalit religious life, and explains some of his general ideological and political platform against Hinduism)

*Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications, by Louis Dumont (I don’t know where else to list this one, so I’m putting it here. This is one of the first thorough examinations of caste by a post-colonial European. It is as much a study of caste, as it is a historical object created by an ideologically egalitarian European confronting what appears to him as a completely alien, fundamentally hierarchical society. It is fascinating, and describes accurately the intricate social rules surrounding caste. But take what you read with a grain of salt. The book has been criticized by many for an implicit ethnocentrism, for lacking empirical strength, and has been criticized by me, for failing to distinguish between jati and varna, and for an over-emphasis on the ideology of ritual purity which fails to account for the role of coercive power in the production of castes.)

*The Caste Question, by Anupama Rao (An anthropology or history text explaining how Untouchables became Dalits. That is to say, how they began to transform themselves from being the objects of scorn and stigma, into citizens. Contains many pages on the relationship between Hinduism and untouchability.)


Happy Reading!

One comment on “Reading List, and Thanks to Event Attendees

  1. Alt Right 4 Trump says:

    tbqh fam Rajiv Malhotra is pretty good read desu senpai

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