Prominent Buddhist Literary Works


Jatakas are very much close to folklore literature and they contain the tales of previous births of Buddha in poems. The Jataka have also ben mentioned in the Khuddaka Nikaya. There are 547 poems. In Sanskrit it is called Jatakamala, In Khmer they are known as cietak, and in Chinese they are called Sadok.

Milinda Panha:

Milinda Panha means “Questions of Milinda”. It contains the dialogue of Indo-Greek king Meander and Buddhist monk Nagasena. It has been written in second to first century BC and initially written in Sanskrit. There is only one copy in Sri Lankan Pali of this work. It was printed in the 6th Buddhist council in 1954.


The meaning of Dipavamsa is “Chronicle of Island”. It is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. It is believed to have been compiled around 3rd or 4th century BC somewhere in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka during the reign of King Dhatusena of Sri Lanka, the first Mauryan King of Sri Lanka.

  • The Avukana Buddha statue was erected by King Dhatusena in Sri Lanka.

Dipavamsa is one of the most important works in Pali Literature. It details the tooth relic and Bodhi Tree’s arrival in Sri Lanka. It also deals with the arrival of Buddha’s teaching and preachers in Sri Lanka. It mentions that Buddha visited Kelaniya and Dighavapi in Sri Lanka.


Mahavamsa is the most important Pali epic poem. Mahavamsa means “Great Chronicle”. It’s a historical poem in Pali Language which deals about the Kings of Sri Lanka. The first version of Mahavamsa dates back to 3-4th century BC during the reign of King Vijaya. The Mahavamsa, Dipavamsa, Culavamsa (small chronicle) all together are sometimes known as Mahavamsa. It deals with the royal dynasties of not only Sri Lanka but the whole Indian subcontinent and is known as world’s longest unbroken historical accounts. The consecration of Asoka and details of Selucus and Alexander have been detailed in it.


Mahavamsa & Sri Lanka’s Civil War

In the modern times, Mahavamsa got significance in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese people refer to Mahavamsa to claim that historically Buddhism is the religion of Sri Lanka. This was to counter attack the Tamil Nationalists. In 1930’s the Tamil -Sinhalese conflict started taking prominent shape and Sinhalese Nationalists claimed the historically the kings of Sri lanka were Buddhist. This was countered by G.G. Ponnambalam, a Tamil Nationalist of Sri Lanka. He claimed that all the historical kings such as Vijaya, Dhatusena, Kasyapa etc. were Tamils. This led to widespread violence in Sri Lanka. The violence was calmed down by the British, but the chain reaction had started which culminated in the Sri Lankan Civil war that only ended in 2009, with defeat & death of Prabhakaran.



Mahavastu means the “Great Event”. It’s a work in prose and verse and is written in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit. It details the miracles & earlier lives of Buddha.

Buddha Charita:

Buddha Charita is an epic style Sanskrit work by Ashavaghosa and was compiled in second century BC. Dharmaraksa who is known to have translated many works of Buddhism in Chinese, translated this work in Chinese in 420AD. It mainly deals with Buddha’s Life. Asvaghosa also wrote a Sanskrit Drama “Sariputra Prakaran” which deals about Sariputta or Sariputra the disciple of Buddha.

Mahāvibhāsa Śāstra

Its an early Sanskrit work on Buddhism. Vibhasa means a compendium and has 3 prongs. It is attributed to vasumitra and deals with not only Buddhism but also Vaisheshika and Samkya philosophies.


In Sanskrit Lalit is a Lotus. Lalitvistara is a Sanskrit text that deals with the biography of Buddha.


Divyavadana means divine tales. It contains anthology in 38 stories and is a sankrit text which deals with Mauryan and Sunga History. The Asokavadana is a story in it which deals with the legends of Asoka.


Udanavarga is an early Buddhist sanskrit text. It has verses attributed to Buddha and his disciples.


Udana is a Pali text included there in the Sutta Pitaka’s Khuddaka Nikaya. It contains the story of “Blind men and Elephant”.

Bodhi Vamsa

Bodhi Vamsa is a mix Sanskrit Pali text which was composed by Upatissa under the rule of Mahinda IV of Sri Lanka in 10th century AD. It describes the arrival of branch of Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka and many other things which mentioned in Mahavamsa.