15 Recommended Translated Classic Literature in India

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Team P3 curates a list of translated classic literature in India recommended for all classics-lovers

Reading classics is a fascinating experience in that those books don’t just whisper to you stories written decades, if not centuries, ago but also help you better appreciate the history and culture of a region. The Indian states differ remarkably from each other and therefore, reading the translated classic literature of various regions helps us understand our country and its diverse cultures better. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the best Indian classics ever written.

Love translations? Do check out our list of Translated Poetry Books – 14 Must Read Indian Titles

For the sake of clarity and brevity, we’ve restricted ourselves to translated classic literature books written at least a century ago. This in no way tries to define what translated classic literature is, only helps demarcate the time period we’re going to be looking at. And if you think we should’ve included a translated classic literature title that isn’t already there, please comment below so we can include it in our list.

Recommended Translated Classic Literature in India


Title: Gora

Author: Written by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Aruna Chakravarty

Publisher: Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd

Price: 376

Pages: 517


Set against the late 19th-century Bengal, we follow Gora, a passionate unyielding nationalist who personifies the fervor of his time. He’s part of a society in flux, striving to conceive a unified nation amidst the shadows of British rule. The story takes you on a journey through India’s nationalist awakening, all seen through the eyes of Gora, whose life becomes emblematic of the complex intersections between tradition, nationalism, and organized religion.

Published first in 1907, this Translated Classic Literature Novel challenges the conventions and assumptions that underpin nationalist ideology. The story is more than the simplistic dichotomies often associated with colonial resistance, and tries to understand and explore the concepts of identity, belonging, and what makes a nation.
Tagore’s prose retains its beauty and power while capturing a Bengal teetering on the precipice of change, with his writing portraying the era’s sights, sounds, and emotions.

Ultimately, the novel challenges the dogmas and assumptions inherent in nationalist thought like few other works have dared to do and why it is so beloved and rebellious even after all these years. This is a book that transcends its time, offering you a mirror to examine your own beliefs and convictions in the ever-evolving landscape of the modern world.

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Title: Kural

Author: Written by Tiruvalluvar, translated by P.S. Sundaram

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 188

Pages: 168


Comprising 1,330 couplets, the Kural is a Translated Classic Literature divided into three sections—Virtue, Wealth, and Love—each investigating the fundamental tenets of human existence. Tiruvalluvar looks at the essence of life, guided by the first three of the four supreme aims prescribed by Hindu tradition: dharma (virtue), artha (wealth), and kama (love). The Kural acts as a compass, pointing the way toward a life well-lived and meaningful.

In the section on Virtue, the Kural talks of lessons on ethics, righteousness, and the pursuit of a virtuous life. Tiruvalluvar’s words remind you of the importance of ethical conduct in navigating the complexities of existence. Moving on to the section on Wealth, Tiruvalluvar talks of the practical aspects of life, from the dynamics of prosperity and economic well-being to the responsible use of wealth. 

His teachings can serve as lessons for the contemporary reader struggling with pursuing material success while also trying to maintain their moral compass.

The section on Love, perhaps the most celebrated, looks into human emotions, relationships, and the complexities of love. Together, these three books of the Kural inform, critique, and educate you about life, love, and the everyday workings of the world. It’s beautiful to read philosophical concepts put so well into verses.

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One Hundred Poems of Kabir

Title: One Hundred Poems of Kabir

Author: Written by Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore

Publisher: Pan Macmillan India

Price: 155

Pages: 140


Kabir, a master of the Bhakti Movement in North India, has left his mark on Indian spirituality like no other, and this translated Classic Literature book of poems, translated by Rabindranath Tagore himself, captures his mysticism perfectly. The theme of love is at its center – a love that goes beyond the ordinary, a love that yearns to unite with the Divine. Kabir’s verses sound like the voice of a lover longing for the beloved, but in this context, the beloved is the Supreme Being. 

But his poetry isn’t just about philosophy or spirituality, it also critiques society and the existing religious structures that serve to fool people rather than guide them through life. Tagore’s translation is a masterpiece in itself for it retains the mystical connotations and nuances of the original while making it accessible to a larger audience.

The poems here force you to introspect and contemplate within yourself and understand better the mysteries of the world around us and within us. They cut across religious and cultural boundaries to speak to humanity directly, the reason why they’re still so popular centuries later.

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Cilappatikaram: The Tale Of An Anklet

Title: Cilappatikaram: The Tale Of An Anklet

Author: Written by Ilanko Atikal, translated by R. Parthasarathy

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 308

Pages: 440


This epic, which dates back to the 5th century CE, is a story that begins with a curse – a curse uttered by a grieving lover. Love, war, evil, fate, and death all find their place in this epic, each explored deeply and poetically. Within the larger epic, The Tale Of An Anklet is the love story of Kovalan and Kannaki. Rooted in Tamil mythology, the book has three distinct phases: the erotic, the heroic, and the mythic. These phases mirror the varied dimensions of human experience, be it love or salvation. 

It won’t be an exaggeration to say that the book is one of the most memorable classics in Indian culture like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. It’s how it looks at existence and the various moral dilemmas accompanying it that make the story timeless. The characters are memorable and their character journeys stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the story.

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The Bhagavad Gita

Title: The Bhagavad Gita

Author: Written by Vedavyasa, translated by Charles Wilkins

Publisher: South Asia Press

Price: 550

Pages: 120


Found within the pages of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical and spiritual guide with observations on life, duty, and the path to spiritual realization. It’s a conversation between Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, his charioteer and guide. Taking place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the Gita looks into the constant dilemmas faced by humanity. It wrestles with the complexities of duty, righteousness, and the nature of the self.

This translated Classic Literature with its teachings on self-realization, detachment, and devotion are not bound by time or culture. The Gita speaks to the human condition with the concept of dharma, or duty, being a central theme. Vedavyasa elaborates on the idea that one’s duty is not just a social or familial obligation but also a spiritual path. He outlines different yogas, including Karma Yoga (the yoga of action), Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotion), and Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge).

This English translation published by the East India Company in 1785 holds a special place in Indian and global literature for it’s considered the first direct English translation of an Indian text. For the first time, through this translation, the Indian school of thought was made more accessible to the Western audience, and the book went on to influence several Western philosophers and intellectuals.

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Title: Chandrakanta

Author: Written by Devakinandan Khatri, translated by Deepa Agarwal

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 164

Pages: 288


This Translated Classic Literature is the story of a bygone era of princely states and courtly romance, a tale of love and adventure that’s captured the minds and hearts of generations. Prince Virendra of Naugarh is bewitched by the beauty of Princess Chandrakanta of Vijaygarh but their path to love is filled with dangerous hurdles. Scheming ministers who have evil magicians, rival kings who are hungry for battle, and deceivers who can outwit even the most clever spies all come together to keep these two lovers apart.

In this world, magic isn’t just a concept, it’s a force that’s present in the lives of everyone, shaping fates and testing everyone. As Chandrakanta gets trapped in a labyrinth, only Prince Virendra has the means and courage to rescue her. It’s often said that folks would learn the Hindi language to understand this story when it was being published, such was the craze. 

The novel is inspired by the cultural heritage of India, adding elements of folklore, magic, and mythology in one place.

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Poems Of The First Buddhist Women

Title: Poems Of The First Buddhist Women

Author: Translated by Charles Hallisey

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Price: 247

Pages: 192


The Therigatha is one of the oldest surviving collections of poems composed by women. Originally part of the Pali canon of Buddhist scripture, they were written by women revered for their religious accomplishments. These women share their personal experiences and reflections on truth, freedom, and the passage toward liberation from the cycle of samsara. 

The themes explored—freedom from suffering, the quest for salvation, and the power of spirituality—are universal. The Therigatha is a reminder that truth and freedom are not limited to any gender and culture and Charles Hallisey’s seamless translation helps you understand more about the lives of these incredible women from times long ago.

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The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor

Title: The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor

Author: Written by Babur, translated by Wheeler Thackston

Publisher: Modern Library Pbk. Ed

Price: 517

Pages: 608


One of the most influential autobiographies from the Indian subcontinent, The Baburnama gives you an intimate and vivid glimpse into the life and times of the emperor Babur (1483–1530). Babur’s memoirs portray life in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India in detail. This translated Classic Literature is not just a personal document, but also a historical one. 

While, on one hand, the book is an official chronicle of the emperor’s reign, it’s also a very personal memoir. It presents a comprehensive account of the era’s historical events while giving an introspective look into Babur’s experiences and emotions. 

The book is considered to be the first autobiography in Islamic literature, an achievement at a time when personal narratives were a rarity. The memoirs present a detailed account of Babur’s conquests, his interactions with other rulers and cultures, and the complex dynamics of the regions he traversed. Wheeler Thackston’s translation allows you, the modern reader, to be introduced to the simplicity and candidness of the original, making sure the richness isn’t lost in translation.

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Title: Sarasvatichandra

Author: Written by Govardhanram Madhavram Tripathi, translated by Tridip Suhrud

Publisher: Orient BlackSwan

Price: 740

Pages: 408


This four-part novel, written between 1887 and 1901, is a masterpiece as relevant today as it was during its inception. The Part I here, Buddhidhan’s Administration, charts the rise of Buddhidhan, a man emerging from poverty to become the Karbhari of Suvarnapur. With the East India Company’s increasing influence in Indian native states playing out in the background, the novel shows the rivalry between Buddhidhan and the ruling Karbhari, Shathrai, as well as the royal tussle involving Bhupsinh, the claimant to the throne of Suvarnapur.

The novel also has a parallel love story between Sarasvatichandra and Kumud, who fall in love before marriage through an exchange of letters and words that go beyond societal norms.

Tripathi’s work holds up a mirror to the Gujarati society of the era, by depicting the mechanisms of joint families, the roles of women, and life in princely states. It portrays a nation undergoing transition with all its cultural, political, and ideological shifts.

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Title: Indulekha

Author: Written by O. Chandumenon, translated by Anitha Devasia

Publisher: Oxford

Price: 433

Pages: 286


This Translated Classic Literature book, often said to be the first major Malayalam novel, blends elements of East and West. It’s an amalgamation of tradition and modernity and follows the titular lady, a Nair woman in her early twenties. The novel shows you the Nair society of the era with a portrayal of their social norms, values, and the role of women. 

Through Indulekha, Chandumenon tries to criticize the orthodoxy of Nambudiri Brahmins as well as the struggles that the Nair women had to face. In the era, the younger sons of Nambudiri Brahmins were often married off to Nair women in order to continue the traditional practice of passing on the inheritance to the older child.

Since Nair households were matriarchal, the kids from these relationships between Nambudiri Brahmins and Nair women belonged to their mother’s family instead of the paternal side.

Using characters from these different communities, Chandumenon depicts the societal changes that were taking place at that time, also showing the many cultural and religious factors combined. The translation does well to make it relevant and approachable to the modern reader while also maintaining the ideas of the Malayalam text.

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The Mahabharata

Title: The Mahabharata

Author: Written by Vedavyasa, translated by Bibek Debroy

Publisher: Penguin

Price: 3194

Pages: 5000


This Translated Classic Literature epic, composed over centuries and often regarded as the greatest Indian story ever told, brings together history, mythology, and philosophy to create a work of unparalleled significance. While it’s a tale of conflict—a war between two factions of a royal family, the Pandavas, and the Kauravas, it is the exploration of dharma, the moral and ethical principles that govern human conduct, and that adds to its importance. It reflects on the complexities of duty, righteousness, and the moral dilemmas faced by its characters.

The impact of this one story on Indian culture, literature, and philosophy is immeasurable, and it continues to inspire writers, thinkers, and artists worldwide. The story has characters fighting with dilemmas where there are no clear-cut answers, forcing them—and you—to confront the ambiguity of right and wrong. Bibek Debroy’s translation is masterful and precise, presenting its philosophical discourses and poetic verses with ease.

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Title: Hitopadesa

Author: Written by Narayana, translated by A.N.D Haskar

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 194

Pages: 260


Hitopadesa is an ancient Sanskrit classic that collects many fables and parables, woven together with verse epigrams and gnomic stanzas. The stories from this Translated Classic Literature are lessons on human behavior and ethics that are presented to you through interactions between animals and humans in simple yet fascinating stories. The satirical, irreverent, and sometimes ribald tone of the text makes them perfect for readers across ages, for everyone can find something new and different. The fables act as social critiques in a way, showing the absurdities and follies of human nature in all its glory.

It’s incredible how these stories tackle complex subjects, from statesmanship and battle strategies to personal conduct and marital fidelity, in an engaging and simple format. The tales are as relevant today as they were when first composed, with their themes of friendship, loyalty, greed, and the consequences of one’s actions.

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The Panchatantra

Title: The Panchatantra

Author: Written by Vishnu Sharma, translated by Chandra Rajan

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 337

Pages: 520


This is yet another timeless collection of fables and moral stories that has left an indelible mark on literature, culture, and ethical thinking across the world. This collection of Indian fables, possibly the oldest surviving of its kind, is a Nitishastra (a guide to correct conduct in life) written by the Hindu scholar Pandit Vishnu Sharma around 200 BC.

The title translates to five books and it is so, each a collection of animal fables, with moral lessons that are guides to ethical and practical living. You meet wise old animals and humans who are cunning and foolish, each there to entertain and deliver a message. The abridged versions of these fables are often told to children as they grow up, teaching them important life lessons while entertaining them at the same time.

The translation here is a joy to read with its fusion of prose and verse bringing it closer to the original stories while presenting it to a completely new set of readers. Whether you’re young or old, this collection of stories has something to offer you, whether it’s education, entertainment, or self-reflection.

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The Loom of Time

Title: The Loom of Time

Author: Written by Kalidasa, translated by Chandra Rajan

Publisher: Penguin India

Price: 269

Pages: 344


Considered to be the greatest Sanskrit poet who walked on Earth, Kalidasa’s influence on Indian literature is undeniable. This volume includes two of Kalidasa’s most celebrated works, each a masterpiece in its own right. Sakuntala, a play set around the stunning Sakuntala, her love for King Dushyanta, and the trials and tribulations they face.

Meghadutam (The Cloud Messenger), on the other hand, is a story of longing and separation. The poem is filled with dynamic and picturesque imagery and metaphors. The story has a lovelorn yaksha (a celestial being) who dispatches a message to his beloved through a passing cloud. Outside of these works, the book also includes Rtusamharam (The Gathering of the Seasons), a poem that celebrates love and its fulfillment through changing seasons.

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A Cry in the Wilderness: The Works of Narayana Guru

Title: A Cry in the Wilderness: The Works of Narayana Guru

Author: Written by Narayana Guru, translated by Vinaya Chaitanya

Publisher: HarperCollins India

Price: 290

Pages: 352


A Cry in the Wilderness collects writings by the great poet-seer Narayana Guru. His message is simple yet deep, emphasizing the unity of humanity beyond divisions of caste, religion, and other social distinctions. One of the earliest social reformers to speak against caste, he led a movement in Kerala against caste which permeated the very fabric of society.

Belonging to a lower caste himself, he shared his message of justice and equality through his writings and work. His writings aren’t confined to any specific group but are aimed at uplifting all of humanity. He influenced figures like Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, inspiring a generation of social reformers who tried to eliminate oppression and inequality. The translation here is lucid and poetic which keeps the essence of Narayana Guru’s words intact.

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Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh Mukherjee

Amritesh doesn't know what to do with his life, so he writes. He also doesn't know what to write, so he reads. Gift him a book if you chance upon him and he'll love you forever.

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