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The Therigatha, often translated as Verses of the Elder Nuns (Pāli: theri elder (feminine) + gatha verse), is a Buddhist scripture, a collection of short poems supposedly recited by early members of the Buddhist sangha in India around 600 BC. In the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, the Therigatha is classified as part of the Khuddaka Nikaya, the collection of short books in the Sutta Pitaka. It consists of 73 poems, organized into 16 chapters. It is the earliest known collection of women's literature.
Despite its small size, the Therigatha is a very significant document in the study of early Buddhism. The Therigatha contains a number of passages that re-affirm the view that women are the equal of men in terms of spiritual attainment, as well as a number of verses that seem to address issues that might be of particular interest to women in South Asian society. Included in the Therigatha are the verses of a mother whose child has died (Thig VI.1 and VI.2), a former prostitute who became a nun (Thig V.2), a wealthy heiress who abandoned her life of pleasure (Thig VI.5), and even of the Buddha's own stepmother, Maha Pajapati (Thig VI.6). An additional collection of scriptures concerning the role and abilities of women in the early sangha is found in the fifth division of the Samyutta Nikaya, known as the Bhikkhuni-samyutta.
A number of the nuns whose verses are found in the Therigatha also have verses in the book of the Khuddaka Nikaya known as the Apadāna, often called the Biographical Stories in English. The majority of these have been translated into the English language.
- Psalms of the Sisters, tr C. A. F. Rhys Davids, 1909; reprinted in Psalms of the Early Buddhists, Pali Text Society, Bristol; verse translation
- Elders' Verses, tr K. R. Norman, volume II, 1971, Pali Text Society, Bristol
The two translations have been reprinted in one paperback volume under the title Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns, without Mr Norman's notes, but including extracts from the commentary translated by Mrs Rhys Davids.
Online in English
- Theragatha Verses of the Elder Monks
- Therigatha Verses of the Elder Nuns
- Psalms of the Early Buddhists: I. Psalms of the Sisters, London: Pali Text Society, 1909. Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids' 1909 translation of the complete Therigatha.
- "The 73 songs are organized by length; each is prefaced by Dhammapala's commentary of the 400s CE. The appendix gives translations of 10 songs by theri from another source, the Bhikkhuni-samyutta, apparently contemporary with the Therigatha. Note especially the second section of Rhys Davids' introduction, in which she discusses the lives and beliefs of the theri, and from which you can link to songs that deal with specific themes, e.g., freedom, peace." taken from Other women's voices