Mani Rao (born 28 February 1965) is an Indian poet and independent scholar, writing in English.
Mani Rao has authored ten poetry collections, two books in translation from Sanskrit including Kalidasa's works and a translation of the Bhagavad Gita as a poem,, besides an anthropological study of mantra-sadhana. .
Rao has had poems published in literary journals including Poetry Magazine,Fulcrum, Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, West Coast Line, Tinfish, and in anthologies including The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem,Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W.W. Norton, 2008), and The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets. (Bloodaxe Books, 2008)  She was a Visiting Fellow at the Iowa International Writing Program in 2005 and 2009, held the 2006 University of Iowa International Programs writer-in-residence fellowship, and writing residencies at Omi Ledig House in 2018 and International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) Canberra in 2019. She was a co-founder of OutLoud, a regular poetry-reading gathering in Hong Kong, and contributed a poetry segment to RTHK Radio 4.
Translations of Rao's poems have been published in Latin, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, French and German. She has performed at literary festivals in Hong Kong, Singapore, Melbourne, Vancouver, Chicago, Canberra and at the 2006 New York PEN World Voices.
Rao worked in advertising and television from 1985 to 2004, and was Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Star (TV) Group Ltd., based in Hong Kong. She was born in India and moved to Hong Kong in 1993. She has an MFA from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a PhD in Religious Studies from Duke University.
Books and Chapbooks
- Sing to Me (Recent Work Press, 2019).
- Living Mantra – Mantra, Deity and Visionary Experience Today (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).
- Bhagavad Gita (Fingerprint, 2015). (This edition includes a translation of Ishavasyopanishad).
- New & Selected Poems (Poetrywala, India, 2014).
- Echolocation (Math Paper Press, Singapore, 2014).
- Kalidasa for the 21st Century Reader (Aleph Book Co. 2014)
- Bhagavad Gita – A translation of the poem," (Autumn Hill Books, 2010) (Penguin India, 2011).
- Ghostmasters, (Hong Kong: Chameleon Press, 2010)
- Mani Rao:100 Poems, 1985–2005, (Hong Kong: Chameleon Press, 2006)
- Echolocation (Hong Kong: Chameleon Press, 2003)
- Salt (Hong Kong: Asia 2000)
- The Last Beach (Bilingual with Chinese translation. Trans. Huang Chan Lan. Hong Kong: Asia 2000, 1999)
- Living Shadows (Bilingual with Chinese translation. Trans. Huang Chan Lan. Drawings Mani Rao. Hong Kong: HK Arts Development Council, 1997)
- Catapult Season (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1993)
- Wing Span (Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1987)
From Listing in The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, (Eds. Ian Hamilton & Jeremy Noel-Tod. Oxford University Press, 2013. 2nd Edition):
"Rao's version of the Bhagavad Gita (Autumn Hill / Penguin, 2010 / 2011) unpacks the original Sanskrit with a range of avant garde techniques—with regards to prosody, diction, mise-en-page and lineation—rendering a new translation of the well-known philosophical text unlike any before it."
“The great virtue of The Bhagavad Gita is courage, and in her luminous new translation, Rao is courageous indeed. Her lines venture to keep pace with the original, stride for stride, revelation for revelation. As Wittgenstein wrote, 'courage is always original." I can avow that Rao's is the first truly original version of this sacred text to appear in decades." – Donald Revell
“Mani Rao has transformed the most famous spiritual poem in India to a multi-layered poem, giving shapes to multiple meanings and sounds to multiple forms. Just as Arjuna saw the universe in Krishna's mouth and like the endless tree, the tree of life, which reveals its roots above and leaves below, Mani Rao has shown us this universe, this endless life with its supporting philosophy, as a poem to be perceived directly, intuitively, cutting through reason and linearity to arrive at the underlying undying poetry and grace of this epic work."– Frederick Smith
"Here is a poet who works by daring – daring herself and the reader – to let go. She works in the dark with wit and knife and punch and paper scissors. She cuts and pastes, leaves gaping holes. Her work is a black masque in which parts of speech change parts, and all have the rightness of electronic rain. In the best poems you hear and feel and watch a current – which straight prose insulates as meaning–go crackling from naked line to line, making the unrepeatable pattern that is momentary sense. It's like watching lightning fork. Mani Rao has a strong bleak voice. It's the voice of the voyager: it discommodes, rattles you, shakes you down. Her poetry is sleepless and unwinking. You go to it for debriefing, for the jolt you expect from good writing. And you go back — or she pursues you. She is the hawker you thought you shook off in the square, she is your mechanic come home to spend the night. Let her in: you’ll live to regret it, but at least you’ll live." – Allan Sealy
- Review of Bhagavad Gita translation in Asymptote
- Excerpts from Rtusamharam in Almost Island
- Review of Ghostmasters in Cha literary journal
- Author’s Website
- Poem: WebdelSol > In Posse Review > Which Way Does the River Flow by Mani Rao
- Poems: Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Issue#1) > Mani Rao: Four Poems
- Review: Quarterly Literary Review Singapore > Vol. 3, No. 4, Jul 2004 > A Review by Cyril Wong of Echolocation by Mani Rao
- Poets & Writers > Directory of Writers > Mani Rao
- Gita Translation Excerpts: eXchanges Winter 2009
- Interview: South China Morning Post > 30 May 2010 > "My Life" Interview by Mark Footer
- Author's Page on Facebook
- Author's Twitter handler