Bihani Sarkar


British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow 

Faculty / College Address:

Oriental Institute



BA (Oxon.), M.Phil (Oxon), D.Phil (Oxon)

Academic Background:

I took a First in English Language and Literature from St. Hilda's College Oxford, after which I studied Sanskrit grammar and literature through an M.Phil in Classical Indian Religions in Wolfson College. I then undertook a D.Phil in Sanskrit from Wolfson College under the supervision of Prof. Alexis Sanderson, All Souls College, specializing in medieval Indian goddess cults, sources in Sanskrit concerning them and their impact on beliefs about kingship and heroism. I was then awarded a two year Nachwuchsinitiative Postdoctoral Fellowship  in Hamburg University, where I studied classical Sanskrit poetry and medieval Indian Aesthetics more closely, focusing on the belletristic tradition of the Devīmāhātmya and the notion of poetic licence as elaborated by Sanskrit authors such as Bhoja, Kuntaka, Ānandavardhana and Rājaśekhara. My work during the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship will study the localizations, ritual expressions and belief systems connected to the Indic cult of the warrior goddess Caṇḍikā, providing a history of its development between the 6th and 14th centuries CE. It will study the impact of the cultic practices of goddess-worshipping political lineages on early medieval court culture in India, and the role of these practices in fostering and legitimizing pan-Indic martial and political ideology by assessing primarily Sanskrit and Middle Indic sources ranging from poetry, legend, epigraphy and ritualistic treatises.

Undergraduate Teaching:

I have taught selections from classical Sanskrit and Prakrit Mediaeval Śākta Poetry (Caṇḍīśataka, Gaüḍavaho, verses from the Saduktikarṇāmṛta) including samples from Indian poetics/alaṃkāraśāstra (Nāṭyaśāstra, Abhinavabhāratī, Dhvanyāloka) to advanced BA and MA students of Indology at the Department of Tibetan and Indian Studies, University of Hamburg. Here in Oxford I teach second year BAs, classical Sanskrit literature (till now, the Amaruśataka, Kirātārjunīya, Gītagovinda, classical prose: the Daśakumāracarita).

Research Interests:

Śākta mythology and poetry, the cult of the Goddess in Indian kingship, Classical Sanskrit poetry and drama, Aesthetics.

Publications include:

2012 April, “The Rite of Durgā in Medieval Bengal: An Introductory Study of Raghunandana's Durgāpūjātattva with Text and Translation of the Principal Rites”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, Volume 22, Issue 02, pp. 325-390. DOI:

2013 March “What makes a good poet according to Someśvaradeva? Reflections on Poetic Merit and Demerit and the Ethics of Poetry in the Surathotsava and the Kīrtikaumudī, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Volume 66 (1), pp. 25-45.

2013 “Thy Fierce Lotus-Feet: Danger and Benevolence in Medieval Sanskrit Poems to Mahiṣāsuramardinī-Durgā” in Nina Mirnig, Péter-Dániel Szántó & Michael Williams (eds.) Puṣpikā Vol. 1: Proceedings of the First International Indology Graduate Research Symposium (St. Hilda’s College, Oxford University, September 28-29, 2009), Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 407-441.

2014 June “Poetics and Morality in the opening verses of the Surathotsava and the Kīrtikaumudī (texts, translations and remarks)”. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Volume 67 (2), pp. 215–248. DOI: 10.1556/AOrient.67.2014.2.5

March 2016 Forthcoming, "Licence and Faithfulness: Taking liberties with kathā in classical Sanskrit poetry and aesthetics", in Journal of Indological Studies (Kyoto University).

I am currently working on a book on "Heroic Śāktism: the cult of Caṇḍikā in medieval Indian kingship", which will be published in the British Academy Postdoctoral Monograph series by the British Academy and Oxford University Press. 

Photograph of Bihani Sarkar
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