Oldest Buddhist texts in Middle Indo-Aryan language native to the Indian subcontinent
Pre-modern copies of the Tipiṭaka were preserved in Palm-leaf manuscripts, most of which have not survived the humid climate of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Burmese-Pali manuscript copy of the Buddhist text Mahaniddesa, showing three different types of Burmese script, (top) medium square, (centre) round and (bottom) outline round in red lacquer from the inside of one of the gilded covers
Pali literature is concerned mainly with TheravadaBuddhism, of which Pali is the traditional language. The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pāli Canon, the authoritative scriptures of Theravada school.
Much of the extant Pali literature is from Sri Lanka, which became the headquarters of Theravada for centuries. Most extant Pali literature was written and composed there, though some was also produced in outposts in South India. Most of the oldest collection of Pali Literature, the Pali Canon, was committed to writing in Sri Lanka at about the first century BCE (though it contains material that is much older, possibly dating to the period of pre-sectarian Buddhism).
During the first millenium, Pali literature consisted of two major genres: histories (vamsa) and commentaries (atthakatha). The histories include the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa, which are verse chronicles of Buddhism in India and Sri Lanka.
The commentarial works include the writings of Buddhaghosa (4th or 5th century CE), who wrote the influential Visuddhimagga along with various commentaries on the Pali Canon. Several other commentators worked after Buddhaghosa, such as Buddhadatta (c. fifth century), Ananda (sixth century), Dhammapala (at some point before the 12th century) and other anonymous commentators which we do not know by name.
The reform period between the 10th to 13th centuries saw an explosion of new Pali literature. Part of the impulse behind these literary efforts was the fear that warfare on the island could lead to the decline of Buddhism. This literature includes the work of prominent scholars such as Anuruddha, Sumangala, Siddhattha, Sāriputta Thera, Mahākassapa of Dimbulagala and Moggallana Thera.
They worked on compiling subcommentaries to the Tipitaka, grammars, summaries and textbooks on Abhidhamma and Vinaya such as the influential Abhidhammattha-sangaha of Anuruddha. They also wrote kavya style Pali poetry and philological works. Their work owed much to the influence of Sanskrit grammar and poetics, particularly as interpreted by the Sri Lankan scholar Ratnamati. During this period, these new Pali doctrinal works also show an increasing awareness of topics found in Sanskrit Buddhist Mahayana literature.
From the 15th century onwards, Pali literature has been dominated by Burma, though some has also been written in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, as well as Ceylon. This Burmese literature has in turn been dominated by writings directly or indirectly concerned with the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the part of the Canon variously described as philosophy, psychology, metaphysics etc.
These are early works written after the closure of the canon. The first four of these texts are present in the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Burmese Tipitaka but not in the Thai or Sri Lankan. They are also not mentioned by Buddhaghosa as being part of the canon.
Suttasaṃgaha - A collection of important suttas from the Tipitaka
Nettipakarana - "The Book of Guidance", a work on exegesis and hermeneutics
Petakopadesa - "Instruction on the Pitaka", another text on exegesis and hermeneutics
Vimuttimagga - A short practice manual by Upatissa (possibly 1st century CE), the Pali text is now lost, and only the Chinese translation survives.
Pali texts composed in Sri Lanka
A collection of Pali Commentaries (Atthakatha) were written in Sri Lanka by various (some anonymous) authors, such as Buddhagosa, Dhammapala, Mahanama, Upasena, and Buddhadatta. Buddhagosa writes that he based his commentaries on older works which were brought to Sri Lanka when Buddhism first arrived there, and were translated into Sinhalese. K.R. Norman has written that there is evidence that some parts of the commentaries are very old.
Sub-commentarial works called Tikas are secondary commentaries, that is to say, commentaries on the Atthakathas. Dhammapala is one early author of tikas. He is particularly known for his Paramatthamañjusa, a sub-commentary on the Visuddhimagga.
Doctrinal Manuals, Summaries and Treatises
Visuddhimagga - Buddhaghosa, A very influential compendium of Buddhist doctrine and practice by Buddhagosa (5th century).
Abhidhammavatara - Buddhadatta, The earliest effort at an introductory manual which summarizes the doctrines in the Abhidhamma (5th century)
Ruparupa-vibhaga - Buddhadatta - A short manual on Abhidhamma (5th century)
Saccasankhepa - Culla-Dhammapala, "Elements of Truth", A "short treatise on Abhidhamma" (7th century)
Abhidhammattha-sangaha - Acariya Anuruddha, A summary of the Abhidhamma, widely used as an introductory Abhidhamma text, c. 11th to 12th century.
Namarupa-pariccheda - Acariya Anuruddha, A verse introduction to the Abhidhamma
Paramattha-vinicchaya - attributed to Acariya Anuruddha, K.R. Norman thinks this might be a different Anuruddha.
Khemappakarana - By the nun Khema, A "short manual on the Abhidhamma"
Mohavicchedani - Mahakassapa of Chola, A guide to the matikas (topics) of the seven books of the Abhidhamma (12th century)
Nāmacāradīpikā - Chappata, (15th century)
Vinayavinicchaya - Buddhadatta, A verse summary of the first four books of the Vinaya (5th century)
Uttaravinicchaya - Buddhadatta, A verse summary of the Parivara, the final book of the Vinaya (5th century)
Khuddasikkha and Mulasikkha - Short summaries on monastic discipline.
Upasaka-janalankara - Sihala Acariya Ananda Mahathera, a manual on the Buddha's teachings for lay disciples (Upasakas) (13th century)
Simalankara, a work dealing with monastic boundaries (sima)
Bhesajjamanjusa - a Medical text from Sri Lanka (13th century)
Amatākaravaṇṇanā (c. 18th century) - According to Kate Crosby, this is one of the most extensive manuals of Esoteric Theravada meditation and was compiled by Kandyan Sinhalese students of Thai esoteric meditation masters.