Pali literature is concerned mainly with Theravada Buddhism, of which Pali is the traditional language. The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pāli Canon, the scriptures of Theravada school.
Sri Lanka became the headquarters of Theravada for centuries, and most Pali literature in this period was written there, though some was also produced in outposts in south India. After a gap following the completion of the canon in which little or no Pali literature was produced, it restarted with the Dipavamsa, a verse chronicle of Buddhism in India and Ceylon, followed by a similar, but longer, work, the Mahavamsa. An important text is Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga, which came to be regarded as the standard summary of the traditional interpretation of the scriptures, in the 4th or 5th century. Buddhaghosa also compiled commentaries on much of the Canon, work continued by his successors, who also produced subcommentaries on many commentaries, and sometimes even sub-subcommentaries. There were also handbooks summarizing some aspects of the teachings, and other literature, all or nearly all concerned with Buddhism, at least ostensibly. From the early 13th century the writing of Pali literature in Sri Lanka went into a steep decline, though it never ceased entirely. Instead, Buddhist literature was written in Sinhalese.
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.
The earliest and most important Pali literature constitutes the Pāli Canon, the scriptures of Theravada school. These are mainly of Indian origin, and were written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE, approximately four hundred and fifty four years after the death of the Buddha.
The Pāli Canon (Tripitaka) is divided into three pitakas (from Pali piṭaka, meaning "basket"). The three pitakas are: