The Hindu Scripture
s, of which there are many, dating back some 3,000 years,
at least, can be vaguely divided in the following manner--
The Sruti -- The Revealed Scriptures
- The Vedas, comprising
- The Rig Veda, a collection of ten books or mandalas of hymns whose primary
concern is peace, prosperity and liberation to a better world;
- The Yajurveda, divided into two (Shukla "White", and
Krishna "Black"), consisting mainly of sacrificial formulae
in both prose and verse to be chanted at a sacrifice;
- The Samaveda, composed of many verses from the Rig Veda, set to
music for singing during sacrificial rituals;
- The Atharvaveda of practical arts and sciences, full of charms,
and medicinal secrets, while also taking in the wider context, praising
and explaining the nature of life and time. This Veda believed to be a later composition and contains some non-Aryan material. It seems to have been composed when a synthesis of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures took place; and
- the five subordinate Upa-Vedas:
- The Ayur-Veda, dealing with the science of medicine, both
preventative and curative, anatomy, physiology, hygiene and
- The Dhanur-Veda of military sciences, such as archery and
- The Gandharva-Veda, dealing with the performing arts, music
and dance; and
- The Sthaptya Veda of mathematics and practical applications
in the visual arts and sciences (e.g. engineering,
architecture, sculpture and painting).
The Samhitas, liturgies which accompanied the sacrificial rites
of the Aryan brahmins
The Aranyakas and the Upanishads (known collectively as Vedanta, or the
"end of knowledge". They were treatises, composed around 800-200 BCE, and were often
in the form of a dialogue between teacher (acharya) and student. Like
the dialogues of ancient Greece, they were thought of as the highest expression
of Truth revealed by great sages of ancient times who acquired this knowledge through
realisation of God within themselves.
The Smriti -- The Remembered Texts,
Hinduism's Oral Tradition
- The Puranas, the popularised teachings of the higher Truth, catering
to women and the lower castes, who were denied access to education. Each is a
mixture of history, philosophy, and mythology beginning with the creation of the world.
There is also a substantial amount of astrology, geography, medicine,
anatomy, and military arts threaded through the Upanishad-like dialogues
between the sage and the disciple. There are eighteen principal Puranas (Mahapuranas),
amd eighteen lesser Puranas (Upapuranas).
- The Epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The two great epics of
Hindu culture, whose significance and prominence cannot be underestimated, both
deal with divine protagonists, Rama and Krishna, both avataras of the God
Vishnu. Their grasp on Hindu Society has been so far-reaching, that it would be
virtually impossible to find any Hindu in India or South-East Asia who was
old enough to speak, but could not give an elaborate account of these two epics.
The Ramayana is a 24,000-verse poem by the sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata,
is the longest poem ever written with 100,000 verses (about seven times as long as the Iliad
and Odyssey combined).
- The Bhagavad Gita, a seven-hundred verse poem occuring in the middle of
the Mahabharata, recounting the teachings of Krishna to his disciple
Arjuna on the battle-field of Kurukshetra. It is the most influential of all Hindu texts, in which Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of dharma (religious duty). Krishna teaches Arjuna, who is dejected at having to fight his own relatives in the war, that everyone must follow the course of duty without thinking about its results. It is an Upanishad in its own right: the Gitopanishad, and means the Song of the Lord.
- The Dharmashastras, eighteen books of the religious law, supplementing and
explaining the Vedas.
- The Atmabodha ("Knowledge of the Self"), written by the 7th and 8th Century
saint Sankara is a poem illuminating scripture concepts. It has been largely overshadowed
by Sankara's commentaries which have had an enourmous influence on modern interpreters.
The Atmabodha, however, is a powerful commentary in its own right, providing
a vivid gallery of metaphorical imagery which grasps some of the profoundest metaphysics of the sacred texts.
- The Bhajans, or Devotional Songs, which developed with the Bhakti Cults,
coming into their own in 7th Century Tamil Nadu.