display | more...
The Hindu Scriptures, 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 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.