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There are two types of Hindu texts: Hindu religious texts and Hindu classical texts. Conventionally, Hindu literature group into two categories: Shruti - that which is revealed and Smriti - that which is learned. The Vedas constituting shruti, are considered divinely revealed and are thus sacred scripture. Later texts, like the various shastras, itihaasas, and Puranas form smriti. Even though the Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Mahabharata (Itihaasa) and thus a smriti, it is considered to be a shruti text by most Hindus today. All shruti scriptures are composed in Sanskrit.

There are four vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda) and each veda has four types of texts associated with it: Samhita (veda proper), Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. Usually, there are more than one shakha (recension) of a single samhita. For example, Yajurveda has two: shukla Yajurveda and krishna Yajurveda. Sometimes the materials are mixed. For example in the krishna Yajurveda the samhita verses are interspersed with the brahmana material. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is considered as both an aranyaka as well as an upanishad.

The Vedas[edit]

The Vedas form the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature [1] and are the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism.[2]

According to the Rigveda, the Vedic Mantras were composed by various seers who had 'seen' (dṛś) them in deep meditation (dhī). However, to post-Vedic tradition, the Vedas are apaurusheyatva, "not human compositions,"[3] being supposedly directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is heard").[3][4] A number of Vedic mantras are recited as Hindu prayers at religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

The philosophies and religious sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken various positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy that cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (āstika). Other Indian philosophies, such as Buddhism, Jainism and materialism, did not accept the authority of the Vedas (but also did not deny the Vedas) and the former two evolved into separate religions. In Indian philosophy these groups are referred to as "heterodox" or "non-Vedic" (nāstika) schools.[5]

The four Vedas are the Rigveda, the Samaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda. They are transmitted in various shākhās, or branches of knowledge. Depending on the branch, various early different commentaries (Brahmanas) and instructions (Sutras) are associated with each Veda.

  1. The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) addressed to the gods that contain much of the mythology and ancient-most Vedic ritual practice;
  2. The Sāmaveda consists almost exclusively of mantras from the Rigveda arranged in an order that was used for singing at the Soma sacrifice;
  3. The Yajurveda contains prose mantras and verses extracted from the Rigveda used in ritual, in addition to detailed prose 'commentaries' (brāhmaṇa sections) on the sacrifices; and
  4. The Atharvaveda comprises incantations against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and for atonement of mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as hymns dealing with household and royal rites, and in the speculative books (8-12) some spiritual content.[6]

Each of the four Veda has traditionally been divided into several sections:

  1. The Mantra portion, also called the Saṃhitā (संहिता), is a collection of hymns and prose mantras to be used in Vedic sacrifices.
  2. The Brāhmaṇas portion (ब्राह्मण) (not to be confused with Brahman, or the brahmin caste), contains the explanation of some of the mantras as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.

The Brāhmaṇas are liturgical manuals regarding the procedure of the Saṃhitās. They may be further divided into Āraṇyakas (आरण्यक) and the Upaniṣhads (उपनिषद्), which mainly contain early philosophical and metaphysical texts about the nature of macrocosm (the gods and the universe), ritual (yajña) and microcosm (humans) as well as the relationship between the soul (ātman) and the universal Brahman. The Upanishads are often referred to collectively as Vedanta ("the end of the Vedas"), not only because they appear physically in the concluding sections of each Veda, but also because their teachings are traditionally seen as the culmination of all other Vedic knowledge.[7]

The Upanishads[edit]

The Upanishads literally mean "sitting near, laying siege to a Teacher" to acquire knowledge. They are part of the shruti and primarily discuss early philosophy; they also contain accounts of various debates between contemporary priests and sages. There are more than 200 texts counted as Upanishads; however, only 13 are generally accepted as primary.

Post-Vedic Hindu scriptures[edit]

The new texts that appeared afterwards were called smriti. Smriti literature includes Itihasas (epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata), Harivamsa Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas.

The Dharmashastras (law books), though derivatives of earlier Vedic texts such as the Dharmasutras are traditionally considered as part of the Smriti. From time to time great law-givers (e.g. Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parashara) emerged, who collected existing customs and laws and to ensure that the then way of life was consistent with both the Vedic spirit and the changing times. However, Dharmashastras have been disregarded by many groups of Hindus, namely those following Vedanta, Bhakti, bhakti and Tantra streams of Hinduism, even if they practically speaking still follow the samskaras from birth to death.

One aspect of the philosophy reflected in the epics is the concept of Avatar (appearance of God on the Earth). The two main avataras of Vishnu that appear in the epics are Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and Krishna, the protagonist in the Mahabharata. Unlike some of the deities of the Vedic Samhitas and the all-pervading and formless Brahman of the Upanishads, the avataras have more developed personalities as loving and righteous descents of the Supreme Being among mortals.

The Bhagavad Gita[edit]

The Bhagavad Gita is a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. This scripture contains a conversation between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna on a variety of philosophical issues. Commentators see the setting of the Gita in a battlefield as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life. The Bhagavad Gita's call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who referred to the Gita as his "spiritual dictionary". Numerous commentaries have been written on the Bhagavad Gita with widely differing views on the essentials, beginning with Adi Sankara's commentary on the Gita in the 8th century CE.

The Puranas[edit]

The Puranas are a vast medieval literature of stories and allegory. Eighteen are considered to be Mahapurana, or Great Puranas, and thus authoritative references on the Gods and Goddesses, religious rites and holy places (most of which are in the Indian subcontinent, known as Bharat). In addition, there are 19 Upapuranas.

The Tevaram Saivite hymns[edit]

The Tevaram is a body of remarkable hymns exuding Bhakti composed more than 1400–1200 years ago in the classical Tamil language by three Saivite composers. They are credited with igniting the Bhakti movement in the whole of India.

Divya Prabandha Vaishnavite hymns[edit]

The Nalayira Divya Prabandha (or Nalayira (4000) Divya Prabhamdham) is a divine collection of 4,000 verses (Naalayira in Tamil means 'four thousand') composed before 8th century AD [1], by the 12 Alvars, and was compiled in its present form by Nathamuni during the 9th – 10th centuries. The work is the beginning of the canonization of the twelve Vaishnava poet saints, and these hymns are still sung extensively today. The works were lost before they were collected and organized in the form of an anthology by Nathamunigal. The Prabandha sings the praise of Sriman Narayana (or Vishnu) and his many forms. The Alvars sung these songs at various sacred shrines. These shrines are known as the Divya Desams.

In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, the Divya Prabhandha is considered as equal to the Vedas, hence the epithet Dravida Veda. In many temples, Srirangam, for example, the chanting of the Divya Prabhandham forms a major part of the daily service. Prominent among the 4,000 verses are the 1,100+ verses known as the Thiru Vaaymozhi, composed by Nammalvar (Kaaril Maaran Sadagopan) of Thiruk Kurugoor.

Other Hindu texts[edit]

Other famous texts of Hinduism include those of the Bhakti yoga school (loving devotion to God) such as the Ramcharitmanas of Goswami Tulsidas (an epic poem based on the Ramayana), the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva (a religious song of the divine love of Krishna and his consort Radha), Adi Shankara's commentaries and other works, Ramanuja's nine books including Sri Bhasya, Madhvacharya's commentaries and the Devi Mahatmya (the tales of Devi, the mother goddess, in her many forms as Shakti, Durga, Parvati, and others).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ see e.g. MacDonell 2004, pp. 29–39; Sanskrit literature (2003) in Philip's Encyclopedia. Accessed 2007-08-09
  2. ^ see e.g. Radhakrishnan & Moore 1957, p. 3; Witzel, Michael, "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood 2003, p. 68
  3. ^ a b Apte 1965, p. 887
  4. ^ Muller 1891, pp. 17–18
  5. ^ Flood 1996, p. 82
  6. ^ Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: A New Translation Vol.I, at 3-4 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9
  7. ^ Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: A New Translation Vol.I, at 3-7 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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