Holy Books

In the beginning was the Word

In Hindu belief, creation started with the Divine Syllable Om and knowledge or Vedas are believed to be one of the first to be created. 

This tree of knowledge is so dense that an uninitiated reader may get lost in its complexities. Hindu texts abound with highly intellectual philosophies with conceptions of impressive range and depth. In one of the most beautiful examples of Vedic thought process, I'm presenting a verse from the Mandukya Upanishad:

The Supreme Brahm is Complete,
Complete is the Brahm of a Soul,
The Complete comes from Complete,
And even if we reduce one from the other,
Complete Brahm still stands Alone!

How beautiful the imagery and how profund is the purport of this verse! However it is not something that can be immediately grasped by everyone. The Rishis of yore sought to simplify the language as well as the essence of the ancient words to make it palatable for the common man and gave us many books to learn the same message.

Hinduism has never been based on just one set of principles, rather it has thrived and survived the millenia because of its acceptance of varying and sometimes even contradictory schools of thought. Let us try and understand the basic classification of the ancient Hindu Texts and examine them one by one:

The Vedas (root Vid meaning Knowledge) are called Apaurushya implying that they are non-human in origin and have been received through revelation from God. They are the foundation stones of Hinduism and were revealed to the Mantra-Drashtas or Rishis through Divine sources as they progressed on the path of Spirituality.

Vedas are believed to have been given by Lord Vishnu to Brahma and from him to the Rishis

Unlike other world religions, Vedas do not owe authority to ONE single messenger of God. For ages, the Vedas were passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth. They were never written down as the ancient Indians relied more on their intellect and memory than the written word. Hence, the Vedas are also known as Shruti - 'That which is Heard' while everything else is Smriti. 

In the beginning, the four Vedas were one and consisted of a Hundred thousand verses. But to cope with man's diminishing abilities of comprehension as time progressed, Rishi Ved-Vyas divided them into four parts and entrusted four of his brightest disciples with the task of attaining mastery over the four Vedas.

Thus, Rishi Pail mastered the Rigveda, Vaishampayan mastered Yajurveda, Jaimini took charge of Samaveda and Sumantu perfected himself in the Atharvaveda. Each of these learned seers divided their text further and today we have 21 sections of Rig, 109 of Yajur, 1000 of Sam and 50 of the Atharva-veda. 

Each different section has a concluding portion somewhat like the Summary which are collectively known as the Upanishads. These texts are widely considered the zenith of Indian thought process and belong to the highest class of philosophical entreaties in the world.

Besides, there are Aranyaks that connect Vedas to the Upanishads and the commentaries on Vedas are known as Brahmanas. Further, to simplify the study of Vedas, ancient rishis developed Vedangs which are in the form of Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakran, Nirukta, Chhanda, and Jyotish.

Rest of the texts fall in the category of Smriti and include all the knowledge that has been derived and inculcated 'after' Shruti had already been received by the great Rishis. If ever there is a conflict between the two, it is advised that Shruti will always overrule Smriti.

~*~*~ Upavedas ~*~*~

The Upavedas are considered ancilliary texts that talk about the application of knowledge derived from the Vedas. Thus, they cover subjects ranging from music to medicine and consist of:

Ayurveda - The Knowledge of Medicine and Healthy Life
Dhanurveda - The Knowledge of Archery and Warfare
Gandharveda - The Knowledge of all Arts,
Sthapatyaveda - The Knowledge of Engineering and Architecture,
Arthashastra - The Knowledge of Governance, Economics and Polity.

All these are discussed not just in a technical fashion but as a means to attain salvation through the rigorous following of each individual form. This is in sync with the Hindu belief that you need not only pray (Bhakti yoga) or do good deeds (Karma yoga) to attain Moksha, but you can also attain Salvation through the attainment of Knowledge (Gyaan yoga).

These are the different Schools of Philosophy based on the Vedas. While the Itihasa, Puraans and Agams are meant for the masses, these texts are more preferred by the Intellectuals in the Society. The six  different schools of thought are:

Purv Mimamsa, and
Vedanta or Uttar Mimamsa

Some of these philosophies like the Vaisheshika are extremely scientific with the entire creation being considered to be built up of atoms (!!). Vedanta popularized by Adi Shankracharya and Swami Vivekananda emphasizes the Supreme Brahman as a non-personal metaphysical concept free from any mythological moorings. Another school of thought is the Yoga which seeks the union of God (Parmatma) and Soul (Atma) by means of meditation and various physical as well as mental disciplines.

The six traditional philosophies of Hinduism

Itihaas means History (Iti-This; Has-Happened) and this category includes four religious texts: Ramayan, Mahabharat, Yogavashishtha and the Harivansh with the former two being the most commonly referred ones.

It is difficult for the common man to understand the complex philosophies of the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, hence the rishis have explained the Universal truths by means of historical examples, so that the common man can get inspiration to follow their path and strive to attain liberation.

Manuscipt of the Adi Kavya, Ramayan

These epics are immensely human stories that acknowledge the weaknesses and failures of its heroes as often as it promotes their strengths and victories. The ‘good guys’ are sometimes even forced to break rule turning these histories into very modern stories of the clash of ideals with the harsh realities of life.

A manuscript rendition of the Mahabharat

The most revered book of Hinduism, the Bhagvad Geeta is an accompaniment to the Mahabharat epic and is considered the refined summary of  entire Hindu thought. It is compared to the milk obtained from the Upanishadic cows and hence a complete reference guide for Hindu thought and beliefs.

The Puraans were composed by sages to popularize the religion of the Vedas by generating devotion in the minds of all and one by means of examples from the lives of different Emperors, Kings, Sages and Saints from the millenia long Hindu history.

There are 18 main Puraans, six each devoted to Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and an equal number of subsidiary or Upa-Puraans. These are:

Shiva Puraan, Vishnu Puraan, Brahma Puraan, Bhagvat Puraan, Naradeya Puraan, Matsya Puraan, Kurma Puraan, Varah Puraan, Vaman Puraan, Kalki Puraan, Garud Puraan, Padma Puraan, Brahmand Puraan, Brahma Vaivarta Puraan, Markandeya Puraan, Agni Puraan, Vayu Puraan, Skand Puraan, Ling Puraan and finally the Bhavishya Puraan.

The most popular of these is the Shrimad Bhagavat Puraan that teaches devotion towards Shri Krishna and Shri Hari Vishnu.

Manuscripts of various Puraans

The Agams are practical manuals of divine worship comprised of :

Mantras or the group of words capable of creating Spiritual transformation;
Yantras or the Geometrical representations of God's various forms; and
Tantras or the religious practices centered on harnessing Shakti or the Divine Energy

These are again divided into three sections viz. Vaishnav, Shaiva and Shakta Agams each centered on the worship of God as Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti respectively.

The Agams and Puraans lay foundation  of the three chief sects of Hinduism

All the above mentioned scriptures constitute the major body of Sacred Sanskrit literature. While Shruti is considered the root; Smriti, Itihasas and Puraans form the trunk; Agams and Darshans are the branches and the secular literature of Subhashitas, Kavyas, Nataks and Alankars form the fragrant flowers of Indian literature.

Dharmashastras are the ancient law-codes dealing with the Varna-Ashram Dharma. These law books lay down the foundations of Hindu Sanskar which are the guiding principles for the behavior of individuals as well as communities within themselves as well as while interacting with each other.

Dharma-shastras lay down the Samskar

There are 18 main Dharma Shastras and the most important ones belong to Manu, Yajnavalkya, Sankha and Parashar Munis. The laws of Manu are intended for the Satyuga, those of Yajnavalkya for Tretayuga, Sankha and Likhit for Dvapar and those of Parashar for Kaliyuga.

Each law book is based on the particular time and clime hence understandably differs in its approach. It is expressly stated that the Laws should change with the evolution of Society in order to ensure the continued progress of the human race.

~*~*~ Regional Literature ~*~*~

Besides Sanskrit, there is plenty of devotional work available in other languages such as Assamese, Kashmiri, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi and Hindi. Notable amongst these are the Tamil Sangams, Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas and Geet-govind by Jaidev. Most of these works belong to the Bhakti movement and establish a relationship of Love between the devotee and God.

The ultimate purpose of each and everyone of these is to remind man of the necessity to follow Dharma, help the fellow-being, live a moral life and ultimately attain salvation and reach the Supreme abode of Almighty God. If we fail to utilize this human form to achieve Nirvana, we have to again Begin at the Beginning.

Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:

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