Earlier sacred writings or scriptures were not texts at all; they were oral transmissions passed down from teacher to student through memorization. But they are part of a cumulative religious tradition. It is the faith of the reader that gives sacredness to these text. Some may view them as a literary or an historical document.
When the university of Nalanda and burnt the 9 story library in 1200 it took a few months for the library to burn down - there were that many books there - hundreds of thousands of manuscripts - the vast amount of ancient literature that was lost forever! There were so many destructions like this.
The Vedas meaning "knowledge" is derived from the root vid- "to know". They are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit (or some ancient languages), the texts constitute the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Vedic scriptures can be broadly classified into two categories: (1) The Shruti literature (heard or revealed) (2) The Smriti literature concerned with ‘the remembered.’.
Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition alone. But preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques. A literary tradition was set in only during the Maurya period. The early Vedic tradition is consequently called shruti, "what is heard."
The Samhitas are hymns praising various Vedic Deities, which are Agni, Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Soma, the Rudras, the Vasus, and a whole host of Deities. These Deities are primarily "nature" Gods. These hymns formed the substance of the rituals used to propitiate these Deities.
Brahmanas are works detailing these rituals such as Agni Hotra or fire and other rituals. They elaborately describe the articles to be used as well as the procedures, significance and benefits of these rituals.
Four Shruti Vedas appear in early Sanskrit called Vedic Sanskrit. In addition to these four Vedas, there are a set of works collectively called the Vedangas, supplementary works dealing with grammar, meter, pronunciation, astronomy/astrology, and so forth.
The next branch of the Vedas are the Aranyakas, that takes the form in the Upanishads. Aranya means forest and aranyaka means "in the forest." The Upanishads are the premier theological discussions in the form of dialogues between students and teachers asking such question as, What is soul? What is God? What is the nature of reality? What is death? and so forth. The number of Upanishads varies with the highest number being over a hundred. Today, the most popular number of Upanishads may be 10 to 13.
Hinduism views time in great cyclic periods known as yugas. There are four such yugas and today we live in the time period known as Kali Yuga. Puranas are collections of ancient stories. The word purana means old and so they are compilations of old stories about gods, sages, and kings, along with the genealogies of famous royal families. Tradition mentions eighteen Puranas, the most common of which are: the Bhagavata, the Vishnu, the Shiva, the Skanda and the Garuda Puranas. There is even a set of smaller Puranas known as upapuranas that are also eighteen in number.
Like Vedas, Agamas and Tantras are a vast collection of knowledge and have come down through Guru-Sishya parampara, in oral traditions.
The word Agama means 'that which has come to (us)'. Tantra means 'that which protects with detail'. Sruti, the eternal word, is said to be of two forms – Nigama (Veda) and Agama.
Veda, is said to embody the regulations, the laws of the universe as perceived by gifted prophets, or seers, the rishis. Word, Vedas can be used to denote all sacred texts. In Tamil word is marai (தமிழ் மறை) and all sacred texts on and by saints are included. Though vedas have broad meaning, it is used most of the times in very narrow meaning. They are classified in to four, by many ways, and few are listed:
(1) Most popular one: Rig, is a collection of over a thousand hymns; Yajur from yajus meaning prose mantra; Sama or book of chants; and Atharva containing spells charms. Compiled by Vyasa and his students pylar, jaimini, vaisampayana and sumanthu.
(2) Scriptures contain: Morality/Ethics; Right means for obtaining basic needs, wealth and power; Healthy Enjoyment/pleasures/joy; and Salvation/liberation. (அறம் பொருள் இன்பம் வீடு or தர்மம் அர்த்தம் காமம் மோக்ஷம்). These 4 terms are difficult to describe in few words.
(3) மந்திரம் லௌகிகம் | தந்திரம் விஜ்ஞானம் ||
தர்மம் ப்ரஹ்மஸ்வருபம் | ஸுன்யப் பிரச்னம் போதிஸத்த்வம்
[vedic hymn/rituals (மந்திரம்) are for worldly things; scientific material or techniques (தந்திரம்) in vedas are for understanding universe. Truth/laws (தர்மம்) are the forms or views of ultimate reality. Only by questioning with open or empty mind, one can attain enlightenment] Openness or egoless state is the way to the attainment of perfect knowledge or enlightenment - by salivahana
(4) ஜிவிதம் ஷாக்தம் |ஆத்ம விசாரம் ஸைவம்
ஷாஸ்வதம் நாராயணம் | தண்டம் பரமபதம்
(Above attributed to Sukha means: Sakthi texts on how and means of living; saiva texts meaning life force or real you, helps to know about self; texts on narayana meaning source or final destination of every thing, describes the eternal or ultimate reality; Submission or bakthi is short cut to liberation. Here தண்டம் means prostration like a stick falling.)
5) ஆசாரா கதா ரஞ்சனா பிரச்னா (or ஆசாரா விசாரா கதா ரஞ்சனா)
Vedas are about: Conduct dealing with morals, ethics etc; Stories dealing with right/wrong; Songs, music dance etc for entertainment with inner meaning to ponder/contemplate; and Questions/answers on reality.
6) The Four Padas or divisions are:
Jnana or knowledge aspects; Yoga or methods/process; Kriya dealing with construction and procedures; and Carya Pada or action phase
One can observe that the ancient Indian, Zoroastrian, Greek, Roman, and other religions all share a common heritage.
Zoroasters are people from iran, fire worshippers like the hindus. The Gods in Hindu mythology were called Devas, and the Villians were called Asuras. Now in Zoroaster mythology, the Gods are called Ahuras and the Demons are called Daevas. The Hindus call the mighty river of the Vedas the Saraswati and the Zoroasters call it the Harasvati. The Zoroasters called the Sindhu as Hindu, and that is how the people of the Sindhu valley were named. And the Iranian texts also claim to be as old as the Vedas. The Asur Mahadev of the hindu myth resembles the Ahura Mazda of the Iranians.
It appears that the Sapta Sindhu region or the Sarasvati region was the centre of this cultural tradition and origin of the Vedic texts. Arya means only a man from a Noble Family. Geologists say that the Sarasvati river dried up around 1900 BC. Since Sarasvati is the greatest river of the Rigvedic hymns, Rigveda may have been composed prior to 1900 BC.
Scriptures would have been originally developed (written/told) in many languages. The ancient India had very many language families and majority of them are extinct now. The Prakrits became literary languages, generally patronized by kings. The earliest inscriptions in Prakrit are those of Asoka. The various Prakrit languages are associated with different patron dynasties, with different religions and different literary traditions. The earliest records in Old Tamil are short inscriptions from around the 2nd century BCE in caves and on pottery. These inscriptions are written in a variant of the Brahmi script called Tamil Brahmi and the earliest long text in Old Tamil is the Tolkappiyam, an early work on Tamil grammar and poetics, around 1st century BC.
Rishis did try to understand cosmos. The Universe had no beginning and it will have no end. "the Big Bang is not a beginning of time but really just the latest in an infinite series of cycles. It will be extremely difficult to finally prove any model of the Universe. The “cyclic” views of time was also held by other ancient thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci. Many believe in popular and abramic religious-influenced belief in “linear” time.
These are works on medicine, Ayurveda; law, the Dharma Shastra; architecture, Vastu Shastra; political science, Artha Shastra; morality, Niti Shastra; and of course, love and pleasure, the Kama Shastra. So all of these, the Shruti and Smriti Vedas, comprise the shastra or sacred writings of Hinduism.
The Rigveda Samhita is the oldest and the most important one in Vedic Literature. It glorifies various gods. These gods represent natural and cosmic phenomena which have been idolized as Gods. Indra being the god of power, rain and also the synonym of the sun was the most important. Next comes Agni who is the priest and the mediator between men and gods. Some of the other gods and goddesses who have been eulogized are Soma, Savitr, Surya, Rudra, Mitra, Varuna, Vishnu, Ushas, Vak etc. In fact these were the divine manifestations of one great power only. There was no mention of idol worship in those days.The priest of Rigveda or Hota did invocation of these deities. These invocations are known as hymns.
Although twenty one recensions of Rigveda have been mentioned yet only five are more popular Shakala, Vashkala, Ashvalayana, Sankhyayana and Mandukayana. Out of these five also, only Shakala is available. The Rigvedic texts support monotheistic concept. (E-kam sad viprah bahudha vadanti i.e. the truth is one but is called by many names.)
Yajurveda (worship and sacrifice) contains sacrificial formulas in prose. If the Rigveda is theory, Yajurveda is practical. The subject matter of Yajurveda: Which mantras should be chanted for achieving the desired object, what type of offering should be offered, how big and of what shape should be the altar etc.. Yajurveda has two divisions krishna (Black) and shukla (White). White (shukla) Yajurveda is mostly used in northern part of India and Black (Krishna ) Yajurveda is more popular in southern part of India.
The Vedic yajna has both an inner and outer form. The outer form involved the priests and offerings. The inner rituals proceeded through speech, mind-breath, and soul and thus was a matter of yogic practice and meditation. Yajna was considered to be the naval of the universe, the central point of the whole cosmos.
Samveda means Veda of chants or a collection of hymns largely drawn from the Rigveda which have been given a musical mode. Samveda is a system of melodious chanting of vedic hymns. Samveda is said to have one thousand recessions, but only three recessions are available.
Mantras are uttered together with their swaras. There are seven musical notes- Shadaja (Sa), Rishabha (Re), Gandhara (Ga), Madhyama ( Ma), Panchama (Pa), Dhaiwata (Dha), and Nishada (Ni).
The importance of Samveda is immense. It is the main origin of musicology. In fact gandharvaveda which has given birth to about sixteen thousand musical notes and their modifications has been deduced from Samveda only.
In fact all the three Vedas are complementary and interdependent. The Rigveda contains the mantras offered to various gods, the Samveda teaches how to chant them correctly with proper high & low notes while the Yarjurveda explains the sacrificial acts accompanying the same . Thus Rigveda is related to knowledge, the Samveda to devotional sentiments and the Yajurveda to action.
Atharvaveda lays more emphasis on the means essential for making the life comfortable and happy. Atharvaveda contains a collection of hymns, magic spells and incantations that represent the beliefs, faiths, traditions, conservations and customs of the masses. It contains a very high level of scientific knowledge also. Love for the country and mother earth is reflected in many suktas. Atharvaveda is mentioned to have nine recensions but only two are available- Shaunaka and pippalada.
Like the Vedas, no definite date can be assigned to Brahmanas also. All the four Vedic Samhitas have their own Brahmanas. The essential contents of all the Brahmanas are almost the same. There are two main divisions, vidhi and arthavada. Vidhi means rule or regulations, while Arthvada is the explanatory portion and recommends the rituals. Brahmana Granthas are indispensable from theological, geographical, cultural, philosophical, political, historical and social point of view .
The four Vedic Samhitas, Brahmana Granthas, Aranyakas and Upanishads are the integral part of Vedic Literature. They are interdependent and complimentary to each other. Aranyakas are the links between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. Here the subject matter of Brahmanas has been explained in the style of the Upanishads meaning thereby that the rituals have a spiritual basis. Thus a perfect co-ordination has been established by the Aranyakas between the path of action (Karmamarg) and the path of knowledge (Jnanamarg).
Arnyaka literature, which are the basis of the philosophy, must have been very large but today only eight Aranyakas are available.
They are a collection of Indian philosophical treatises contributing to the theology of Hinduism, elaborating on the nature of reality and the soul and the relations between these two.
From the Rigveda:
1 Aitareya Upanishad
2 Aksha-Malika Upanishad - about rosary beads
3 Atma-Bodha Upanishad
4 Bahvricha Upanishad
5 Kaushitaki-Brahmana Upanishad
6 Mudgala Upanishad
7 Nada-Bindu Upanishad
8 Nirvana Upanishad
9 Saubhagya-Lakshmi Upanishad
10 Tripura Upanishad
11 Adhyatma Upanishad
12 Advaya-Taraka Upanishad
13 Bhikshuka Upanishad
14 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
15 Hamsa Upanishad
16 Isavasya Upanishad
17 Jabala Upanishad
18 Mandala-Brahmana Upanishad
19 Mantrika Upanishad
20 Muktika Upanishad
21 Niralamba Upanishad
22 Paingala Upanishad
23 Paramahamsa Upanishad
24 Satyayaniya Upanishad
25 Subala Upanishad
26 Tara-Sara Upanishad
27 Trisikhi-Brahmana Upanishad
28 Turiyatita-Avadhuta Upanishad
29 Yajnavalkya Upanishad
30 Akshi Upanishad
31 Amrita-Bindhu Upanishad
32 Amrita-Nada Upanishad
33 Avadhuta Upanishad
34 Brahma-Vidya Upanishad
35 Brahma Upanishad
36 Dakshinamurti Upanishad
37 Dhyana-Bindu Upanishad
38 Ekakshara Upanishad
39 Garbha Upanishad
40 Kaivalya Upanishad
41 Kalagni-Rudra Upanishad
42 Kali-Santarana Upanishad
43 Katha Upanishad
44 Katharudra Upanishad
45 Kshurika Upanishad
46 Maha-Narayana (or) Yajniki Upanishad
47 Pancha-Brahma Upanishad
48 Pranagnihotra Upanishad
49 Rudra-Hridaya Upanishad
50 Sarasvati-Rahasya Upanishad
51 Sariraka Upanishad
52 Sarva-Sara Upanishad
53 Skanda Upanishad
54 Suka-Rahasya Upanishad
55 Svetasvatara Upanishad
56 Taittiriya Upanishad
57 Tejo-Bindu Upanishad
58 Varaha Upanishad
59 Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad
60 Yoga-Sikha Upanishad
61 Yoga-Tattva Upanishad
From the Samaveda:
62 Aruni (Aruneyi) Upanishad
63 Avyakta Upanishad
64 Chandogya Upanishad
65 Darsana Upanishad
66 Jabali Upanishad
67 Kena Upanishad
68 Kundika Upanishad
69 Maha Upanishad
71 Maitreya Upanishad
72 Rudraksha-Jabala Upanishad
73 Sannyasa Upanishad
74 Savitri Upanishad
75 Vajrasuchika Upanishad
76 Vasudeva Upanishad
77 Yoga-Chudamani Upanishad
From the Atharvaveda:
78 Annapurna Upanishad
79 Atharvasikha Upanishad
80 Atharvasiras Upanishad
81 Atma Upanishad
82 Bhasma-Jabala Upanishad
83 Bhavana Upanishad
84 Brihad-Jabala Upanishad
85 Dattatreya Upanishad
86 Devi Upanishad
87 Ganapati Upanishad
88 Garuda Upanishad
89 Gopala-Tapaniya Upanishad
90 Hayagriva Upanishad
91 Krishna Upanishad
92 Maha-Vakya Upanishad
93 Mandukya Upanishad
94 Mundaka Upanishad
95 Narada-Parivrajaka Upanishad
96 Nrisimha-Tapaniya Upanishad
97 Para-Brahma Upanishad
98 Paramahamsa-Parivrajaka Upanishad
99 Pasupata Brahmana Upanishad
100 Prasna Upanishad
101 Rama Rahasya Upanishad
102 Rama-Tapaniya Upanishad
103 Sandilya Upanishad
104 Sarabha Upanishad
105 Sita Upanishad
106 Surya Upanishad
107 Tripadvibhuti-Mahanarayana Upanishad
108 Tripura-Tapini Upanishad
Vedangas and Sutra Literature
Towards the end of the vedic period some literature was written in sutra style. Sutra means strings. They are Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Channdas and Jyotish.
- Shiksha (Phonetics) explains the proper articulation and pronunciation of vedic texts. T
- Kalpa is to study the correct ways of performing rituals. Srauta kalpa is methods for the performance of sacrifices. Sulba kalpa, is about methods of measurements for the sacrifice area. Third one Dharma kalpa discusses methods for ethics.
- Vyakarana (Grammar) is the analysis and the determination of the Vedic words
- Nirukta or Etymology is complementary to grammar. In fact Nirukta is a commentary on Nighantu, a collection of difficult words occurring in the Vedas but it is not available today.
- Meter (Chhandas) is important for the purity and the melodious chanting of the Vedic hymns. In Vedas there are seven meters gayatri, anushtubh, pankti, jagati, Brihati, Ushnik and Trishtubh.
- Jyotisha (“Astronomy and astrology”)
Among eighteen texts of dharma shastra, the three most important are: Manu Smriti (“The Laws of Manu”);
Yajñavalkya Smriti (“The Laws of Yajñavalkya”); and Parashara Smriti.
The other fifteen Dharma Sutra are:
Sankha-Likhita; Gautama; Apastamba; Vasishtha;
Usana; and Atri.
The Four Upavedas (“Subsidiary Vedas”)
- Ayurveda (“Science of life and health”), associated with the Rig Veda: Charaka Samhita by Charaka; Susruta Samhita, by Susruta, on the science of rejuvenation; Vagbhata Samhita by Vagbhata; Kama Sutras by Vatsyayana, on the science of healthy sex.
- Dhanurveda (“Military science”), associated with the Yajur Veda: By Sage Vishwamitra, in four chapters dealing with both offensive and defensive warfare, mystic missiles, spells, etc
- Gandharva Veda (“Science of music and art”), associated with the Sama Veda by Sage Bharata. This is the science of vocal and instrumental music and dance.
- Arthashastra (“Science of politics and economics”). Arthasastra dealing with the acquisition of material things like wealth by righteous means. Under this head, nitisastra, shilpasastra, the sixty-four kalas and also other physical and metaphysical subjects are included.
Sthapatya shastra (“Science of mechanics and construction”), is also associated with the Atharva Veda.
Agamas and Tantras
There are three main classes of Agamic/Tantric texts Vaishnava Agamas, Saiva Agamas and Sakta Tantras, though not limited to these. The Vaishnava and Saiva texts are generally called Agamas, while the word Tantra in general applies to Sakta texts. Agamas expound a variety of subjects and could be called the guides to a huge range of Hindu practices. Some are Vedic and others non-Vedic.
Agama deals with three phenomena, Mantra or sound-form; Yantra (a geometric shape, any instrument or tool); and Tantra, the practitioner’s manual. Mantra, Yantra and Tantra are closely knit. Mantra is the energy. Yantras are geometric shapes that define the workings of various kinds of energies. Tantra deals with the philosophy and methods for redirecting and channelizing the energies to guide the spiritual evolution of the sadhaka.
The word Tantra is in general used to refer to practices, and the subject dealing with those practices is called Tantra Sastra. The purpose of Tantra Sastra is not to simply realize the divine, but to make life an instrument of the divine, to make every action follow the divine will.
The Four Padas or divisions are:
Jnana pada like Upanishads deals with worldview and spiritual philosophy. It explains the nature of universe, cause of phenomenal world, creation and dissolution, eternal and transient principles of nature, the nature of self, the philosophy of binding and liberation.
Yoga Pada specifies methods for getting into experience the knowledge that Jnana Pada expounds. It contains the procedures to be followed. Yoga is of different kinds, Laya, Kundalini and Mantra.
Kriya Pada deals with the religious aspect such as temple construction, rituals (procedures for worship) and pilgrimage.
Carya Pada contains the austerity, code of conduct, regulations to be followed.
Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain desires.The Agama literature is voluminous, and includes 28 Shaiva Agamas, 77 Shakta Agamas (also called Tantras), and 108 Vaishnava Agamas (also called Pancharatra Samhitas), and numerous Upa-Agamas.There are hundreds of Vaishnava Agamas, classified as Panacratra and Vaikhanasa. A few Vaishnava Agamas: Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Narada, Hayasirsha, Paushkara, Satvata, Jnanamrita sara.
There are 28 Saiva Agamas and they could be classified into two classes: 10 Siva bheda and 18 Rudra bheda Agamas. Further, the 28 are classified into four classes: Kapala, Kalamukha, Pasupata, Saiva. The last kind (Saiva) is further classified into two subclasses – Kashmira Saiva and Siddhanta Saiva. Kasmira Saiva is in vogue in the North and Siddhanta Saiva in South India. Each Saiva Agama has supplements/additional fragments called Upa-Agamas.
Sakta Agamas hold Sakti as the supreme Godhead. These Tantras are of two kinds, Vama and Dakshina. There are said to be 64 Sakta Agamas, but the number could be much more. Many of these are in the form of Siva-Sakti conversations. A few Sakta Agamas to mention: Kularnava, Rudra Yamala, Brahma Yamala, Vishnu Yamala, Maha Nirvana.
64 kalas or arts
1. Vocal music
2. Instrumental music
6. Making emblems
7. Making garlands and other creations with flowers
8. Artwork for mattresses
9. Artwork for bedspreads
10. Body esthetics
11. House decoration
12. Making musical instruments operated by water (such as the jalataranga, for instance)
13. Making sound effects in water
14. Costume and fashion design
15. Making pearl necklaces
16. Hair styling
17. Art of dressing
18. Making ear ornaments
19. Flower decoration
20. Food styling
24. Pastry making
25. Making drinks
27. Making nets
28. Solving and creating riddles
29. Reciting poems
30. Discoursing on epics and poetical works
32. Attending theatrical plays
33. Completing verses left unfinished (samasya) by others as a challenge
34. Making cane furniture
38. Assessing gold and gems
40. Cutting and polishing diamonds
41. Searching for ore
42. Special knowledge of trees and plants
43. Cock fighting
44. Interpreting the songs of birds
46. Hair care
47. Sign language
48. Learning foreign languages
49. Scholarship in local languages
50. Predicting the future
51. Mechanical engineering
52. Strengthening memory power
53. Learning by ear
54. Instantaneous verse-making
55. Decisiveness in action
58. Preserving clothes
60. Playing dice
61. Playing with children
62. Rules of respectful behavior
63. Art of storytelling and entertaining, (like bards and minstrels)
64. Grasping the essence of subjects.
The Itihasas are also known as suhrit-samhitas (“Friendly Treatises”).
1. Ramayana, by Sage Valmiki.
2. Mahabharata, by Sage Vyasa.
4. Yoga Vasishtha by Sage Valmiki
There are also many other works that are not written in Sanskrit, like "Hindi Ramayana" known as the Ramcharit Manas, by Tulsi Das. The famous Hanuman Chalisa, forty verses in praise of Hanuman, is taken from this Hindi Ramayana. Another set of books that are not in Sanskrit, in South India are 12 siva puranas by saivite saints and the works of the vaishanavite Alwars called the Divya Prabhanda. They are collections of beautiful devotional and theological prayers written in Tamil.
Website maintained by: NARA