Ancient Texts in Hinduism
Vastness, language barrier and lack of proper documentation of Scriptures in Snatana Dharma have been enigmatic to everybody including Hindus. The purpose of this article is provide bird view to the ancient texts in Hinduism so that one can realise the incredible knowledge available and advances made by the ancient Hindu Scientists, commonly called as Rishis.
The ancient texts of Hinduism may represent in form of a Dharam tree. The Roots of the tree are Truthfulness, Austerity, Selfless duty and Charity (Daan); the Trunk of the tree is four Vedas; the Branches of the tree are Vedang, Upvedas, Yogmarg, Mantras and Shastras; the Leaves are Puranas; the Flowers are stories of Rama & Krishna and the Fruits are Festivals, Sanskars, Arts, Music, Dance, Science etc.
The ancient knowledge was transmitted through Guru-Shishyia (Teacher-Student) tradition verbally. Texts which are heard are called as Shruti and texts which are remembered, are called as Smirti. Vedas are Shruti. Shruti means the divine messages heard by great seers. Vedas were revealed to the ancient sages by the Supreme Being through his divine powers namely Agni, Vayu, Aditiya and Angira. Rigveda through Agni, Yajurveda through Vayu, Samveda through Aditya or surya and Atharvaveda through Angira (Atharva). Each Veda has three portions: Samhita (mantra portion and hymns); Brahmanas (ritual portion); and Aranyaka (spiritual philosophy) besides Upanishads. Smritis include Dharma Sastras (8), Itihasa, Purana (18) and Vedangas (6). Mahrishi Veda Vayas compiled the Vedas around 5000 years ago.
Upanishads are part of Vedas are commonly referred to as Vedanta i.e. last chapters or the highest purpose of the Vedas. The Upanishad (upa – near, ni – down, sad – sit) means sitting down of disciple near spiritual guru. Total Upanishads are 108, out of which principal Upanishads are 11. They elaborate on how the soul (Atman) can be united with the ultimate truth (Brahman) through contemplation and mediation, as well as the doctrine of Karma i.e. the cumulative effects of a person’s actions.
Vedangas (limbs of Vedic Studies):
Brahmanas, Aranyaka and Upanishads fall under this category.
Sutras are collection of syllables and words in shorthand, containing rules & directions with which the teachings of ritual, philosophy, grammar, or any field of knowledge can be woven. A collection of sutras becomes a text. A sutra is different from other components such as Shlokas, Anuvyakhayas and Vyakhyas found in ancient Hindu literature. A Shloka is a verse that conveys the complete message and is structured to certain rules of musical meter; an Anuvyakhaya is an explanation of the reviewed text, while a Vyakhya is a comment by the reviewer. Sutras first appear in the Brahmana and Aranyaka layer of Vedic literature.
The compendium of ancient Vedic sutra literature that has survived, in full or fragments includes the Kalpa Sutras, Smarta Sutras, Srauta Sutras, Dharma Sutras, Grhya Sutras, and Sulba Sutras. Sutras of Hindu philosophy include Samkhya Sutras, Yoga Sutras, Nyaya Sutras, Vaisesika Sutras, Dharma Sutras and Brahma Sutras.
These are six in number viz. Nyaya Darshan, Vaisheshika Darshan, Astang Yog Darshan, Samkhya Darshan, Poorva Mimansa and Uttar Mimansa. (Articles of these are already published in this website under the category of Philosophy)
To guide the society, various rishis (scientists) have written their opinions, known as smiritis. These contain rules aimed at inspiring the people towards their duties and maintain peace and order. These are sixteen in number viz. Manu, Yajnavalkya, Parashara, Apastamba, Gautama, Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa, Vasishtha, Yama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usana, Atri and Saunaka.
'Purana means old times texts. The purpose of Purans is to transfer Vedic knowledge to the coming generations in simple language. The Puranas are post-Vedic texts which typically contain a complete narrative of the history of the Universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of the kings, heroes and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology and geography. There are 18 Puranas, divided into three categories, each named after a deity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. There are also many other works termed Purana, known as 'Upapuranas. The Puranas satisfy our popular cravings, by catering to our physical, moral or spiritual needs.
There are 18 Mahapuranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas and many 'sthala' or regional Puranas. Of the 18 major texts, six glorify Vishnu; six glorify Brahma; and six glorify Shiva viz. Vaishnava aspects - Vishnu Purana, Naradiya Purana, Bhagavat Purana, Garuda Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana; Brahma as central deity - Brahma Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Vamana Purana; Shaivite aspects - Matsya Purana, Kurma Purana, Linga Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana and Agni Purana.
The Puranas provide insight into the aspects of idol-worship, festivals and devotions.
The Mahabharata (containing the Bhagavad Gita) and Ramayana are the national epics. The Mahabharata, attributed to the sage Vyasa, was written down from 540 to 300 B.C. The Bhagavad Gita, a philosophical dialogue between the Shree Krishna and the Arjuna. The Gita discusses selflessness, duty, devotion, and meditation, integrating many different threads of Hindu philosophy.
The term Agamas literally means tradition. The Agamas are a collection of scriptures of several Hindu devotional schools. The Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, and philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain six fold desires. Each Agama consists of four parts viz. Jnana pada (spiritual knowledge of reality and liberation), Yoga pada (Physical and mental discipline), Kriya pada (Rules for rituals, construction of temples (Mandir); design principles for sculpting, carving, and consecration of idols of deities for worship in temples and for different forms of initiations or diksha) and Charya pada (lays down rules of conduct, of worship (puja), observances of religious rites, rituals, festivals and prayaschittas). The three main branches of Agama texts are those of Shaivism (Shiva), Vaishnavism (Vishnu), and Shaktism (Devi).
The Scholars have explored six ideologies inherent in Vedas. These are Shankara’s Advaita, Ramanuja’s Vashishtadvaita, Madhva’s Dvaita, Vallabh’s Shuddha davit, Nimbark’s Dvaita-advait and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Achint bhedabhed. (Articles of these are already published in this website under the category of Philosophy)
Bharata’s Natya sastra, Vyakarana Sastra, Vimana sastra, yantra sastra, Mantra sastra, manas-sastra, and so on, drama, metalurgy, health sciences, and a host of other subjects. Commentaries (bhashya, tika, tippani, vartika) –this is an enormous fund of literature in itself.