Religion Wiki

Part of a series on
Hindu scriptures


Rigveda · Yajurveda · Samaveda · Atharvaveda
Samhita · Brahmana · Aranyaka · Upanishad

Aitareya · Brihadaranyaka · Isha · Taittiriya · Chandogya · Kena · Maitri · Mundaka · Mandukya · Katha · Kaushitaki · Prashna · Shvetashvatara

Shiksha · Chandas · Vyakarana · Nirukta · Jyotisha · Kalpa

Mahabharata · Ramayana

Other scriptures

Smriti · Śruti · Bhagavad Gita · Purana · Manu Smriti · Agama · Pancharatra · Tantra · Akilathirattu · Sūtra · Dharmashastra · Divya Prabandha · Tevaram · Ramacharitamanas ·
Yoga Vasistha

Literature regarded as central to the Vedic Hindu literary tradition was predominantly composed in Sanskrit, Indeed, much of the morphology and linguistic philosophy inherent in the learning of Sanskrit is inextricably linked to study of the Vedas and other Vedic texts.

Vedic literature is divided into two categories: Śruti – that which is heard (i.e. revelation) and Smriti – that which is remembered (i.e. tradition, not revelation). The Vedas constituting the former category are considered scripture by many followers of Vedic religion. The post-Vedic scriptures form the latter category: the various shastras and the itihaases, or histories in epic verse. A sort of cross-over between the religious epics and Upanishads of the Vedas is the Bhagavad Gita, considered to be revered scripture by almost all Hindus today.

Vedic texts are typically seen to revolve around many levels of reading, namely the gross or physical, the subtle, and the supramental.

The Vedas

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

According to Vedic tradition, the Vedas are apauruṣeya "not human compositions"[3], being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is heard").[4][5] Vedic mantras are recited at Hindu prayers, religious functions and other auspicious occasions.

Philosophies and sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken differing positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (āstika). Two other Indian philosophies, Buddhism and Jainism, did not accept the authority of the Vedas and evolved into separate religions. In Indian philosophy these groups are referred to as "heterodox" or "non-Vedic" (nāstika) schools.[6]

The central focus of all the Vedas is the Vedic sacrifice, officiated by four priests, each in charge of one of the Vedas. This karmic ritual is mediated by the fire-demigod named Agni. Only through Agni can the priests (and thus the rest of society) gain access to the Devas.

The Vedas are four in number. The Ṛig-, Yajur-, Sāma- and Atharva Vedas represent various shākhās, or branches, of knowledge. Depending on the branch, different commentaries and instructions are associated with each Veda.

  1. The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice;
  2. The Sāmaveda consists mostly of mantras from the Rig Veda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Soma sacrifice;
  3. The Yajurveda contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices; and
  4. The Atharvaveda comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths.[7]

Each of the four Vedas may be divided into two sections:

  1. The Mantra portion, also called the Saṃhitā (संहिता), is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices.
  2. The Brāhmaṇas portion (ब्राह्मण) (not to be confused with Brahman, or the brahmin caste), contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.[8]

The Brāhmaṇas, describing rules and purpose of Saṃhitās, are further divided:

  1. the Āraṇyakas (आरण्यक), which conclude the Brahmanas, are written along a blurry line between
  2. the Upaniṣhads (उपनिषद्), which contain highly philosophical and metaphysical writings about the nature of, and the relationship between, the soul (ātman) and Brahman. The Upanishads are often referred to collectively as Vedanta ("the end of the Vedas"), not only because they appear physically in the concluding pages of each Veda, but also because the mystical truths they express are seen by many as the culmination of all the other Vedic knowledge.[9]

The Upanishads

While the Upanishads are indeed classed within the fold of the "Vedas", their actual importance to Hindu philosophy has far exceeded that of possibly any other set of Hindu scriptures, and even resulted in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a self-proclaimed yoga upanishad. Thus, they deserve a look that is independent from the samhitas and brahamans, whose excessive ritualism the Upanishads famously rebelled against. They form Vedanta and are the basis of much of Classical Hindu thought.

The Upanishads ("Sittings Near [a Teacher]") are part of the Hindu Shruti; these religious scriptures primarily discuss philosophy and "cosmic reality"; they also contain transcripts of various debates or discussions. There are 123 books argued to be part of the Upanishads; however, only 13 are accepted by all Hindus as primary. They are commentaries on the Vedas and their branch of Hinduism is called Vedanta. See Upanishads for a much more detailed look at the mystic backbone of Hinduism.

The Upanishads are acknowledged by scholars and philosophers from both East and West, from Schrödinger, Thoreau and Emerson to Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo Ghosh, to be superlatively beautiful in poetry and rich in philosophy.

Post-Vedic Hindu scriptures

The new books that appeared afterwards were called Smriti. Smrti literature includes Itihasas (epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata), Puranas (mythological texts), Agamas (theological treatises) and Darshanas (philosophical texts).

The Dharmashastras (law books) are considered by many to form part of the smrti. From time to time great law-givers (e.g. Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parashara) emerged, who codified existing laws and eliminated obsolete ones to ensure that the Hindu way of life was consistent with both the Vedic spirit and the changing times. However, it must be noted that the Dharmashastras have long been discarded by many groups of Hindus, namely those following Vedanta, Bhakti, Yoga and Tantra streams of Hinduism.

The Vedic philosophy reflected in the epics is the doctrine of avatar (appearance of God on the Earth). The two main avatars of Vishnu that appear in the epics are Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and Krishna, the chief protagonist in the Mahabharata. Unlike the gods of the Vedic Samhitas and the more meditative, mystic and ethical Upanishadic ideas regarding the all-pervading and formless Brahman, the avatars in these epics are more developed personalities, loving and righteous descents of the Supreme Being among mortals.

The Bhagavad Gita

Many a followers of Vedic religion or Sanatan Dharma has said that the most succinct and powerful abbreviation of the overwhelmingly diverse realm of Vedic thought is to be found in the Bhagavad Gita (also known simply "The Gita"). Essentially, it is a microcosm of Vedanta- Bhakti, Yogi, and Karmi aspect of Sanatan Dharma, or Vedic religion. Bhagavad Gita (literally: Song of the God) is a part of the epic poem Mahabharata and is revered in Hinduism. It speaks not only to Vaishnavas but to all people of all faiths, and it is accepted by the members of all Vedic streams as a seminal text. Indeed, the "tag line" of each chapter of the Bhagavad Gita refers to the book as the "Gita Upanishad" and as a "scripture of yoga," thereby establishing that in this text, Lord Krishna speaks the truths of yoga and the Upanishads for all.

What holds the devotee's mind foremost is Krishna's repeated injunction to abandon the mortal self to the infinite love of the Lord. He not only speaks to the mind and to the Atma, individual spirit's innate sense of Dharma, but calls for overwhelming love. By loving God one also loves the immortal Self, finds harmony in oneself, and finds oneself at peace with the entire cosmos. The Gita speaks of cultivating the intellect, properly using the body, and always remaining equipoised in relation to the greater Self. The Bhagavad Gita truly presents itself as a liberation scripture universal in its message

The Puranas

The Puranas are a vast literature of stories and allegory. Eighteen are considered to be Mahapuranas, 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).

The Tevaram Saivite hymns

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

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 Vedic texts

Other famous texts of Hinduism include those of the bhakti yoga school (loving devotion to God) such as the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas (an epic poem on the scale of Milton's Paradise Lost 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, Ramanujacharya's nine books including "Sri Bhasya", Madhvacharya's commentaries and the Devi Mahatmya (the tales of Devi, the Vedic mother goddess, in her many forms as Shakti, Durga, Parvati, etc.).

See also

  • Sanskrit Literature
  • List of sutras
  • Akilattirattu Ammanai
  • Epic Age
  • Hindu Epics
  • Vashisht


  1. see e.g. MacDonell 2004, p. 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. Apte, pp. 109f. has "not of the authorship of man, of divine origin"
  4. Apte 1965, p. 887
  5. Muller 1891, p. 17-18
  6. Flood 1996, p. 82
  7. Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: A New Translation Vol.I, at 3-4 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9
  8. Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: A New Translation Vol.I, at 3-7 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9
  9. Swami Nikhilananda, The Upanishads: A New Translation Vol.I, at 3-7 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9

External links