Hindu Scriptures

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

Vedic literature is divided by tradition into two categories: Shruti – that which is heard (traditionally understood as revelation) and Smriti - that which is remembered (stemming from human authors, not revelation). The Vedas constituting the former category are considered sacred texts or scripture by many followers of Hindu religion. The post-Vedic scriptures form the latter category: the various shastras and the itihaasas, or histories in epic Sanskrit verse. Holding an ambiguous position between the Upanishads of the Vedas and the epics, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be revered scripture by most Hindus today.

Hindu texts are typically seen to revolve around many levels of reading, namely the gross or physical, the subtle, and the supramental. This allows for many levels of understanding as well, implying that the truth of the texts can only be realized with the spiritual advancement of the reader.

1. Vedas

2. Upanishads

3. Post-Vedic Hindu scriptures

4. The Bhagavad Gita

5. The Puranas

6. The Tevaram Saivite hymns

7. Divya Prabandha Vaishnavite hymns

The Vedas

The Vedas are referred to as the Shruti. Scholars who have made a study of world scriptures maintain that the Vedas are the oldest extant texts. The ideas expressed in the Vedas were traditionally handed down orally from father to son and from teacher to disciple. Therefore, these ideas had been in circulation for a long time before their codification and compilation, which are attributed to a Rishi named Veda Vyasa (literally, "the splitter of the Vedas," ). He was named that way as it was he who was accredited with forming the large mass of knowledge and hymns of the Vedas and 'splitting' them into comprehensible sections for the rest of humanity. On the basis of both internal and external evidence, scholars have suggested various dates for the origin of the Vedas, ranging from approximately 1000 BC to as far back as 5000 BC, with most scholarship accepting a range between 1200 and 1400 BC.

The Upanishads

While the Upanishads are indeed classed within the fold of the "Vedas," their actual importance to Hindu thought 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 (eg 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 Hindu philosophy reflected in the epics is the doctrine of avatar (incarnation of God as a human being). 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 intermediaries between the Supreme Being and mortals.

The Bhagavad Gita

Many a Hindu has said that the most succinct and powerful abbreviation of the overwhelmingly diverse realm of Hindu thought is to be found in the Bhagavad Gita. Essentially, it is a microcosm of Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and even Tantric thought of the Hindu fold. Composed between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC, the Bhagavad Gita (literally: Song of the Lord) is a part of the epic poem Mahabharata and is revered in Hinduism. It is not limited to Vaishnavs, as some people incorrectly assume, since it is accepted by Tantrics and non-denominational yogins of all Hindu streams as a seminal text. Indeed, the Bhagavad Gita refers to itself as a 'Yoga Upanishad,' thereby establishing itself as more than just a text based on Krishna, but rather one that speaks of truths through Krishna.

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 spoke to not only to the mind and to the Hindu's innate sense of Dharma, but called for overwhelming love, that to love God was to love the immortal Self, and to find some harmony in oneself was to be at peace with the entire cosmos. It speaks of cultivating both the intellect and the body, but always to remain equal in perspectival intuition of the greater Self. The Bhagavad Gita truly sought to be a liberation scripture universal in its message.

The Puranas

The Puranas are a vast medieval 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).

Eighteen (18) are considered main purans called "Mahapuranas", and another Eighteen (18) are "Upapuranas". That means total number of Puranas in Hindu Literature are 36. Maharapuranas (18) - (1) Brahma (2) Padma (3) Vaishnav (4) Shaiva (5) Bhagvat (6) Naradiya (7) Markendeya (8) Agneya (9) Bhaibishya (10) Brhamabaibarta (11) Linga (12) Baraha (13) Skanda (14) Baman (15) Kourma (16) Matsa (17) Garud (18) Brahmanda

Upapuranas (18) - (1) Aadi (2) Nrisingha (3) Bayu (4) Shiva (5) Dharma (6) Durbasa (7) Narad (8) Nandikeshwar (9) Ushana (10) Kapil (11) Barun (12) Shamba (13) Kalika (14) Maheswar (15) Devi (16) Padma (17) Parasar (18) Marichi one Upparana also available (19) Bhaskar

Total 37 Hindu Puranas available, 18 Mahapuranas, and 19 Upapuranas

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, 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

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) and the Devi Mahatmya (the tales of Devi, the Hindu mother goddess, in her many forms as Shakti, Durga, Parvati, etc.). Hindu Texts