Literature regarded as central to the
Hinduliterary 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 Vedasand other Hindu texts.
Hindu 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 scriptureby many Hindus. The post-Vedic Hindu 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.
Hindu texts are typically seen to revolve around many levels of reading, namely the
grossor physical, the subtle, and the supramental.Fact|date=October 2007
The Vedas form the oldest layer of
Sanskrit literature[see e.g. Harvnb|MacDonell|2004|p=29-39; "Sanskrit literature" (2003) in Philip's Encyclopedia. Accesed 2007-08-09] and the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. [see e.g. Harvnb|Radhakrishnan|Moore|1957|p=3; Witzel, Michael, "Vedas and IAST|Upaniṣads", in: Harvnb|Flood|2003|p=68]
According to Hindu tradition, the Vedas are "IAST|apauruṣeya" "not human compositions" [ Apte, pp. 109f. has "not of the authorship of man, of divine origin"] , being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called "
śruti" ("what is heard"). [Harvnb|Apte|1965|p=887] [Harvnb|Muller|1891|p=17-18] 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,
Buddhismand 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. [Harvnb|Flood|1996|p=82]
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-god 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 "Unicode|Ṛig-, Yajur-, Unicode|Sāma- and Atharva Vedas" represent various "Unicode|shākhās", or branches, of knowledge. Depending on the branch, different commentaries and instructions are associated with each Veda.
#The "Unicode|Ṛigveda" contains hymns (
mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice;
#The "Unicode|Sāmaveda" consists mostly of mantras from the
Rig Veda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Somasacrifice;
#The "Yajurveda" contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices; and
#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. [Swami Nikhilananda, "The Upanishads: A New Translation" Vol.I, at 3-4 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9] Each of the four Vedas may be divided into two sections:
Mantra" portion, also called the "Unicode|Saṃhitā" (संहिता), is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices.
#The "IAST|Brāhmaṇas" portion (ब्राह्मण) (not to be confused with
Brahman, or the brahmincaste), contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals. [Swami Nikhilananda, "The Upanishads: A New Translation" Vol.I, at 3-7 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9]
The "IAST|Brāhmaṇas", describing rules and purpose of Saṃhitās, are further divided:
#the "Unicode|Āraṇyakas" (आरण्यक), which conclude the Brahmanas, are written along a blurry line between
#the "Unicode|Upaniṣhads" (उपनिषद्), which contain highly philosophical and metaphysical writings about the nature of, and the relationship between, the soul ("Unicode|ātman") and "
Brahman". The Upanishadsare 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. [Swami Nikhilananda, "The Upanishads: A New Translation" Vol.I, at 3-7 (5th Ed. 1990) ISBN 0-911206-15-9]
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 Vedantaand 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 Gandhiand 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 "Itihasa"s (epics like
Ramayana, Mahabharata), Puranas(mythological texts), Agamas (theological treatises) and Darshanas (philosophical texts).
Dharmashastras (law books) are considered by many to form part of the smrti. From time to time great law-givers (eg Manu, Yajnavalkyaand 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, Yogaand Tantrastreams 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 descents of the Supreme Being among 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(also known as simply "The Gita"). Essentially, it is a microcosm of Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and even Tantric thought of the Hindu fold. Bhagavad Gita (literally: Song of the God) is a part of the epic poem Mahabharataand is revered in Hinduism. It speaks not only to Vaishnavas but to all people, and it is accepted by the members of all Hindu 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 Hindu'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 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
Tevaramis 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), 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 Hindu mother goddess, in her many forms as Shakti, Durga, Parvati, etc.).
List of sutras
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm Sacred-Texts: Hinduism]
* [http://claysanskritlibrary.org Clay Sanskrit Library] publishes Sanskrit literature with downloadable materials.
* [http://www.encyclopediaofauthentichinduism.org Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism]
* [http://www.hindubooks.org/ Hindubooks.org]
* [http://www.krishna.com/ Krishna.com - The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust] Bhagavad-gita online and extensive other resources
* [http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual_and_devotional_poets/india/ Hindu Poets] - Collection of Hindu Poetry
* [http://www.prapatti.com Prapatti.com] - Collection of Sukthams, and other manthras
* [http://sanskritdocuments.org Sanskrit Documents Collection] : Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc.
* [http://www.sub.uni-goettingen.de/ebene_1/fiindolo/gretil.htm GRETIL: Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages] , a cumulative register of the numerous download sites for electronic texts in Indian languages.
* [http://www.granthamandira.com/ Gaudiya Grantha Mandira] - A Sanskrit Text Repository. This site also provides encoding converter.
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