Home Articles Gaia Minute Poetry

Introduction to Hindu Scriptures

Part 1

Note: It is my humble attempt to introduce the readers to the classification and outline of the ancient Hindu scriptures through a series of articles. Readers may please note that no attempt has been made to discuss the detailed contents of any of the scripture.

The ancient Hindu scriptures are broadly classified into four categories:

  1. Shruti (literally meaning "heard")

  2. Smriti (literally meaning "remembered")

  3. Darshana (the schools of Hindu religious philosophy)

  4. Tantras - Agama and Nigama - (another parallel set of discipline in which God is looked upon as both Male and Female principle, called Shiva and Shakti)

The "Shruti" Scriptures - Primary Scriptures

These are considered to be of divine origin, revealed to the ancient seers in their deep meditation. They include the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda) and the Bhagwad Gita. Some scholars do not consider Atharvaveda as a part of the original vedas. The first three were considered the principal original division, also called trayī, "the triple Vidyā", that is, "the triple sacred science" of reciting hymns (RigVeda), performing sacrifices (YajurVeda), and chanting (SamaVeda). Thus, the Mantras are properly of three forms:

  1. Ric, which are verses of praise in metre, and intended for loud recitation
  2. Yajus, which are in prose, and intended for recitation in lower voice at sacrifices
  3. Sāman, which are in metre, and intended for singing at the Soma ceremonies

The Sanskrit word véda "knowledge, wisdom" is derived from the root vid- "to know". The Hindu sages considered the truths so sacred that for a long time they did not put them into writing. They preserved them in their memory and taught them to deserving students through oral instruction. Because they were learned by hearing and not by reading, the Truths came to be known as “Shruti”, which literally means hearing.

Vedas are the collective wisdom through ages of many seers. They are revealed Truths, and so do not have any single origin. Various Rishis (sages) taught these Truths at different times and different places. Hence the knowledge of Vedas was scattered. In course of time a need was felt to collect and compile the Vedic Truths. A great sage named Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa collected them from different sources and recorded them in a book called the Vedas. This book had four parts, Rig,Sama,Yajur, and Atharva. In recognition of his monumental compilation of the Vedas, Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa was given the name Veda Vyasa. Hindus still honor him by celebrating his birthday every year. His birthday is called “Guru Purnima” (Purnima=full moon day).

The Vedas contain religion, philosophy, art, medicine, science, technology, language, music, etc. while the Bhagwad Gita is essentially a summary of the Upanishads written in a dialogue format between Lord Krishna and warrior Arjuna.

The most important message of the Vedas is that everything and every being is divine (Sarvam khalvidam Brahma - All indeed is God). There are four very important statements in the Vedas, which are called the Mahavakyas (great sentences). These are:

· "Aham Brahmasmi" - I am Brahman (God)

· "Tat tvam asi" - You are That (Brahman)

· "Ayam atma Brahma" - This inner SELF (soul) is Brahman

· "Prajnaanam Brahma" - Supreme Knowledge is Brahman.

However it should be remembered that neither the Vedas nor the Upanishads propagate a specific ideology or a doctrine. As such they are not philosophical treatises. Yet one finds ample evidence of subtle philosophical thoughts from the verses. In the Vedas, several portions are often repeated. A large number of mantras are found to be repetitious. It may be noted that the chapters or the mantras are not sequential. The ideas and thoughts in a single chapter may seem to be illogical or incoherent. There are instances of unexplainable digressions from a theme within a chapter. Hence one may not find a systematic, logical development of a doctrine. A great deal of scholastic ability is required to interpret the Vedas. A single word may have different meanings in different contexts. Many mantras are cryptic statements to a layman. Some of them are too enigmatic to be followed. They are ambiguous or symbolic. This is the reason why a student of Veda is first required to master the six “Vedangas” before trying to read and understand the Vedas. (I will discuss the “Vedangas” in Part 2 of this series).

Each Veda contains essentially four parts:

  1. Samhitas: These are hymns and poetic incantations addressed to the various deities (often called Gods also). However, these deities / gods must not be confused with the Supreme Lord, whom the Vedas recognize as the ONE (Brahman or Paramatama)
  2. Brahmanas: These explain the hymns and instruct how and when to use them.
  3. Aranyakas: these are the appendices to the Brahmanas and mark the transition from ritualistic to philosophical thought.
  4. Upanishads: The upanishads are the final culmination (or end, or the last part) of the Vedas, and are therefore also called "Vedantas" (anta = last or end. Vedanta = Veda+ anta = the end of veda, or the culmination of veda). They are the concluding portion of the Vedas and mostly reveal the deep philosophical knowledge of the Supreme Spirit. The Upanishads are sometimes also called Veda Sirsha (Sirsha = head), meaning the top ranking in the Vedic lore. Among the 108 Upanishads available today, the following are the most popular ones:

Isha, Kena, Katha, Mundaka, Maandukya, Aitareya, Tattirya, Chhandogya, Prashna, Svetashvatara and Brihadaaranyaka


...........continued in part 2


bottom menu