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Introduction to Hindu Scriptures


Part 3

 

Smritis

Recap:

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

(Shruti has been discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series).

 

All Hindu scriptures, except the Darshanas and the Tantras, can be placed within two categories: the Vedas and the Smritis. As mentioned in part 1 of this series, the Vedas are the primary scriptures. The scriptures belonging to the smriti category have secondary authority only.

 

Broadly, the Smritis can be subdivided into three sub-categories:

1. Law Books

2. Puranas

3. Epics (called Itihasas)

The Law Books include the law codes of Hinduism, both secular and religious (since both were very much inseparable). They deal with three main subjects: codes of conduct, civil and criminal law, and punishment and atonement. The most important Law Book is Manu Smriti written by Manu, the first lawgiver. The word "man" is said to be derived from Manu. There are fourteen Manus during each creation of the world. Other ancient lawgivers include Yagyavalka, Baudhayana, Apastamba, Vasishtha and Gautama.

 

The deeper truths of the scriptures of Hinduism are quite difficult and abstruse. Thus, they are difficult to understand by the common man. The sages created a special type of religious literature, called the Puranas, in order to present them in an interesting and easily understandable manner. In the Puranas, the scriptural teachings are presented through stories and parables. They have five characteristics (Pancha Lakshana), viz., history, cosmology (with various symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles), secondary creation, genealogy of kings, and of Manvantaras.

 

According to Hindu Scriptures, one cosmic day of the creator Brahma is divided into 14 sub periods (One day of Brahma = 4,320,000,000 human years). Each period is called a Manvantara (notice that it is Brahma, a God who creates, not Brahman - the Supreme Spirit). Each period is named after One Ruler who is appointed to rule the entire earthly world during that period. The generic name for such a ruler is Manu. Each manvantara is of duration 306,720,000 human years. Acording to the scriptures, six such periods are already over. We are now in the seventh Manvantara. The name of the present Manu is Vaivasvata, the son of the Sun-God.

 

The Hindu concept of time and creation is worth mentioning at this point. According to Hindu religion and cosmology the flow of Time is eternal. Creation and Dissolution are only two events in a long cyclic succession of Cosmic events. There is no beginning in the past and there is no end to the future. Creation is a manifestation in concrete terms of the Absolute. Dissolution is when all the created universe merges in the Absolute. And that is when the period of non-manifestation begins. The periods of manifestation and of non-manifestation alternate. These are the days and nights of Brahma- the God of creation. Thus, according to Hindu scriptures, the cycle of creation and dissolution alternates every 4,320,000,000 human years.

 

There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas. The main Puranas are: Vishnu Purana, Naradiya Purana, Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Garuda (Suparna) Purana, Padma Purana, Varaha Purana, Brahma Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Vamana Purana, Matsya Purana, Kurma Purana, Linga Purana, Siva Purana, Skanda Purana and Agni Purana. Of these, six are Sattvic Puranas and glorify Vishnu; six are Rajasic and glorify Brahma; six are Tamasic and they glorify Siva. The most popular is the Srimad Bhagavata Purana. Next comes Vishnu Purana. A portion of the Markandeya Purana is well known to all Hindus as Chandi, or Devimahatmya. Worship of God as the Divine Mother is its theme. The Hindus read Chandi widely on sacred days and Navaratri (Durga Puja) days.

 

Itihasas include the two great epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which were composed by the sages Valmiki and Vyasa respectively. These two epics contain many scriptural teachings side by side with the stories of the various Aryan clans and dynasties.

 

Valmiki Ramayana contains 24,000 verses, which have been grouped into 500 Chapters and that again into seven Kandas or sections, viz., Bala, Ayodhya, Aranya, Kishkindha, Sundara, Yuddha and the Uttara Kandas.

 

Mahabharata contains eighteen Parvas or sections viz., Adi Parva, Sabha Parva, Vana Parva, Virata Parva, Udyoga Parva, Bhishma Parva, Drona Parva, Karna Parva, Shalya Parva, Sauptika Parva, Stree Parva, Shanti Parva, Anushasana Parva, Asvamedha Parva, Ashramavasika Parva, Mausala Parva, Mahaprasthanika Parva and Swargarohanika Parva. Each Parva contains many sub-Parvas or subsections.

…………continued in Part 4

 

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