Hindu Holy books
What are the Hindu Holy books?
The most ancient sacred texts of the Hindu religion are
written in Sanskrit and called the Vedas.
Hinduism does not just have one sacred book but several
scriptures. The Vedas scriptures guide Hindus in their daily life. They also
help to preserve the religious dimensions of family and society. Hindus have
developed their system of worship and beliefs from the scriptures.
There are two main categories of the Hindu scriptures:
Shruti ("that which is heard") consists of the
four Vedas and Upanishads scriptures.
Smriti ("that which is remembered") composed of
traditional texts, including the Dharma Shastras (legal and ethical texts), the
Puranas, and the folk/historical legends known as the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The Hindu Holy Scriptures is mainly comprised of the
following works written in the Sanskrit language:
The Vedas Rg-Veda (Rigveda), Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda,
Atharva-Veda (see further down )
The Upanisads - These consider the nature of the individual
soul (Atman) and the universal soul (Brahman.) One of the Upanishads contains
the earliest reference to the reincarnation of the soul in different bodies
(transmigration) of the soul.
The Smrutis - (‘tradition) are the Laws of Manu (250 BC)
Ramayana - Contains the story of Rama and his devoted wife
Sita. She is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana but is later freed by Rama with
the help of the monkey god Hanuman. The poem is about how good will always
triumph over evil and Rama and Sita are held up as role models for the perfect
husband and wife.
Mahabharata - An epic poem telling the story of a war
between two branches of a family. The Bhagavad-Gita forms part of this and
means "The Song of God."
The Puranas - A collection of ancient tales about the
different incarnations and the lives of saints.
Holy Books of Hinduism
The religions founded by individuals have one book that
summarizes the philosophies of the founder or the same from the disciple's
perspective and so on. This religious book defines the boundary of the religion
and the followers would be expected to strictly abide by that holy book.
In Hinduism there is not exactly a text that is a must for
the follower. Even without reading the sacred texts one can get to the Eternal
Bliss and also just reading the holy scriptures alone will not lead to the
great liberation, as per Hinduism !
But is there a common scripture that is considered holy by
all sections of Hindus ? Yes, the Vedas are the common holy scripture for the
Hindus. In fact they gave Hinduism the name vaidika dharma, one of its old
names. What are vedas ? vedas, refer to the knowledge. That is the knowledge
heard by the sages in their spiritual domain and passed across as it is as
mantras. Mantras are the words of super-power, that produce grand effects when
chanted. As compared stotras are the scriptures that came out of the thoughts
of human beings that hail God. However it cannot be interpreted that the human
made stotras are not glorious. In fact the sages associated with the vedas are
also attributed to have composed many stotras.
Vedas have four parts - samhita, brahmana, Aranyaka &
upanishat. The samhitas are the core part of vedas. They are full of mantras.
brAhmaNas help in the application /interpretation of the vedic samhitas.
Aranyakas and upanishats are the philosophical part. upanishats cover a
spectrum of analysis of the God and relation to It for the soul. They are the
benchmarks (prasthana) in Hindu philosophy. So the philosophers when
establishing their concepts proclaim that their theory stands good with the benchmark
upanishats. The essence of the upanishats is brought out in brahmasutra
composed by vedavyasa, the one who organized the vedas. The four categories of
vedas are Rig, yajus, sama, atharva. vedas are the voice of the Divine
preserved as it was heard by the sages and hence they are called shRuti. There
is another set of scripture are the things remembered from the voice of God.
They are called smruti.
Agamas are the engineering documents, if vedas are
considered as science. They describe both on the individual level as well as
for the community, how the knowledge has to be implemented to get the ultimate
benefits. These are the tantra text that complements the mantra of vedas. These
provide guidelines as to in what ways the worship of God can be performed,
temples built etc. They have great amount of details on yoga also. They cover
the paths in four titles charya, kriya, yoga, Gyana (service, worship, union
and wisdom). There are 28 shivAgamas. Each religion in Hinduism has its own set
of Agamas. vaishnava has two Agamas, shakta has the tantras and so on.
purana, itihasas are the tales of the ancient times. There
are 18 purANas that describe the glorious acts of God, describe the creation,
give an elaboration of the geography of the world and some of the lineages of
kings are mentioned. In contrast two itihasas (ramayaaa & mahabharata) deal
with two lineages of kings (surya & chandra vamsa respectively) and they
also talk about the glorious acts of God. Being in the form of stories these
are taken to each of the villages and houses of ancient and modern times, by
pauranikas or history tellers, that there would be people who do not know about
the vedas, but hard to find one who does not know any of the puranic stories.
Some of the more popular Hindu scriptures are gita,
yogasutras and there are scriptures available for each set of philosophical
paths in Hinduism like siddhanta shastras, spandha karikas etc. The stotras
(hailing) bring out the excellence of Hindu devotion.
The stotra literature is very vast in all the languages of people practicing
widely Hinduism. They cover the complete range of the religion from hailing the
names of God to putting the essence of a complex philosophy in a simple
language of four line verse ! Like the pollen as digested by the bees bring out
the honey, the spiritual experience of the saints pour out as the rich stotras
for the rest of the world to benefit.