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Vedic Shastras - Scriptures

The Hindu tradition maintains that the ultimate reality lies beyond all scriptures, however, it is equally convinced that the scriptures h...

The Hindu tradition maintains that the ultimate reality lies beyond all scriptures, however, it is equally convinced that the scriptures help people orient their minds and lives towards Brahman. This attitude has given rise to a body of sacred literature so vast that by one calculation it would take 70 lifetimes of devoted study to read all of it. The earliest source of knowledge of Hinduism are Vedas and the Upanishads. These are the ancient most monuments of Hindu culture and tradition. They form the rock foundations of the magnificent edifice of Hinduism, and also of its offshoots and extensions like Buddhism and Jainism. The Vedas are a whole body of literature and their parts represent successive stages in the evolution of Hinduism.

          Shruti and Smriti: Classification of Scriptures
Hindu scriptures can be classified into two types: shruti and smriti. Shruti, meaning “heard,” may be thought of as revelation or eternal truth, whereas smriti, meaning “remembered,” is comparable to tradition. By distinguishing that which is eternally true from that which holds true for a specific time and culture, the categories of shruti and smriti enable Hindus to reform outdated practices while remaining faithful to Hinduism’s essence. Where there is a conflict between the two, shruti takes precedence over smriti.

1. Shruti
According to Vedānta, shruti is revelation without a revealer. Because in Hinduism the universe is without Brahmā, who presides over the re-manifestation of the universe, recites the Vedas and sages hear them anew. These divinely heard scriptures are then transmitted orally from master to disciple.
beginning or end, the Vedas appear along with creation at the beginning of each cycle of time. Then
The Vedas are the recordings of sages to whom the mantras were revealed. They proclaim the transcendental Truth, which is not changed by time or place.
The Vedas is regarded as shruti because they are divinely “heard” by the Ṛṣis (sages) at the beginning of a cycle; and also because they are transmitted orally from master to disciple thus once again justifying the meaning of shruti as audition. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages.

The Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophy whereas the Vedas focus on rituals. These texts constitute a major portion of the Jnāna Kānda, and contain much of the Vedas' philosophical teachings. The Upanishads discuss Brahman and reincarnation. While the Vedas are not read by most lay Hindus, they are yet revered as the eternal knowledge whose sacred sounds help bring spiritual and material benefits. Theologically, they take precedence over the Smriti.

2. Smriti
The word smriti is applied to a vast category of literature in Hinduism. Unlike shruti, Sanskrit scripture without an author, smriti is considered to have an author and may even be written in one of the regional languages of India.

The most notable of the smritis are the Itihāsa, which consist of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. Bhagavad Gītā is an integral part of the epic Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gītā is described as the essence of the Vedas.

Also widely known are the Purāṇas, which illustrate Vedic ideas through vivid narratives dealing with deities, and their interactions with humans. Other key texts are the Devī Mahātmya, the Yoga Sūtras, the Tantras as well as the Mahanirvāṇa Tantra, Tirumantiram and Shiva Sutras. Another important set of scriptures with a more sectarian nature are the Hindu Āgamas, which dedicate to rituals and worship associated with Vishnu, Shiva and Devī.

                                        Principal Scriptures
1. The Vedas
There are four Vedas (called Rik-, Sāma- Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and the most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras in verse. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose, which are historically believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts are called the Karmakāṇḍa (the ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (the knowledge portion).

The four Vedas constitute the most important body of sacred Hindu literature, at least in theory. Other sacred literature, especially the Hindu epics, may be more popular with readers, but the Vedas, written in the ancient Sanskrit language, are the oldest and most respected scriptures. They are separately titled the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and atharvaveda, and collectively referred to as the Veda.
1100-year-old Siva temple in Indonesia
2. Upanishads
The Upanishads or the Vedanta, which mark the culmination of the abstract speculation and contain the
riches philosophical and religious teachings, are mostly parts of the Aranyakas or the Forest Treatises. Many Aranyakas are now lost, and only the Upanishadic portions of these profoundly philosophical books have escaped the erosion and ravages of time. There are many Upanishads, but the principal ones are sixteen or so in number. This whole literature contains deep spiritual truths and philosophy. The central teaching of the Upanishads underline the identity of the Supreme Soul and the individual Soul.

3. Purānas
Purāna means "old". The Purānas are the later sacred literature of the Hindus. The Puranas are stories which expound the Vedic conclusions. There are many Purānas, but there are 18 major Purānas, and they can be classified according to which of the three Gods of the Hindu trinity they focus on—Brahmā, Vishnu, or Shiva. . Six Purānas deal with Lord Vishnu, six address Lord Siva and six deal with Lord Brahma. They are usually in question and answer form. There are also Upa (additional) Purānas. The Purānas establish the meaning of the Vedas, as they are the natural commentaries on the Vedas. The most famous of these is the Bhāgavata Purāna, which deals with the life of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu.

4. Rāmāyana
The Rāmāyaṇa consists of 24,000 verses in seven cantos (kāṇḍas) and tells the describes the life of Prince Rāma, an incarnation of Vishnu. Rāma and his wife Sītā embody virtue and righteousness, and their lives demonstrate dharma in various spheres of activity. Their life stories contain lessons for Hindus on ideal behavior in various roles, such as son, brother, wife, king, and married couple. Rāma’s reign ushers in a golden age, and the expression Rāma-rajya (rule of Rāma) describes the best of times in which the divine presence rules on Earth.

5. Mahābhārata
The Mahābhārata, is consists of more than 74,000 verses, long prose passages, and some 1.8 million words in total, is the longest epic poem in the world. It is the foremost source concerning classical Indian civilization and Hindu ideals. It traces the descendants of two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pāndavas, whose disputes eventually lead to the Mahābhārata war. Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, is central to the story. Like the Rāmāyana, the Mahābhārata addresses many questions related to dharma and the actions of individuals and society. These discourses have provided inspiration for Hindus in many areas of life.

6. Bhagavad-Gītā
The discourse on the Bhagavad Gita begins before the start of the climactic battle at Kurukshetra.
The Bhagavad Gītā is comprised of 700 verses from the Mahabharata, functions virtually as a text on its own in Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gītā is revered as sacred by the majority of Hindu traditions. In general speech it is commonly referred to as The Gita. The content of the text is a conversation betweenKrishna and Arjuna taking place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just prior to the start of a climactic war. Responding to Arjuna's confusion and moral dilemma, Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a famous warrior and Prince and elaborates on a number of different Yogas and Vedanta, with examples and analogies. This has led to the Gita often being described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and also as a practical, self-contained guide to life. During the discourse, Krishna reveals his identity as the bhagavan (Supreme Being), blessing Arjuna with an awe-inspiring glimpse of His divine absolute form.