Hindu texts

Hindu texts or Hindu scriptures are manuscripts and voluminous historical literature which are related to any of the diverse traditions within Hinduism. Some of the major Hindu texts include the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Itihasa. Scholars hesitate in defining the term "Hindu scriptures" given the diverse nature of Hinduism, but many list the Agamas as Hindu scriptures, and Dominic Goodall includes Bhagavata Purana and Yajnavalkya Smriti in the list of Hindu scriptures as well.

History

There are two historic classifications of Hindu texts: Shruti– that which is heard, and Smriti – that which is remembered. The Shruti texts refer to the body of most authoritative and ancient religious texts, believed to be eternal knowledge authored neither by human nor divine agent but transmitted by sages (rishis). These comprise the central canon of Hinduism. It includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts – the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Of the Shrutis, the Upanishads alone are widely influential among Hindus, considered scriptures par excellence of Hinduism, and their central ideas have continued to influence its thoughts and traditions.

The Smriti texts are a specific body of Hindu texts attributed to an author, as a derivative work they are considered less authoritative than Shruti in Hinduism. The Smriti literature is a vast corpus of diverse texts, and includes but is not limited to Vedāngas, the Hindu epics (such as the Mahabharat and Ramayan), the Sutras and Shastras, the texts of Hindu philosophies, the Puranas, the Kāvya or poetical literature, the Bhasyas, and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics, culture, arts and society.

Many ancient Hindu texts were composed in Sanskrit and other regional Indian languages. In modern times, most ancient texts have been translated into other Indian languages and some in non-Indian languages. Prior to the start of the common era, the Hindu texts were composed orally, then memorized and transmitted orally, from one generation to the next, for more than a millennia before they were written down into manuscripts. This verbal tradition of preserving and transmitting Hindu texts, from one generation to next, continued into the modern era.

Sanskrit manuscripts colophon

जलाद्रक्षेत्तैलाद्रक्षेद्रक्षेच्छिथिलबन्धनात् |
मूर्खहस्ते न मां दद्यादिति वदति पुस्तकम् ||

'Save me from water,
protect me from oil,
and from loose binding,
And do not give me into the hands of fools!'
says the manuscript.

Anonymous verse frequently found
at the end of Sanskrit manuscripts

Shruti

The Shruti texts, defined as "that which is heard", are texts that are believed to be divine revelations of God and were heard by ancient rishis thousands of years ago. Thus, an author is not attributed to these texts. The origin language of these texts is Sanskrit. The Vedas are considered Shruti texts. The Vedas consist of four parts: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Each Veda is subcategorized into Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.

Vedas

Manuscripts of 18th-century Hindu texts in Sanskrit(Devanagari) and Odia.

The four Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda) are a large body of Hindu texts originating from the Vedic period in northern India, the Rig Veda being composed c. 1200 BCE, and its Samhita and Brahmanas complete before about 800 BCE. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Hindus consider the Vedas to be timeless revelation, apauruṣeya, which means "not of a man, superhuman" and "impersonal, authorless". The knowledge in the Vedas is believed in Hinduism to be eternal, uncreated, neither authored by human nor by divine source, but seen, heard and transmitted by sages.

Vedas are also called shruti ("what is heard") literature, distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti ("what is remembered"). The Veda, for orthodox Indian theologians, are considered revelations, some way or other the work of the Deity.[citation needed] In the Hindu Epic the Mahabharata, the creation of Vedas is credited to the deity responsible for creation, Brahma.

There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types – the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (text discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).

Upanishads

The Upanishads are a collection of Hindu texts which contain the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism. The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions.

The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Vedānta, interpreted to mean either the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" or "the object, the highest purpose of the Veda". The concepts of Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and Ātman (Soul, Self) are central ideas in all the Upanishads, and "Know your Ātman" their thematic focus. The central ideas of the Upanishads have had a lasting influence on Hindu philosophy.

More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which ten are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the mukhya (main) or principal Upanishads. The ten mukhya Upanishads are: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, and Brihadaranyaka. The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down verbally. The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, some in all likelihood pre-Buddhist (6th century BCE), down to the Maurya period. Of the remainder, some 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the start of common era through medieval Hinduism. New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued being composed through the early modern and modern era, though often dealing with subjects unconnected to Hinduism.

Smriti

Smriti is the classification of literature which includes various scriptures and Itihasas (epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata), Harivamsa Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas. This genre of texts includes the Sutras and Shastras of the six schools of Hindu philosophy: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

The Sutras and Shastras texts were compilations of technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area. The earliest are dated to later half of the 1st millennium BCE. The Dharma-shastras (law books), derivatives of the Dharma-sutras. Other examples were bhautikashastra "physics", rasayanashastra "chemistry", jīvashastra "biology", vastushastra "architectural science", shilpashastra "science of sculpture", arthashastra "economics" and nītishastra "political science". It also includes Tantras and Agama literature.

A 19th century manuscript of the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita

Puranas

The Puranas are a vast genre of Hindu texts that encyclopedically cover a wide range of topics, particularly legends and other traditional lore. Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages, several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi.

The Puranic literature is encyclopedic, and it includes diverse topics such as cosmogony, cosmology, genealogies of gods, goddesses, kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, folk tales, pilgrimages, temples, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mineralogy, humor, love stories, as well as theology and philosophy. The content is diverse across the Puranas, and each Purana has survived in numerous manuscripts which are themselves voluminous and comprehensive. The Hindu Puranas are anonymous texts and likely the work of many authors over the centuries; in contrast, most Jaina Puranas can be dated and their authors assigned.

There are 18 Maha Puranas (Great Puranas) and 18 Upa Puranas (Minor Puranas), with over 400,000 verses. The Puranas do not enjoy the authority of a scripture in Hinduism, but are considered a Smriti. These Hindu texts have been influential in the Hindu culture, inspiring major national and regional annual festivals of Hinduism. The Bhagavata Purana has been among the most celebrated and popular text in the Puranic genre.

Other Hindu texts

Hindu texts for specific fields, in Sanskrit and other regional languages, have been reviewed as follows:

Field Reviewer Reference
Agriculture and food Gyula Wojtilla
Architecture P Acharya,
B Dagens
Devotionalism Karen Pechelis
Drama, dance and performance arts AB Keith,
Rachel Baumer and James Brandon,
Mohan Khokar
Education, school system Hartmut Scharfe
Epics John Brockington
Gnomic and didactic literature Ludwik Sternbach
Grammar Hartmut Scharfe
Law and jurisprudence J Duncan M Derrett
Lexicography Claus Vogel
Mathematics and exact sciences Kim Plofker
David Pingree
Medicine MS Valiathan,
Kenneth Zysk
Music Emmie te Nijenhuis,
Lewis Rowell
Mythology Ludo Rocher
Philosophy Karl Potter
Poetics Edwin Gerow, Siegfried Lienhard
Gender and Sex Johann Jakob Meyer
State craft, politics Patrick Olivelle
Tantrism, Agamas Teun Goudriaan
Temples, Sculpture Stella Kramrisch
Scriptures (Vedas and Upanishads) Jan Gonda

Historical significance

The Hindu scriptures provide the early documented history of arts and science forms in India such as music, dance, sculptures, architecture, astronomy, science, mathematics, medicine and wellness. Valmiki's Ramayana (500 BCE to 100 BCE) mentions music and singing by Gandharvas, dance by Apsaras such as Urvashi, Rambha, Menaka, Tilottama Panchāpsaras, and by Ravana's wives who excelling in nrityageeta or "singing and dancing" and nritavaditra or "playing musical instruments"). The evidence of earliest dance related texts are in Natasutras, which are mentioned in the text of Panini, the sage who wrote the classic on Sanskrit grammar, and who is dated to about 500 BCE. This performance arts related Sutra text is mentioned in other late Vedic texts, as are two scholars names Shilalin (IAST: Śilālin) and Krishashva (Kṛśaśva), credited to be pioneers in the studies of ancient drama, singing, dance and Sanskrit compositions for these arts. Richmond et al. estimate the Natasutras to have been composed around 600 BCE, whose complete manuscript has not survived into the modern age.

See also


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