Acquisition and propagation of knowledge is a fundamental right in Hindu religion for every individual. There is no particular book like Bible or Quran prescribed for Hindus to believe upon absolutely, but there is vast catalog of books to exercise choice reading. Hindus have the liberty to read, interpret and believe all, few of them, or none. Every Hindu is free even to suggest his own interpretations; and come out with new theological treatise. No one can be compelled to subscribe to any particular book.
Catalogue of Hindu Scriptures
For the purpose of easy understanding we can list Hindu literature into following categories:
- Scriptures on Multi-disciplinary Core Knowledge
- Epical and Historic Literature
- Social Scriptures
Multi-disciplinary Core Knowledge
In this category there are Four Vedas that contain wisdom and knowledge compiled for mankind through several learned sages called Rishies since ancient times. It cannot be equaled to be the research work of any particular individual. In deep meditation the learned Rishies pondered over various subjects, experimented and thereafter passed down the gist of truth orally to their disciples. When contents of Vedas were remembered by heart and passed down to next generation, the knowledge contained in Vedas was called ‘Shruti’ meaning what is heard through ears. The knowledge compiled in written form as memorandum is called ‘Samruti’. Thus from Shruties, Sage Ved Vyas subsequently compiled the Vedas in the form of written Samruties.
Hindus believe that Vedic knowledge was revealed by Almighty to the Rishies in the form of text the way thoughts are revealed to us for writing, say for example, an ordinary letter or poem. Some time ago it was hard to believe this, but today formatted text can be posted to several recipients simultaneously over the globe through desk-tops, lap-tops and even on mobile phones, then this kind of revelation can also be visualized in few more years to come. Touch screen technology is already in existence. There is nothing impossible in the dictionary of the Almighty as for as Hindus believe.
The knowledge contained in Vedas is not only spiritual knowledge, but it is also fundamental knowledge about Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Political Science, Music and almost every subject under the Sun. It is compressed in the form of Sutras to be recited, understood and interpreted. Sutras are like acronyms used to-day to memorize compressed thought that may be expanded subsequently. They are written in the style of ‘Odes’, implying the subject is addressed as a deity and all the properties of the subject are then narrated with request to grant blessings or benefits .
In brief the four Vedas are known as Rig-Ved, Yajur-Ved, Sam-Ved and Atharva-Ved.
- Rig-Ved – It contains Sutras regarding Spiritual, philosophical, fundamental as well as applied science, Physics, Astrophysics as well as Statecraft.
- Yajur-Ved – It contains matters concerning procedural aspects regarding Sociology, obligations, rights and Duties to regulate human behavior and Preservation of Environment.
- Sam-Ved – This treatise concerns Philosophy, Yoga, and fine arts like Music.
- Atharva-Ved – It deals with Anatomy, medicinal properties of herbs, and remedies available in environment for living healthy life.
Every Veda has one or more ‘Upvedas’ (subordinate texts) as additions containing more knowledge. There are six Vedanga (organs of the Vedas) to facilitate the study of Vedas.
Upnishadas – After Vedas were compiled, subsequent Rishies continued not only adding to the knowledge bank of Vedas, but they critically reviewed, interpreted, and elaborated upon the Vedic knowledge in their own way by providing detailed commentaries. The compendiums of such interpretations are called Upnishadas and Darshana Shastras. It is great loss to the source of human knowledge that out of 108 to 200 original Upanishdas that existed, now only 10 Upanishads are available. The remaining were destroyed at the hands of Islamic invaders who delighted themselves in destroying all non-Islamic literature. The format of Upanishdas and Darshan Shastras is in question – answer format. Questions asked by the disciples are answered by the learned Guru. This kind of format is most suitable to examine the subject to clarify all possible doubts.
Darshana Shastras – Ever since the beginning of civilization, men have tried to seek answers for eternal questions about individual identity, the creation around and the creator of universe. The relentless search for an answer to these basic questions has led to the origin and evolution of philosophy. The Hindu sages turned their gaze inwards and discovered their own answers through meditation and mysticism. Visualization of truth by the sages is called ‘Darshana’. The six Philosophies (Darshanas) constitute the classic philosophical system of India. Often called Shat (Six) Darshanas the six scriptures have many characteristics in common. They all grew out of the Upanishads and have followed similar question-answer format between disciples and the Rishi.
Epical and Historic Literature
In ancient times historical events were recorded in epic style by Rishies, or poets who were either patronized by Kings or wrote as free lancers. Out of several epics of India, Ramayana and Mahabharata enjoy prominence in historical literature for their impact on molding Indian value system and society. Both the epics have been transformed in to all the literary forms like novels, short stories, comics, dramas, allegories, operas and so on.
Ramayana – Ramayana was composed by Rishi Valmiki and is regarded as the first epic of mankind. It is the story of prince Rama living an ideal life, intended to serve as models for the roles that a person has to perform in life under different situations. It is to be remembered that only Rama has been projected as ‘Maryada Purshottam’, meaning the ideal role model, while other characters of Ramayana are mixed of human strengths and weaknesses. Ramayana inspired many writers subsequently to compose different versions of the same story, of which Shri Ram Charit Manas composed by Saint Tulsi Das in Hindi is most popular. Besides many other salient features, this literary masterpiece stands out for being the only epic in the literature of the world, where feminine beauty has been described by the author visualizing the subject in the image of mother, rather than beloved.
Mahabharata – Mahabharata is the most voluminous epic all over the world. It is primarily the story of various dynasties woven together and reflects the prevailing life styles in society of the period. Every character that makes an entry has had his past and can be visualized in flesh and blood with all the possible human strengths and weaknesses. While Ramayana portrays the main character Rama discharging his obligations in the roles of an obedient son, a caring husband, an affectionate brother, a sincere friend, an ideal king, and a loving father; Mahabharata depicts various situations of human society and approach towards overcoming problems. In both the epics, the environment is not of a primitive human society, but that of a well-developed civilization. The situations and characters have universal appeal even today. It is noteworthy that scenario of Ramayana is set in the area of present day Nepal, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and extends up to Lanka. Mahabharata covered entire length and breadth of India and even beyond. It magnifies the fact that Indian sub-continent was already a nation, before MK Gandhi was declared as ‘father of the nation’ after partition of India in 1947.
Puranas – Besides the epics there are eighteen Puranas that contain stories of mythological characters, earthly kings and even ordinary persons. Potentially they appear to be woven round some historical events. Like mythologies of other religions, Hindu mythology is also full of stories, relationships, events, and images of persons divided into gods, demons, and humans. Some of the mythological stories are allegorical, and apparently do contain element of scientific knowledge, as well as refer to some historical event. It will be fruitful to trace their historical evidence, as most of our ancient history is lost. Technically, they are a piece of literature till their historical substance can be established. The descriptions are sometimes metaphorical as used to be the styles of epic writing. Their literary value can make every Hindu proud of their heritage.
Regarding Humanistic and related studies ample numbers of original scriptures are available. One can find exhaustive treatise on every subjects like Grammar, Astronomy, Astrology, Gemology, Fine arts, Economics, Diplomacy, Sex, and Medicine, just to mention the few. It is difficult to list all of them, except the following, that have influenced Hindu culture the most.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita – The philosophy underlined in Srimad Bhagavad Gita is the ancient most known to the mankind. It is practically relevant under all circumstances to everyone, and everywhere. Gita philosophy can be termed as a simple and abridged substitute for all other religious texts for the laymen as well as to scholars on Hinduism. It contains the summary of Vedas in simple form that can be understood by laymen. The philosophy of Gita is sufficient for living a successful and contented life, if anyone has no aptitude for reading Vedas and Upanishads.
Manu Sumruti – Manu Sumruti is the first regulatory system of society that can be traced in the history of mankind. It has its relevance today in every civilized society all over the world. It deals with subject that concern every society on the globe like evolution of life on earth, governance, defense, economics, stratification of society, obligations of the constituents, remedial measures, rituals and atonement.
It needs to be underlined when these scriptures were written, other faiths had not appeared on the surface of Earth. Therefore this literature is for the entire mankind irrespective of individual faiths and nationalities of humans. Vedas and Upanishads always refer human living as Prani or other secular pronouns, and not by any faith, believer or non-believer. There lies the secularity of Hinduism that it is a universal religion for the entire mankind with environmental modifications incorporated as per local conditions.
It was due to the literary contribution of our ancestors that India was regarded as global leader in human civilization. It is unfortunate that we have turned ignorant of our own intellectual heritage. We need to pick up lead from our cultural past and re-establish the glory of our intellectual property on global stage.
Chand K Sharma
(Next- Splashes – 11 – Upanishads are Critical Evaluation)