SACRED TEXTS IN HINDUISM
Hinduism has many sacred texts. Though the most famous among them is Baghavad gita, there are many other sacred texts. What is a sacred text? The text that explains the concept of God, the profound principles and beliefs in a religion is called the sacred text. On this basis, Hinduism has many sacred texts. The sacred texts in Hinduism explain the universal concept of God, the relationship between God and the individual, the concept of Jagad (world), the rituals and beliefs that help an individual to evolve in life.
The sacred texts in Hinduism can be broadly divided into sruti and smiriti. In the ancient times, knowledge of Veda and Vedanta were passed on to generation after generation only by oral rendition. The students hear the teachings, register them in their mind and teach them to their students. In the ancient times the entire Veda and Vedanta were passed on in the Guru sishya parampara (teacher student lineage) in this manner. Therefore, the Veda and Vedanta are called as sruti (to be heard).
The texts written remembering the sruti is said as smiriti (to be remembered). Ithihasas, puranas and smiriti literature are said as smiriti. Ithihasas, puranas and smiriti literature were written with the underlying touch of the Vedas. The concept of Veda and Vedanta are included in the smiriti.
There are many texts in Hinduism to suit the different mentalities of people. People who are more ritualistic go after the ritualistic part of Veda. People who are emotional go after smiriti. People who have spiritual mentality go after Vedanta. Whatever an individual follows it gradually leads him to the ultimate goal, self realization.
Veda and Vedanta belong to sruti. The Veda is divided in to four parts. They are the Rig, Yajur, sama and atharva Veda.
Rig Veda consists of entirely mantras. The mantras that are to be chanted during different sacrifices and the mantras that help mental evolution are given in the Rig Veda.
Yajur Veda has mantras, explanation of the sacrifices, and the rules, regulations that are to be followed during the sacrifices are given in yajur Veda.
Sama Veda is the musical rendering of the mantras in the Rig Veda. It is very powerful because the musical notes have a great impact in the mind and in the atmosphere.
Atharva Veda was included in the Vedas in the last. It includes mantras which help to manipulate the energy either in the positive or in the negative way.
All these different parts of the Veda have an end portion called Vedanta. In the Vedanta portion the core concept of Hindu Dharma is explained. It explains about the concept of nirakara, nirguna, niswarupa Brahman. The mantra and sacrifices section of the Veda is called the karma kanda and the Vedanta section is called the Jnana kanda. All the mantras, rituals etc in the karma kanda helps to lift a person intellectually to understand the concept of Brahman.
Ithihasas are the life history of the divine rulers of Bharata. They are two itihasas, the Ramayana written by Sage Valmiki and Mahabharata written by sage Vyasa.
Ramayana is the life history of the divine rulers of the lineage of the Sun god (surya vamsa). It mainly tells about the divine ruler Raja Ram, the avatar of Mahavishnu. Ramayana was originally written by Sage Valmiki, but later many people recreated Ramayana including the ritual dogmas, beliefs, and social code of conduct that were prevalent in their period of time and in their region. They never changed or rather cannot change the main story of Lord Ram. Recreating Ramayana is still considered as a scholarly work by many scholars.
Mahabharata was written by Sage Vyasa. Though Mahabharata is the story of the two major clan of Bharata, the main hero of Mahabharata is Lord Krishna. Mahabharata tells about the rulers of the lineage of the moon god (chandra vamsa). The famous text Baghavad Gita is a part of Mahabharata. It has eighteen parvas or chapters. Each parva forms a book.
There are eighteen puranas. All of them were written by Sage Vyasa. Srimad Bhagavata is the famous among them. It is also said as the fifth Veda. The life history of Lord Krishna explained in Srimad Bhagavada is very profound. The puranas are written by Sage Vyasa based on the concepts of Veda. Many concepts of Veda and Vedanta are included in the puranas. Puranas are the detailed explanation of the Vedas. Each purana tells about a particular concept of Brahman, like vishnu puran, skanda puran, Brahmanda Puran etc and it also explains the evolution and dissolution related to that concept of Brahman. Many rituals and festive celebrations in India are based on the Puranas and itihasas.
Smiriti literature explains the social code of conduct. There are eighteen smiritis and the famous among them is the manu smiriti. These codes of conduct were derived from the Vedas. Veda explains many sacrifices and rituals which help us satisfy our desires and needs. Many code of conduct including rules and regulation for the priest, yajaman (owner of the sacrifices), helping priest etc were given in the Veda. These codes of conduct were collected and written in the sutra form. This is known as the kalpa sutra. Kalpa sutra is one among the six Vedangas. All the smiritis are based on these kalpa sutras. Manu collected these codes of conduct, included the code of conduct prevalent during his time, and wrote the manu smiriti. Manu Smiriti is only a book of suggestions; it is not a book of commandment. The Government of India formed its Law book based on the Manu Smiriti. Many laws for women, property rights, individual and social rights etc are based on the Manu Smiriti. The code of conduct of the Smiriti is subject to change. It changes with time. It is said that Manu smiriti was written in the 2nd century. Those laws may not be applicable in the modern age and so the laws are subject to change.
In the Manu smiriti there are different codes of conduct for the different ashramas and for the different varnas. Importance is given for the varna and individual who sacrifice their life to attain knowledge. Smiriti literature aims for spiritual purity through physical, verbal and mental purity.
The itihasas, puranas or smiriti literature, they all aim for self realization in their own way. Itihasas tell about self realization through the life history of the divine personalities. Puranas tell about self realization through different stories and explanations. Smiriti literature explains self realization through the code of conduct. Since the ultimate principle of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) is self realization, all these texts are considered as sacred texts in Hinduism.