by Jayaram V
The other literature
Other important texts of the Vedic period include the six
Vedangas and the
four Sutras. Vedangas
literally means the limbs of the Vedas. The six Vedangas are,
shiksha (study), chhanda (meter), vyakarna (grammar), nirukta
(lexicon), jyotisha (astrology), and kalpa (methodology of rituals).
The vedangas are considered to be the limbs of the Vedas and
are meant to enhance our study and understanding of the Vedas
besides preserving and protecting their purity and integrity.
Basically they are supplementary or auxiliary texts which aim
to establish ground rules based on which one can interpret the
meaning of the Vedas or perform the rituals or recite them with
perfection. The four Sutras are Shrauta ( on how to perform
rituals), Sulba (on how to build altars), Grihya (on how to
perform domestic rites) and Dharma (on how to live life according
to ones dharma). These four Sutras are considered to be part
of the Kalpa Sutras. The Grihya and
Sutras are often combined under the generic name Smarta
The Puranas are a strange combination of mythology and history
freely inter mixed. They form the smriti tradition, that is
those which are remembered. They are essentially narrative accounts
of various gods, sages and ancient kings of immense repute.
They also describe the process of creation and the struggle
between the good and evil forces of the universe. Though for
a student of history they may not present an accurate picture
of the true events of the ancient past, for a student of religion
they offer profound information and insight into the background
of Hindu religion.
The total number of puranas are many, but prominent among
them are 18. Matsya Purana, Padma Purana, Naradiya Purana, Vishnu
Purana, Varaha Purana, Vamana Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Brahma
Purana, Shiva Purana, Devi Purana, Skanda Purana, Markandeya
Purana etc., come under this particular category.
The Darshanas which are six in number, namely, the Uttara
mimansa, the Purva mimansa, Samkhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika and Nyaya
Darshanas. together they constitute the six schools of ancient
Hindu philosophical thought.
A study of them provide immense insight into ancient Indian
thinking and its evolution into a complex body of schools and
philosophies. Of these the first two are based on the Shrutis
or the Vedic texts. The next two are based on Smrits such as
the Puranas and the epics. The last two are based on Shastras
or scholarly works.
The Jaimini Sutras form the basis for the Purva mimansa.
The Sankhya karika of Iswara Krishna formed the basis for the
teachings of sage Kapila. The Yoga darshana is based upon Patanjalis
Yoga Sutras. The Vaisheshika school was based upon the work
of Kanada, while Nyaya school of thought was based on the works
It is interesting to note that some of these darshanas do
not place belief in the existence God as the central ruler or
controller or creator of the world. Hence tradition divided
these six darshanas into three categories: the asthika (those
who believe in god), the nasthika (those who do not believe
in god) and dwaishtika (or those who believe in fate or destiny).
The Devotional literature
The Bhagavad gita contains the
teachings of Lord Krishna to Shri Arjuna in the middle of battle
field about the meaning of true self,
renunciation of work, the true nature of
karma, the three
qualities, the true nature of God, the definition of a
true devotee and so many other
things. The book has profoundly influenced many generations
of Hindus and still plays a significant role in moulding the
lives of many modern day Hindus.
The two major epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
They are mythological stories of a very ancient past about whose
antiquity and real historical basis no one is really sure. They
are a part of the Smriti tradition.
As religious books they occupy a special place of their own
in the minds of Hindus. For centuries they have been rendering
great service to the cause of Hinduism by spreading religious
awareness among the multitude of Hindu masses in a language
and medium which they can understand.
In a way one may even conclude that it was neither the Vedas
nor the Upanishads but these two epics which kept the religion
alive and dynamic at the mass level. It is no exaggeration to
say that even today these two epics appeal to Hindus of all
ages more than any Veda or Upanishad combined. Any religious
study of Hinduism, without a study and understanding of these
two great epics is therefore incomplete and imperfect.
Other principle sacred texts of Hinduism include the Saiva
Agamas which are treatises on the greatness of Lord Shiva and
His various aspects and Vaishnava Samhitas which deal with the
worship of Lord Vishnu and His various forms, Bhagavata Purana
which is considered to be very sacred by the followers of Vishnu,
and the tantras, which deal with the worship of Shakti or Mother
Hinduism was also greatly influenced by the works of later
day scholars such as Shri Shankaracharya who provided commentaries
on many Upanishads, brought the Vedic knowledge back to the
forefront through his various works and tireless efforts and
breathed life into sagging traditions.
Other prominent personalities who deserve to be mentioned
are the works of Shri Ramanuja, the works of the Alvars, Shri
Ramananda, Shri Vallabhacharya, Shri Nimbarka, Shri Tulsidas
etc. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the works
of Swami Dayananda Saraswathi, the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna
Paramahans, Swami Vivekanada, Shri Ramana Maharshi, Shri Aurobindo
and many such great Masters are worth mentioning. Through their
teachings and actions they provided inspiration and guidance
to millions of Hindus all over the world and helped them in
finding the true greatness of their ancient traditions.