Hindu Scriptures, The Puranas, Vedangas, Devotional Literature

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 Dharma Sutras are often combined under the generic name Smarta Sutras.

The Puranas

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

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 of Gautama.

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 Goddess.

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.

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