Hinduism – Scriptures & philosophies – an introduction…
Unlike Abrahamic religions, Hinduism is not a religion of a single prophet and a single holy book. Even though the 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharva vedas) are the original source books of Hinduism, they are not attributed to any specific authors or messiahs. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great seers of the yore. Hence they are known as Shruti (heard).
Vedas were propagated by word of mouth only by highly dedicated Brahmins, across generations through thousands of years. They were essentially heard and learned and hence the name Shruti (heard). Each Veda is broadly said to contain two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Gyana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with things to do in the righteous way in order to get wealth and enjoyment in life; it also tells what not to do; it gives procedural rituals for praying Gods, doing fire sacrifices in order to please celestial Gods to get and enjoy all that is needed in this life and afterlife. The Gyana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). It deals with the philosophy and leads one to the Ultimate goal of life — namely, attaining God.
While the ritualistic parts got diluted considerably over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.
Vedas or Shruthis are not attributed to any specific author.
The other scriptures of reference in Hinduism are Smrithis (remembered). Smritis have been written by specific Rishis based on their understanding and interpretation of Vedas; Smritis are meant to be supportive, explanative and elaborative additional documents to Vedas. Smritis include Puranas (mythological stories), 2 itihasas (Ramayana & Mahabharata -stories of historical basis) , dharma shastras (Manusmriti etc specifying right conduct rules for society), Sutras (cryptic texts of reference on various philosophies) like Brahma Sutra, Yoga sutra etc., kavyas (poetic works), Bhagavad Gita (a part of Mahabharata containing spiritual teachings) and so on.
14 Major Reference Scriptures of knowledge of Hinduism (Chaturdasa Vidya)
Putting Shruti and Smritis together, the following are the fourteen major scriptures of Hinduism forming the essential reference documents for proper study of Vedas:
4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva)
6 Vedaangas (limbs of Vedas), namely Shiksha (phomnetics, pronunciation) , Chandas (prosody) , Vyakaranam (grammar), Nirukta (etimology), Kalpa (procedures) and Jyotisha (auspicious times, astrology, astronomy)
4 Upaangas (additional limbs of vedas) – Mimamsa, Nyaya, Puranas (there are 18 puranas and two Itihasas) and Dharma Sastras (several of them, including Manu Smriti, Parasara Smriti etc).
The above 14 are the Chaturdasa Vidyas.
4 Upa Vedas
4 more scriptures, which are really not religious, but contain other sciences are also considered as essential source of knowledge and they are called upa vedas (additions to Vedas). These sciences too were evolved from the source Veda and they are Ayurveda (medical science), Dhanurveda (science of missiles/weaponry), Gandharva veda (music and fine arts) and Artha Sastram (Economics and commerce).
The three major sources of core Hindu Philosophy viz. The Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita together are called Prasthana Trayam. Any authentic or authoritative philosophical works or schools of thought of later historical periods normally declare their allegiance to the Prasthana Trayam and use / quote those scriptures to support their postulations.
In this website, we have considered for the sake of convenience, the smritis of Itihasas & Puranas (which are essentially story based teachings) as a separate group under separate menu.
Under scriptures and philosophies, we have also included sections related to the teachings of great saints of recent origin like Sri Ramakrishna paramahamsa, Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi and so on.
Under scriptures & philosophies, this section covers lots of subtitles. To know more on each of these subjects…