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Historic literature of Hinduism
Hindu texts are manuscripts and voluminous historical literature related to any of the diverse traditions within Hinduism. A few texts are shared resources across these traditions and broadly considered as Hindu scriptures. These include the Puranas, Itihasa and Vedas. Scholars hesitate in defining the term "Hindu scriptures" given the diverse nature of Hinduism, but many list the Bhagavad Gita and the Agamas as Hindu scriptures, and Dominic Goodall includes Bhagavata Purana and Yajnavalkya Smriti in the list of Hindu scriptures as well.
There are two historic classifications of Hindu texts: Shruti - that which is heard, and Smriti - that which is remembered. The Shruti refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts, believed to be eternal knowledge authored neither by human nor divine agent but transmitted by sages (rishis). These comprise the central canon of Hinduism. It includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts - the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the early Upanishads. Of the Shrutis (Vedic corpus), the Upanishads alone are widely influential among Hindus, considered scriptures par excellence of Hinduism, and their central ideas have continued to influence its thoughts and traditions.
The Smriti texts are a specific body of Hindu texts attributed to an author, as a derivative work they are considered less authoritative than Shruti in Hinduism. The Smriti literature is a vast corpus of diverse texts, and includes but is not limited to Ved?ngas, the Hindu epics, the Sutras and Shastras, the texts of Hindu philosophies, the Puranas, the K?vya or poetical literature, the Bhasyas, and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics, culture, arts and society.
Many ancient and medieval Hindu texts were composed in Sanskrit, many others in regional Indian languages. In modern times, most ancient texts have been translated into other Indian languages and some in non-Indian languages. Prior to the start of the common era, the Hindu texts were composed orally, then memorized and transmitted orally, from one generation to next, for more than a millennia before they were written down into manuscripts. This verbal tradition of preserving and transmitting Hindu texts, from one generation to next, continued into the modern era.
Sanskrit manuscripts colophon
? ? ? ||
'Save me from water,
protect me from oil,
and from loose binding,
And do not give me into the hands of fools!'
says the manuscript.
--Anonymous verse frequently found at the end of Sanskrit manuscripts
Manuscripts of 18th-century Hindu texts in Sanskrit(Devanagari) and Odia.
The Vedas are a large body of Hindu texts originating in Vedic period in northern India, the Rig Veda being composed ca. 1200 BCE, and its Samhita and Brahmanas complete before about 800 BCE. Composed in Vedic Sanskrithymns, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Hindus consider the Vedas to be apauru?eya, which means "not of a man, superhuman" and "impersonal, authorless". The knowledge in the Vedas is believed in Hinduism to be eternal, uncreated, neither authored by human nor by divine source, but seen, heard and transmitted by sages.
Vedas are also called ?ruti ("what is heard") literature, distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called sm?ti ("what is remembered"). The Veda, for orthodox Indian theologians, are considered revelations, some way or other the work of the Deity. In the Hindu Epic the Mahabharata, the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma.
The Upanishads are a collection of Hindu texts which contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism.[note 1]
The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Ved?nta, variously interpreted to mean either the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" or "the object, the highest purpose of the Veda". The concepts of Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and ?tman (Soul, Self) are central ideas in all the Upanishads, and "Know your ?tman" their thematic focus. The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions. Of the Vedic corpus, they alone are widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishads have had a lasting influence on Hindu philosophy.
More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads. The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down verbally. The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, some in all likelihood pre-Buddhist (6th century BCE), down to the Maurya period. Of the remainder, some 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the start of common era through medieval Hinduism. New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued being composed through the early modern and modern era, though often dealing with subjects unconnected to Hinduism.
The Sutras and Shastras texts were compilations of technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area. The earliest are dated to later half of the 1st millennium BCE. The Dharma-shastras (law books), derivatives of the Dharma-sutras. Other examples were bhautikashastra "physics", rasayanashastra "chemistry", j?vashastra "biology", vastushastra "architectural science", shilpashastra "science of sculpture", arthashastra "economics" and n?tishastra "political science". It also includes Tantras and Agama literature.
The Puranas are a vast genre of Hindu texts that encyclopedically cover a wide range of topics, particularly legends and other traditional lore. Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages, several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Goddess Devi.
The Puranic literature is encyclopedic, and it includes diverse topics such as cosmogony, cosmology, genealogies of gods, goddesses, kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, folk tales, pilgrimages, temples, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mineralogy, humor, love stories, as well as theology and philosophy. The content is diverse across the Puranas, and each Purana has survived in numerous manuscripts which are themselves voluminous and comprehensive. The Hindu Puranas are anonymous texts and likely the work of many authors over the centuries; in contrast, most Jaina Puranas can be dated and their authors assigned.
There are 18 Maha Puranas (Great Puranas) and 18 Upa Puranas (Minor Puranas), with over 400,000 verses. The Puranas do not enjoy the authority of a scripture in Hinduism, but are considered a Smriti. These Hindu texts have been influential in the Hindu culture, inspiring major national and regional annual festivals of Hinduism. The Bhagavata Purana has been among the most celebrated and popular text in the Puranic genre.
Other Hindu texts
Hindu texts for specific fields, in Sanskrit and other regional languages, have been reviewed as follows:
The Hindu scriptures provide the early documented history of arts and sciences forms in India such as music, dance, sculptures, architecture, astronomy, science, mathematics, medicine and wellness. Valmiki's Ramayana (500 BCE to 100 BCE) mentions music and singing by Gandharvas, dance by Apsaras such as Urvashi, Rambha, Menaka, TilottamaPanch?psaras, and by Ravana's wives who excelling in nrityageeta or "singing and dancing" and nritavaditra or "playing musical instruments"). The evidence of earliest dance related texts are in Natasutras, which are mentioned in the text of Panini, the sage who wrote the classic on Sanskrit grammar, and who is dated to about 500 BCE. This performance arts related Sutra text is mentioned in other late Vedic texts, as are two scholars names Shilalin (IASTil?lin) and Krishashva (Ka?va), credited to be pioneers in the studies of ancient drama, singing, dance and Sanskrit compositions for these arts. Richmond et al. estimate the Natasutras to have been composed around 600 BCE, whose complete manuscript has not survived into the modern age.
^ abWendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
^ abPatrick Olivelle (2014), The Early Upanisads, Oxford University Press, ISBN978-0-19-535242-9, page 3; Quote: "Even though theoretically the whole of vedic corpus is accepted as revealed truth [shruti], in reality it is the Upanishads that have continued to influence the life and thought of the various religious traditions that we have come to call Hindu. Upanishads are the scriptures par excellence of Hinduism".
^ abcWendy Doniger (1990), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, 1st Edition, University of Chicago Press, ISBN978-0-226-61847-0, pages 2-3; Quote: "The Upanishads supply the basis of later Hindu philosophy; they alone of the Vedic corpus are widely known and quoted by most well-educated Hindus, and their central ideas have also become a part of the spiritual arsenal of rank-and-file Hindus."
^Purushottama Bilimoria (2011), The idea of Hindu law, Journal of Oriental Society of Australia, Vol. 43, pages 103-130
^Roy Perrett (1998), Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN978-0-8248-2085-5, pages 16-18
^ abMichael Witzel, "Vedas and Upani?ads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN1-4051-3251-5, pages 68-71
^ abWilliam Graham (1993), Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0-521-44820-8, pages 67-77
^ abGavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0-521-43878-0, pages 35-39
^Bloomfield, M. The Atharvaveda and the Gopatha-Brahmana, (Grundriss der Indo-Arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde II.1.b.) Strassburg 1899; Gonda, J. A history of Indian literature: I.1 Vedic literature (Samhitas and Brahmanas); I.2 The Ritual Sutras. Wiesbaden 1975, 1977
^A Bhattacharya (2006), Hindu Dharma: Introduction to Scriptures and Theology, ISBN978-0-595-38455-6, pages 8-14; George M. Williams (2003), Handbook of Hindu Mythology, Oxford University Press, ISBN978-0-19-533261-2, page 285
^Jan Gonda (1975), Vedic Literature: (Sa?hit?s and Br?hma?as), Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN978-3-447-01603-2
^ abPT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0-88706-139-4, pages 35-36
^Wiman Dissanayake (1993), Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice (Editors: Thomas P. Kasulis et al.), State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0-7914-1080-6, page 39; Quote: "The Upanishads form the foundations of Hindu philosophical thought and the central theme of the Upanishads is the identity of Atman and Brahman, or the inner self and the cosmic self."; Michael McDowell and Nathan Brown (2009), World Religions, Penguin, ISBN978-1-59257-846-7, pages 208-210
^Stephen Phillips (2009), Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy, Columbia University Press, ISBN978-0-231-14485-8, Chapter 1