The dharmic scriptures are divided into Śruti (‘that which is heard’) and Smṛti (‘that which is remembered’).
1 – The Sruti (divinely revealed texts) – Scriptures like the Vedas and Upanishads that enunciate eternal truths. The Sruti texts don’t address sexual orientation at all or indeed social issues in general. They state that every being is an eternal soul, or atman, incarnate, and that the ultimate goal of life is moksha, or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
2 – The Smriti (remembered texts written by the sages) – Scriptures like the Manu Smriti and Yagnavalkya Smriti that detail socio-religious laws and customs bound by time, place, and circumstance. Smritis, by their very nature, are time bound and subject to change.
- The 4 Vedas
- The Upanishads
- The Brahmanas
- The Agamas
- The Puranas (Sacred Legends)
- The Dharma Shastras
- The Sutras
- The Bhashya
- The Itihasas
The 4 Vedas
The word Veda means knowledge, from the root -vid (to know). The rishis (sages) saw the Veda and sang what they saw. They had direct intuitive perception of the divine consciousness. Therefore, the Vedas are sruti (“what has been heard”).
The Vedas are largely comprised of devotional hymns to the various gods and of elaborate rituals to invoke them. These gods are seen as a manifestation of the One absolute truth that is beyond space and time, name and form, and attributes of any other kind. The core of the wisdom of the Vedas, however, lies in the quest for self-realization and thus realizing the ultimate truth.
(ṛk + veda) consists of ṛks (verses)
(yajus + veda) consists of yajus (prose)
Consists of sāmans (songs)
Consists of the teachings of the sage Atharvan.
The Vedas are further divided into:
• Karma-Kanda (rituals section) – Sacrifices and rituals. The Mantras and the Brahmanas constitute Karma-Kanda.
• Upasana-Kanda (worship section) – Various kinds of worship or meditation. The Aranyakas constitute Upasana-Kanda.
• Jnana-Kanda (knowledge section) – The highest knowledge of Nirguna Brahman. The Upanishads constitute Jnana-Kanda.
Each Veda has its Samhitas [hymns, or Veda proper], Brahmanas [explanations of the mantras and rituals], Aranyakas [philosophical interpretations of the rituals] and Upanishads [essence or the knowledge portion of the Vedas].
The Upanishads are the concluding portions of the Vedas or “end of the Vedas”. They contain the essence of the Vedas and speak of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Soul.
• Mukhya Upanishads
There are around 200 Upanishads, but the 13 most important are the Mukhya Upanishads: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Kaushitaki, Svetasvatara and Maitrayani Upanishads.
• Samnaya Vedanta Upanishads
• Saiva Upanishads
• Sakta Upanishads
• Sannyasa Upanishads
• Yoga Upanishads
The agamas (also called nigamas) are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship. The Agamas are considered to be revealed (shruti) like the Vedas and are thus held in equal importance and authority by their followers.
They treat of Jnana (Knowledge), Yoga (Union), Kriya (Esoteric Ritual) and Charya (Exoteric Worship). They also give elaborate details about cosmology, mystic diagrams, charms and spells, temple-building, domestic observances, social rules and public festivals, meditation, devotion and liberation.
• Vaikhanasa Agamas
• 108 Pancharatra Agamas (or Pancharatra Samhitas)
The Vaishanavites consider the Pancharatra Agama as the most important. These Agamas are believed to have been revealed by Narayana (Vishnu) Himself. Among those, the Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones.
The Pancharatra Agama are again subdivided into seven divisions: Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and Naradiya agamas.
• Pratishthasara Agamas
• Vijnana-lalita Agamas
• The 92 Saiva Agamas
Shiva is the name of God in the Saiva Agamas. Each Agama has Upa-Agamas (subsidiary Agamas).
The Shiva and Rudra Agamas together are called Siddhanta Agamas, and the Bhairava Agamas are called the Dakshina Agamas. The Shiva Agamas are said to teach dualism (bheda), the Rudra Agamas teach dualistic-monism (bhedabheda), and the Bhairava Agamas teach monism (abheda).
• 28 Saiva Siddhanta Agamas
These 28 Agamas also have 204 upa-Agamas. Some of the Agamas are said to be having millions of verses. A lot of these texts have been lost. The majority of the Agamas are written in grantha script and not in devanagari script.
– 10 Shiva Agamas
– 18 Rudra Agamas
• 64 Bhairava Agamas
According to Acharya Somananda, Shiva appeared to Sage Durvasa in the beginning of the Kali Yuga under the form of Shrikantha, and revealed to him the philosophies of abheda, bhedabheda and abheda, so that men of different capacities could understand the Divine each in their own ways.
Sage Durvasa then proceeded to disseminate the knowledge through his three sons, Trayambaka, Amardaka and Shrinatha, who were taught the abheda, bhedabheda and bheda philosphies respectively.
The three sons of Durvasa then founded various monastic institutions (mathas), and promulgated the Shaiva teaching to their disciples. It is presumed that the lines of Shaiva teachers (Shivacharyas) established by the three sons of Durvasa later compiled the knowledge in form of the Shaiva Agamas.
• The 77 Shakta Agamas (Tantras)
Known as the Tantras, the Shakti Agamas glorify Shakti as the World-Mother. These texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Shiva and Parvati. As Shakti is the creative power of Shiva, Shaktism is really a supplement to Saivism.
In the Shaiva Agamas one finds dialogues between Bhagwan Shiva and Parvati, in which the former is the master and the latter his disciple. However in the Shakta Agamas (also known as Tantras), Parvati (also known as Sari, Devi, Uma and Kali) is the guru and Shiva is her disciple. Shiva asks questions to her and Parvati answers.
The most important of those Tantras are the Mahanirvana Tantra, Kularnava Tantra, Kulasara Tantra, Prapanchasara Tantra, Tantraraja Tantra, Rudra-Yamala Tantra, Brahma-Yamala Tantra, Vishnu-Yamala Tantra, Todala Tantra.
Then, there are also the Buddhist and Jain Agamas.
The Puranas (Sacred Legends)
The Puranas were written to popularise the religion of the Vedas. They contain the essence of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events.
The sages made use of these things to illustrate the eternal principles of religion. The Puranas were meant, not for the scholars, but for the ordinary people who could not understand high philosophy and who could not study the Vedas.
All the Puranas belong to the class of Suhrit-Samhitas. Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas. The aim of the Puranas is also to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events.
The Rishis used symbolical illustrations to explain the eternal principles of the Universe. The Puranas were meant, not for the scholars, but for the ordinary people who could not understand high philosophy and who could not study the Vedas.
The Puranas have 5 characteristics (Panch-Lakshana): History, Cosmology (with symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles), Secondary Creation, Genealogy of Kings and Manavantaras.
• 18 Mahapuranas (Great Puranas)
1. Vishnu Purana
3. Srimad Bhagavata Purana
4. Garuda (Suparna) Purana
5. Padma Purana
6. Varah Purana
7. Brahma Purana
8. Brahmanda Purana
9. Brahma Vaivarta Purana
10. Markandeya Purana
11. Bhavishya Purana
12. Vamana Purana
13. Matsya Purana
14. Kurma Purana
15. Linga Purana
16. Siva Purana
17. Skanda Purana
18. Agni Purana
• 18 Upapuranas
1. Sanat Kumara
These are also divided into categories (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Durga).
Brahma : describes Godavari river and its tributaries
Brahmanda : Lalita Sahasranama
Brahmavaivarta : ways to worship Devis, Krishna and Ganesha
Markandeya : Devi Mahatmya (देवीमाहात्म्यम्)
Bhavishya : prophecies regarding the future
Vishnu : acts of Vishnu and ways to worship him
Bhagavata : about 10 avatars of Vishnu
Naradeya : describes greatness of Vedas and Vedangas.
Garuda : death and aftermaths
Padma : gitamahatmya, describes greatness of Gita
Vamana : describes areas around Kurukshetra
Varaha : about Varaha avatar of Vishnu
Kurma : about Kurma Avatar of Vishnu
Matsya : about Matsya avatar of Vishnu
Shiva : describes greatness of Shiva and his deeds, aka Vayu Purana
Linga : Describes the magnificence of Lingam
Skanda : Sri Swasthani Bratha Katha (Nepal)
Agni : Vastu Shastra and Gemology
The Dharma Shastras
There are 18 main Dharma Shastras. The 3 most important are those of the Rishis Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara.
The other 15 are those of Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa, Vasishtha, Yama, Apastamba, Gautama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usana, Atri and Saunaka.
• The Laws of Manu were intended for the Satya Yuga
• The Laws of Yajnavalkya were for the Treta Yuga
• The Laws of Sankha and Likhita were for the Dvapara Yuga
• The Laws of Parasara are for the Kali Yuga
A Sutra (or aphorism) is a short formula with the least possible number of letters, without any ambiguity or doubtful assertion, containing the very essence, embracing all meaning, without any stop or obstruction and absolutely faultless in nature.
The best example of the greatest, the tersest and the most perfect of Sutra literature is the series of aphorisms called the Ashtadhyayi composed by Maharishi Panini. Panini is the father of all Sutrakaras from whom all others seem to have borrowed the method of composition.
The Sutras are meant to explain a big volume of knowledge in short assertions suitable to be kept in memory at all times. The 6 Vedangas and the 6 systems of Hindu philosophy form the 12 sets of Sutra literature of the world.
In addition to these, there are later compositions like the Narada-Bhakti Sutras, the Sandilya-Bhakti Sutras, etc., which also wish to assume an equal form with the famous Sutras mentioned above.
• Brahma Sutras
• Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
• Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta
A Bhashya is an elaborate exposition, a commentary on the Sutras, with word by word meaning of the aphoristic precepts, their running translation, together with the individual views of the commentator or the Bhashyakara.
• The best and most exemplary Bhashya is the one written by Patanjali on the Vyakarana (grammar) Sutras of Panini. This Bhashya is so very famous and important that it is called the Mahabhashya and its celebrated author, Patanjali, is specially called the Bhashyakara.
• The next important Bhashya is the one on the Mimamsa Sutras written by Sabara-Swami
• The third important Bhashya was written by Sankara on the Brahma Sutras. The Bhashyas on the six sets of aphorisms dealing with Indian philosophy were written by Vatsyayana, Prasastapada, Vijnanabhikshu, Vyasa, Sabara and Sankara.
On the Vedanta or Brahma Sutras, there are about 16 Bhashyas, like those of Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabha, Nimbarka, etc.
The Itihasas embody all that is in the Vedas, but only in a simpler manner. These are called the Suhrit-Samhitas (Friendly Treatises), while the Vedas are called the Prabhu-Samhitas (Commanding Treatises). These works explain the great universal truths in the form of historical narratives, stories and dialogues.
The common man cannot comprehend the high abstract philosophy of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Hence, the compassionate Resi Valmiki and Resi Vyasa wrote the Itihasas for the benefit of common people.
The same philosophy is presented with analogies and parables in a tasteful form to the common run of mankind. The most well known Itihasas (histories) are the Mahakavyas (epics) Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Written by Rishi Valmiki. The Ramayana, the Adi-Kavya or the first epic poem, relates the story of Sri Rama. The ideal man. It is the history of the family of the Solar race descended from Ikshvaku, in which was born Sri Ramachandra, the Avatara of Lord Vishnu, and his three brothers.
The ideal characters like Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Sri Hanuman that we find in Ramayana firmly established Hindu Dharma in our minds. The story of the birth of Rama and his brothers, their education and marriages, the exile of Sri Rama, the carrying off and recovery of Sita, his wife, the destruction of Ravana, the Rakshasa King of Lanka, and the reign of Sri Rama, are described in detail in Ramayana.
How a man should behave towards his superiors, equals, and inferiors, how a king ought to rule his kingdom, how a man should lead his life in this world, how he can obtain his release, freedom, and perfection, may be learnt from this excellent epic. The Ramayana gives a vivid picture of Indian life. The lives of Rama, Bharata and Lakshmana provide a model of fraternal affection and mutual service. Sri Hanuman stands as an ideal unique Karma Yogi. The life of Sita is regarded as the most perfect example of womanly fidelity, chastity and sweetness.
Written by Rishi Vyasa. The Mahabharata gives a description of the great war, the Battle of Kurukshetra, which broke out between the Kauravas and the Pandavas who were cousins and descendants of the Lunar race. The Mahabharata is an encyclopedia of Hindu Dharma. It is rightly called the fifth Veda. There is really no theme in religion, philosophy, mysticism and polity which this great epic does not touch and expound. It contains very noble moral teachings, useful lessons of all kinds, many beautiful stories and episodes, discourses, sermons, parables and dialogues which set forth the principles of morals and metaphysics.
The Bhagavad-Gita is the most important part of the Mahabharata. It is a marvelous dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield, before the commencement of the great war. Krishna explain the essentials of Hindu religion to Arjuna. Just as the Upanishads contain the cream of the Vedas, so does the Gita contain the cream of the Upanishads. The Gita is the most precious jewel of Hindu literature. It is a universal gospel. The Gita teaches the Yoga of Synthesis. It ranks high in the religious literature of the world.