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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hindu texts or Hindu scriptures are manuscripts and voluminous historical literature which are related to any of the diverse traditions within Hinduism. Some of the major Hindu texts include the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Itihasa. Scholars hesitate in defining the term "Hindu scriptures" given the diverse nature of Hinduism,[1][2] but many list the Agamas as Hindu scriptures,[1][2][3] and Dominic Goodall includes Bhagavata Purana and Yajnavalkya Smriti in the list of Hindu scriptures as well.[1]

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There are two historic classifications of Hindu texts: Shruti (Sanskrit: श्रुति, IAST: Śruti) – that which is heard,[4] and Smriti (Sanskrit: स्मृति, IAST: Smṛti) – that which is remembered.[5] The Shruti texts refer to the body of most authoritative and 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.[4][6] It includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts – the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.[7] Of the Shrutis, 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.[8][9]

The Smriti texts are a specific body of Hindu texts attributed to an author,[7] as a derivative work they are considered less authoritative than Shruti in Hinduism.[5] The Smriti literature is a vast corpus of diverse texts, and includes but is not limited to Vedāngas, the Hindu epics (such as the Mahabharat and Ramayan), the Sutras and Shastras, the texts of Hindu philosophies, the Puranas, the Kāvya or poetical literature, the Bhasyas, and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics, culture, arts and society.[10][11]

Many ancient Hindu texts were composed in Sanskrit and other regional Indian languages. In modern times, most ancient texts have been translated into other Indian languages and some in non-Indian languages.[1] Prior to the start of the common era, the Hindu texts were composed orally, then memorized and transmitted orally, from one generation to the next, for more than a millennium before they were written down into manuscripts.[12][13] This verbal tradition of preserving and transmitting Hindu texts, from one generation to next, continued into the modern era.[12][13]


The Shruti texts, defined as "that which is heard", are texts that are believed to be divine revelations of God and were heard by ancient rishis thousands of years ago. Thus, an author is not attributed to these texts.[14] The origin language of these texts is Sanskrit.[14] The Vedas are considered Shruti texts. The Vedas consist of four parts: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.[15] Each Veda is subcategorized into Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.[15]


Manuscripts of 18th-century Hindu texts in Sanskrit(Devanagari) and Odia.

The four Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda) are a large body of Hindu texts originating from the Vedic period in northern India, the Rig Veda being composed c. 1200 BCE, and its Samhita and Brahmanas complete before about 800 BCE.[16] Composed in Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism.[17][18][19] Hindus consider the Vedas to be timeless revelation,[16] apauruṣeya, which means "not of a man, superhuman"[20] and "impersonal, authorless".[21][22][23] 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.[6]

Vedas are also called shruti ("what is heard") literature,[24] distinguishing them from other religious texts, which are called smṛti ("what is remembered"). The Veda, for orthodox Indian theologians, are considered revelations, some way or other the work of the Deity.[citation needed] In the Hindu Epic the Mahabharata, the creation of Vedas is credited to the deity responsible for creation, Brahma.[25]

There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda.[26][27] Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types – the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (text discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).[26][28][29]


The Upanishads are a collection of Hindu texts which contain the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism.[8][note 1] The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and its diverse traditions.[9][30]

The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Vedānta, interpreted to mean either the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" or "the object, the highest purpose of the Veda".[31] The concepts of Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and Ātman (Soul, Self) are central ideas in all the Upanishads,[32][33] and "Know your Ātman" their thematic focus.[33] The central ideas of the Upanishads have had a lasting influence on Hindu philosophy.[8][9][note 2]

More than 200 Upanishads are known, of which ten are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the mukhya (main) or principal Upanishads.[34][35] The ten mukhya Upanishads are: Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, and Brihadaranyaka.[36] The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas[37] 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),[38] down to the Maurya period.[39] 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.[40][41]


Smriti is the classification of literature which includes various scriptures and Itihasas (epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata), Harivamsa Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas. This genre of texts includes the Sutras and Shastras of the six schools of Hindu philosophy: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.[42][43]

The Sutras and Shastras texts were compilations of technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area. The earliest are dated to the latter half of the 1st millennium BCE. The Dharma-shastras (law books), derivatives of the Dharma-sutras. Other examples were bhautikashastra "physics", rasayanashastra "chemistry", jīvashastra "biology", vastushastra "architectural science", shilpashastra "science of sculpture", arthashastra "economics" and nītishastra "political science".[44] It also includes Tantras and Agama literature.[45]

A 19th century manuscript of the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita


The Puranas, which mean "history" or "old", are Sanskrit texts which were composed between 3rd century BCE and 1000 CE.[46] The Puranas are a vast genre of Hindu texts that encyclopedically cover a wide range of topics, particularly legends and other traditional lore.[47] Composed primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages,[48][49] several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi.[50][51]

The Puranic literature is encyclopedic,[52] 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.[47][49][50] 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.[48]

There are 18 Maha Puranas (Great Puranas): Agni Purana, Bhagavata Purana, Bhavishya Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Garuda Purana, Kurma Purana, Linga Purana, Markandeya Purana, Naradiya Purana, Padma Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Vamana Purana, Varaha Purana, Vayu Purana, and Vishnu Purana[46] and 18 Upa Puranas (Minor Puranas),[53] with over 400,000 verses.[47] The Puranas do not enjoy the authority of a scripture in Hinduism,[53] but are considered a Smriti.[54] These Hindu texts have been influential in the Hindu culture, inspiring major national and regional annual festivals of Hinduism.[55] The Bhagavata Purana has been among the most celebrated and popular text in the Puranic genre.[56][57] The Bhagavata Purana emphasizes bhakti (devotion) towards Krishna. The Bhagavata Purana is a key text in Krishna bhakti literature.[46][58]


The Mahābhārata, which translates to "The Great Indian Tale", was probably compiled between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE, with the oldest preserved parts not much older than around 400 BCE.[59][60] The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta period (c. 4th century CE).[61][62] The composition is traditionally attributed to Vedavyasa and is made up of over 100,000 shlokas.[63]

The plot of the Mahabharata covers the events of the war between two groups of cousins (the Pandavas and the Kauravas) and the aftermath of the Kurukshetra War.[63] The Mahabharata also teaches about dharma (duty), the stories of many key figures in Hinduism, and includes the Bhagavad Gita.[15]

The Bhagavad Gita is made up of 700 shlokas and is the discussion between Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield before the start of the war. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita teaches Arjuna about atma (soul), God, moksha, and dharma.[64]


The Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit text with the earliest part believed to have been composed in the 5th century BCE, is attributed to the sage Valmiki and contains over 24,000 verses.[65]

The epic covers the life journey of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, along with his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana. Central to the plot is the fourteen-year exile endured by Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, during which Sita is abducted by Ravana of Lanka. Rama, accompanied by Lakshmana, Hanuman (a devotee of Rama), and an army, engages in a battle with Ravana, ultimately emerging victorious with Rama's slaying of Ravana. The epic concludes with Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana's return to Ayodhya, where Rama is crowned king and reigns over Ayodhya.[15]

Other Hindu texts

Hindu texts for specific fields, in Sanskrit and other regional languages, have been reviewed as follows:

Field Reviewer Reference
Agriculture and food Gyula Wojtilla [66]
Architecture P Acharya,
B Dagens
Devotionalism Karen Pechelis [69]
Drama, dance and performance arts AB Keith,
Rachel Baumer and James Brandon,
Mohan Khokar
Education, school system Hartmut Scharfe [73]
Epics John Brockington [74]
Gnomic and didactic literature Ludwik Sternbach [75]
Grammar Hartmut Scharfe [76]
Law and jurisprudence J Duncan M Derrett [77]
Lexicography Claus Vogel [78]
Mathematics and exact sciences Kim Plofker
David Pingree
Medicine MS Valiathan,
Kenneth Zysk
Music Emmie te Nijenhuis,
Lewis Rowell
Mythology Ludo Rocher [85]
Philosophy Karl Potter [86]
Poetics Edwin Gerow, Siegfried Lienhard [87]
Gender and Sex Johann Jakob Meyer [88]
State craft, politics Patrick Olivelle [89]
Tantrism, Agamas Teun Goudriaan [90]
Temples, Sculpture Stella Kramrisch [91]
Scriptures (Vedas and Upanishads) Jan Gonda [92]

Historical significance

The Hindu scriptures provide the early documented history of arts and science 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, Tilottama Panchāpsaras, and by Ravana's wives who excelling in nrityageeta or "singing and dancing" and nritavaditra or "playing musical instruments").[93] 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.[94][95] This performance arts related Sutra text is mentioned in other late Vedic texts, as are two scholars names Shilalin (IAST: Śilālin) and Krishashva (Kṛśaśva), credited to be pioneers in the studies of ancient drama, singing, dance and Sanskrit compositions for these arts.[94][96] Richmond et al. estimate the Natasutras to have been composed around 600 BCE, whose complete manuscript has not survived into the modern age.[94][95]

See also


  1. ^ These include rebirth, karma, moksha, ascetic techniques and renunciation. Olivelle (1998)
  2. ^ 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.


  1. ^ a b c d Dominic Goodall (1996), Hindu Scriptures, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-20778-3, p. ix–xliii
  2. ^ a b Klaus Klostermaier (2007), A Survey of Hinduism: Third Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7082-4, pp. 46–52, 76–77
  3. ^ RC Zaehner (1992), Hindu Scriptures, Penguin Random House, ISBN 978-0-679-41078-2, pages 1–11 and Preface
  4. ^ a b James Lochtefeld (2002), "Shruti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8, page 645
  5. ^ a b James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8, pp. 656–657
  6. ^ a b Ramdas Lamb (2002). Rapt in the Name: The Ramnamis, Ramnam, and Untouchable Religion in Central India. State University of New York Press. pp. 183–185. ISBN 978-0-7914-5386-5.
  7. ^ a b Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pp. 2–3
  8. ^ a b c Olivelle 1998, p. 3.
  9. ^ a b c Wendy Doniger (1990), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, 1st Edition, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-61847-0, pp. 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."
  10. ^ Purushottama Bilimoria (2011), The idea of Hindu law, Journal of Oriental Society of Australia, Vol. 43, pp. 103–130
  11. ^ Roy Perrett (1998), Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0-8248-2085-5, pp. 16–18
  12. ^ a b Michael Witzel, "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-4051-3251-5, pp. 68–71
  13. ^ a b William Graham (1993), Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-44820-8, pp. 67–77
  14. ^ a b Roger R. Keller, "Hinduism," Light and Truth: A Latter-day Saint Guide to World Religions (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 16–39.
  15. ^ a b c d "Hindu Philosophy". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  16. ^ a b Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 35–39. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
  17. ^ see e.g. MacDonell 2004, pp. 29–39; Sanskrit literature (2003) in Philip's Encyclopedia. Accessed 2007-08-09
  18. ^ see e.g. Radhakrishnan & Moore 1957, p. 3; Witzel, Michael, "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood 2003, p. 68; MacDonell 2004, pp. 29–39; Sanskrit literature (2003) in Philip's Encyclopedia. Accessed 2007-08-09
  19. ^ Sanujit Ghose (2011). "Religious Developments in Ancient India" in Ancient History Encyclopedia.
  20. ^ Vaman Shivaram Apte, The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, see apauruSeya
  21. ^ D Sharma, Classical Indian Philosophy: A Reader, Columbia University Press, pp. 196–197
  22. ^ Jan Westerhoff (2009), Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-538496-3, page 290
  23. ^ Warren Lee Todd (2013), The Ethics of Śaṅkara and Śāntideva: A Selfless Response to an Illusory World, ISBN 978-1-4094-6681-9, p. 128
  24. ^ Apte 1965, p. 887
  25. ^ Seer of the Fifth Veda: Kr̥ṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa in the Mahābhārata Bruce M. Sullivan, Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 85–86
  26. ^ a b Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0, pages 35–39
  27. ^ 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
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    Michael McDowell and Nathan Brown (2009), World Religions, Penguin, ISBN 978-1-59257-846-7, pp. 208–210
  31. ^ Max Muller, The Upanishads, Part 1, Oxford University Press, page LXXXVI footnote 1
  32. ^ Mahadevan 1956, p. 59.
  33. ^ a b PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-88706-139-4, pp. 35–36
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  37. ^ Mahadevan 1956, p. 56.
  38. ^ Olivelle 1998a, p. 12-14.
  39. ^ King & Ācārya 1995, p. 52.
  40. ^ Ranade 1926, p. 12.
  41. ^ Varghese 2008, p. 101.
  42. ^ Andrew Nicholson (2013), Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7, pp. 2–5
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  45. ^ Teun Goudriaan and Sanjukta Gupta (1981), Hindu Tantric and Śākta Literature, A History of Indian Literature, Volume 2, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3-447-02091-6, pp. 7–14
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  95. ^ a b Richmond, Swann & Zarrilli 1993, p. 30.
  96. ^ Tarla Mehta 1995, pp. xxiv, xxxi–xxxii, 17.


Further reading

External links

Manuscripts collections (incomplete)

Online resources:

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