Hindu Scriptures

Introduction of Scriptures

The Vedas are the primary sacred texts of the Hindus which command the highest authority. Since they were not authored by man but revealed by God to the enlightened rishis they are self-authoritative, needing no external endorsement or legitimacy. Next in importance are the Smruti shastras. Smruti mean “remembrance”. The Smruti shastras were written by great seers based on the teachings they remembered from their spiritual masters. The authority of these shastras is derived from the spiritual standing of their authors and their congruence with the Vedas. Yet, since the Smruti shastras are man-made, they are considered secondary to the Shruti shastras. The Smruti shastras include a large number of heterogeneous works like the Dharma Shastras, the Itihasas or epics (Rarnayana and Mahal:Jharata), and the Puranas. The source of the Dharma Shastras lies in one of the six Vedangas (limbs of Veda). Among the Vedangas, the Kalpasutras deal with the correct performance of rituals. The Kalpasutras include the Shrautasutras, which focus on the performance of public rituals; the Gruhyasutras, which focus on domestic rites; the Dharmasutras, which explain laws and social ethics; and the Sulvasutras (or Sulba), which outline the geometrical rules of construction for yajna vedis or fire-altars, etc. The Dharmasutras, of which the Baudhayana, Gautama, Vashishtha and Apastamba are important, are the source of the Dharma Shastras. The Dharma Shastras elaborate upon the Dharmasutras and are of a later age. The Dharmasutras are entirely in prose whereas the Dharma Shastras are in verse. The Dharma Shastras are typically named after their authors. Thus, the Dharma Shastras written by Manu (according to Pauranic tradition he is the forefather of the human race) is called Manu Smruti, by Sage Yajnavalkya the Yajnavalkya Smruti, and by Sage Narada the Narada Smruti. These and many other Dharma Shastras prescribe a moral and social code of conduct for individuals, communities and states that encompass the religious, social, political, economical and legal realms.

Another branch of the Smruti shastras are the Itihasas, which include the Rarnayana and the Mahabharata. They are renowned as the great epics of India. A third type of Smruti shastras are the Puranas, which are an invaluable source of religious and historical literature extolling the avatars of God, devas, creation and dissolution of worlds, and royal dynasties. Because it is said that the meaning and purport of the Veda can be understood with the help of the Itihasa and Purana shastras, L cultivating a proper understanding of these shastras is essential for understanding Hinduism.

We shall now deal with the Dharma Shastras, Itihasas and Puranas in some detail.

Dharma Shastras
The principle of dharma (morality) and its application in all areas of life is of great importance in Hinduism. Dharma is explained by the Vedas, the Smrutis, and the teachings and conduct of one who is brahmanishtha (God-realized) andshrotriya (one who knows the true meanings of the sacred texts). The Dharma Shastras are the primary texts of Hindu law and code of conduct. They often start with creation narratives and conclude with advice on how to attain final liberation or mukti. Many of the Dharma Shastras or Smrutis, such as Manu Smruti, Yajnavalkya Smruti, Narada Smruti, Parashara Smruti, erc., cover three major topics: (1) Arhara, i.e., code of conduct for all varnas (classes) and ashramas (stages of life); (2) Vyavahara, i.e., social and financial dealings and interactions which involve civil, criminal and religious regulations and (3) Prayasbcbitta, i.e., atonement for moral lapses. The Smrutis also deal with rules of inheritance, laws of marriage and families, the duties of kings and ministers, worship of God, sacraments from birth till death, yajna rituals, and customs and manners to be observed in daily life. The moral law consists of vidhi (prescriptions or dos) and nishedha (prohibitions or don’ts). The Dharma Shastras contain principles of dharma as a universal and all-encompassing law, which applies to different circumstances.

We shall briefly consider the three main Dharma Shastras, namely, the Manu Smruti, the Yajnavalkya Smruti and the Narada Smruti.

A.) Manu Smruti

Manu formulated the Hindu code of conduct (social, moraland spiritual) from the Shruti shastras in an organized way. He gave the Manu Smruti, which is the earliest and most important of all the Dharma Shastras or moral texts available. It is believed to have taken final shape between 200 BCE and 200 CEo It has twelve chapters and 2,694 shlokas or verses dealing with achara, vyavahara, and prayashchitta. The Manu Smruti describes in detail the duties of the four varnas (classes) and ashramas (stages), the duties of the king, council of ministers and chief justice, civil and criminal law, and other aspects of society. Manu explicitly states that, of the four stages, the householder (gruhasthashrama) stage is the most important to society, because it supports the other three ashramas and also allows the fulfillment of the four goals of life (four purtlsharthas). To understand the Manu Smruti clearly, the commentary by Medhatithi (c. 825-900 CE) is considered to be very useful and important.

Gavin Flood writes, “Schopenhauer’s philosophical heir, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), also admired Hindu ideas and referred to the ‘Laws of Manu’ as a text far superior to the New Testament.’? Many others have admired the depth of the Hindu shastras.

Yajnavalkya Smruti
The second of the Smruti shastras is the Yajnavalkya Smruti (finalized between 100 BCE and 300 CE), which has 52 chapters and 1,010 shlokas. It deals with the three main aspects of human life: achara, vyavahara and prayashchitta. It agrees with Manu Smruti in many aspects and makes clear distinctions between civil and criminal law. In its section on achara or code of conduct (having 13 chapters), it deals with ceremonies of initiation, duties of the four varnas and ashramas, domestic and social duties and rites of purification and yajna. In its section on vyavahara (having 25 chapters) it defines the social rights and duties of the householder. Three hundred and seven verses outline legal procedures and titles of litigation. In its section on prayashchitta or atonement (having 14 chapters), it deals with penalties and means to purge sins. The Yajnavalkya Smruti has an important commentary called the Mitakshara by Vijnaneshwara (c. 1100 CE). India’s current code of Hindu law is mainly based on the Yajnavalkya Smruti and the Mitakshara,

The Mitakshara was first translated into English in 1810 by the English orientalist Henry Thomas Colebrooke.

Narada Smruti
The Narada Smruti deals only with the vyavahara aspect, i.e., social dealings and interactions that involve civil, financial, criminal and religious rules and regulations. It has 21 chapters and 1,028 verses and is believed to have been composed between 100 and 300 CEo It is considered to be an important legal text with reference to ancient criminal laws and court procedures. This text mainly follows the Manu Smruti bur differs in some aspects, particular in the area of juristic principles. It is known for its detailed treatment of ordeals called ‘diuya’? that were employed in courts of law. Manu mentions two forms of ordeals, Yajnavalkya five, and Narada states nine ordeals.

Conclusion

The Dharma Shastras emphasize the practice of dharma for all Hindus for their material, social, moral and spiritual advancement and happiness. They clearly define the duties of the four varnas and ashramas. They also discuss the very important concept of runa or obligation to society, family and one’s own self. Manu and many others believed that the systems of the four varnas and ashramas were most appropriate for the development and harmony of both the individual and society. In the case of the four ashramas, the first ashrama dictates the observance of brahmacharya (celibacy) and dedication to academic study; the second is grtthasthashrama or the life of a householder, during which one fulfils one’s desires to raise a family and discharge one’s duty to society; the third is vanaprasthashrama, in which one retires from active life to focus completely on spiritual matters; and the last is sannyastasbrama, in which one completely renounces t he world to fully engage oneself in meditation and other spiritual sadhanas.

Itihaas
The Ramayana (the story of Bhagwan Rama’s life) and the Mahabharata (the story of the Pandavas and Kauravas) are two great epics that constitute the Itihasas (histories) of ancient India. Through the narration of incidents that took place in ancient days, the Itihasas stress the importance of the four pittrsharthas: dharma (virtue), artha (wealth), kama (worldly desires) and moksha (liberation). The Mahabharata is known as the fifth Veda, even though it is classified as a Smruti (text of human authorship) and not a Shruti (revelation) text. All castes had access to the Itihasas. The Ramayana and Mahabharata were written by two great sage-poets, Valmiki and Veda Vyasa, respectively. Both the epics have played, and are still playing, a significant role in enriching and shaping the lives of Hindus and Hindu society. Formerly, the Vedas were accessible to only the learned Brahmins, but the epics, which portray the teachings of Hinduism in simple language, were available to all. They describe the history of the royal dynasties, and teach moral and spiritual values. The two epics became the sources of poetry, dance, drama, art, architecture and folk songs that have been sung and enacted in all Indian languages for thousands of years. There are a few regionally and linguistically different versions of the Ramayana and Gita, but the moral implications and ideals in them are not different.

Ramayana
Sage Valrniki’s Rarnayana is a poetic description ofBhagwan Shri Rama’s life. It is in Sanskrit and is known as the adikavya – first poem. It contains 24,253 shlokas in seven books (kandas): Baiakanda, Ayodhyakanda, Aranyakanda, Kishkindhakanda, Sundarakanda, Yuddhakanda and U trarakanda. The language of the Ramayana is simple, beautiful and vivid. It has become so famous that it has become a source of all later Sanskrit epic poems. Like the Mahabharata, it is recited and enacted in all languages and regions of India as well as in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and other places where Hinduism has spread.

The story of Rama” is traditionally older than that of the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata also contains the story of Rama in brief. Bhagwan Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that he is Rama among the wielders of weapons.’ Bhagwan Rama, in the Ramayana, is shown as a perfect being, an incarnation of virtue to emulate. He lived, ruled and remained within the bounds of propriety, and hence he is called Maryada Purushottama. The main characters of the epic include King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and his three wives and sons: Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Kaushalya was the mother of Rarna, Sumitra gave birth to two sons, Lakshmana and Shatrughna, and Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharata. Rama, the eldest, became the crown prince of Ayodhya. The night before Rama’s coronation Kaikeyi demanded of Dasharatha the fulfillment of two wishes he had promised many years earlier. The request came as a shocking surprise for the king. Kaikeyi demanded that Rama be exiled to the forest for fourteen years, and her son, Bharata, be given the throne instead. Rama, his wife, Sica, and Lakshmana spent their years of exile in the forest, patiently bearing discomforts and trials that came their way. In the final year, Sita was abducted by the evil Ravana, the king of Lanka. Then with the help of Sugriva, Jambavan, Hanuman and the vanaras (monkeys), Rama killed Ravana and his army and rescued Sira. Rama thus destroyed adharma and re-established dharma. Finally, Rama and Sita were crowned as the king and queen of Ayodhya. The Valmiki Rarnayana portrays the glory of Rarna as an ideal man, son, brother, husband and king, possessing virtues of truthfulness, nobility, valour and kindheartedness. Sita is an ideal of fidelity and devotion. The sacrifice, dedication and allegiance of Lakshmana and Bharata to Rama are incomparable. Hanurnanji’s humility, devotion and sacrifice to Rama are extolled in the Ramayana. The Ramayana depicts the picture of an ideal man, family and kingdom (Rama rajya). The emphasis is on virtuous conduct, annihilation of evil (adharma) and establishment of righteousness (dharma). It has provided enough ideas and ideals to inspire countless to rise from the human level to divine heights. In the Ramacharitramanas, the Hindi version of the Ramayana text, Tulasidasa portrays Rama as an incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu. His edition of the Ramayana inspires devotion and glory of Rama as God. The verses (cbopais) from the Ramacharitrnanas are very popular and sung with devotion in India and abroad. Notably, it is used as the main text for the Ramalila, the famous annual dramatic enactment of Rama’s life in north India. Out of several other vernacular editions of the Ramayana Karnban’s Ramayana in Tamil, Krirtivasa’s Ramayana in Bengali, Cherrnan’s ‘Ramayanarn’ in Malayalam, Ranganarha’s ‘Ramayanarri’ in Telugu, Giradhara’s ‘Ramacharitra’ In Gujarati and Madhav’s Ramayana in Assamese are popular in their respective states. If the worth of a literary work has to be evaluated by the impact it has had on each succeeding generation, then the Ramayana of Valmiki stands out as supreme in world literature. Its influence and effect on Hindu religion, social values, literature, music, dance, drama, paintings, sculptures, in fact, on so many facets of Indian life, is immense and enduring. It has been said that as long as the mountains stand and rivers flow on this earth, the story of Rama’s divine adventures will remain famous in the world.

Mahabharata
There are few other works whose influence on all aspects of life in India has been as profound and perpetual as that of the Mahabharata. Amidst vast diversities in language, culture and philosophical beliefs, Hindus have been brought together by their shared heritage of the Rarnayana and the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is an epic account of the people of greater Bharata (India) written by Veda Vyasa. With 18 books (parvas) containing about 100,000 Sanskrit shlokas; it is eight times the size of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined. The Mahabharata is a story of triumph of good over evil, that is dharma over adharma. In it, Veda Vyasa has brilliantly described all the shades of human nature – good, bad and evil – and Bhagwan Shri Krishna’s divine role in protecting and preserving dharma.

The popular epic begins with the two brothers, Dhritarashrra and Pandu. The younger brother, Pandu, was appointed as the king, but due to a curse he retired to the forest and died. Subsequently, the blind Dhritarashtra became the regent and administrator. Pandu’s five sons were known as the Pandavas and Dhrirarashtra’s one hundred sons were called the Kauravas. The Mahabharata is centred around a feud between these cousins. Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dhritarashtra and leader of the Kauravas, schemes with his sly maternal uncle, Shakuni, to deceptively win the kingdom of the Pandavas in a game of dice. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, loses the game and his kingdom, and he and his brothers are exiled to the forest for thirteen years. After returning, Duryodhana refuses to return their share of the kingdom. Subsequently, a devastating IS-day war follows, leading to the defeat and death of the Kauravas, including that of Duryodhana, Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kama and many other great warriors. Yudhishthira becomes the king of Hastinapura.

From a mundane perspective, the Mahabharata was a fierce conflict between cousins. From an ethical standpoint, it was a war between good and evil, justice and injustice; in which the two sides pitted against one another are considered to be analogous to the devas and demons. The war concluded with the victory of dharma. From a metaphorical perspective, the war was not only fought on the grounds of the Kurukshetra, but it is still being fought in our own minds today. It is a battle between the higher and the lower self in man. The Pandavas, with the help of Shri Krishna (Super-Self), emerged victorious in the conflict against the lower self in man in the form of the Kauravas. The events and teachings of love, war, morality and sacrifice convey powerful moral, social, political and spiritual lessons to one and all and for all times to come.

The Mahabharata reflects the fundamental lesson of what one can attain through faith and refuge in God. Against great odds, the Pandavas were victorious because of Shri Krishna’s grace and divine intervention. It also conveys the message of ”Yato dharmastato Krushno, yataha Krushnastato jayaha” – “Where there is dharma there is Krishna, and where there is Krishna there is victory.”

The essence of the Mahabharata lies in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is a part of the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata and contains the teachings of Shri Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield. It is a perennial source of social, moral and spiritual inspiration for mankind. The essence of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita lies in its last shloka, “Yatra Yogeshwarah Krushno”- “Where there is Krishna and Arjuna (God and his ideal devotee) there certainly will be wealth, victory, power and morality.”

The Mahabharata is more than just a history or itihasa narrated as a poem. It is considered to be an authoritative Dharma Shastra – an encyclopaedia of law, morality, social and political philosophy, that lays down principles for the attainment of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It embraces every aspect of life. Hence it is popularly believed, “Whatever there is in the Mahabharata one will find elsewhere; and what is not in it cannot be found anywhere else”. 7 The fact that many Hindus revere the Mahabharata as the “fifth Veda” is a testament to its vast scope, profound wisdom and spiritual authority.

The Mahabharata describes many men and women who shine as beacons of ideal moral conduct and spirituality for humanity. The actions of its heroes have been sung uninterruptedly for centuries by sages, political thinkers, poets, dramatists and devotees around the world. Bhagwan Krishna and Arjuna are worshipped as Narayana and Nara. Their sacred images, known as Nara-Narayana, are installed in many mandirs throughout India.

India’s glorious culture and civilization have survived and progressed partly because of its shastras, mandirs, divine incarnations, sages, festivals, social customs and leaders. For centuries, the ideals of the Rarnayana and Mahabharata have been the soul of India’s people, sustaining them in painful and challenging times.

Bhagwad Gita
Authored by Veda Vyasa, the Bhagavad Gita is a part of the Bhishma Parva (chapters 25 to 42) of the Mahabharata, containing 700 shlokas in 18 chapters. The Bhagavad Gita is believed to be the essence of the Upanishads. “Sarvopanishado gavo dogdha gopalanandanaha, Psrtbo Vatsaha sudhir bhokta dugdham gitamrutam mabat,” ‘AJI the Upanishads are like cows, Shri Krishna is the cowherd and Arjuna is the calf, the wise person is the drinker, and the nectar-like milk is the Gita itself.” The Gita mainly contains the dialogue between Bhagwan Shri Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra more than 5,000 years ago. The Gita is one of the three texts of Indian philosophy known as Prasthanatrayi. The other two are the Upanishads and the Brahmasutras.

The Bhagavad Gita, literally means “divine song”, was born out of the vishada (sadness) of Arjuna. The battle of the Mahabharata was about to commence when Arjuna told Bhagwan Krishna, his charioteer, to take his chariot in front of the Kaurava army. On seeing his gurus, elders, kith and kin on the battlefield, Arjuna suddenly became sad and distressed and dropped his bow, He felt it would be impossible for him to kill those to whom he was so attached, Shri Krishna urged him to fight because it was his duty as a Kshatriya (warrior). He then elaborated upon the fleeting attributes of the body and the eternality of the soul. The Gira encompasses religion, ethics, metaphysics and the ideal way of living. The enquiries and doubts posed by Arjuna and the solutions given by Shri Krishna are valid even today. A reading of the holy text confers great religious merit, guidance and inspiration in life. The main teachings in the Gita are: (A) Yoga, (B) Doctrine of Avatar, (c) Cosmic form of God, (D) Doctrines of Karma and Rebirth and (E) Guru-shishya Relationship. We shall now deal briefly with each of them.

Yoga
The Gita has shown three main ways to realize God, namely, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga . Jnana Yoga: The path of spiritual wisdom is called Jnana Yoga. Knowledge or jnana means discrimination between the real and the unreal. It also means realization of one’s soul to be imperishable and immortal, and the body to be perishable and mortal. Shri Krishna explains this immortality of the atman by saying that it cannot be slain, burnt or destroyed in any manner. It is the body which is destroyed and not the atman. One who is born dies and one who dies is born again? Jnana Yoga also encourages the realization that God resides in all atmans? and therefore every individual possesses divine consciousness. To attain God-consciousness one needs to discipline the senses, perform spiritual practices and have firm faith. The Gira praises the jnani or, one who has realized J nana Yoga, as being dearest to God .

Karma Yoga: The path of action is known as Karma Yoga, where ideally all activities are to be performed without any attachment and expectation (nishkama karma) for their fruits or results. The Gita does not preach the renunciation of action but renunciation of the fruit of action .

Bhakti Yoga: Having profound love for God is Bhakti Yoga. It is total surrender to God through absolute devotion.

Doctrine of Avatar
The Gita states that God is born on earth in human form to eradicate adharma and establish dharma, i.e., to destroy evil elements and protect the pious. In this way, God is the sustainer of the moral order.

The Cosmic Form of God
In the eleventh chapter of the Gita, Arjuna requests Shri Krishna to reveal his cosmic form (Vishwarupa). The Lord blesses Arjuna with divine sight and he sees the effulgent, infinite and awe-inspiring form of Shri Krishna. His Vishwarupa form has infinite arms, and countless faces radiant with the light of innumerable suns and universes. Arjuna also sees the Kaurava army, including Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Drona, Kama and its chief warriors being consumed as they enter into the mouth of Shri Krishna’s cosmic form. Arjuna is overwhelmed by the immensity of this divine vision, and thus prays to Shri Krishna to revert to his original, serene and beautiful human form. For Arjuna, this incident revealed Shri Krishna’s divinity.

Doctrines of Karma and Rebirth
The Gita explains that every karma or action produces a corresponding result. The good and bad karmas are rewarded or punished by God with good or bad fruits. One’s karmas are responsible for birth and rebirth, and hence, they are the root cause of suffering. To be liberated from the effects of suffering from karma and rebirth, one has to perform nishkama karma – actions with no desire for their fruits.

Guru-shishya Relationship
The Gita exemplifies a key aspect of the guru-shishya relationship where Bhagwan Krishna, the teacher, imparts knowledge to Arjuna, the disciple. He teaches Arjuna that true knowledge can be obtained by surrendering (pranipata) to the guru, by questioning and asking for clarification of principles (pariprashna) and through dedicated service (seua), The message of the Gita is universal. Its aim is to remedy the conflicts that arise from misidentification w~th the body (dehabhava), inordinate attachment to kith and kin (moha) and base instincts (vasana: lust, anger and greed) through absolute refuge in God and selfless performance of one’s own karmas.

Puranas
The Vedas are the foundational sacred texts of Hinduism. But the language and content of the Vedas were difficult for the common people to grasp. To present its wisdom in an easily understandable manner to the masses, Veda Vyasa wrote the Puranas, which are a valuable source of ancient religious and historical literature. The Puranas help one understand and interpret the Vedas. Its language is simpler and the principles and concepts are explained in a more understandable manner. Thus, the Puranas effectively address the religious, social and moral needs of man. We are indebted to the Puranas for providing us with the Hindu religious practices like meditating on God, murti-puja, shraddha (rites to propitiate one’s ancestors), and duties of varnas and ashramas which embrace the sacred and social aspects of human life. Furthermore, they explain the importance and necessity of building mandirs, consecrating the sacred murtis of God, and performing daily rituals. They also emphasize the merits of tapas (austerity), tirtba-ydtra (pilgrimage), dana (donations), and the need for celebration of festivals and many other aspects of daily life and relations. The Puranas consist of 18 Mahapuranas (‘great Puranas’) and 18 U papuranas (secondary Puranas). They deal predominantly with the glory of avatars of God, devas, creation (sarga), dissolution and re-creation (pratisarga) of the universe, dynasties of devas . (vamsha) , the eras of the 14 Manus (manavantaras) and the histories of the Solar and Lunar dynasties of kings (vamshanucharitra).15 The 18 Mahapuranas are: (1) Brahma (2) Padma (3) Vishnu (4) Shiva (5) Bhagavata (6) Narada (7) Markandeya (8) Agni (9) Bhavishya (10) Brahmavaivarta (11) Linga (12) Varaha (13) Skanda (14) Varnana (15) Kurma (16) Matsya (17) Garuda and (18) Brahrnanda. Traditionally, they are divided into three groups of six, out of which one group focuses upon Bhagwan Vishnu, another on Bhagwan Brahma and the third on Bhagwan Shiva. The six Vaishnava Puranas are the Vishnu, Narada, Bhagavata, Garuda, Padma, and Varaha Puranas. The six Puranas related to Brahrna are the Brahma, Brahrnanda, Brahmavaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavishya and Varnana Puranas. And the six Shaiva Puranas are the Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Shiva, Skanda and Agni Puranas. Among all the Mahapuranas, the Shrimad Bhagavata is the most popular and widely expounded by religious gurus and proponents of the Bhakti tradition. It has about 18,000 shlokas, referring to the ten avatars of Bhagwan Vishnu and emphasizing Bhagwan Krishna’s life and work. The Bhagavata Purana gives importance to bhakti towards God, which is reflected through austerity, charity, tolerance and faith in the lives of devotees like Dhruva, Prahlada, Harishchandra, Bali, Sudama, the Gopis and others. The Markandeya Purana is the smallest of all the Puranas, having 9,000 shlokas, and the Skanda Purana is the largest, having 81,000 shlokas. A very important work called the Vasudeva Mahatrnya is a part of the Vishnu khand (section) of the Skanda Purana. It emphasizes ekantika dharma, i.e., dharma, jnana, vairagya and bhakri, as well as ahimsa or nonviolence. The growth of the Purana literature continued through time. They were accommodated under the title ‘Upapuranas’. They were considered to be of lesser importance than the Mahapuranas. Some of the Upapuranas are, Adi, Narasimha, Kapila, Kalika, Varuna, Vishnudharmottara and Devibhagavara. The general content of the U papuranas is on similar lines to the Mahapuranas, There are also a large number of Sthalapuranas that deal with holy places.

Summary

1.  After the Vedas and Upanishads the next authoritative texts are the Smruti shastras which include the Dharma Shastras, Itihasas, Puranas, Sutra works and others. Smruti means “that which is remembered”.

2.  The DharmaShastras were written by Manu, Yajnavalkya, Shankha-Likhita, Parashara, Narada and others. They prescribe a moral code of conduct for individuals, communities and states. They deal with the religious, social, political, economical and legal realms of society. The Smrutis are man-made and they have interpreted Vedic principles to guide human practices in changing contexts. Consequently, their canons have grown and some aspects have been changed. This capacity for change has been important for combating the rigidity in traditions and practices that might develop through time and human failings.

3.  The Itihasas comprise the two great epics: the Rarnayana and the Mahabharara. Sage Valrniki wrote the original Rarnayana. It is a poetic narration of Bhagwan Rarna’s life and work. The Rarnayana portrays the character of an ideal man, family, society and state.

4.  The Mahabharata, written by Veda Vyasa, is regarded as the fifth Veda by the Hindus. It vividly depicts an epic war between good and evil, justice and injustice, and dharma and adharma. In the end, dharma prevails.

5.  The Bhagavad Gita, a part of the Mahabharata, is the divine discourse of Bhagwan Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Bhagwan Krishna urges Arjuna to perform his duty as a Kshatriya, that is, to fight and protect the righteous and punish the wicked. He imparts [nana yoga, karma yoga and bhakri yoga to Arjuna. Eventually, Arjuna rises, fights and wins.

6.  The 18 Mahapuranas and Upapuranas were written by Veda Vyasa. Through stories, that describe the genealogies of devas and kings, and teachings, they sing the glory of God’s avatars, convey theism, devotion to God, philosophy, murti-pujii, ethics, festivals, rituals and ceremonies. They also include cosmology, law codes of moral life, pilgrimages, sacrifices, etc. They are very important literary sources for history of India up to the Gupta dynasty (320 to 600 CE).