Sacred Texts in Hinduism

Most of the readers of this post are already familiar with this amazing fact – Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. But additionally, it is also the oldest religion that is still practiced by billions of believers. Yes, sorry ancient Egyptians, but the complex web of beliefs and practices that we call Hinduism has you guys beat! A little research and you will easily find the roots of this ancient religion 4000 years back, right in the heart of what we now know as the Indus Valley Civilization. But do you know what is also at the heart of this faith – the vast and rich collection of texts that have shaped the Indian culture.

Indian culture is not something that is set in stone; it is constantly moving, and evolving with time. But it follows a set of principles, the guiding light of this faith, and to understand that, you need to take a deep dive into the various texts that belong to this faith. These are often referred to as scriptures (or Shastras, to be more precise) & they encompass a wide range of genres. In these “Shastras” you will find hymns, philosophical treatises, epic poems & mythological stories. And if you are thinking that they offer you a glimpse into the nature of reality, the human conditions, the meaning of life and other related stuff, then you are right.

Sacred Texts in Hinduism

However, don’t think of Hindu texts as just relics of the past, especially when they are quite useful in the modern day. They continue to be the source of inspiration, guidance, and wisdom for millions of people worldwide. So, are you intrigued about it now? Well, luckily for you, we have covered this subject in depth. Without any further wait, let’s get right onto it now, and we are starting with —

The Vedas

If you are anywhat familiar with Hinduism, then you must already know about the four Vedas. Written during the aptly named Vedic Period, this collection of four ancient texts is considered the foundation of Hindu thought, spirituality, and culture. Let’s go through them one-by-one —

1. The Rigveda

What better way to start than with the oldest of the four Vedas – the Rigveda? Do you know this sacred book is a collection of over 1,000 hymns that are dedicated to various deities? These offer a deep insight into the early beliefs and practices of the Indo-Aryan people. Now, what insights, you might ask? Well, into the social structure, their culture, their practices and more. Read it, and you will be surprised by just how many similarities exist now and during those times. This scripture also talks about the most important philosophical question of all – about the origin of the universe and the meaning of life.

2. The Yajurveda

Next up is the Yajurveda. Now, we can be honest here; it might not be as popular as the Rigveda. In fact, what you will find is that Rigveda is the most popular of all four ancient texts, with none coming even close to it. However, that does not diminish Yajurveda’s or any of the other two texts’ popularity at all. This text outlines the precise procedures and invocations for various religious ceremonies, emphasizing the importance of ritualistic accuracy and devotion in connecting with the divine.

3. The Samveda

The third Veda on this list is essentially a musical rendition of Rigveda. Yes, quite fascinating, isn’t it? In it, you will find a collection of melodies and chants that were sung during rituals and sacrifices. This ancient text emphasizes the power of sound & vibration in spiritual practice. Simply put, it talks about how the recitation of hymns could create a sacred atmosphere and elevate the consciousness of the participants.

4. The Atharvaveda

Last but not least, we have the Atharvaveda, the final of Char Vedas. Now, there is a reason why this is the last of all, as, unlike the other three Vedas, the Atharvaveda focuses on everyday life. In the book, you will find practical spells, charms, and even remedies for various elements and misfortunes. You will also be able to explore various topics, such as marriage, childbirth, and other significant life events.

Think of this final Veda as the ancient book which reflects the concerns and aspirations of ordinary people. This book will also provide you with a glimpse into the cultural and social practices of ancient India.

Upanishads

After the four Vedas, if one is asking you about the next important texts in Hinduism, then you should immediately answer with Upanishads. Now, if you have not heard of them, then it’s alright — but do keep in mind that they are quite important. The Vedas have laid the foundation of Hindu thought, but it is the Upanishads (and there are many of them) that delve deeper into the philosophical and spiritual dimensions of existence.

Now, you might not know this, but Upanishads are also known as Vedanta – this literally translates to “the end of Vedas”. They explore the profound questions about the nature of reality, the self, and the ultimate goal of human life – which, not to be a spoiler, is to attain moksha. So, it would be wise if you do not think of them as being separate entities from Vedas. In fact, they are rather the culmination of the Vedas, offering a more detailed explanation.

The Core Concepts of Upanishads

It is time for us to take a brief look at the core concepts of Upanishads, and there are three in particular —

  1. Brahman: The concept of ultimate reality. This talks about how there is a central, absolute, ultimate reality that underlies all of existence. Sound confusing? Well, let us simplify. Think of Brahman as a very large pond; everything within it is part of Brahman. It is still, unmoving and constant. This is the concept in a nutshell.
  2. Atman: Taking the concept of the large pond further, if we focus only on one droplet at a time, then that is Atman. It is the individual self or soul – which is again part of the ultimate reality – but it is also separate at the same time.
  3. Moksha: The final concept that is covered in Upanishads is Moksha. It is the ultimate goal of human life – to liberate themselves from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Now this liberation is achieved through self-realization, the recognition of one’s true identify as Atman, and the subsequent union with Brahman.

The Epics

Now, how can we talk about the many great texts in Hinduism and not even mention the epics in them—some of them are the most popular books in the world? The main focus is often captured by two epic tales, and we are, of course, talking about Ramayana and Mahabharata. Let’s have a brief look at these two epic tales that captured the imagination of generations and continue to be celebrated not just in Indian culture but around the world.

Ramayana

When we talk about the epics in Hinduism, then we just cannot start from anywhere else than from Ramayana. Doing so would be a great disservice to this amazing and old tale. The epic takes us through the life of Lord Rama, the eldest prince of Ayodhya and his exile from his own kingdom. However, he is not alone as his wife Sita and his brother Laxman accompany him during his 14 year exile. Now during this period, his wife, Devi Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, whom Rama defeated in a fearsome fight.

Mahabharata

Mahabharata is another of the great Hindu epics. But did you know that it is not just the most popular, but also the longest epic written ever? Yes, take that Odyssey or Iliad. The Mahabharata tells the story of a family feud and moral dilemmas. It talks about the conflict between two sets of cousins, the Pandavas, and Kauravas, locked in a bitter struggle for the throne of Hastinapur.

Conclusion

Phew, there you have it – a brief summary of the epic texts of Hinduism. We have done our best here, but do note that it is impossible to capture the complete texts of Hinduism in one go. There are literally thousands of books there. However, the overarching message is the same – offering insights into the nature of reality, the purpose of existence (dharma) and path to moksha.

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