Sacred texts  

Hindu sacred texts fall into one of two categories: sruti ("heard") or smruti ("remembered"). Sruti scriptures are considered divinely inspired and fully authoritative for belief and practice, while smruti are recognized as the products of the minds of the great sages.


However, smruti texts often carry almost as much authority as sruti, and the religion of the older sruti texts bears little resemblence to modern Hinduism and is largely unknown to the average Hindu. Nevertheless, the sruti are still held in very high regard and portions are still memorized for religious merit. The only texts regarded as sruti are the Vedas, which include both ancient sacrificial formulas and the more philosophical Upanishads.


Smrti texts help explain sruti scriptures and make them meaningful to the general population. Despite their lesser authority, they are generally the most recent, the most beloved by the Hindu population, and the most representative of actual Hindu beliefs and practices. Smrti texts include the Itihasas (History or Epics), Puranas (Mythology), Dharma Shastras (Law Codes), Agamas and Tantras (Sectarian Scriptures), and Darshanas (Manuals of Philosophy).

  The most sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas ("Books of Knowledge"), a collection of texts written in Sanskrit from about 1200 BCE to 100 CE. As sruti, the Vedas are regarded as the absolute authority for religious knowledge and a test of Hindu orthodoxy (both Jains and Buddhists reject the Vedas)  
 Rig Veda (Wisdom of the Verses)
 Yajur Veda (Wisdom of the Sacrificial Formulas)
 Atharva Veda (Wisdom of the Atharvan Priests)
 Sama Veda (Wisdom of the Chants)
  Brahmanas (discussions of the ritual)  

The mythology and significance behind the Vedic rituals of the Samhitas are explained in the Brahmanas. Although they include some detail as to the performance of rituals themselves, the Brahmanas are primarily concerned with the meaning of rituals. A worldview is presented in which sacrifice is central to human life, religious goals, and even the continuation of the cosmos.

  Aranyakas (books studied in the forest)  

The Aranyakas contain similar material as the Brahmanas and discuss rites deemed not suitable for the village (thus the name "forest"). They also prominently feature the word brahmana, here meaning the creative power behind of the rituals, and by extension, the cosmic order.

 Upanishads (philosophical writings)
 Mandukya Upanishad
 Mundaka Upanishad
 Prashna Upanishad
 Kena/Talavakara Upanishad
 Aitareya Upanishad
 Isha Upanishad
 Katha Upanishad
 Taittiriya Upanishad
 Shvetashvatara Upanishad

The Itihasas (itihasa is Sanskrit for "history" or "thus verily happened") are narrative traditions composed during the period 500 BC to 1000 AD. They tell the stories of divine incarnations along with much philosophical and ethical reflection. The Itihasas reflect popular, non-Brahmanic interests and the rise of theistic Hinduism focused on Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti. The Itihasas include the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, two of the most beloved Hindu texts, as well as the Puranas.

  At more than 100,000 verses (seven times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined), the Mahabharata may be the longest epic poem in the world. Authorship is traditionally attributed to the sage Vyasa; modern scholarship has established its development over several centuries ending in the first century AD. The central theme of the Mahabharata ("Great Tale of the Bharatas") is dharma, especially the dharma of kingship.
  The Mahabharata is most well known for the Bhagavad Gita, the single most popular Hindu text. The Bhagavad Gita ("The Song of the Lord") tells the story of King Pandu and his five sons and features a memorable appearance by Krishna, the popular incarnation of Vishnu.
  The Ramayana ("March of Rama") was composed around the 2nd century BCE, but likely drew on preexisting oral tradition. It tells the epic story of Rama, the 7th incarnation of the deity Vishnu. Written in high Sanskrit in the form of rhyming couplets, the Ramayana contains seven sections (kandas):
  Bal Kanda - Rama's boyhood
Ayodhya Kanda - Rama's life in Ayodhya until his banishment
Aranya - Rama's life in the forest and his abduction by Ravana
Kishkinda - Rama's stay at Kishkinda, the capital of his monkey ally Sugriva
Sundara - Rama's journey to Sri Lanka
Yuddha (or Lanka) - Rama's battle with Ravana, the recovery of Sita and their return to Ayodhya
Uttara - Rama's life as king in Ayodhya, the birth of his two sons, Sita's test of innocence and return to her mother, and Rama's demise
  The Puranas are collections of mythology, hymns, ancient history, rules of life, rituals, instructions and knowledge, cosmology. Most attained their final written form around 500 AD. Today they are among the most commonly used scriptural texts. There are 18 Puranas, with six each dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In all the Puranas the goddess Lakshmi is given a prominent place without any sectarian dispute.
  The most important Puranas are:
  Vishnu Purana
Bhagavata Purana (Krishna)
Shiva Purana
Markendeya Purana (to the Goddess)

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