The term ‘Vedic Literature’ means literature based on the Vedas. It is a major source of knowledge about the Aryans and the Vedic period. Before writing them, the Vedas existed in oral form and were passed down exactly from generation to generation. To understand Hinduism, this sacred literature is divided into two categories namely Shruti and Smriti. These are the two basic forms of sacred texts in Hinduism.
Shruti is a word of Vedic literature that is in the Sanskrit language. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Shruti’ means ‘what is heard’. The texts in Shruti are also called sacred texts. This is because it has been revealed by God himself. Thus, they are unquestionable and authoritative. The shruti consists of the four Vedas which deal with different aspects of Hinduism. The Vedas are in the form of poetic hymns. The four Vedas are
- Rigveda-The Rigveda is one of the oldest existing and most important texts in Shruti literature. The Rigveda is a large collection of hymns. The hymns are in praise of God. There are a total of 1028 hymns. The hymns are organised into ten books called Mandalas.
- Yajurveda- Yajurveda is the collection of sacred formulas called Mantras. It is a guidebook for priests to perform rituals. It is made up of two Vedas black and white Yajurveda. The black Yajurvedas comprises un-arranged verses whereas white Yajur Vedas as well-arranged and clear verses.
- Samaveda- The Samaveda in Sanskrit means, Sama which means song and Veda means knowledge. The “Sama Veda” is essentially a book of chants and songs. The Samaveda consists of 1875 verses. The songs are sung during ceremonial sacrifices and various rituals of worship.
- Atharvaveda- The Atharvaveda is the fourth Veda collection. It contains various spells, charms, and speculative hymns. It is different from all the three Vedas. It represents a good picture of Vedic life.
The sacred texts contained in the above four Vedas are classified into three subgroups.
- Aranyakas- Aranyakas are the philosophies contained in the four Vedas. It does not give any importance to rituals, sacrifices or rites. It mainly focuses on moral science and philosophy. The Aranyakas were written in the forest for the students living there.
- Brahmanas-It explains the hymns in the Vedas. There is a Brahmana for every Veda. Brahmanas also have some stories related to Vedic text.
- Upanishads-Upanishads are the philosophies contained in the four Vedas. The knowledge is given by the Gurus to their selected disciples.
Smriti is the other part of Vedic literature and is derived from Shruti. In Sanskrit, the word means ‘what is remembered’. It is a little less authoritative than Shruti. The sacred texts of Smriti are traditionally written by ancient seers and sages. The Smriti texts are modified through the experiences or the tradition over the period. On the basis of texts, Smriti is broadly classified under four categories
- Vedangas- The Vedangas are the disciplines of Hinduism. There are six disciplines that fully comprehend the meaning of the texts in the Vedas. The name of six disciplines is Sikhsha, Chandas, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Kalpa and Jyotisha.
- Upavedas-The Upaveda meaning Knowledge is used in traditional or technical literature. It applied to various fields such as arts and science. There are mainly four Upavedas. They are Dhanurveda, Ayurveda, Arthasastra and Sthapatyaveda.
- Upangas- Upangas is an instruction of gaining knowledge of life. It starts with very basic principles or concepts. There are four Upangas.The first Upangas is Nyaya, the second is Mimamsa, third is Itihasa–Purana and last is Dharma Sastra.
- Darsanas- Darsanas in Sanskrit means ‘sight’. It is considered to be a window to the truth. There are a total of six darshanas. They are Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Purva-mimamsa and Vedanta by Badarayaṇa.
Differences between Shruti and Smriti
The differences between Shruti and Smriti are
- Shruti means ‘what has been heard’ whereas Smriti means ‘what has been remembered’
- The sacred text in Shruti is of divine origin and is said to be authorless whereas Smriti texts are the derivative work or product of human intellects and are attributed to an author.
- Smriti texts are inspired by Shruti but given less importance than Shruti. Shruti texts are considered eternal and unquestionable truth.
The Vedic texts flourished and are simplified and passed through one generation to another. This has been done through Shruti and Smriti and also by the great saints, sages and scholars. It is also believed that the Vedas are the treasure of Knowledge in many aspects. The aspects are not only spiritual but also scientific, material, and cultural. Some of the scholars are Sri Sankaracarya, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Madhvacharya and Ramanuja.