Glossary of Terms – Hindu Sacred Texts

Hindu Sacred TextsAgamasacquisition of knowledgeThe Agamas are a Tantric collection of Tamil and later Sanskrit scriptures defining proper standards and techniques for temple construction, symbology, modes of worship, philosophical doctrine, meditative practice, attainment of sixfold desires, the four types of yoga, and the creation of bronze and stone icons (murtis). The Agamas insist each sacred icon ought to be as beautiful as possible out of respect for the deity depicted. This Agamic instruction is also Mantra Sacred Sculpture’s mission statement. See also; Shilpa Shastra and Tantra.
Hindu Sacred TextsAranyakaThe Forest BooksThe Aranyakas are the books of the Rig Veda dealing with the philosophy behind Vedic ritual. See also; Rig Veda, Samhita, Brahmanas and Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred TextsArthasa Shastraspolitical and military scienceA discussion and guide to statecraft, waging war, economics and social welfare.
Hindu Sacred TextsBhagavad GitaSong of GodThe Bhagavad Gita (lit; The Song of God) is a question and answer discussion between Krishna, eighth incarnation of Vishnu, and his friend, Prince Arjuna, on the eve of a great battle between different factions of Arjuna’s family. Arjuna is racked by the ethical questions arising from his involvement and Krishna offers his counsel on issues of duty, selfless service, devotion and meditation. Krishna’s thoughts and advice to his friend are considered by most Hindus as a uniquely powerful influence upon how they conduct their daily lives. The Bhagavad Gita is found in Chapters 23 to 40 of Book Six of the epic Mahabarata. See also; Krishna and Arjuna.
Hindu Sacred TextsBhashyacommentaryA general term used to describe a schollarly commentary or expansion upon a sacred text.
Hindu Sacred TextsBrahma SutraHindu philosophyA foundational text of the Vedanta school of thought. The Brahma Sutra discusses the nature of Brahman, reviews alternates to Vedic thought such as Buddhism, offers the means to achieve moksha and the benefits of spiritual knowledge. See also; Upanishads, Vedanta, Brahman, Atman and moksha.
Hindu Sacred TextsBrahmanamantras and hymnsThe section of The Vedas teaching rituals as they pertain to Mantras and hymns. See also; Vedas and Samhita
Hindu Sacred TextsDeva MahatmyaGlory of The GoddessThe foundational text of Shaktism which describes the Goddess as the supreme power and creator of the Universe. It contains 700 verses arranged into three episodes; the first depicting Devi as the Shaktic power behind the creation myths of Vishnu and Brahma; the second concerns the origins myth of Mari Amman, or Durga; and the third is the origins of Kali. All are allegorical tales symbolizing Devi in all her aspects vanquishing ego, pursuit of power and possesions, and arrogance, all human frailties in the form of demons. Commonly recited in its entirety during the festival of Durga Puja in October or November. See also; Durga, Shakti, Mahadevi.
Hindu Sacred TextsDharma ShastrasDharmic scienceRooted in Vedic scholarship, the Dharma Shastras discuss the role of Dharma in terms of duties and responsibilities to oneself, one’s family and one’s community in general. Interestingly, the colonial British used the Dharma Shastras as a basis for civil law in India for non-Muslims, who were governed by Shariah law.
Hindu Sacred TextsDharma SutrasDharmic guideThe source and inspiration for the Dharma Shastras, they are far older and few have survived. They deal with civil and criminal law as well as marriage and inheritance. They, and particularly the Dharma Shastras are a life’s guide to purusartha, spiritual goals, the stages of one’s spiritual life (ashrama), and principles of non-violence (ahimsa) and other ethical issues. For example; “Practise righteousness (dharma), not unrighteousness.
Speak the truth, not an untruth. Look at what is distant, not what's near at hand.
Look at the highest, not at what's less than highest.”
- Vasishtha Dharma Sutra 30.1
Hindu Sacred TextsItihasaso indeed it wasThe Itihasa is the historical mythology of the gods and goddesses told through the great epic tales of the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) and Ramayana. These stories, and those of the Puranas are also known as the Fifth Veda for their importance in inspiring the faith of ordinary Hindus. See also; Puranas.
Hindu Sacred TextsKama Sutralove guideThe Kama Sutra discusses the philosophy and theory of love, what triggers desire, what sustains it, how and when it is good or bad. Contrary to the perception in the west, the Kama Sutra is not exclusively a sex manual, in fact only about a fifth concerns sexuality. Kama is one of four goals of Hindu life and translates as desire, including sexual desire. The writing of the Kama Sutra in the 2nd century CE is attributed to Vatsyayana. See also; Vatsyayana.
Hindu Sacred TextsMahabharataepic allegorical poemAt 1.8 million words and 200,000 lines the Mahabarata is possibly the longest epic ever written and comprised of 18 books, or parvas, one of which is the Bhagavad Gita, as well as other philosophical and theosophical treatises. The Mahabarata is an accretion of many stories within stories with an account of the the dynastic history of the Bharata clan as its overarching theme. See also; Bhagavad Gita, Krishna and Arjuna.
Hindu Sacred TextsNatya Shastrathe science of danceAn ancient foundational treatise defining the guiding principles of classic temple dance, as well as its theory, body poses (hastas), gestures (mudras), expressions, symbolism and standards. Codified some two thousand years ago it remains virtually unchanged from when it was written by scholar Bharata Muni. See also; hastas, mudras and Shastriya Nritya
Hindu Sacred TextsPuranasdivine mythologyWritten literature (as opposed to oral) whose themes are history, tradition and religion and usually written in the form of stories told by one person to another. There are eighteen major Puranas, each dedicated to; various stories of the gods and goddesses, hymns, an outline of ancient history, cosmology, rules of life, rituals, and spiritual knowledge. Most Puranas originated in oral form from about 1500 BCE, reaching their final written form around 500 CE. The Puranas, together with the Itihasas are jointly referred as the Panchama Veda or the fifth Veda for their importance in sustaining Hindu faith. See also; Smriti.
Hindu Sacred TextsRig Vedawhat is heardThe oldest and therefore the most authoritative of the Vedic sacred texts. Dating from 2100 to 1700 BC, they consist of Samhita, hymns of praise to the gods and goddesses, Brahmanas, commentariies on the hymns, Aranyaka, the philosophy underlying Vedic ritual and the Upanishads, treatises on spirituality and theosophy. Mantras and chants found in the Rig Veda are still in use today for events such as weddings, making the Rig Veda the world’s oldest religioust text in continuous use. See also; Samhita, Upanishads,Vedas and Sanskrit.
Hindu Sacred TextsSamhitaHindu liturgyThe Samhita section of the Rig Veda is dedicated to Mantra, benedictions and hymns to to deities of the Hindu pantheon. See also; Rig Veda, Vedas, Sruti.
Hindu Sacred TextsShastraencyclopediaThe root term used for Hindu science. Hinduism reveres truth above all and see no conflict between science and spiritual belief. Example; the Shilpa Shastra
Hindu Sacred TextsShilpa Shastrascience of arts and craftsShilpa Shastras are sacred texts dealing with arts and crafts such as the creation of icons in stone or bronze, painting, carpentry, pottery, jewellery, dyeing, textiles and others. The term used for the instructional guide defining the design, rules, principles and standards of sculptural art, temple architecture and 62 other traditional art forms. The Shilpa Shastra guidance is spread out over many ancient texts rather than one definitive volume. See also; Talamana.
Hindu Sacred TextsShlokapoetic styleFor many centuries the sacred texts of Hinduism were committed to memory and shared orally. It was found that a poetic style known as shloka was effective as a device to ensure accurate recollection. Much of Mahabharata/Bhagavad Gita, for instance, is in the shloka style and could be sung as well as recited.
Hindu Sacred TextsSmriti and Sruthiwhat is heard and what is rememberedSmriti are sacred text remembered as what was heard from the sages (rishi) after they had received the Sruthi and passed them on to their followers. Smriti is human knowledge and can therefore be debated or edited, while Sruthi is divine knowledge and must be accepted in its entirety. In any disagreement the divine Sruthi overules. Smriti sacred texts are fluid and have been freely edited according to ancient and medieval tradition.Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Sruthi and Smriti texts), and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics (Nitishastras), medicine, culture, arts and society. See also; Vedas, Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred TextsTamilsweet soundTamil is a distinct language from Sanskrit, with its own set of sacred literature very nearly as ancient as The Vedas. Traditionally the creator of the Tamil language was the mythic Rig Vedic rishi, Agastya. While Vedic Hinduism in north India was influenced by Muslim culture over almost a millennia, Vedic Hinduism in the south, with Tamil as its lingua franca, remained much closer to ancient Vedic traditions.
Hindu Sacred TextsUpanishadstheological treatiseThe Vedic source of spiritual belief for Hinduism. The Upanishads expound upon the nature of Brahman, The Immensity, and Atman (the individual soul) which are the spiritual core of Hindu belief. There are 200 Upanishads in number but the oldest 12 or so are considered the most important; dating from roughly 3000 BP and extracted from The Vedas over time. Addendums to the Upanishads continue into the present time, and widely known as the Vedanta. See also; Vedanta.
Hindu Sacred TextsVatsyayanaScholarA Vedic philosopher believed to have lived in India 2200 BP. Best known as the author of the Kama Sutra.
Hindu Sacred TextsVedangasVedic scienceA guide to understanding Vedic literature through the application of linguistics to archaic Vedic texts. The Vedangas also guide rituals and ceremonies and formed the foundational basis for the Dharmasutra’s concepts of civil law.
Hindu Sacred TextsVedantaend of The VedasA collection of ideas derived from The Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras concerning the nature of Brahman, Atman and Maya, the illusional world. The Vedanta is the distillation of Hindu theology. See also; Brahman, Atman, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra.
Hindu Sacred TextsVedasknowledgeThe Vedas’ are Hinduism’s sacred literature. They are the unwritten language of the Gods both revealed (sruti) and remembered (smurti) written in human language. (In mythology it is believed Brahma, with significant assistance from Saraswati, created The Vedas, and Ganesha was the scribe who wrote them down). There are four Vedas, each consisting of four parts; Mantras, rituals, theology and philosophy. The Upanishads are the distillation of The Vedas and were writthen towards the end of the Vedic Period from 3750 to 2500 BP. See also; Rig Veda, Sruti, Smriti and Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred TextsVyasaHindu sage and authorVyasa is arguably the most significant scholar in the development of Hinduism. He lived about 3500 years ago and credited with categorizing The Vedas and for authoring the epic Mahabarata, dictating it, according legend, to his scribe, Ganesha. Popular tradition says there was only one Vyasa, but in Sanskrit the word vyasa simply means compiler, so debate continues whether there is in fact one Vyasa or many vyasas.