The sacred literature of Hinduism is a vast, many-layered, aggregation of ancient thought, belief and tradition with The Vedas as its core. The texts are divided into two classifications; Sruti – that which was heard, and Smrti – that which is remembered. The difference between them is Sruti is accepted by most Hindus as something akin to revelation and therefore inviolate, whereas Smrti consists of several books containing the divinely inspired thoughts and opinions of scholars who have expounded and elaborate upon foundational Sruti. The expansion and revision of the Smrti texts continue to this day as Hinduism embraces and reflects modern values and priorities.
We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, and it’s important to remember the origins of the oldest Hindu scripture are from a pre-literate oral tradition. The Vedas literally translates as The Knowledge andlearned by rote and passed from generation to generation. It takes a great deal of time to memorize such a vast corpus of information and an effective technique is to repeat it over and over in a sing-song fashion rather than straight memorization, which would explain why so much of Hinduism’s sacred literature takes the form of poetry and hymns.
When such a vast and complicated body of work is held in memory it requires members of the community exempt from time-consuming secular tasks to spend their days teaching or learning or in temple service, and the Brahmin caste developed out of this requirement. As custodians of the mysteries governing the spiritual health of the community, they enjoyed a special status and were generally exempt from secular demands on their time. Information in written form can be shared, therefore it took many centuries for the Brahmins to relinquish their exclusive access to Hindu sacred literature. Their role in a community’s spiritual life continues much as it always has however as custodians of temples and temple rituals.