About Hindu Scriptures
By Swami Sivananda
B. The Six Vedangas (“Organs of the Vedas”)
According to tradition, these are to be mastered before the study of the Vedas.
The Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas) are six: siksha, kalpa, vyakarana, nirukta, chhandas and jyotisha. By using the name Vedanga the human origin of these subjects is indicated, although they are in close association with the Vedas.
1. Siksha (“Phonetics”):
Siksha of Maharshi Panini
2. Vyakarana (“Grammar”):
Vyakarana of Maharshi Panini
Mahabhashya by Sage Patañjali. A commentary on Sage Panini’s Sanskrit grammar.
3. Chhandas (“Prosody meter”):
Chhandas of Pingalacharya
4. Nirukta (“Etymology”):
Nirukta of Yaska
5. Jyotisha (“Astronomy and astrology”):
Jyotisha of Garga
Other classic texts on jyotisha:
Shani Mahatmya (“Greatness of Saturn”).
6. Kalpa (“Methods of Rituals”):
i. Srauta kalpa, methods for the performance of sacrifices.
ii. Sulba kalpa, methods of measurements for the sacrifice area.
iii. Dharma kalpa, methods for ethics.
Out of eighteen texts of dharma shastra, the three most important are:
Manu Smriti (“The Laws of Manu”) (150 B.C.E.), meant for the satya yuga.
Yajñavalkya Smriti (“The Laws of Yajñavalkya”), meant for the treta yuga.
Parashara Smriti (“The Laws of Parashara”), meant for the kali yuga.
The other fifteen are:
Sankha-Likhita Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Sankha”), meant for the dvapara yuga.
Gautama Dharma Sutra (“Gautama’s Institutes of the Sacred Law”)
Apastamba Dharma Sutra (“Apastamba’s Aphorisms on the Sacred Law”)
Vasishtha Dharma Sutra (“Vasishtha’s Aphorisms on the Sacred Law”)
Saunaka Dharma Sutra (“Saunaka’s Aphorisms on the Sacred Law”)
Vishnu Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Vishnu”)
Daksha Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Daksha”)
Samvarta Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Samvarta”)
Vyasa Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Vyasa”)
Harita Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Harita”)
Satatapa Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Satatapa”)
Yama Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Yama”)
Devala Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Devala”)
Usana Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Usana”)
Atri Dharma Sutra (“Institutes of Atri”)
iv. The grihya kalpa, methods for domestic life.
III. Itihasas (“Sacred Epics”)
The Itihasas are also known as suhrit-samhitas (“Friendly Treatises”).
There are four epics:
1. Ramayana, by Sage Valmiki. The epic of the avatar Rama and his consort Sita faced with the demon Ravana.
2. Mahabharata, by Sage Vyasa. The epic of the avatar Krishna, including the complete story of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Its importance is such that it is referred as the “Fifth Veda.” According to its author, “It unveils the secrets of the Vedas, contains the essence of the Upanishads. It elaborates on the Itihasas and Puranas, astrology, morality and ethics, life science, medicine, charity and generosity, it is also a description of holy places of pilgrimage, rivers, forests, oceans and mountains. It is the greatest epic of mankind, rich with knowledge and applied knowledge. It is a book on theology, political philosophy; a scripture of devotion and action and is the synopsis of the Aryan scriptures”. The Bhagavad Gita is a small part of this epic.
4. Yoga Vasishtha by Sage Valmiki
IV. Puranas (“Sacred Legends and History”)
Often described as the “magnifying glass of the Vedas”, tradition ascribes them to Sage Vyasa. By definition, the Puranas must deal with the following five topics (pancha-lakshana): 1) History; 2) Cosmology; 3) Secondary creation; 4) Genealogy of kings; and 5) World-cycles. There are eighteen main Puranas and eighteen subsidiary ones (upa puranas).