Samarpan/Other Sacred Books

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For thousands of years Hindus have been discussing and explaining various aspects of religion. This has resulted in a huge mass of religious literature whose variety and depth leaves one awestruck. Most of these books are in Sanskrit, but every Indian language has its own version and translation of the important works. Because of the sheer volume of the literature, it is difficult for anyone to study them entirely.

The more important ones of these books are:

Upanishads: These are the last sections of the Vedas, but because of their special philosophical nature and importance, they are treated separately. These books contain the philosophical truths realized by the sages, which form the philosophical base of Hinduism. The most important of these truths is the Oneness of everything, Sarvam Khalu idam Brahma, and that the individual is one with the universal, Aham Brahma Asmi.

It is believed that there are one hundred and eight Upanishads, but ten of them are more famous.

Epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata: These are the two great epics that have served as the hope, ideal and inspiration of the Hindus. These works are not mere stories of the kings and queens, but highlight the struggle of an individual to hold on to religious principles in good times and also during crisis. In addition, they contain information regarding nearly everything that a person may need to lead a healthy life. The Mahabharata is also famous for its sheer volume of one hundred thousand verses that makes it the largest epic of the world.

Many classics have been composed in Indian and other South East Asian languages centering the lives of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna. Every Hindu child learns, reads, and knows the main stories of Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, and the Pandava brothers, and even illiterate Hindus recite regularly from these classics.

The Gita is the most popular Hindu sacred book, and can be treated as the handbook of Hinduism. Composed in mere seven hundred verses, it is a small part of the Mahabharata, but stands in its own majesty of poetry, philosophy and spirituality. Devout Hindus recite it daily as a source of inspiration, and also read it aloud when someone dies. With seven hundred verses in eighteen chapters, it contains practically everything of religion, and also the complete philosophy of the Hindus. The Puranas are eighteen in number and form the mythological base of the Hindus. In total these have around 5.5 lakh verses, through which the popular stories of gods and goddesses are described. The most popular of these books is Srimad Bhagavata Purana which deals mainly with the story of Sri Krishna. Shiva Maha Purana is another popular work centering Lord Shiva.

The Puranas were composed to suit the needs of the masses for an easy understanding of the spiritual truths. Despite their mythological nature, they discuss philosophy, ethics and rituals of the Hindus in detail, and hence are considered to be complete scriptures in themselves.

The Smritis are the law books of the Hindus which prescribe the personal and social code. The rules laid down in these books cover practically everything --starting from the most trivial daily acts of an individual, through the duties of a king, to the highest philosophical wisdom that one may require to lead a good life. They are not like the constitution of a country, or the criminal procedure code, but are a means to take an individual to the highest spiritual realization.

The Smritis are based on the principles of the Vedas, but have been written for that particular period of time. So, there are innumerable smritis, of which the most famous is Manu Smriti, written around the second century B.C.E.

The sages knew that a society ruled by archaic laws becomes stagnant. So new smritis were codified from time to time according to the need of the age. Unfortunately, no new smriti has been written in the last thousand years or so. This has rusted the vitality of Hinduism.

The Tantras are the expansive growth of the ritualistic aspect of religion. Most of these books are devoted to Lord Shiva,or Shakti, the female principle of God. Some of the practices mentioned in these books do not meet social approval, and hence they are not as popular as other books. However the books on Tantra are innumerable, and dictate the rituals of Hinduism. In every ritualistic worship of the Hindus, the practices are drawn either directly from the Vedas, or from the Tantras.

Like every other class of literature discussed above, The Tantras are a complete system of thought with a distinct philosophy, mythology and rituals. Even without referring to the Vedas, a follower of Tantra can learn everything that is to be known in religion.

The Chandi,or Durga Saptasati is devoted to Shakti, the Cosmic female principle behind the universe. Composed in seven hundred verses, it is a part of the Markandeya Purana, and is considered to be an extremely sacred work. It is believed that a daily recital of this sacred book brings safety and success.

In addition to these, there are thousands of books which serve as the basis for various sampradaya (religious sects) of Hindus.