Hinduism is one of the oldest religions with no definite theories of its origin and starting point. Earliest literary and religio-philosphical works are in form of Vedas and other literature. There are four Vedas and each of them also has – Samahitas, Brahmanas, Upnishadas and Araynakas – as four parts.

·        The Vedic literature is broadly divided into two categories viz. Shruti and Smriti. Shruti is ‘that which has been heard’ and is canonical, consisting of revelation and unquestionable truth, and is considered eternal.

·        Smiriti literally means ‘that which is remembered, supplementary and may change over time’. It is authoritative only to the extent that it conforms to the bedrock of Shruti and it is entire body of the post Vedic Classical Sanskrit literature.

 ·        Three older Vedas excluding Atharveda are called as ‘Trey’. Rigveda contains many hymns and Gayatri Mantra is one of them.

·         In Samaveda, ‘Sama’ means melody and it contains the Rhythmic compilation of Hymns of Rigveda.

·        ‘Yajus’ means ‘sacrificial formula’ and Yajurveda is the book of sacrificial and ritual prayers. It contains the rituals of the Yajnas. It ranks next in sanctity and importance to the Rigveda. It contains 1549 hymns which are meant to be sung at the soma sacrifice by a special class of Brahmans.

·        Atharvaveda contains the magic spells, incorporates much of early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures. It also mentions Dhanvantri as earliest medical person. Atharveda was not written by priestly class unlike other three Vedas.

·        The Samahitas contain hymns. There are two primary versions or Samhitas of the Yajurveda: Shukla(white) and Krishna(black)

·        The Brahmanas are the prose texts which explain the hymns in the Vedas, give explanation and applications and related stories of their origin. They also have some stories related to the certain persons related to the Vedic Text.

·        Aranyakas were written in forests and are concluding parts of the Brahmans. Aranyakas don’t lay much emphasis on rites, ritual and sacrifices but have philosophy and mysticism. So they have moral science and philosophy. It also provides the details of the Rishis who lived in jungles. They were studied and taught by men during their Vanprastha ashrama.

·        Upanishads are also called Vedanta (the end of the Veda) firstly, because they denote the last phase of the Vedic period and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Veda. They are called Vedanta also because they were taught at the end to the disciples. The Sanskrit term Upanishad derives from upa- (nearby), ni – (at the proper place, down) and pad (to sit) thus meaning – ‘sitting down near’, implying sitting near a teacher to receive instruction. The main motto of the Upanishads is ‘Knowledge Awards Salvation’.

·        The oldest and most important, are variously referred to as the principal, main (mukhya) or old Upanishads. Compilation of 108 Upnishadas is also called ‘Muktika’. All Upanishads have been passed down in oral tradition. First and the largest Upnishada is Vrihat Aranyaka which is a discourse between Yajnavalyaka and Gargi on philosophical aspects of Dharma. ‘Aum’ is contained in Chandyuga Upnishad. Katha Upnishad contains dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa and it is about basic questions regarding Atma and Parmatma. Many of the ideas of the Upanishads were later developed by the famous thinker Shankaracharya.

 There are four basic components of Hindu philosophy – Karma, Dharma, Soul and Parmatma.

 Traditional Hindu life was governed by two fundamental principles – Varnavyavastha i.e theory of four varnas and Ashramavayavastha i.e. four stages of life and the associated principles. Around the time when Jainism and Buddhism were becoming popular, brahmins developed this system of ashramas.


 Vedic philosophical concepts gave rise to six different schools of philosophies called ‘Shada-darshana’ –

 ·        Samkhya System – It talks of ‘Dukha’ and its remedy in Karma and Discipline. The founder of this philosophy was Kapila, who wrote the ‘Samkhya-sutra’. It does not recognize god. According to it, liberation is possible only through real knowledge and knowledge can be acquired through observation, inferences and words. According to it, the world is a production of natural forces.

·        Yoga – Yoga literally means the union of the two principal entities. The origin of yoga is found in the ‘Yogasutra’ of Patanjali believed to have been written in the 1000 BC. Yogic techniques control the body, mind and sense organs. Freedom could be attained by practicing self-control (yama), observation of rules (niyama), fixed postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), choosing an object (pratyahara) and fixing the mind (dharna), concentrating on the chosen object (dhyana) and complete dissolution of self, merging the mind and the object (samadhi). Yoga admits the existence of God as a teacher and guide.

·        Nyaya – Nyaya is considered as a technique of logical thinking. According to Nyaya, valid knowledge is defined as the real knowledge, that is, one knows about the object as it exists. Gautama is said to be the author of the ‘Nyaya-sutras’.

·        Vaisheshika – Vaisheshika system is considered as the realistic and objective philosophy of universe. Vaisheshika thinkers believe that all objects of the universe are composed of five basic atomic elements – earth, water, air, fire and ether. Kanada wrote the basic text of Vaisheshika philosophy and he got this name as he was always interested into the smallest of particles ‘Kana’.

·        Purva Mimamsa or Mimansa – Mimamsa philosophy is basically the analysis of interpretation, application and the use of the text of the Samhita and Brahmana portions of the Veda. According to Mimamsa philosophy Vedas are eternal and possess all knowledge, and religion means the fulfillment of duties prescribed by the Vedas. It was given by Jaimini.

·        Uttar Mimamsa or Vedantic Philosophy – It deals with Vedanta or it implies the philosophy of the Upanishad, the concluding portion of the Vedas. It rejected the rituals and propounded the philosophy of atma-parmatma monism. It was given by Badrayana, but popularized by Adi Shankaracharya who wrote the commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita. This philosophy largely shaped contemporary Indian culture.

Manu Smriti is officially called Manav Dharam Shastra. It is a metrical (one that is written in poetic verses) text, which presents a discourse given by the Prajapati Manu – the legendary first man and lawgiver, to a congregation of seers after a Mahapralaya (great Floods) in ancient India. In its present form it dates from the 1st century BC. It prescribes the dharma of each Hindu, stating the obligations attached to his or her social class and stage of life. It is the most authoritative of the books of the Hindu law code (Dharma-shastra) covering a wide range of topics such as creation of the world, sacraments like ‘Upanayana’ (wearing of sacred thread by upper castes) and marriage; duties of  men and  women  placed  in  different  strata  of society and stages of life; penitential rites for violation of codes of conduct; and so on.

Yajnayallaka Smriti is another one. It is important for its two commentaries – Mitakshara by Vijneshwara in 12th century AD and Dayabhaga of Jimutvahana. Mitakshra for the first time talked about the rights of women in property and inheritance. Dayabhaga has dealt with the laws of inheritance. This treatise differs in some aspects from Mitakshara (another treatise on law), which was prevalent in other parts of India. The right of a widow without any male issue to inherit the properties of her deceased husband is recognized in Dayabhaga.

Upaveda means applied knowledge and are traditional literatures which contain the subjects of certain technical works. They are as follows –

  • Ayurveda deals in Medicine and associated with the Rigveda
  • Dhanurveda deals in Archery and associated with the Yajurveda
  • Gandharvaveda deals with Music and Dance and associated with the Samaveda
  • Shastrashastra deals with military technology and associated with the Atharvaveda.