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Sacred Books of India

9 September 2010 YogiVishwaTantraVedantaYoga

< Pillars of Tantra
Agama, Nigama and Tantra >

Ever wondered about all the sacred books of India. As how they are organized or linked together?  These books cover every aspect of life – philosophy, religion, spiritual and yogic practices, social, fields of law, medicine, architecture, art, music, and sexuality, etc. It is impossible to name all the texts, but here are some important ones.

On the highest level, these books are divided into two categories

Shruti – It means directly heard or revealed scriptures to sages/seers, it includes following the primary, foundational scriptural texts

  1. Nigamas/Vedas - Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda

Smriti – It means remembered and finally written down in remote past. These texts include the rest of the other scriptures. Following are major texts in their respective category

  1. Vedangas – Auxiliary disciples helps to study the Vedas - e.g. Shikhsha, Chhandas, Jyotisha
  2. Sutras/Darshana (Schools of Philosophy) – e.g. Yoga and Shamnkya
  3. Shastras – e.g. Manusmriti, Arthashastra, Kamasutra, Vivekachudamani
  4. Puranas – e.g. Vishnu Purana, Shiva Purana, Devi Bhagwat Purana
  5. Itihasa/Epics – e.g. Ramayana, Mahabharata
  6. Kavya (Literature) – e.g. Raghuvamsha, Abhijnanashakuntala
  7. Bhasyas (Commentaries) - e.g. Brahma Sutra Bhashya,Gita Bhashya
  8. Nibandha (digests) – On politics, art, culture, ethics, medicine and society
  9. Agama/Tantra – e.g. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Soundarya Lahari, Rudra-Yamala Tantra, Mahanirvana Tantra and more 

Difference between Shruti and Smriti
Shrutis are considered author-less, they were transmitted verbally as it was received by Sages over the generations and fixed. They do not change and preserved in its original form. But Smritis are usually attributed to an author, written down but constantly revised. Smritis were considered fluid and freely rewritten by anyone in ancient and medieval India.

According to Yuga (Aga/Era - the cyclic concept of time), some scriptures have more importance in that era. The following four categories are also described by Swami Yogananda in his famous book ‘The Autobiography of a Yogi’.

  1. Shrutis – Satya Yuga (Golden Age) – Beginning
  2. Smritis – Treta Yuga (Silver Age) - Era ended with Rama
  3. Puranas – Dwapar Yuga (Bronze Age) – Era ended with Krishna
  4. Tantras - Kali Yuga (Iron Aga) – Currently we live in

Knowledge of these texts was passed down to generations through oral tradition for several thousands of years. However, it is estimated that historically Shruti texts were finally written down between 1700BC to 700BC, and the majority of Smriti texts between 500BC to 500AD.

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