Frequently asked questions on Hindu Dharma

1. When were vedas recieved? Was it written by man or revealed by Gods? Do we have all the vedas today and are they in its original form?

Refer to

2. Are vedas relevant in this yuga?

Refer to

3. Who wrote Puranas and for what purpose?

Refer to

4. What was the impact of buddhism and jainism on Sanatan Dharma?

Refer to

5. Who wrote Bhagwat Gita? Why were the versus increases from orinigal 64?

Refer to

6. a) Would it mean that idol made of marble (not with clay) and placed in temples amount to denigration?
    b) Would it mean that idol made of metal (not with clay) and placed at altars in homes amount to denigration?
    c) Would it mean that idol made of sandal wood (not with clay) and placed at altars in homes amount to denigration?
    d) Would it mean that Image made on paper (not with clay) will also amount to denigration?
    e) Would it mean that Ganapati with his trunk on right (deviation from normal) amount to denigration?

If the idol of Lord Ganesh is sculpted as per the science then the pure spiritual particles of Lord Ganesh get attracted towards the idol to a greater extent and those worshipping it are benefited.

There are references in the Purans (mythological texts) that Ganapati was created from grime. Hence it is appropriate to use a Ganesh idol made of mud for ritualistic worship. The pure spiritual particles (pavitraks) of Ganapati get attracted to a greater extent towards an idol made of mud than to that made of plaster of Paris.

Also since mud is related to Pruthvi tattva, it is easy for us to derive benefit due to the pavitrakas attracted to the idol as we are also close to the Pruthvi tattva. If idol is made from any metal (e.g. silver, copper etc), it is difficult for us to derive benefit.

Also it is utmost important to have spiritual emotion towards the idol of worship and ritualistically worship it. This way the divinity is maintained and we get further benefited due to it.

Denigration occurs when the idol is sculpted in abnormal form (vikrut) and not just by making the idol using metal (rather than using mud). The form of the idol should be such that devotion and spiritual emotion towards the deity should be awakened instantly on seeing it. The idol maker should harbour the spiritual emotion that it is not he who is making the idol rather it is The Lord Himself who is getting it done through him. He should repose faith that making idols is not a vocation but a holy mission. When an idol is made with this faith and with repeatition (chanting) of The Lord’s Name along with observance of all the restrictions given above, it becomes more sattvik.

Denigration also occurs while immersing the idol in water, if the idol is not made from mud. Plaster of Paris does not dissolve easily in water and hence the idol floats on water after immersion. The deity should be offered the same reverence when immersing it as when it is invoked. Since the idol is not immersed properly, in a way it amounts to dishonouring the deity. Idols made from coconuts, bananas, betulnut, silver, coins etc. do not dissolve in water after immersion of the idol. The remains of such idols are used for other purposes or as toys by children, which causes denigration.

Refer to following article for reasons why generally Ganapati idol with right sided trunk is not used for worship:

7. Why people sit in the temple steps for few minutes after the end of the darshan? Can the Bilwa patras used for puja once, be reused next day puja unlike flowers. Why Tulsi when given as prasad is kept in the ear and not on the head?

We visit the temple to obtain chaitanya from the deity. Since the environment of the temple is sattvik, we sit on the steps or in the mandap (gabhara) to get / absorb maximum sattvikta and chaitanya in the sattvik environment.

Once bilva patra is offered to the deity next day it becomes nirmalya. Hence it should not be reused for puja.

Only when Tulsi leaves are offered to Shri Guru they are placed on His head. However when we receive Tulsi leaves as prasad we keep it in ears as ears are most sensitive part of the body and we can keep imbibing chaitanya through our ears. Even when we make any mistake we catch our ears (in crossed manner) and beg for pardon.

8. Is it a wrong practice for women to walk into the “Gaabharaa” of a temple or a samadhi? Or is it descrimination of women?

That way there is no restriction for women except during their menstrual periods.

However, strictly speaking no-one (neither men nor women) should allowed in Gaabhara in order to maintain sanctity of the temple (like in temples in Goa and in South). People coming from external environment bring raja-tama along with them, which can hamper the sattvikta of the temple. Hence visitors are told to wash their feet and remove any leather material and wear sattvik attire (like sari / sacred clothes) before entering the temple. The temple priests follow all the norms (like bath (deha-shuddhi), pranayam, achaman etc.) and thereafter enter the gabhara. If they go outside the temple, they again perform the shuddhi before entering the temple.


Why Shankaracharya called as ‘Jagadguru’ ?


Authors of the holy texts

1. The unparalleled Maharshi Vyas

1.1 Various names

‘Sage Vyas is known by various names. He was called Krushna because of His dark complexion and Dvaipayan because He was born on an island (dvip). It also became customary to call him Krushna Dvaipayan as a combination of the above two names. He is called Vyas (व्‍यास) since He brought about the division of the Vedas ‘वेदान् विव्‍यास’. As the son of Sage Parashar He is known by the name of Parasharya. Amongst scholars He is called Bhagvan Vyas the title bestowed upon Him by Shri Shankaracharya. At times He is also called Maharshi.

1.2 A remarkable writer

‘व्यासोच्छिष्‍टं जगत्‍सर्वम् meaning Vyas has not left any knowledge in the world untouched’, has become a common statement. In geometry vyas is the longest line (diameter) within a circle. Similarly Vyas’ literature is also the greatest. Very rarely does such a personage take birth over the yugs (eras). It is indeed a great, eternal pride for Indians in the times to come that Vyas was born in India. It would not be an exaggeration to consider that till today the world has not produced nor will produce such a noble and literary writer with an all pervading divine intellect, in the future. From the post-Vedic period till today Vyas has been considered as the very soul of Indian tradition (sanskruti). Our culture is based on the Mahabharat written by Vyas and the Purans. If one wishes to understand Indian culture in all aspects then one compulsorily has to study the holy texts written by Vyas. Vyas’ literature is the very backbone of Indian culture.

1.3 Vyascharya

The following holy texts written and compiled by Sage Vyas are together known as the Vyascharya.

1.4 Vyas and national upliftment

Vyas saw a vast vision of time and space beginning from the unknown past to the present and from the Himalays in North India to Kanyakumari in South India. He was committed to the cause of prosperity of this state. If a country has to be happy, prosperous and developed in all spheres, then it has to have political stability. The ruler has to be moralistic, chaste, powerful and cautious on all fronts. If he is not powerful then evildoers will exploit the righteous and Righteousness (Dharma) will plunge to its depths. A country has a common code of Righteousness based on the vigilance and propriety of the administration. That is why Vyas has given detailed and appropriate guidance to the administration.

1.5 Vyas and Righteousness (Dharma)

His concept of Righteousness is that, that which nurtures and safeguards the state, the entire creation, the earth and the other regions, in all circumstances and at all times is Righteousness. The core of the stability of the populace is Righteousness. Righteousness is not merely the search for heaven or the Final Liberation (Moksha) rather it is that which sustains people in the material world making them happy, prosperous, mutually amicable, moralistic and in search of the four pursuits of life (purusharthas). If Righteousness (Dharma) is an excellent means of making life meaningful then it too must be equally precious. According to Him life is Blissful and is not meant for weeping or sulking. One cannot forsake it thinking that it is the Great Illusion (Maya). Vyas believes in the Law of Karma on the earth, so also the philosophy of destiny. He also has faith in Spirituality or the soul principle. Human life is supported by two pillars i.e. worldly transactions or economics and the administrative system or the code of punishment. In the world nothing is possible without money, and human finance in turn is dependent on the code of Righteousness of rulers (rajadharma); hence the king should rule moralistically and the subjects should remain righteous. One should earn wealth maintaining one’s self-respect and should not aspire to acquire anything by undignified means. The path followed by beggars or dacoits is not at all proper no matter how much wealth is acquired through it. Man should always place the ideal of earning wealth through hard work, before him.

1.6 Integration of sects

Krushnadvaipayan Vyas is very renowned not only in Indian but also in world literature. It is impossible to find another as great as Him. Though Homar and Valmiki may be compared with Him to some extent yet there is a vast difference between Vyas and Them. Valmiki wrote a beautiful poetry bestowing divinity upon a member of the royal family. This is certainly not a simple task to perform. Nevertheless it cannot match that of Krushnadvaipayan. None in this world other than Vyas thought of the concept of bringing about universal integration through literature and put it into practice.

The Rugveda was a sect of the Somyajis [those who performed the Somyag (sacrifice)] from Panjab in India. The Yajurveda was a sect from South India which undertook animal sacrifices. The Samaveda is a very old sect of those undertaking satras (institutions in which sacrificial fires are held from 13 to 100 days) while research shows that the Atharvaveda is the evolution of the lineage of the ancient Mags, the residents of Magadh. Sage Vedavyas performed the task of creating a general code of Righteousness by uniting the sects performing sacrificial fires (yadnya) as spiritual practice of these varied people, the end result of which is today’s composition of the four Vedas. Because of this composition every Veda instead of remaining in a different code of Righteousness (Dharma) became a part of one broad code of Righteousness. The large organisation which Vyas established to perform this gigantic task led to the bestowal of the title of ‘Kulapati’, meaning head of the family. The sociological principle that union of people of all lands occurs by integrating their knowledge and one can overcome the opposition due to the various sects by this integrating attitude, was realised by Vyas and that is how He composed His great works. Vedavyas began preaching the integrated knowledge in a different manner all over again. He also realised that the practice of performing sacrificial fires was not preached to the common man; in fact the righteous code of the commoner was extremely different. There are different local deities, places of pilgrimage, sacred places, legends of the brave and slayers of demons, spiritual practice of the trinity of the deities Shiva, Vishnu and the female deity (devi) at all places. A caste originating from interclass marriage (sut varga) has preserved this ancient literature safely so as to facilitate all these deeds. In such circumstances mere integration of practices of those offering oblations (havi) in the sacrificial fire will not help in unifying the society. Rather, the sects of worship of the commoners too have to be unified along with blending of their literature. It was with this perspective in mind that Vedavyas began the task of making all literature comprehensive. The mission that He took up later expanded because of His followers and consequently He came to be known as the pioneer of all the Purans.’(1)

1.7 Ritualistic worship (puja) of Shri Vyas

Vyas is known as the foremost Guru (Adiguru) because of His great composition of holy texts. (Followers of the Shaiva sect refer to Shiva and those of the Datta sect refer to Datta as the foremost Guru). On the full moon day (paurnima) of the month of Ashadh, to express gratitude to the Guru, disciples celebrate Shri Gurupaurnima. On that occasion before worshipping one’s Guru, Sage Vyas is worshipped to commemorate His death anniversary.

1.8 Vyas’ seat (Vyaspith)

The dais used by a speaker addressing a gathering is known as Vyas’ seat (Vyaspith). ‘One who ascends such a seat has to observe certain norms. First and foremost he should not speak anything which would be unacceptable to Vyas and that is precisely why he should be well read in literature. He should not criticise or praise anyone needlessly. He should be a true devotee of deity Sarasvati (the deity of learning), that is in other words he should be a learned man. His speech should depict devotion unto God rather than literary expertise. Lastly, like Sage Vyas such a person’s speech should be righteous, straightforward, depicting knowledge and should make an attempt to bring about the welfare of society.’(2)

2. Vaishampayan and Yadnyavalkya

‘Vaishampayan’s mission is not merely the preaching of the Krushna Yajurveda but also that of transforming Vyas’ holy text ‘Jay’ to ‘Bharat’ which is of the same calibre. Vaishampayan was the first one to whom Vyas recited His holy text named Jay. It was confined only to the conflict between the Kauravs and Pandavs and had only 8,800 verses (shlokas). Vaishampayan expanded this text to one with 24,000 verses and named it Bharat. Vaishampayan was the royal priest of Arjun’s grandson, King Janmejay who was keen on hearing the story of his ancestors and requested Vaishampayan to narrate it. The latter narrated it to the former but elaborated it and called it the Bharat. The great task of compiling the Mahabharat with a hundred thousand verses from the work of 24,000 verses was done by Sauti. Later Janmejay was influenced by Yadnyavalkya and hence gave up following the Krushna Yajurveda and accepted Yadnyavalkya’s Shukla Yajurveda. In the Ashvamedh sacrificial fire that he performed, instead of Vaishampayan Janmejay accorded Yadnyavalkya the title of Brahma, which is bestowed to a superior sage conducting a sacrificial fire.’(3) Then Vaishampayan had to surrender His status of the royal priest and had to leave the kingdom.

3. Yaskacharya

‘Though the Nighantu enlists Vedic words, it does not explain some difficult words. Also some meanings which it gives are not definite. Based on the Nighantu, Yaska wrote the holy text “Nirukta”. When explaining some mantras from the Rugveda in it, He narrated the origin and meaning of the words. Yaskacharya is the pioneer and oldest commentator of the Vedas. The commentators who followed Him took the assistance of this holy text. This text is unique as it is the only one of its kind available till today. Yaskacharya lived in the sixth or seventh century B.C.

4. Sayanacharya

If anyone has written a commentary on the Vedas after Yaskacharya it is none other than Sayanacharya. It is because of which that the latter is glorified everywhere. He has written commentaries on all the Vedas. In the preface to the Taittiriya Sanhita when indicating as to the Veda about which He wrote the commentary initially, He says, “The Yajurveda is like a wall and the pictures drawn on it represent the Rugveda and the Samaveda. That is precisely why I am discussing the Yajurveda first.” When writing a commentary on every branch of the Veda He does it in different style. He also has commentaries on the Shatpath, Aitareya, Taittiriya and all the Brahman holy texts of the Samaveda to His credit.

Commentators who preceded Sayanacharya are Bhattabhaskarmishra, Venkatmadhav, etc. and those who followed Him are ones like Uvvat and Mahidhar. Nevertheless They have written commentaries on any one Vedasanhita, all of them being in Sanskrut and focussing on the central theme of sacrificial fires (yadnya) in the Vedas.’(4)

5. Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya

5.1 Importance of His mission

‘In various parts of this country in the 7th and 8th centuries, along with the Jain and Buddhist religious orders, different sects established themselves and began eroding the Vedic religion. Those sects were the Shaiva, Shakta, Vaishnav, Ganapatya and Kapalik sects i.e. worshippers of Shiva, Divine Energy (Shakti), Vishnu, Ganapati and a type of worshippers of Shiva respectively. The Tantra sect too exerted its influence to a large extent. The seventh century A.D. can be considered as the prosperous period for followers of the Tantras such as the Shaiva, Shakta, Buddhist, Ganapatya, etc. who were quite dominant at that time. Under the banner of the science of Tantra, a wave of unrighteousness engulfed that period. Since there were very few scholars in this science, fake and greedy people prospered. This led to confusion amongst the masses about the veracity of facts. Their lot became very pitiful indeed ! Every sect made an attempt to draw them into its fold in an attempt to establish its superiority over the others. In this confusion true Righteousness (Dharma) remained suppressed. Religious anarchy prevailed all over India. Thus during this period of religious anarchy the Vedic religion needed not mere literary scholars but scholars who practised Righteousness as well. There was a necessity for a divine being who had righteous conduct, profound intellect, pure speech, who had an intense yearning for the upliftment of the masses, to assume an incarnation to fulfill this mission. This great one had to be one who would demonstrate the quote “एष पन्था एतत्कर्म” meaning “this is the right path and this itself is the (appropriate) action” to the world through his words and actions with certainty.

Shri Shankaracharya incarnated in the form of a great evolved soul worthy of worship. He reversed the ill effects on the Vedic religion, eliminated the aberrations in it, cleared the cobwebs which had gathered in it over the passage of time and projected it in new light all over India as predominant in righteous conduct and non-duality. It is because of His righteous conduct and His accomplishment in holy texts and intense labour that the flame of the Vedic religion which was about to be extinguished got rekindled. The glory of Vedic religion began to resound everywhere again and the divine writings in the Upanishads once again became widespread. The Bhagvadgita became more glorious and the empire of religious anarchy in the country came to an end.

To a large extent Indians owe the faith and honour that they have for the Vedas today to Shankaracharya. It is because of His divine mission that Shankaracharya came to be regarded as the Jagadguru (Guru of the universe).

5.2 Establishing hermitages (math)

Based on knowledge and logic the Acharya eliminated the stronghold of His opponent philosophers who had established their hermitages in the places of pilgrimage (tirthakshetra) in India. The Acharya drove them away from there and brought all the places of pilgrimage under the purview of Vedic religion. The Vedic religion which He had so painstakingly revived had to survive in the country and for that constant preaching in a scientific manner was essential. To achieve this end He not only founded the four religious seats (piths) in the four corners of India but to sustain the religion perpetually, also formed an organisation of yatis (ascetics). The table below elucidates the four hermitages.

1. Location (in
Dvarka Purushottam,
2. Direction West East North South
3. The founder
Padmapad Trotak/
4. Designation
    of the chief
    mahant (
    evolved one)
Svarup (one
blended with
one’s soul
Prakash (one
who has
the light of
the soul)
(one having
5. The Veda Samaveda Rugveda Atharvaveda Yajurveda
6. Great quotes
    [From which
You are that
Spiritual kn-
owledge is
The soul is
I am
7. The title /
    subtitle* of a
    yogi bestowed
    upon an
Tirtha (place
of pilgrimage
), Ashram
Van, Aranya
Giri, Parvat
(deity of
8. Meaning of
    the title
Sacred like a
holy place
(tirtha) or a
from the
bondages of
civil life
Giri – intellect
as steady as
a mountain;
(mountain) –
Away from
worldly life
as a mount-
ain; Sagar –
One immers-
ed in the
ocean of
Puri –
Sarasvati –
engrossed in
Bharati –
in spiritual

Footnote: Some believe that the terms Svarup and Anand in ‘point 4’ began from Adinarayan (Vishnu) and Prakash and Chaitanya from Adinath (Shiva).

* The disciples of the foremost masters given in ‘point 7’ were named thus; hence later the same titles continued.

Besides the four main seats (piths), the Sumermath of Kashi and the Kamakotipith of Kanchi are two seats believed to be created by Shankaracharya. The chief of the Kamakotipith considers this as the main seat of Adishankaracharya. According to Him the Acharya chose disciples to look after the four hermitages and Himself came to Kanchi where He built a hermitage for Himself. He installed the yogalinga (divine phallus) brought from Kailas (Lord Shiva’s abode) here and commenced the spiritual practice of deity Kamakshi after which He renounced His body. Other sub-holy seats (upapiths) namely Kudali, Sankeshvar, Pushpagiri, Virupaksha, Havyak, Shivaganga, Koppal, Shrishail, Rameshvar and Bagad have emerged from the four main ones.

5.3 The Acharya’s preaching (mahanushasan)

The teachings imparted by the Acharya to the chiefs of all these hermitages are referred to as the mahanushasan. According to the righteous code laid down for them, the chiefs of the hermitages should tirelessly strive to save the honour of the state and religion, should constantly travel in their respective areas of jurisdiction and make the people in the various stages of life (varnashram) aware of their duties and make efforts to foster Righteousness (Dharma). The chief of an hermitage should not intrude into the jurisdiction of another chief. Time and again the chiefs of the hermitages should meet and indulge in religious discussions and should strive to maintain Righteousness in the state. They should also be vigilant so that the Vedic code of Righteousness prospers and is conserved.

Through this preaching the Acharya has endowed all the scholars in the country with a sense of responsibility. According to Him only scholars can regulate Righteousness. Hence they should keep a watch on these religious seats and should keep vigil over the conduct of the chiefs of the hermitages time and again. Only a knowledgeable, chaste and dutiful ascetic should be chosen to shoulder the responsibility of looking after a hermitage. If he is found to shirk his duties then these scholars should abdicate him from the post. On the contrary if he proves to be good then people should name him after the Acharya Himself, honour him likewise and obey his directives.

When choosing a follower, a chief should take care to see that the former is pure, has control over his senses and is knowledgeable with respect to the implied meaning of all the scriptures including the Vedas and the sciences related to them. All these chiefs should be celibate ascetics.

5.4 Society and the Acharya

These four hermitages, the four expert masters and the four sects are those who see that people follow Righteousness. The Indian populace should honour and worship these seats (piths) of the Guru through action, speech and mind. Just as the monarchs who protect the land, levy taxes on their subjects, so also this Acharya is privileged to levy taxes from the religious viewpoint. Righteousness (Dharma) being the sole right of human life and the Acharya the manifest icon of Righteousness, even kings had to hold His orders in high esteem. After being punished by the Acharya sinners attain heaven like meritorious souls. The subjects are well nurtured with the teachings of the Acharya and the code of punishment so if any one dares to criticise the king or the Acharya then he is declared a traitor of the state or of Righteousness. A king and an Acharya are endowed with opulence not for their own pleasure but for the benefaction of others. Therefore their conduct should be in accordance with this.

5.5 The Acharya’s philosophy

The basic mantra of the doctrine of non-duality (advait) advocated by the Acharya is –

ब्रह्म सत्यं जगन्मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापर: ।


  • Brahman itself is the truth, the ultimate principle.
  • The world is a myth or illusory.
  • The embodied soul (jiva) itself is Brahman and
  • The embodied soul is in no way distinct from Brahman.

These four doctrines are the foundation of the philosophy of non-duality (advait).

5.6 Special features of the Acharya

A. There was a captivating blend of learning and poetry in the Acharya’s heart.

B. Though He was already liberated from the fear of the materialistic world through Self-realisation when expressing devotion He would earnestly pray to Shrihari thus –

अविनय मपनय विष्‍णो दमय मन: शमय विषयमृगतृष्‍णाम् ।
भूतदयां विस्तारय तारय संसारसागरत: ।।

    Meaning: O Vishnu, rid me of arrogance, supress my mind, calm down my desires for worldly pleasures, expand my love for living beings and ferry me across the ocean of worldly life.

C. The Acharya was well versed in the science of Tantra and Mantra. His worship of deity Tripurasundari was tantrik in nature. He had begun the practice of ritualistically worshipping Tripurasundari in the tantrik fashion, in His hermitage (math). That tradition is prevalent even today.

D. Despite being Self-realised, the Acharya was devoted to performing action and despite being a follower of spiritual knowledge He also preached worship. He undertook this ardent task to maintain the statutes of the righteous code of the classes (varna) and stages of life (ashrams) unfettered and to keep the flag of Vedic religion flying high. The tree whose seed He sowed grew tremendously. Thus His mission was accomplished.

5.7 Shankaracharya’s accomplishment of holy texts

The holy texts written by the foremost (Adi) Shankaracharya are given below –

A. Commentaries on the Prasthanatrayi: The word ‘prasthan’ means departure. However in this context it refers to a path. The three paths advocated by the Vedanta are – 1. The Shrutis or the Upanishads, 2. The Smrutis or the Gita and 3. The Sutras, that is the Brahmasutras. A traveller on any of the above three paths of Spirituality reaches the final destination of The Supreme Brahman (Parabrahman). The above three holy texts lead one to the ultimate truth, Brahman. Shankaracharya has written commentaries on the following 12 Upanishads : (1) Isha, (2) Ken, (3) Kath, (4) Prashna, (5) Mundak, (6) Mandukya, (7) Taittiriya, (8) Aitareya, (9) Chandogya, (10) Bruhadaranyak, (11) Shvetashvatar and (12) Nrusinhatapini.

B. Verses (stotras): Shankaracharya has complied several verses in praise of different deities. Though He believed in the philosophy of non-duality (advait) with The Lord, yet in worldly life He accepted the benefit of worship of different deities. He believed that to attain the unmanifest (nirgun) form of The Lord His manifest (sagun) form is a powerful means and so long as a seeker does not worship a form of The Lord till then he will not realise the unmanifest Brahman. Personally He recommended worship of a manifest form of The Lord for societal integration. To endow that worship with strength, beauty and depth, He wrote beautiful verses laden with spiritual emotion (bhav) on the deities Shiva, Vishnu, the female deity (devi), Ganesh, etc. He was very loving and never attributed any importance to the base concept of sectarianism.

     It seems very amazing that a literary writer who had a sojourn through high philosophies could write passionate, melodious verses laden with spiritual emotion and devotion. Some of His verses are enlisted below:

  • Anandlahari: This is a verse describing the female deity Bhagvati.
  • The Dakshinamurtistotra: Along with substantiation of the Vedanta this verse also includes some words from the terminology of tantrik spiritual practice.
  • Charpatpanjari: This verse (stotra) has 17 verses and sounds very melodious. It begins with ‘भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं meaning Hail Lord Govind’.
  • Shatpadi
  • Harimidestotra: This verse is in praise of Lord Vishnu and is based on the Vedanta as its foundation.
  • Shivabhujangaprayat: This verse has fourteen verses in the bhujangaprayat metrical mode of composition.
  • Saundaryalahari: This verse is excellent, mature and mysterious from the poetic viewpoint. It is also the poetic work of the century. It being an excellent verse is deemed as the jewel in the crown of Sanskrut literature on verses. In the first 41 verses Shankaracharya has unravelled the secrets of the science of Tantra. The remaining 59 verses probe into the mysteries and give detailed descriptions of the parts of the deity Tripurasundari, the deity which the Acharya worshipped.

C. The Prakaran holy texts: Shankaracharya wrote several small and large holy texts like the Vivekchudamani for the sake of explanation of the Vedanta. They are referred to as the Prakaran holy texts.

In barely thirty-one years Shankaracharya completed the formidable missions of writing commentaries, preaching, conquest over the various sects and establishment of the lineage of hermitages.’(5)


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 9, Pg. 155-161          [3]. Vol. 9, Pg. 133
[4]. Vol. 9, Pg. 80                    [5]. Vol. 9, Pg. 179-192

[2]. Sanskrutipujan. Pandurangshastri Athavale Yanchya Pravachanancha Sankalanatmak Prasad. Page 67, Publisher : Mr. Vallabhdas Jhaveri, Sadvichar Darshan Trust, ‘Vimal Jyoti’, Second floor, 6/8, Dr. Wilson Street, V.P. Road, Mumbai 400 004.


Why Mahabharat is glorified as fifth Veda?


1. Holy texts of the Smrutis

Besides the texts of the Smrutis the Mahabharat and Ramayan too are considered as the Smrutis. In the Mahabharat itself, it is referred to as the scripture on Righteousness (Dharmashastra) [Adiparva 2.283]. The commentaries (nibandha) on the scriptures of Righteousness (Dharmashastra) of course are innumerable.

Kamalakarbhatt wrote the holy text Nirnaysindhu in 1612 A.D. He has made a mention of a hundred authors of the Smrutis and three hundred essayists in His holy text. Thereafter towards the end of the 18th century A.D. the text Dharmasindhu was written. This essay was written by Kashinath Upadhyay or Baba Padhye on the scriptures of Righteousness (Dharma). In this way essayists emerged in all parts of India and received varying amounts of recognition in their respective regions.’ (1)

Information on some important texts is given below.

2. The Manusmruti

‘The Manusmruti available today has 12 adhyays (chapters) and 2694 verses (shlokas). In this it is stated that Manu has acquired the scriptures on Righteousness created by Lord Brahma and in turn He teaches it to the sages.

The topics in the Manusmruti can be described in brief as below.

  • The creation of the universe, the measurement of time right from a nimish (the duration required for the opening or closing of the eyelids) to even a day of Lord Brahma, dissolution of the universe (pralay), the deterioration of Righteousness, codes of Righteousness and objectives during different yugs (eras).
  • Definition and sites of origin of Righteousness, limitations of Aryavarta (land of Aryans), necessity of spiritual rites (sanskars) and their types, the rite of thread ceremony (upanayan), the duties and limitations of a celibate (brahmachari).
  • Marriage, duties of both spouses, the stage of the householder, the five great fire sacrifices (panchamahayadnya), the rite of shraddha for ancestors, the duties of a householder, the duties of a wife and a widow, the duties of the husband and wife as prescribed in the scriptures, the twelve kinds of sons, division of property, inheritance, different kinds of sins and the acts of atonement (prayashchitta) to be performed to nullify them, the seven types of servants (das).
  • Periods of impurity, permissible and forbidden foods, purity of substances
  • Duties of a retired householder (vanaprastha) and a renunciant (sannyasi)
  • The code of Righteousness of rulers (rajadharma), the sciences (vidya) to be learnt by a king, the undesirable qualities of a king, the cabinet of ministers, officers, the royal assembly, the six attributes in making peace or war (sandhivigraha)
  • Meting out justice, points for debate, judges, different types of crimes and the punishment for them, excise, prisons
  • Privileges and duties of all the four classes, inter-caste communities, the right ways to procure wealth and to earn a livelihood
  • Making offerings, acts of atonement (prayashchitta), visible effects of sins committed in previous births, a variety of acts of atonement, mantras to nullify sins.
  • Discussion on actions, how ultimate benefaction can be obtained, that Self-realisation is the ultimate means of acquiring happiness, worldly and spiritual actions, knowers of the meaning of the Shrutis (shishta) and assemblies, results of studying anthropology.’(2)

3. The Yadnyavalkyasmruti

Yadnyavalkya has discussed most of the topics from the Manusmruti. He has also written the Shukla Yajurveda.

4. The Ramayan

This is called the foremost poetry (adikavya) and its poet Sage Valmiki the first poet (adikavi) as this is the first poetry in the history of mankind. This text has seven kands (parts) and 645 sargas (sections) of the poem. It is the biography of the Absolute Being, Shrirama born in the Ikshvaku dynasty. More information on Lord Rama is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 8 – Vishnu and His Forms (including Maruti and Datta)’.

5. The Yogavasishtha

Its philosophy and special features are described below.

  • A. ‘The philosophy of effort (prayatnavad): “पूर्वजन्‍मकृतं कर्म तद्दैवमिति कथ्‍यते” means one has to face the results of whatever actions one has performed in the previous births in the next births as providence or destiny. The happiness and unhappiness that one experiences is associated with one’s own actions. Actions which cannot be directly connected to the cause of happiness and unhappiness are called invisible (adrushta), providential (praktan) or destined actions while those which can be directly connected to the cause of happiness and unhappiness are called effortful (paurush), willful or diligent actions. Thus the destiny spoken about by believers of fate is basically a consequence of actions. One should perform worldly actions using the power to discriminate between right and wrong but spiritual acts like performing fire sacrifices and the like should be performed using both one’s own intellect as well as assistance from the scriptures. In the context of spiritual knowledge, yoga and devotion however one should seek guidance from the scriptures and the Guru along with one’s own intellectual knowledge.
  • B. The embodied soul: When The Supreme Brahman develops the emotion that “I am a focus of light”, then that focus is called an embodied soul (jiva). That focus assumes a huge form through one’s emotion. In the same way through emotion itself does that focus assume dual forms of the viewer and the scene. Because of the development of the feeling that “I am someone” over a prolonged period within the embodied soul, ego develops within it. This embodied soul then remains bound by various desires created by it out of a resolve (sankalpa). Such embodied souls are infinite.
  • C. The universe: The principle associated with the origin of the universe is called the sattva principle. The manifest universe has been created from that very sattva principle. Before its manifestation, the universe remains in a state of dissolution in the sattva principle. At that time one cannot experience it in different forms and names. This state is said to be unmanifest (avyakta or avyakrut). The period of this unmanifest state is termed as the period of dissolution (pralay) in worldly terms. During this period all visible and invisible creation merges into the unmanifest still maintaining its subtlest desire. If the presence of desires in the subtle (bija) form in the unmanifest state is refuted then no diversification will occur in the universe; hence it seems necessary to acknowledge the presence and complexity of subtle desires during the time of dissolution. All creation undergoes destruction in the order reverse of that of creation during the period of dissolution.
  • D. The Supreme Brahman: In the Yogavasishtha the supreme principle is called Parabrahman.
  • E. The Final Liberation (Moksha): It is of two types, during embodiment (sadeha) and after death (videha).

    असंसक्‍तमतेर्यस्‍य त्‍यागदानेषु कर्मणाम्‌ ।
    नैषणा तत्‍स्‍थितिं विद्घि त्‍वं जीवन्‍मुक्‍ततामिह ।।  – ५.४२.१२

    Meaning: When there are absolutely no desires associated with the sacrifice of actions and in their performance in a detached person, that state is called Liberation during embodiment (jivanmukti). – 5.42.12

    When an embodied soul does not need to take rebirth after death that state is called Liberation after death (videha mukti).

  • F. Absolute (samyak) knowledge: To attain the Final Liberation one has to attain Self-realisation. In fact it is the only means of attaining the Final Liberation. This spiritual knowledge bestowing the Final Liberation is described thus –

    अनाद्यन्‍तावभासात्‍मा परमात्‍मेह विद्यते ।
    इत्‍येको निश्चय: स्‍फार: सम्‍यक्‌ ज्ञानं विदुर्बुधा: ।।  – ५.७९.२

    Meaning: Developing the firm conviction that the eternal, infinite, self illumined Supreme Soul exists in this universe is called acquisition of Absolute knowledge by scholars. – 5.79.2

    Development of the firm conviction that every object that increases or decreases in size are all but the soul and there is no principle other than the soul in the universe is acquiring absolute knowledge. This knowledge is not acquired easily. The worldly attraction experienced in hundreds of births is firm in the mind and to destroy that emotion one needs to acquire knowledge over a long period of time. One experiences Self-realisation if there is a perfect union of the triad of one having potential, study of the scriptures and a Guru.

  • G. Special features: This holy text has not objected to or countered the doctrines of other sects. The author of the Yogavasishtha is generous and expansive. He believes that all sects and their opinions are true. The same Supreme principle is referred to as Shunya (absolute zero) by the shunyavadi philosophy, Brahman by the Brahman philosophy, Vidnyan (pure knowledge) by the vidnyanvadi philosophy, Purush (the Absolute Being) by the Sankhya philosophy, God (Ishvar) by the yogi and Shiva by the Shaiva sect.’(3)

6. The Mahabharat

A. History: ‘After culmination of the Bharatiya war and coronation of Dharmaraj (Yudhishthir), Sage Vyas decided to write a book on the history of the Kauravs and Pandavs. He accomplished the task of writing a holy text called Jay, in Badari on the banks of the river Bhagirathi situated close to the Nara-Narayan mountains, within three years. This text includes the entire history of the Kauravs and Pandavs from their birth till the end of the Bharatiya war. According to scholars it contains approximately eight to ten thousand verses (shlokas). Janmejay was a monarch of the fourth generation of the Pandavs. He was keen on hearing the detailed history of his ancestors. So he asked the royal preceptor (rajguru) Sage Vaishampayan who narrated the entire history to him, from the beginning of the Paurav dynasty. The cause of his father, King Parikshit’s death was a snake bite. Janmejay was eager to hear about that incident as well. Hence Vaishampayan added that to the main text. In this way the account of the four or five generations of the Pandavs, from their ancestors to their descendants till King Janmejay, increased the content of the Jay text twofold thus making it triple of what it initially was. Its name was then changed to Bharat. This book compiled by Sage Vaishampayan has approximately thirty thousand verses (shlokas). Sauti compiled Bharat’s third edition. Sages like Shaunak, etc. who had gathered in the Naimish forest, invited Sauti alias Laumharshani, a son born out of an interclass marriage (sutputra) and requested Him to narrate the story of Bharat. The sages asked Him several questions and got Their doubts clarified. When answering them Sauti told Them some fables and parables. Inclusion of all this increased Sauti’s book and made it larger than the Bharat. The number of verses (shlokas) in it rose from thirty thousand to a hundred thousand. He compiled this great text in such a way that there was no inconsistency with the main text. This is the manifestation of His fabulous intellect. The period around 250 B.C. is most certainly that of the Mahabharat.

B. Importance

  • Lucid and comprehensive nature: It has been glorified as ‘भारतं पञ्चमो वेद: i.e. the Mahabharat is the fifth Veda’ meaning that from the historical point of view the greatness of the Mahabharat is second only to the Vedas. The Vedas, most sections of which are filled with the praise of deities and the description of sacrificial fires, are written in the ancient Sanskrut language of the Aryans. That is why the inferences arising from Vedic literature are vague and unclear. On the contrary the Mahabharat is written in the present day Sanskrut language and hence is generally lucid.

    It is a compilation of the historical events of the ancient period. The praise of the Mahabharat sung at its beginnng is in a way befitting it. It goes thus –

    धर्मे चार्थे च कामे च मोक्षे च पुरुषर्षभ ।
    यदेहास्‍ति तदन्‍यत्र यन्‍नेहास्‍ति न तत्‍क्‍वचित्‌ ।

    Meaning: O great man, you will come across whatever is written in this holy text about the four pursuits (purusharthas), that is Righteousness (Dharma), wealth (artha), desire (kama) and the Final Liberation (Moksha) in all other texts and whatever is not given here will not be found anywhere.

  • Glorification of Righteousness: The chief objective of the Mahabharat is defining Righteousness and explaining it. When describing any event, Sage Vyas’ expansive motive was only to preach Righteousness. Throughout the Mahabharat there is a constant mention of Righteousness ‘यतो धर्मस्‍ततो जय: meaning victory prevails where there is Righteousness’ which is the slogan of the Mahabharat. The four verses (shlokas) called Bharatsavitri which are present in the concluding part of this holy text express Righteousness as the sole motive of this holy text. One of the verses from it says –

    न जातु कामान्‍न भयान्‍न लोभात्‌ धर्मं त्‍यजेज्‍जीवितस्‍यापि हेतो: ।
    नित्‍यो धर्म: सुखदु:खे त्‍वनित्‍ये नित्‍यो जीवो धातुरस्‍य त्‍वनित्‍य: ।।

    Meaning: One should never forsake Righteousness out of desire, fear, greed or fear of loss of life because Righteousness is permanent while happiness and unhappiness are only momentary. The embodied soul is eternal while the gross body is temporary.

    On the pretext of writing the story of the Mahabharat, Sage Vyas transformed the events on the battlefield into a Sanhita (commentary) on Righteousness. Just as the Gayatri mantra summarises the Vedas so also Righteousness is the gist of the Mahabharat.’(4)

  • Sage Vyas’ divine intellect: ‘Out of all the holy texts and literary works written by Sage Vyas, the Mahabharat has received divine accolades. Vyas has presented all the three Darshans of life such as the science of economics (arthashastra), the science of Righteousness (Dharmashastra) and the science of the Final Liberation (Mokshashastra) in beautiful, interesting stories using flowery language. Enlightenment of detailed knowledge about the Aryan race and their expansive social life occurs through it.

    In the real sense the Mahabharat is an encyclopaedia of ancient India (Bharat). It is a renowned epic in world literature. On one hand the Mahabharat is an eternal treasure house of morality and Righteousness (Dharma) and on the other a compilation of the ancient eternal science of unmetrical compositions (gathashastra). Sage Vyas has not written the Mahabharat simply enumerating the events of the past, were it so then it would merely gather dust in a bookcase like any other historical text. However the Mahabharat is presented before us as a live event.

  • Food for poets: The Mahabharat is an unending treasure of topics for poets. Great Sanskrut poets like Kalidas, Bharavi, Magh, etc. have chosen their main topics of poetry from the Mahabharat itself. The tradition of selecting a story or event from the Mahabharat and transforming it into poetry is continuing even today.’(5)

C. The radiant Mahabharat: ‘Just like wealth and the effulgence of a warrior (kshatratej) industriousness or efforts comprises the third part of the material code of Righteousness. In the Mahabharat one comes across great men like Krushna, Bhishma, Bhim, Arjun, etc. who constantly praise efforts. Lord Shrikrushna (Mahabharat 5.77) has said, “Man should continue his efforts. He should not become weak, depressed or helpless only because of his bad destiny.”

     Caution, concentration and bravery are also praised on various occasions in the Mahabharat. After reading quotes in this regard one is able to appreciate the worldly code of Righteousness from the Mahabharat. A prosperous kingdom, an opulent lifestyle, a powerful empire were the great expectations imprinted upon the minds of those men. They wished that people should untiringly strive towards this. They did not appreciate criticism of the six foes of the soul (shadripu). They were fully aware that man cannot perform valorous deeds without rage, anger and desire for opulence. They had realised that without bravery and the preparedness to die or to kill one could not acquire opulence. This holy text mainly inspires worldly progress, the paths to achieve it and explicitly substantiates that everything is futile without worldly splendour. This great text creates the aspirations of worldly opulence, conquest of the world, fame resounding in all the three regions of earth, heaven and the nether world, etc. in the mind of man and inspires him to undertake war and to be prepared to die or kill.’(6)

D. Some implied meanings from the Mahabharat: Pandit Narendra Sharma says – Yudhishthir is in reality the absolute ether (akash) element. He maintains the balance between happiness and unhappiness, but his attraction for a game of dice and the consequences arising from it are his fate. Arjun represents the absolute fire element, Bhim is the absolute air or vital energy element, Nakul the absolute water element and Sahadev the absolute earth element. Thus they are representatives of the cosmic elements. Draupadi is the union of the five cosmic elements, the upward flowing energy of life who has emerged from the altar of the fire sacrifice (hom). However she is less virtuous because of the subtle discrimination that she makes between her husbands. Duryodhan can be summed up as the obstinacy of King Dhrutarashtra. Karna is very powerful, capable of sacrificing everything, very generous; but shadowed by tremendous ego which is the only ‘defect’ in his invincible armour. Need one speak anything on Lord Shrikrushna ? He is an absolute incarnation (purnavtar), the centre of attraction of the entire Mahabharat.

7. The Shrimadbhagvadgita

The Shrimadbhagvadgita narrated by Lord Shrikrushna to Arjun is the jewel in the crown of the Mahabharat. Chapters 25 to 42 of the Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharat narrate the Gita. It is considered as the main holy text of the Hindu religion (Dharma) and of morality (niti) as well. The word Shrimadbhagvadgita can be explained as –

Shrimad (t) : That sung by The Lord
Bhag           : Like the sun (bhag means effulgence)
Vad (t)        : That assisting in displaying its light
Gita            : Song (git)

Just as the Mahabharat has 18 parvas, the Gita has 18 adhyays (chapters). At no point is the style of the Gita uninteresting. Its main objective is to teach Spirituality. Unlike the Buddhist Dhammapad it is not confined only to teaching morality. The notes of the Gita are so melodious that one feels that one is being showered with the divine nectar of words, by a friend. This mode of speech of Lord Shrikrushna has generated from Sage Vedavyas in the superconscious (samadhi) state.

‘The pradnyavad (philosophy of intellect) is a vast Darshan of those times. Krushna followed this philosophy. Buddha too belonged to this school of thought but when following it He was influenced by the path of self-abnegation as that of an ascetic and He accepted the tradition of renunciation of the Sankhyas which is predominantly based on sacrifice of worldly life. Krushna used the basis of the Vedic Path of Action (Karmayoga). Along with this philosophy, on one hand He accepted actions (karma) and the four pursuits of life (purusharthas) and on the other also substantiated a vision of the effulgent Brahman which has evolved from the Vedic school of thought. Apart from this He appropriately honoured the philosophies of the Sankhya followers like those of Sage Kapil.’(7)

8. The Purans

A. Meaning: ‘पुरा नवं भवती ।’ means that which is ever new despite being old, is the Puran.

B. Importance

  • The Purans follow the Shrutis and Smrutis in the order of importance. A quote ‘श्रुतिस्‍मृतिपुराणोक्‍त फलप्राप्‍त्‍यर्थं’ meaning that ‘one derives benefits according to that prescribed in the Shrutis, Smrutis and Purans’ is found in the resolve (sankalpa) in all religious rituals.
  • In modern times the Purans are the main support of the worldly code of Righteousness (Dharma) of a follower of Hinduism.
  • The Purans are accorded the highest status in popular Sanskrut literature. Authors of the Purans have shown the path of upliftment to men and women belonging to all castes and communities along with the code of Righteousness for those following the Vedas and the three classes (varna) namely Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors) and Vaishyas (businessmen).

    The Purans narrate stories to illustrate a point . The history being from different kalpas (periods of time) in the same volume there is a slight difference in stories of the contemporary times. Different spiritual doctrines are delivered through these stories. However some stories are totally imaginary.

C. Important Purans: The eighteen Purans are named differently in various Purans. The main Purans as given in the Matsyapuran (chapter 53) are : Brahman, Padma, Vishnu, Vayu, Bhagvat, Naradiya, Markandeya, Agneya, Bhavishya, Brahmavaivarta, Linga, Varaha, Skanda, Vaman, Kurma, Matsya, Garud and Brahmand. The other Purans have substituted some of these Purans by alternative ones. The Bhagvatpuran is the most popular among all the Purans. It is described below.

8.1 The sub-Purans (upapurans)

‘The Purans other than the eighteen great Purans from Sanskrut literature are called the sub-Purans. They are related to some great Purans (Mahapurans). It is an age old misconcept that they were composed after the great Purans and are inferior in status. However it has been proven that some sub-Purans are even older than the great Purans.

Since the Vedic period the Purans are prevalent in the form of literature by Sage Sut. The Vedic Aryans accorded importance to them immediately after the Vedas. Over the passage of time the spread of Buddhism and Jainism came as a blow to the Vedic religion. So the Smart (followers of the Smrutis) Brahmans utilised the Purans to resurrect their own sects and on their basis re-established the code of Righteousness of the classes and stages of life (varnashramdharma). In those days the three sects worshipping the deities Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh were the Brahma, Pancharatra and Pashupat sects respectively. Later during the reign of the Gupta dynasty the Bhagvat sect flourished.

The Purans written by Brahmans of the Smart sect became famous as the great Purans (Mahapurans). Their compilation had begun before the commencement of the Christian calendar. After their completion they were eighteen in number. The number was probably fixed at eighteen because it is considered as an auspicious figure. Sub-sects of the Brahma, Pancharatra and Pashupat sects sprung up thereafter. The Smarts in these sects wrote new Purans. Believers of the eighteen Purans did not accept these new Purans; however because of their fame and popularity they had to be accorded at least a secondary status. That is why by inserting some verses (shlokas) in the Matsyapuran the new Purans were renamed as the sub-Purans.

Since the great Purans were considered superior and the authority, they were expanded through additions made in them. That is why the great Purans available today are not reliable historically. This was not the case with the sub-Purans. They were accorded a secondary status; hence neither were new styles incorporated in them nor were any additions made. Consequently their original format remained unchanged so the information contained in them is more reliable.’(8)

9. The Bhagvatpuran

‘Maharshi Vyas divided the Vedic compositions into four parts (Vedas). Despite writing the Brahmasutras, eighteen Purans and the Mahabharat (Jay) His mind was still restless. Specially when writing the Mahabharat, as Vyas had to describe various wars, plots and conspiracies, destruction of the army of eighteen hundred trillion on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and the melancholic frustration spread over India as its consequence, He felt dejected and restless. When in such a state He met Sage Narad whom He told His woe, Sage Narad replied, “You have not described The Lord’s immaculate success in detail. You have not described Lord Vasudev’s glory at all. Though the scripture bestows spiritual knowledge, if it does not teach devotion unto The Lord, then it is inappropriate. You have illustrated the path of materialism (pravruttimarg) but remember that other than devotion unto The Lord there is no other means of realising Him. So write a separate holy text narrating the biography of Shrikrushna with devotion and spiritual emotion. That will rid You of Your restlessness.”

Thereafter Vyas devotedly began writing the Bhagvatpuran and in its tenth skanda (volume) wrote the entire biography of Lord Krushna. He was able to write on the unparalleled hero, The Lord of Yoga (Yogeshvar) Krushna. As a result His devotion began to flow like the river Bhagirathi and His spiritual intellect blossomed anew. He composed several exquisite verses (stotras) on Krushna. Thus the Bhagvat came to be established as an epic of devotion. After completing this text, Vyas was at peace with Himself.’(9) This example amply illustrates that the Path of Devotion (Bhaktiyoga) is superior to the Paths of Action (Karmayoga) and Knowledge (Dnyanyoga). After its completion, Vyas read it out to Shuk, His son who had already totally renounced the world !

10. The Prasthanatrayi

‘The Upanishads, Vedantasutras and Bhagvadgita are the three precious holy texts of Indian philosophy. Their triad is referred to as the Prasthanatrayi.

  • In the Prasthanatrayi, the Upanishads occupy the first position. They are the absolute authority. The authenticity of the other two texts in this triad is based on the Upanishads. The Upanishads are also known as the Shrutiprasthan. It includes the Ish, Ken, Kath, Prashna, Mundak, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Bruhadaranyak, Kaushitaki and Shvetashvatar, the twelve main Upanishads. The ‘Vedanta’ is a synonym for the Upanishads and has actually appeared in one or two ancient Upanishads (Mundak 3.2.6, Shvetashvatar 6.22). As against this, the Vedantasutras or the Vedantadarshans are often referred to as the Vedanta. The Vedanta refers to the end (anta) of the Vedas implying that it is the very culmination of the study of Vedic literature.
  • The Vedantasutras are also called the Nyayaprasthan, Vedanta, Vedantadarshan, Brahmasutras, Sharirak Mimansa or Uttarmimansa. Sage Badarayan or Krushnadvaipayan is the author of these Sutras. He is also known as Vedavyas.’(10)
  • The Bhagvadgita and the Sanatsujat Sanhita are called the Smrutiprasthan.


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 4, Pg. 596-599          [3]. Vol. 7, Pg. 674-677
[4]. Vol. 7, Pg. 155-182          [5]. Vol. 9, Pg. 159
[6]. Vol. 7, Pg. 173-175          [7]. Vol. 7, Pg. 182
[8]. Vol. 1, Pg. 673                  [9]. Vol. 9, Pg. 160-161
[10.] Vol. 5, Pg. 738

[2]. Dharmashastracha Itihas. Second edition : 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 034., Pg. 48-49


Codes of Righteousness vary in each era, states Smrutis, Why?


1. Smrutis

‘The word Smruti is used with two meanings. In the broad sense it can be applied to all the ancient religious texts, excluding the Vedic literature of the post-Vedic period, which profess Sanatan philosophy. These holy texts include Panini’s Vyakaran, the Shrautsutras, Gruhyasutras and Dharmasutras, the Mahabharat and the holy texts by sages such as Manu and Yadnyavalkya. In the narrow sense of the word the Smrutis and the religious scriptures mean one and the same thing.’(1) The religious scriptures are basically of two types, the Smrutis and the Dharmasutras.

‘Though the history of religious scriptures does not include the Gruhyasutras yet a large part of it appears in the Dharmasutras, Smrutis and other holy texts. Since the Dharmasutras are associated with different Vedic branches they are inclined towards the Gruhyasutras of the respective branch. In the Smrutis all the topics are arranged systematically, but in the Dharmasutras they are not. All the Smrutis are in the form of verses (shlokas).

2. Religious scriptures (Dharmashastra)

Righteousness (Dharma) and scriptures are two words. Here the word Dharma is associated with actions. In it, action (karma) is discussed as follows. That action whose result is ultimate benefaction (attainment of the Final Liberation) is righteous and that action whose result is unhappiness or an inferior form of happiness is unrighteous. Now let us try to understand the meaning of the scriptures. Scriptures do not mean science. Holy texts such as the Vedas have been called the scriptures. One Sutra by Sage Vyas is ‘Shastrayonitvat’ (Brahmasutra 1.1.2). The divine birth passage of the scriptures (shastrayoni) may be defined as that from which the scriptures have originated or that which can be realised through the scriptures is Brahman (the Vedas). Also science (shastra) is that which governs (shasan) is another meaning.’(2) ‘शास्‍तिहिताहित यत्‌ तत्‌ शास्‍त्रम्‌ ।’ means that in which the advantages and disadvantages are described are called the scriptures. ‘The scriptures were written after contemplation about the welfare of the people. These scriptures initially preach on Righteousness (Dharma), wealth (artha) and desire (kama) and later the Final Liberation (Moksha).’ – Mahabharat 12.335.27-33 and 35

3. Content

‘The Smrutis mainly include description of the code of conduct, worldly transactions and penance for atonement (prayashchitta). The duties according to the class and stages of life (varnashram) are included in the purview of the code of conduct. Accordingly transactions (meting out justice), penance for atonement, Serenity, donation, etc. are topics which are discussed in the Smrutis. Only an individual who becomes cultured after good values (sanskar) are imbibed by him can bring about his own welfare or that of society. This is precisely why ancient sages have created certain spiritual rites (sanskar). Detailed discussion of all these spiritual rites is given in the code of conduct (achar) part of the Smrutis.’(3)

Duties and rights: The Indian scriptures lay greater emphasis on duties than on rights. Duty itself means Righteousness (Dharma). One’s rights are limited to the extent to which they are related to the duties.

4. Necessity

4.1 The changing social scenario

‘The first doctrine advocated by Indian philosophers is that Righteousness is not the end but only a means to bring about progress of the society which is actually its goal. The Mahabharat defines Righteousness (Dharma) as – ‘धारणाद्धर्ममित्‍याहुर्धर्मो धारयते प्रजा:’. The word Dharma (Righteousness) means to sustain. Since all people are dependent on Righteousness, that itself sustains them. That is why there is a doctrine which says that that which sustains people is Righteousness. Another doctrine generated from this is that since the ultimate aim of Righteousness is upliftment of society one should determine what is the truth and the untruth, what is just and unjust from it. Once the definition that “the regulations responsible for the upliftment of society or a state, mean Righteousness” is accepted, one cannot guarantee that it will remain constant for all times and places. Evolved philosophers from the Mahabharat have emphasised this point elaborately at different junctures. Sage Vyas has clearly specified that the codes of Righteousness in every yug (era) are different. Though the doctrines of Righteousness (Dharma) regarding attainment of the Final Liberation (Moksha) are eternal, those of worldly transactions cannot be the same for all times. Circumstances always undergo change. Accordingly societal restrictions need to be changed. Even Bhishma has stated that Righteousness varies with the time and place. The verse (shloka) is as follows –

स एव धर्म: सोऽधर्मो देशकाले प्रतिष्‍ठित: ।
आदानमनृतं हिंसा धर्मो ह्यावस्‍थिक: स्‍मृत: ।। – महाभारत १२.३६.११

Meaning: What is Righteousness at the appropriate time and place proves to be unrighteousness at the inappropriate moment and place. This holds good for theft, speaking the untruth and violence. Righteousness has to be judged according to the situation. – Mahabharat 12.36.11

On another occasion Bhishma has given the following explanation – in times of a crisis one should observe the inferior conduct of Righteousness followed by people under similar circumstances in olden times, because O Bharat (Yudhishthir), the codes of Righteousness in times of prosperity and adversity are different. One can observe righteous conduct even without accumulating wealth. However sustaining oneself in day-to-day life is even more important than Righteousness. Wise men opine that in times of adversity even unrighteousness appears righteous and Righteousness appears unrighteous because there is no guaranteed path to acquire wealth by remaining righteous. On different occasions based on the place, time and circumstances as the nature of Righteousness keeps changing one is faced with this dilemma as to what conduct one should follow under specific circumstances and on what it should be based. If some doctrines on truth, non-violence and compassion were eternal one could make a decision to act according to them, but it is not so. Indian philosophers emphatically state that at times the truth happens to be the untruth and under such circumstances when society is undergoing a crisis if one behaves righteously it leads him to hell (narak) [Karnaparva 69].’(4)

The moral values of righteous conduct substantiated by the Mahabharat are based on analytical rationalism. In it, the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand) propounded by the Shrutis and Smrutis is deemed inferior.

स्‍तेयं कुर्वंश्च गुर्वर्थमापत्‍सु न निषिध्‍यते ।
बहुश: कामकारेण न चेद्य: संप्रवर्तते ।। – महाभारत १२.३४.२३

Meaning: One is not forbidden from stealing for the purpose of offering one’s fees unto the Guru (gurudakshina). However one should not be tempted to do it intentionally several times. – Mahabharat 12.34.23

अन्‍यो धर्म: समर्थानामापत्‍स्‍वन्‍यश्च भारत ।। – महाभारत १२.१३०.१४

Meaning: (Bhishma tells Dharmaraj) O Bharat (Yudhishthir), the righteous conduct when one has power is quite different from that when one is faced with calamity. – Mahabharat 12.130.14

Since it is difficult to enumerate all the calamities which befall an individual and the society, the religious scriptures cannot predict the righteous conduct to be followed in favourable and unfavourable circumstances.

When studying the discussion on Righteousness (Dharma) given in the Smrutis one realises that Righteousness changes in every yug (era). This change is seen in worldly transactions. The changes in the Vedic code of Righteousness is because of the changes made by Manu and the seven sages (saptarshis) during the manvantar and due to the code of conduct (achar) [1 manvantar is equivalent to 43,20,000 human years. It is a one-fourteenth part of the day of Lord Brahma. In other words one day of Lord Brahma consists of fourteen manvantars. There is a separate Manu for each manvantar. The current manvantar is the seventh one].

4.2 Conflicting worldly and spiritual duties

‘When faced with both these duties simultaneously, which duty one should perform and which one should reject is the distinction between Righteousness and unrighteousness. In general, an average person may be told not to perform that duty which renders him more distress.

A rule may also be framed such that, should there be a clash in the duties arising from the worldly and the spiritual, then the former should be accepted and the latter be rejected. Meditation, worship of and contemplation on God are included in the spiritual duties. If when performing spiritual duties, tasks essential for one’s temperament or means of sustenance arise then they should be accorded priority. Spiritual duties may be kept in abeyance temporarily.

4.3 Conflicting worldly actions

Satisfying hunger is the first among these duties because there is no sorrow greater than starvation. Only when one’s hunger is satiated will a man survive and be able to observe Righteousness; hence satiating one’s hunger is the foremost duty of Righteousness of worldly duties. Other progressively less important duties could be protecting oneself from heat and cold, sleep, medical treatment, etc.’(5)

5. Importance

‘With respect to Righteousness (Dharma) the Smrutis immediately follow the Shrutis as the authority (axiom). The Shrutis just make a reference of the righteous code of conduct. Different Sanhitas include important doctrines relating to marriage and its types, types of sons, the mode of adoption of a son, division of wealth, division of ancestral property, the rite for the departed (shraddha), a woman’s personal property (stridhan), etc. but all this information is found scattered. However it is compiled systematically in the Smrutis. The Smrutis are a vast treasure house of doctrines pertaining to scriptures on Righteousness.’(6)

6. Special features

अनधिगत अबाधित असंदिग्‍धार्थबोधकं वाक्‍यं शास्‍त्रम्‌ ।

  • Anadhigat (अनधिगत): This means that one will not acquire this knowledge from any other scripture. One is compelled to realise it from this scripture alone.
  • Abhadhit (अबाधित): This cannot be affected or countered by anything else.
  • Asandigdharthabodhakam (असंदिग्‍धार्थबोधकं): Here whatever is prescribed is not vague such as ‘do this or that’ rather is emphatic as ‘do this, do not do this’. These itself constitute the rules and regulations (vidhinishedha).

7. Number

Yadnyavalkya has enumerated twenty Smrutis in his roll of names. In the ensuing period the number of Smrutis enumerated in the holy texts went on rising. Compilers like Kamalakarbhatt, etc. have mentioned the names of approximately 100 Smrutis.

8. Differences between the Smrutis

‘There are many Smrutis but so are the differences in opinion between them. Thus it is automatically established that it is neither possible nor proper that all the terminology from the commentaries (mimansas) of the quotes from the Shrutis and all the regulations from it be applied to decide the code of Righteousness (Dharma). Commentators on the religious scriptures however thrust the technique of finding the middle path (samanvay) which was hitherto absent in the Mimansas and insisted that there should be uniformity and absence of contradiction in all the Smrutis. All the same this is absolutely impossible to achieve. Authors of the Smrutis do not themselves subscribe to this technique of finding the middle path, rather they clearly express their differences of opinion without resorting to this method. To cite an example, the Purvasmruti states that a man belonging to the Brahman (priest), Kshatriya (warrior) or Vaishya (businessman) classes may marry a woman belonging to the Shudra class. However Yadnyavalkya states that he opposes this concept (Yadnyavalkyasmruti 1.56).

Though the Smrutis are authorities by themselves they never had or will have authority devoid of any relativity. Due to differences in place, time, etc. they state different things. When making decisions about Righteousness what one should bear in mind is that with the changing times and places the authors of the Smrutis have altered the codes of conduct.

Basically all the Smrutis have originated from the Vedas. If one is unable to trace the basis of a particular ritual in the Vedas, then it is supposed that it must have been present in the Vedas or their branches which have now ceased to exist. Due to the defects of negligence, laziness, etc. in man and the death of realised souls, according to some authors of scriptures, some Shrutis have been lost over the passage of time. They also insist that the Shrutis which are no longer available now should be treated as the authority for the conduct advocated by the Smrutis. This is but a struggle to obtain authoritarian status for the Smrutis by the Vedas, by some means or the other. However it cannot survive the test of rational intellect.’ (7)

9. Important Smrutis

The Manusmruti is the touchstone of authority if one considers the number of commentaries written on the Smrutis as the parameter for such an evaluation. This is followed by the Yadnyavalkyasmruti. Other Smrutis follow suit in hierarchy.

10. Proof

‘The Vedas are called the Shrutis and the Smrutis are called the scriptures (Dharmashastra) according to a quote by Manu (2.10) “धर्मशास्‍त्रं तु वै स्‍मृति:”. However apart from the scriptures holy texts on a variety of topics are also included in the Smrutis. It is customary to also refer to Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, the Mahabharat and the Purans as the Smrutis. Holy texts on Darshans such as the Sankhyas are also referred by the same name. Should all such Smrutis be given recognition it would result in utter chaos due to differences of opinion. Hence only those Smrutis which had a Vedic basis came to be accepted as a basis of Righteousness (Dharma). Comprehending the meaning of the Vedas, Manu wrote the Smruti bearing His name; hence it was decided that these Smrutis based on the Vedas should be considered equivalent to the Vedas.

The yugs (eras) and authority of the Smrutis: With regards to the authority of the Smrutis, Sage Parashar has said that different Smrutis should be considered as the authority with the passage of the yugs. In the Krutyug Manu’s Smruti, in the Tretayug Sage Gautam’s Smruti and in the Dvaparyug the Smruti written by Shankha were considered as the authority. He states that in the present part of the Kaliyug the Parasharsmruti should be regarded as the authority.’(8)

11. Period of composition

The period of composition is measured from the historical point of view while the yug is measured from the spiritual angle. In terms of the time this period can be clearly divided into four parts –

  • 600 B.C. to 100 A.D. – During this period the Dharmasutras by Sage Gautam, Apastamba and Baudhayan Dharmasutras and the Manusmruti were compiled.
  • 100 A.D. to 200 A.D. – Yadnyavalkya, Parashar, Narad, etc. composed Their Smrutis during this span of time.
  • 200 A.D. to 800 A.D. – Other Smrutis were written during this period.
  • 800 A.D. to 1800 A.D. – During this period the holy texts written were commentaries and essays on the Smrutis.

Historically the authors of all the Smrutis belong only to the Kaliyug; but the authors of the essays (nibandh) considered them all to be much before the onset of the Kaliyug.

12. The Vedas (Shrutis) and the Smrutis

Although the Vedas are the very foundation of Righteousness (Dharma) yet at some junctures a mention of types of marriage, types of sons, division of ancestral property, a woman’s personal property, etc. is made in them. All the norms of the righteous code of conduct are not given in the Vedas.

‘The Vedic scriptures are also referred to as the Uttarmimansa. All the Smrutis have accepted that the Vedas are the jewel in the crown of all scriptures. Vedic doctrines such as there is only one Supreme God (Parameshvar), both worldly and spiritual benefits are attainable through righteous conduct, nothing is superior to Self-realisation, etc. are all accepted by the Smrutis. All the Dharmasutras and Smrutis have sung the glory of Self-realisation and have also accepted the Vedic doctrines on action (karma) and rebirth. In this context the Vishnudharmasutra (20.47) quotes –

यथा धेनुसहस्त्रेषु वत्‍सो विन्‍दति मातरम्‌ ।
तथा पूर्वकृतं कर्म कर्तारं विन्‍दते ध्‍रुवम्‌ ।।

Meaning: Just as a calf finds its mother in a herd of a thousand cows so also past actions (karma) find exactly the one (embodied soul) who has performed it in the previous birth.’(9)

The system of classes and stages of life (varnashramvyavastha), etc. prescribed by the scriptures have been framed on a foundation of the Vedic doctrines.

The table below differentiates between the Vedas and the Smrutis.

  The Vedas
The Smrutis
(religious scriptures)
1. Founder God, Svayambhu Sages
2. Period of
Absent (eternal) Present (have a
3. What decides the
Authority by
Established by the
4. Authority / relative
   to place and time
Not relative Relative
5. Eternal / temporary Eternal Temporary
6. Actions (karma) Sacrificial fires etc. In accordance with the
classes and stages of
life (varnashram)
7. Result Heaven (God
Varied depending on
the actions
8. Clear statement
   about topics in
   religious scriptures
Rare It is for this very
purpose that the
Smrutis have been

13. The scriptures and yoga

‘Restraints (yama), regulations (niyam) and pranayam are related to the religious scriptures. Religious rituals always commence with pranayam. When considering the acts of atonement (prayashchitta) it is said “प्राणायामेन शुद्ध्‌यति meaning all sins are nullified by pranayam”.

यमान्‌ सेवेत सततं न नित्‍यं नियमान्‌ बुध: ।
यमान्‌ पतत्‍यकुर्वाणो नियमान्‌ केवलान्‌ भजन्‌ ।। – मनुस्‍मृति ४.२०४

Meaning: Instead of following regulations (niyam) a knowledgeable one should constantly observe restraints (yam) because if only the regulations from Maharshi Patanjali’s Ashtangyoga are followed and yet restraints (yam) [non-violence, truth, etc.] are neglected man may deteriorate spiritually. – Manusmruti 4.204.


[1]. Dharmashastracha Itihas. Second edition : 1980, Publisher: Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 400 034., Pg. 45

Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[2]. Vol. 4, Pg. 495-496            [3]. Vol. 10, Pg. 209
[4]. Vol. 7, Pg. 173                   [5]. Vol. 4, Pg. 568
[6]. Vol. 10, Pg. 208                 [7]. Vol. 4, Pg. 599-600
[8]. Vol. 4, Pg. 596-599            [9]. Vol. 4, Pg. 598


What is ‘Darshans’ ?


1. Origin and meaning of ‘Darshan

Drush (दृश्‌) meaning to see is the root from which the word darshan (दर्शन) has been derived.

  • “दृश्‍यते यथार्थतत्त्वम्‌ अनेन इति ।” means that path by means of which the God principle is seen (realised) are the scriptures known as Darshans (Shabdakalpadrum).
  • “तत्त्वज्ञानसाधनं शास्त्रम्‌ ।” means the Darshans comprise of a science which help a seeker to realise the God principle (Nyayakosh). Thus the Darshans are referred to by scholars as scriptures which teach about the principles in this world as well as those in the worlds beyond.
  • The literal meaning of the word darshan is knowledge acquired through vision or that which is actually seen.

    This is evident from a few quotes from the Upanishads. When explaining the comparative strength and weakness of external organs, the Bruhadaranyak quotes like “चक्षुर्वै सत्‍यम्‌” meaning what the eyes see is the truth and “चक्षुर्वै प्रतिष्‍ठा” meaning what the eyes see is factual (5.14.4; 6.1.3). When discussing the first quote Shri Shankaracharya explains –

    तस्‍मात्‌ यद्‌ यदीदानीमेव व्‍दौ विवदमानौ विरुद्धं वदमानावेयातामागच्‍छेयाताम्‌
    अहमदर्शं दृष्‍टवानरमीत्‍यन्‍य आहाहमश्रौषं त्‍वया दृष्‍टं न तथा तव्‍दस्‍त्‍विति तयोर्य एवं
    ब्रूयादहमद्राक्षमिति तस्‍मा एव श्रद्दध्‍याम न पुनर्यो ब्रूयादहमश्रौषमिति ।

    Meaning: When one comes across two people making contradictory statements of which one says “I have witnessed it” and the other says “I have heard that what you have seen is not as you say so” one should believe the former and not the latter.

    Thus in comparison with the other organs the eyes are the closest to the truth. The word darshan was used to refer to the science of Spirituality whose aim is to study the ultimate truth, as it seeks to discriminate between what is the soul and what is not.

2. Content

The main objective of all the Darshans is describing the soul principle. While describing the soul principle they discuss various issues such as what is the embodied soul, how it originated, the true nature of the manifest world, how it was created, the reason for its creation, whether it is gross or endowed with divine consciousness, etc. Answering such questions with conviction is considered an analogous objective of the Darshans. The world, the embodied soul, God and the Final Liberation (Moksha) are the four main concepts discussed in all the Darshans. These questions have been discussed from the point of view of past, present and future lives upto the Final Liberation.

  • From the point of view of present life: This discusses all categories based on the belief that the visible world itself is the sole reality. Authors of the Darshans like Charvak professed this viewpoint.
  • From the point of view of past and present life: This is the viewpoint which along with the present birth of an embodied soul accepts the doctrine of its past births. Authors of all the Darshans describing the soul principle except Charvak belonged to this school of thought.
  • From the point of view of past, present and future lives upto the Final Liberation: The concept discussed here considers the Final Liberation (Moksha) as the ultimate goal of life. Both the viewpoints i.e. that of the present and past lives are included in this school of thought so as to be able to discuss Spirituality on the plane of past, present and future lives leading to the Final Liberation.

3. Objectives and importance

There is a very close association between life and the Darshans. In short, life and the Darshans are designed for each other. To bestow an embodied soul undergoing the three types of suffering, with Serenity (Shanti) and satisfaction and to liberate one from the world full of conflicts the various Darshans were compiled in India.

All the principles discussed in the Darshans are basically found in the Upanishads. However they are not arranged systematically; but are found at random. The spiritual experiences that the sages of those days acquired through penance and contemplation were recorded by Them in the Upanishads. However spiritual experiences being subjective, they differ from each other. Despite this being so all of them are in the context of The Supreme Principle. Each one expressed the spiritual experience of The Supreme Principle as He realised it. Hence theoretical clarification of doubts in the Upanishads is not in a particular order. None of the principles in the Upanishads are bound by serial order. Although the Principle is one, the viewpoints about its nature are numerous. The Darshans then undertook the mission of resolving these mutually conflicting concepts and of arranging them sequentially to create a science.

4. Doctrines

The two doctrines which one comes across while studying the Indian Darshans are –

  • The Vedanta Darshan which elucidates the doctrine based on the logic of spiritual unity of the universe which contains various objects named differently.
  • Actualisation of The Supreme Soul which is the fundamental support of the all pervading unity through meditation, concentration and the superconscious state (samadhi). This is a practical doctrine and is elaborated upon in the Yoga Darshan.

The ancient Vedic sages realised this spiritual oneness associated with the basic Great Illusion existing in different forms and that which undergoes transformation from moment to moment, by direct experience and later compilers of the Darshans established it by describing it logically and with examples. Just as a changeless Principle exists in the ever changing universe pervading within and outside it, so also does it exist inside and outside the embodied soul (pinda). It is the only principle which regulates the embodied soul and the universe. The Upanishads preach that realisation of this single soul principle existing throughout the embodied soul and universe is the ultimate goal of human life.

5. Special features

A. A logical basis: The Indian (Bharatiya) scriptures of the Darshans are not based merely on blind faith. Logic has been used everywhere in their compilation. Different authors of the Darshans have presented important topics such as God, using the concepts of Brahman with the help of logic and not in their own way. All the Darshans seem to aim towards Self-realisation. “आत्‍मानं विद्धि meaning get to know the soul” is the basic mantra of the Darshans. To realise the soul it has to be distinguished from all objects which are not the soul. This itself is known as the faculty of discrimination between what is the soul and what is not (atmanatmavivek). The Indian Darshans have used this faculty of discrimination everywhere based on logical thinking. The Darshans are written based on proofs (pramans), ideas, logic and the spiritual experience of Self-realisation of knowledgeable souls.

B. The Path to attainment of Final Liberation when still embodied (Sadeha mukti): Majority of the Darshans have primarily emphasised upon the Final Liberation (Moksha). The Final Liberation is the fruit of nectar (amrutphal) of the wish-fulfilling tree (kalpavruksha) which exists in the form of the Darshans. The sole tool to attain the Final Liberation is spiritual knowledge. The unanimous proclamation of all the Darshans is “ऋते ज्ञानान्‍न मुक्‍ति: meaning there is no Final Liberation without spiritual knowledge”. The general belief is that the Final Liberation is attained only after death; but this is not so. Most of the Darshans have clearly stated that man can attain it when still embodied. In short, Liberation during embodiment (jivanmukti) is the ultimate target of most Darshans. This concept is a very precious gift bestowed by the Upanishads.

6. Number

6.1 The main Darshans

There was a master (acharya) named Haribhadra in the twelfth century A.D. who wrote a holy text called Shadadarshansamuchchaya which discusses six Darshans comprising of three non-Vedic viz. Charvak, Buddhist and Jain and three Vedic Darshans viz. Nyaya-Vaisheshik, Sankhya-Yoga and Mimansa-Vedanta.

From the era of the Rugveda two philosophies are noticed in the Indian sphere. The first is based on spiritual intellect (pradnya) and the second on logic (tarka). The Upanishad philosophy was generated later with the confluence of both these philosophies and culminated in the Vedanta which is based on spiritual intellect and which establishes the oneness of the soul and The Supreme Soul. It is from the pure philosophy based on logic that later Darshans like the Sankhya and Yoga which believed in the duality of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) and the Nyaya-Vaisheshik Darshans which professed multiplicity were written. Some authors of the Darshans segregated themselves from the Vedas and began to analyse the principles independently with logic. It is from this that the Syad philosophy of the Jains, the Shunya philosophy of the Buddhists, the philosophy of science (vidnyanvad) and Charvak’s Bhutatmavad philosophy came into existence.

6.2 Other Darshans

The word shadadarshane is used to refer to the six Darshans (shad means six). However there is a difference in opinion of scholars regarding which Darshans are to be incorporated in these shadadarshans. It is not definite that the number of the Darshans is six. It is seen that one who felt attracted towards a particular philosophy considered it to be a Darshan. Madhavacharya in His holy text the Sarvadarshansangraha places the number of Darshan holy texts at sixteen. A separate text on the Charvak Darshan is not available. It is known by virtue of its reference made in other holy texts.

7. History

The history of the Indian Darshans can be divided into the following four periods of time.

  • The Vedic period: This extends from the period of the Sanhitas to that of the Upanishads. During this period the basic doctrines of the Darshans were highlighted and discussed at length in the Brahmans and Aranyaks through the Sanhitas of the Rugveda and the Atharvaveda; with the Upanishads enhancing their growth further.
  • The post-Vedic period: During this period the Darshans opposing the Vedas such as the Charvak, Jain and Buddhist Darshans came to be written.
  • The period of the Sutras: The period from 450 to 250 B.C. is called the period of the Sutras during which the sages who wrote the Darshans expressed Their own different opinions incorporating the principles advocated by the Upanishads. The basic Sutras of the Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta Darshans were compiled during this very period. These Sutras are considered to be the basic holy texts of the respective Darshans. Along with the establishment of personal opinions the opinions of others are also countered. (It is during this period that some Smrutis too were written.)
  • The period of commentaries (bhashya): This period is vast extending from 200 A.D. to 1450 A.D. During this period the Sutras proved difficult to comprehend as they were brief and in the form of a summary. After creation of such a state of affairs, commentaries, varttiks and commentaries (tika) on the Sutras of those Darshans were compiled. Shabar, Kumaril, Vatsyayan, Prashastapad, Shankar, Ramanuj, Vachaspati and Udayan are prominent commentators on the Darshans of this period. Not only did these exponents unravel the secrets of previous masters but also established their own concepts. The characteristic of the texts of this period is establishing one’s own philosophy by countering the opinions of the opposite school, based on reasoning. (It is during this very period that the other Smrutis were written.)

8. Types

8.1 Theist and atheist Darshans

The Indian Darshans can be grossly classified into theist and atheist Darshans. The theist Darshans believe in the Vedas as the axiom while the atheist Darshans do not. From this point of view the Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta are theist Darshans and Charvak, Jain and Buddhist are atheist Darshans.

In common language, believers of God are called theists and non-believers are called atheists. However this classification of Darshans is not based on this conventional meaning because though the Mimansa is a theist Darshan it refutes the existence of God. The Sankhya Darshan too does not consider the necessity of God and believes that the universe is created, sustained and destroyed by the interaction of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush).

Panini has defined a theist and an atheist respectively as a believer and a non-believer in the existence of life beyond the earth (Ashtadhyayi 4.4.60). However according to this definition the Jain and Buddhist Darshans too would have to be incorporated in the theist Darshans because though they do not believe in the Vedas and God they certainly believe in life beyond, in the other regions.

Some Darshans have been created on the basis of the Agam holy texts. One wonders whether to call them theist or atheist because though they lie outside the purview of the Vedas they accept certain concepts such as the doctrine of the Law of Karma, rebirth, the Final Liberation, etc. from the theist Darshans. There is an odd admixture of various Vedic and non-Vedic doctrines in the Panchratrasanhita, Shaivasanhita and Shaktasanhita holy texts. In the verse (shloka) “Trayi sankhyam yogaha pashupatimatam vaishnavmiti (त्रयी सांख्‍यं योग: पशुपतिमतं वैष्‍णवमिति ।)” from the Shivamahimnastotra there is a mention of a Vaishnav Darshan. Though this Darshan too is non-Vedic it believes in concepts such as rebirth advocated by the theist Darshans. This will make it clear that it is very difficult to classify a Darshan created from the Agam texts as purely theist or atheist.

Indian culture is based on the Nigam and Agam texts; that is one base is the Nigams (Vedas) and the other is the Agams (Tantras). Thus it would be wise and beneficial to explain the Darshans based on both these schools of thought.’(1)

8.2 Vedic (theist) Darshans

The table below gives the names of the six Darshans and their authors. The noteworthy point here is that these theist Darshans were present several centuries before they were compiled as Sutras. So in reality the authors of the Sutras were not their prime exponents. Information in this regard is given here only in brief and is elaborated upon in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 14 – Path of Knowledge (Dnyanyoga)’.

Darshan Author Darshan Author
1. Nyaya Sage Gautam 4. Yoga Maharshi Patanjali
2. Vaisheshik Sage Kanad 5. Purva
Sage Jaimini
3. Sankhya Sage Kapil 6. Vedanta
Maharshi Vyas

A. The Nyaya Darshan: ‘This is the main from among the six Darshans. Substantiating the precepts of nyaya was the topic of the Nyaya Darshan. “प्रमाणैरर्थपरीक्षण न्‍याय:” defines nyaya as examining the Absolute principle using various proofs (pramans) [Vatsyayan Nyayabhashya 1.1.1]. This has acquired the name of Nyaya Darshan because it contains the description of the form of proofs and the general nature of examination of the proofs.’(2)

B. The Vaisheshik Darshan: ‘It is also known as the Kanad or Aulukya Darshan. Both the names are derived from its pioneer author Kanad, the son of Sage Uluk. Since a substance called “vishesh” is conceptualised in this Darshan it is called the Vaisheshik Darshan.’ (3)

C. The Sankhya Darshan: ‘This is one out of the six Indian Darshans. This Darshan originated during the period of the Atharvaveda. Its concepts have left a deep imprint upon the ancient Kath, Shvetashvatar, Prashna and Maitrayani Upanishads. This Darshan came to occupy a firm position in Indian philosophy in the post-Upanishad period. Indian Vedic scholars created the Darshan philosophy merging the Sankhya and the Vedanta. The philosophy in holy texts such as the Mahabharat, Gita, Purans and Manusanhita is based on the confluence between the Sankhya and the Vedanta. The Buddhist and Jain schools of thought also emerged in the atmosphere of the Sankhya Darshan. Perhaps the Sankhya philosophy came into existence approximately around 800 B.C. and is based on pure rationalism.

The name Sankhya can be defined in different ways. This Darshan first and foremost enumerated the principles. The enumeration is also called sankhya (number). This Darshan was so named because it attributed importance to the number. Another definition of sankhya is the power of discrimination (vivek).’(4) ‘सत्त्वरजस्‍तमोगुणानां साम्‍यावस्‍था meaning the Great Illusion (Prakruti) is the state of equilibrium (unmanifest state) of the three components – sattva, raja and tama’. The Great Illusion is also known as the unmanifest (avyakta) and primordial principle (pradhan). According to the Sankhyas (followers of the Sankhya philosophy) the Great Illusion is the cause for all that is gross or subtle. It being very subtle can be realised through some external medium. However since it incorporates the above three components they also manifest in all objects in the universe. The Great Illusion is eternal, all pervading, gross and independent. It is manifest and has a form and assumes new forms from moment to moment.’(5) ‘Man gets trapped in the cycles of birth and death because of his ignorance about the Great Illusion and the Absolute Being (Purush). But when he realises that the Absolute Being (embodied soul) is distinct and independent of the Great Illusion he attains the Final Liberation (Moksha). Because of the importance attributed to this knowledge of discrimination, this Darshan was named the Sankhya. Since this Darshan believes in the two basic concepts of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) it belongs to the dualistic philosophy. Sage Kapil the exponent of this Darshan is called the foremost author of the Darshans and is glorified as the foremost scholar because during the ancient times this Darshan influenced the thinking of the people to a great extent.’(6)

D. The Yoga Darshan: ‘This is one of the six Darshans. Since its doctrines resemble those of the Sankhya Darshan a great deal, it is always associated with the latter. The Sankhya Darshan believes in twenty-five principles which are also accepted by the Yoga Darshan. Only the twenty-sixth principle, that of God which is rejected by the Sankhya Darshan is accorded great importance in the Yoga Darshan. The science of Yoga is closely associated with the science of vital energies (pran). The vital energies are directly connected to the science of Yoga through pranayam. All the Upanishads have advocated victory over the mind and the vital energies as the means to attain the Final Liberation.’(7)

E. (Purva) Mimansa Darshan: ‘This too is one of the six Darshans. The word mimansa (मीमांसा) is derived from the root word man (मान्‌) meaning worship or opposition when suffixed with the dative case (pratyay) san (सन्‌). It is also called the Purvamimansa. The Mimansas are defined as the “decision of principles after contemplation”. Mimansas are thus those texts which decide the meaning of Vedic mantras by surpassing the contradictions from among mutually contradictory Vedic mantras. Kumarilbhatt says –

धर्माख्‍यं विषयं वक्‍तुं मीमांसाया: प्रयोजनम्‌ ।

Meaning: Discussion of the topic of Righteousness (Dharma) is the very purpose of the Mimansas.

The Shrutis are divided into two categories – the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand) and the stage of spiritual knowledge (dnyankand). The stage of ritualistic worship deals with explanation of the rituals and practice of sacrificial fires. The task of the stage of spiritual knowledge is to describe the forms of the embodied soul (jiva), the universe and God and their relationships with one another. These Darshans were primarily created to eliminate the apparently contradictory statements between them. Since ritualistic worship is the first part of the Vedas it is called the Purva (pre) Mimansa and since the stage of spiritual knowledge is the final stage of the Vedas, the Vedanta it is known as the Uttar (post) Mimansa.’(8)

F. (Uttar) Mimansa or the Vedanta Darshan: ‘It is also called the Vedanta, Uttarmimansa and the Shankardarshan. This Darshan is the jewel in the crown of the entire science of Spirituality. This Darshan envisages the ultimate culmination of the Darshanik school of thought and philosophy prior to Shankaracharya. In the Upanishads the Vedanta is referred to as the ultimate doctrine of the Shrutis. The Upanishads themselves were called the Vedanta. The definition of the Vedanta can be given as –

वेदशिरोभागो ब्रह्मप्रतिपादक उपनिषद्रूपो ग्रन्‍थविशेष: ।
अत्र उपनिषदर्थनिर्णायकत्‍वेन ब्रह्मसूत्राणामपि
वेदान्‍तत्‍वमुपचर्यते इतिविज्ञेयम्‌ ।। – न्‍यायकोश

Meaning: The concluding part of the Vedas and the holy text in the form of the Upanishads which describes Brahman is known as the Vedanta. – Nyayakosh(9)

The Brahmasutras too elucidate the meaning of the Upanishads and hence are included in the Vedanta. The Upanishads were referred to as the Vedanta because they unravelled the mysterious meaning of the Vedas. Sage Badarayan compiled the Brahmasutras with the motive of eliminating the contradictions and differences of opinion in the Upanishads and creating an unanimous opinion.

‘Worship and spiritual practice have to be founded on some Darshan. Only then do they derive some significance. Prior to the elucidation of the unmanifest form of The Lord done in the Vedas there was no Darshan about its manifestation. Sage Vyas wrote the Brahmasutras and accomplished that task. He gathered the spiritual doctrines in that holy text in the form of aphorisms (sutras). Shankaracharya, Nimbarkacharya, Ramanujacharya, Vallabhacharya, Madhvacharya and other authors of the Darshans have compiled their own sectarian Darshans based on the Brahmasutras.’ (10)

8.3 Darshans complementary to the Vedas (Agams)

‘Another name for the Tantra texts are the Agams. They preach the modes of accomplishing the two pursuits of life (purusharthas) viz. experiencing worldly pleasures and attaining the Final Liberation. The texts describing the forms of actions (karma), spiritual practice and knowledge are the Nigams and those advocating the paths of spiritual practice are the Agams. This is their distinguishing feature. The Varahi Tantra states that creation, dissolution, offering made unto deities, all spiritual practices, purashcharan (recitation of mantras), the spiritual practice of six actions (shatakarma) and the Path of Meditation (Dhyanyoga) are the seven characteristics of the Agam texts. The Agams too have two classes – the Vedic and the non-Vedic. The Buddhist Agams are non-Vedic. Although the Shaiva, Shakta and Pancharatra (Vaishnav) Agams fall outside the purview of the Vedas they are still in concordance with them.

A. The Shaiva Agam (Shaivagam Darshan): The four sects namely Pashupat, Shaiva, Kalamukh and Kapalik are known as Maheshvar. Their original religious and theoretical texts of doctrines are called the Shaivagams. All the three schools of thought – duality (dvait), non-duality (advait) and duality-non-duality (dvaitadvait) are found in the Shaivagam. Information on these is provided in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 A – Shiva’.

B. The Shakta Darshan: These Agams state that the embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) is not distinct from The Supreme Soul (Paramatma). The Shakta Darshan chiefly advocates spiritual practice according to the philosophy of non-duality. Excluding kamachar (the kama code of conduct) all the six codes of conduct from the Shaktas are originally from the Vedas. More information on this is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 B – Divine Energy (Shakti)’.

C. The Pancharatra (Vaishnav) Darshan: The Pancharatra Agam is considered as the representative of all the other Vaishnav Agams. This Agam appears to have been prevalent during the era of the Upanishads. One has to accept that it is definitely older than the Mahabharat. All the Vaishnav Agams believe Lord Vishnu to be both the means as well as the end. This Agam lays emphasis on the principle of surrender. The basic doctrine of the Pancharatra Agam is described in the Shrutis. Description of the Pancharatra satra (ritual) is given in the Shatpath Brahman 13.6.1. The Vaishnav Agam gives the meaning of the word ratra as spiritual knowledge. This Agam is named Pancharatra (panch means five) because it advocates knowledge of five things – the supreme principle, worldly experiences, the Final Liberation, yoga and the material world. Since this Agam substantiates the oneness of the embodied soul and Brahman it does not accept the Vivartvad (philosophy of the Great Illusion) of the followers of non-duality (advait). It advocates the Parinamvad philosophy described by the Sankhya, Yoga and other Darshans.’(11) Information on this is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 8 – Vishnu and His Forms (including Maruti and Datta)’.

8.4 Non-Vedic (atheist) Darshans

‘Though the Buddhist and Jain Darshans do not accept the Vedic doctrines it would be improper to eliminate them from the hierarchy of the Upanishads. These are independent Darshans which impede the Upanishad hierarchy or philosophy. Their origin was related to the circumstances of the prevalent times. These Darshans came into existence to eliminate the great burden of rituals incorporated in the Vedic tradition and the various unrelated things that were also incorporated in it.’(12) The Buddhist ‘Agam’ literature is written in Pali while the Jain literature is in the Ardhamagadhi language. However the Darshans of both are in Sanskrut since it was the language of the scholars of those days.

The Buddhist Darshan: ‘Even Buddha accepted the doctrine that the Final Liberation cannot be attained without spiritual knowledge. All the same mere intellectual knowledge without purity of conduct does not liberate man. This very realisation led Him to emphasise on the path of conduct.

The Jain Darshan: The Jain Darshan also accords great importance to conduct. To resolve the problem of conduct the Jains created a separate philosophy of their own. The doctrine of this Darshan is that the truth is relative. The Jain teachers state that all the Darshans which set out in search of the truth finally found only a part of it, they did not realise the entire truth. Only this Darshan has been successful in describing the entire form of the ultimate truth both as theist and atheist philosophies. All other Darshans are incomplete; only this Darshan is complete. Since the object principle is present in various forms, the Jains called this doctrine of theirs the Anekant (multifold) philosophy. The path shown by all the Jain teachers is based on this philosophy.’(13)

The Charvak Darshan: This is an Indian philosophy advocating materialism. This text is spoken of in various holy texts and some holy texts have even criticised it. No separate text specific to this Darshan is available.

9. Spiritual practice

‘The verse (shloka) below advocates what one should do to attain Self-realisation.

श्रोतव्‍य: श्रुतिवाक्‍येभ्‍यो मन्‍तव्‍यश्‍चोपपत्तिभि: ।
मत्‍वा तु सततं ध्‍येय एते दर्शनहेतव: ।।

Meaning: One should hear a discourse about the soul from the Shrutis, should contemplate with the help of logical concepts and develop intense yearning by performing meditation, etc. according to the Path of Yoga. These are the three modes of realising the soul.

The Darshans have explained the above three means as follows.

  • Listening to a discourse (shravan): The first means of attaining Self-realisation is understanding the nature of the soul through knowledge. The Shrutis elucidate the spiritual experiences of Self-realised knowers of Brahman which helps in this process.
  • Contemplation (manan): This is the second means for Self-realisation. The Darshans have discussed their viewpoints and methods of realisation of the soul. The Praman mimansa being an extremely useful book for contemplation, it has been endowed tremendous importance in the Darshans.
  • Intense yearning (nididhyasan): The third means of attaining Self-realisation is intense yearning (through meditation, concentration, etc.). It has been described in the Yoga Darshan. So long as the soul does not get experiences through meditation, concentration, etc. till then the first two means prove to be futile.’(14)


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 4, Pg. 299-303            [2]. Vol. 5, Pg. 266
[3]. Vol. 9, Pg. 136                    [4]. Vol. 9, Pg. 702
[5]. Vol. 5, Pg. 693                    [6]. Vol. 9, Pg. 702
[7]. Vol. 7, Pg. 660                    [8]. Vol. 7, Pg. 385-386
[9]. Vol. 1, Pg. 130                    [10]. Vol. 9, Pg. 158
[11]. Vol. 4, Pg. 302, 303          [12]. Vol. 4, Pg. 302
[13]. Vol. 4, Pg. 302                  [14]. Vol. 4, Pg. 301


Correct way of chanting vedic mantras


1. Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas)

‘After the Upanishads with the advent of Buddhism, Vedic tradition lagged behind. The first literary attempts to revive it are the literary works of the Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas). To preserve and utilise the Shrutis systematically there arose a need to create a syllabus; hence later masters (acharya) of the Vedas wrote six sciences related to the Vedas – Shiksha (science of pronunciation), Kalpa, Vyakaran (grammar), Nirukta, Chanda (science of prosody) and Jyotish (astrology). Literature useful for the study and comprehension of the Vedas and the rituals from them is famous as sciences related to the Vedas. These sciences are supposed to be created by man.’(1)

1.1 Shiksha (science of pronunciation)

The science teaching the method of pronunciation of vowels, alphabets, etc. is shiksha. Famous holy texts on this science are written by Sages Panini, Yadnyavalkya and Vasishtha. ‘The Shatpath Brahman states that every metrical composition of Vedic mantras or every alphabet of a word possesses some kind of strength and explains the secret of every alphabet. The Mandukya Upanishad believes that even uttering of alphabets from a mantra is powerful and hence describes the greatness of the alphabet Om. Since the Vedas were considered to be divine in origin the order of every word from their mantras had to be maintained while chanting, as per the established rules. In this regard authors of the Nirukta say, “नियतानुपूर्व्‍या नियतवाचोयुक्‍तय: meaning a word, the order of alphabets in it and its method of pronunciation is definite; hence the meaning of the Vedas also does not change”.’(2) To be able to chant Vedic mantras appropriately one should know the correct pronunciation of vowels (svar). Vowels mean sound. If pronounced correctly the sound generated by a word makes it efficacious. Hence if Vedic mantras are chanted correctly then the mantras become efficacious.

Faulty pronunciation of even one word changes the entire meaning; hence vowels decide the meaning of words. In this regard the Panini Shiksha (52) says –

मन्‍त्रो हीन: स्‍वरतो वर्णतो वा मिथ्‍या प्रयुक्‍तो न तमर्थमाह ।
स वाग्‍वज्रो यजमानं हिनस्‍ति यथेन्‍द्रशत्रु: स्‍वरतोऽपराधात्‌ ।।

Meaning: The mantra without proper pronunciation of vowels (svar) and consonants (varna), that is the utterance of a mantra in a faulty manner makes it faulty and does not convey the intended meaning. Instead it gets converted into a verbal thunderbolt and harms the one chanting it, as had occurred in the case of the word Indrashatru with faulty pronunciation of vowels.

The compound word Indrashatru could have two meanings, one being “Indra’s enemy” (the slayer of Lord Indra) from Tatpurush Samas and “the one whose enemy is Lord Indra” (the one who will be slain by Lord Indra) from Bahuvrihi Samas. Since the first meaning was intended for Tvashta he had to utter the note of the last letter of the entire word in a lofty tone. He however, uttered the last letter of the first word in the Samas in a lofty tone. Consequently, instead of a son being born to slay Lord Indra, a son, Vrutra who would be killed by Lord Indra was born (Taittiriya Sanhita 2.5.1-2); hence in the Vedas importance is endowed to the pronunciation of vowels.’(3)

A. Distortion in the Vedas: ‘The ancient Aryans thought of another idea to preserve Vedic mantras in appropriate metrical compositions and hence created distortion in the Vedas. For that poetic compositions of the Sanhitas, which appeared in different branches of the Vedas in the mantra form, were created. Sages Shakalya, Gargya and Atreya created poetic compositions of the Rugveda, Samaveda and Taittiriya Sanhita respectively. Based on these compositions distortions such as Kram, Jata, Ghan, etc. were written. These variations were useful to chant Vedic mantras in reverse order and thus to realise the variations of notes occurring in them.’(4)

B. Pratishakhya: After several branches of the Vedas came into being each branch began to chant the mantras in their own way. To bring uniformity among them the Pratishakhya was created.

1.2 Kalpa

At times the Sutras (aphorisms) are also called Vedanga (science related to the Vedas) since Kalpa is included in the literature of Sutras. The Kalpa is a science which prescribes the rules to be observed in rites (sanskar) and sacrificial fires (yadnyayag) and gives a Sanhita (compilation) of the code of conduct. ‘Kalpa refers to the orderly arrangement of Vedic rituals or their science. The information on sacrificial fires in the Brahman holy texts is in concise form. One comes across a play upon words, admixture and diversion of topics in it. After scrutinising all this information on religious rites the Kalpasutras were composed in a specific order and with precise words to describe rituals.

The Kalpasutras are classified into the following three types depending upon their mutual dependence and complimentary potential – Shrautrasutra, Dharmasutra and Gruhyasutra. The Shrautrasutra gives information on fire sacrifices from the Vedas. The Dharmasutra gives an account of the dictums of Righteousness (Dharma) or religious duties to be performed as well as traditional, social, familial and religious customs. Generally the Dharmasutras are in prose form in the Arsha language (language of the evolved). The Gruhyasutra describes religious rites like the sixteen spiritual rites to be performed by a householder along with his wife for the welfare of his family, in the fire worshipped at home (gruhyagni).’(5) ‘The Kalpasutra is associated with some Vedic branch or a part of a sutra is incorporated in some Vedas. Complete Kalpasutras consisting of all the three types of aphorisms are found in only the Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi and Baudhayan parts of the Yajurveda.’(6)

1.3 Vyakaran (grammar)

‘Analysis and discussion of the entire structure of any language is called Vyakaran (grammar). The meaning of the word vyakaran is derived as follows “व्‍याक्रियन्‍ते शब्‍दा अनेन इति व्‍याकरणम्‌ meaning that in which pure words can be separated from corrupted words or that from which one learns holy words, is Vyakaran”.’(7) According to Sage Vararuchi protection of Vedas by sages, creation of new verses, quickly grasping the pure form of every word from the Sanskrut language, clarification of doubts arising in the context of Vedic topics are all the main objectives of Vyakaran. Ashtadhyayi is the holy text written by Panini in the form of aphorisms (sutras).

1.4 Nirukta

This gives the meaning of difficult words from the Vedas. Refer point ‘Interpretation of the Vedas’.

1.5 Chanda (science of prosody)

‘यदक्षरपरिमाणं तच्‍छन्‍द: ।’ means that in which the composition has a specific quantity of alphabets is the Chanda (sarvanukramani). How every vowel and consonant from a mantra should be pronounced is given in the book “Shiksha”, a science related to the Vedas and how the entire mantra should be pronounced is given in the Chanda. It is essential to know the Chanda to be able to chant the Vedic mantras appropriately. Gayatri, Ushnik, Anushtubh, Bruhati, Pankti, Trishtubh and Jagati are the main Chandas from the Sanhitas and the Brahman texts. This is called the fifth science related to the Vedas.

1.6 Jyotish (astrology)

This science was created as the prediction of time and is known as Jyotish.

वेदा हि यज्ञार्थमभिप्रवृत्ता: कालानुपूर्वा विहिताश्च यज्ञा: ।
तस्‍मादिदं कालविधानशास्त्रं यो ज्‍योतिषं वेद स वेद यज्ञान्‌ ।।

Meaning: The Vedas were created to perform sacrificial fires. The performance of a sacrificial fire is dependent on time. Hence the wise one who knows the science of the prediction of time becomes an authority on sacrificial fires.

2. The ten holy texts

‘The Sanhitas, Brahmans, Padakram, Aranyaks, Shiksha, Chanda, Jyotish, Nighantu, Nirukta and Ashtadhyayi constitute the ten holy texts (dashagrantha). The Aranyaks are not considered a part of the Brahman texts, but are endowed with a separate status. Similarly the Nighantu and Nirukta are considered as two separate holy texts. Vyadi has named these ten holy texts differently as – the Sanhitas, Brahmans, Aranyaks, Shiksha, Kalpa, Ashtadhyayi, Nighantu, Nirukta, Chanda and Jyotish. As Vyadi has described these ten holy texts the tradition of their study dates back to the ancient times.’(8) Brahmans (priests) well versed in the recitation of the ten holy texts are called Dashagranthi Brahmans.

3. Interpretation of the Vedas

3.1 The Brahman holy texts

‘In the spiritual practice of interpreting the meaning of the Vedas the first tools are the Brahman holy texts. Some Vedic mantras in those texts have been quoted and discussed from the point of view of sacrificial fires (yadnya). The authors of the Brahman texts believed that all the ancient commentaries were written only for the sake of sacrificial fires and that the meaning associated with the rituals in the sacrificial fires must be that implied by the sage who visualised the Sukta and compiled it. All the same since these holy texts are closest to the Vedas with respect to the time frame their concepts need to be taken into account.

3.2 Yaskacharya, the commentator

The next tool for the interpretation of the Vedas are the Nighantu text and Yaska’s Nirukta. The Nighantu has a compilation of all the difficult Vedic words from the Rugveda; however the most difficult words are not explained and the meaning of some words is uncertain. Based on the Nighantu, Yaska compiled the Nirukta text. Yaskacharya is the oldest and pioneer commentator of the Vedas. The commentators who followed him used his text as the basis. No other holy text like it is available.’(9) ‘The Nirukta is included in the ten holy texts that a Brahman (priest) endowed with the title of Rugvedi Dashagranthi (knower of the ten holy texts) should study.

The Nirukta is a commentary on the Nighantu. But from the very beginning the Nirukta and Nighantu have both been termed as the Nirukta. Durgacharya states that the Nirukta is superior to the sciences related to the Vedas and other scriptures as it explains the exact meaning of the Vedas. The meaning is important; the word is secondary. How to define a word and a meaning can be realised only from the Nirukta hence to understand the Vedas it is absolutely essential that one studies the Nirukta.

The Nirukta is complementary to the science of Vyakaran (grammar). The word Nirukta can be divided into two parts, nir and ukta. Nir means that which is total and ukta means that which is said or explained. In the Nirukta words have been described comprehensively. It is not a mere explanation of the meaning of words but also elucidates the origin of the word associated with that particular meaning. In other words every word is minutely analysed. They emphatically proclaim that though such a grammatically ruled word is not proven from a root of similar meaning one should not bother about it. Ignoring the rules of grammar one should firmly adopt the meaning suggested by the Name. Wholeheartedly obeying this directive Yaska and the authors of the Nirukta before Him, created new words. Vedic words should be interpreted according to the context and the same origin of the word should be given when it is used with the same meaning; however when it is used with a variety of meanings different origins may certainly be given.

“सन्‍तमेव अर्थम्‌ आययति गमयतीति सत्‍यम्‌ means that which imparts true knowledge about the existing objects is the ultimate truth”.

Through various ideas Yaska has clearly proclaimed that all names are derived from a root. The present day linguistics too has accepted this doctrine. Panini’s era came later than 700 B.C. From this it appears that Yaska’s era must have been from 800 to 1000 B.C.

One who simply recites the Vedas without understanding their meaning is but a pillar (sthanu). The one who has understood their meaning will be endowed with happiness in this world and the worlds beyond. A word devoid of meaning and knowledge cannot enlighten a person. No matter how dry a wooden log is if it is not thrown into the fire then of what use is it ? This is Yaska’s quote. It is from this quote that the evolution of His spiritual intellect (pradnya) can be realised. He says, “अर्थं वाच: पुष्‍पफलम्‌ which means that a meaning is both the blossom as well as the fruit of speech” (1.20). By writing the Nirukta he showed an easily accomplishable path to the study of the Vedas and by interpreting them proved Kautsa’s quote that the Vedas are devoid of meaning, false. When taunting Kautsa in the (Nirukta 1.16) he says,

नैष स्‍थाणोरपराधो यदेनमन्‍धो न पश्‍यति ।
पुरुषापराध: स भवति ।

Meaning: If a blind man cannot see a pillar then it is not the pillar’s fault, rather that of the man.

Sayanacharya followed Yaska and compiled commentaries on the Vedas. Sayanacharya explains the connection of words in the Vedic verses (rucha); however Yaska does not do so. Hence one does not know how he would interpret the verses.’(10)

3.3 Sayanacharya, the commentator

‘Sayanacharya is glorified everywhere because after Yaskacharya he is the first to analyse the Vedas. He wrote commentaries on all the Vedas. He explains why he wrote a commentary on a particular Veda in his Bhashyopodghat of the Taittiriya Sanhita as, “If the Yajurveda is considered as the wall then the pictures niched on it are the Rugveda and the Samaveda. Hence we have discussed the Yajurveda first.” When writing a commentary on every Veda Sayanacharya used a different style. Sayanacharya has written commentaries on the Shatpath, Aitareya, Taittiriya and all the Brahman texts of the Samaveda.

3.4 Other commentators

The commentators who came before Sayanacharya were those like Bhattabhaskarmishra and Venkatmadhav and those who came after him were Uvvat, Mahidhar, etc. Nevertheless each of them wrote a commentary on only a single Vedic Sanhita. All these commentaries are in Sanskrut with their mainstay on sacrificial fires (yadnya) from the Vedas.

3.5 Western commentators

The tradition of interpretation of the Vedas had lapsed for sometime. Over the past one or two centuries the Vedas began to be interpreted quite differently. New commentators came to the forefront. Study of Vedic literature began analytically. The credit for this type of study should be given to Western scholars. The foremost among these researchers was Max Muller. After him literary scholars like Ludwig, Geldner, Wilson, Keath, etc. did an indepth study of the Vedas and elucidated their meaning.

Dayanand Sarasvati may be nominated as a modern Indian commentator.’(11)

4. Preservation and study of the Vedas

‘The Vedas being the religious scriptures of the Aryans, to preserve the verses (rucha) in them the Brahmans (priests) strove tirelessly and even sacrificed their selfish motives for this purpose. The foremost duty of the Brahmans was to make a lifelong study of the vast Vedic literature and to learn it by rote to be able to impart it to the next generation in exactly the same form. Having sacrificed their lives for this mission wholeheartedly, naturally they neglected material life. Though by the study of the Vedas there were no monetary gains they continued their task of studying the Vedas and imparting knowledge to the others undeterred, for centuries together. Along with the preservation of the Vedas they also strove for the survival of the other sciences (vidyas) dependent on them. It is precisely because of these efforts that in the ancient times they were accorded a high status in society.

The Vedas should be studied with concentration, diligence, control over the senses, with a lot of knowledge and with austerities. The rules to be followed in this regard should be observed carefully. Study of the Vedas should be commenced after a bath performing the ritual of sandhya and chanting “Om”. A sanctified place should be chosen for its study. According to the rules laid down in the religious Sutras and Smrutis when studying the Vedas one should sit in a cross-legged posture without making any movement of the head and feet. Study means chanting the Vedic mantras exactly as done by the Guru. Just as the study of the Vedas should be done scientifically so also the teacher imparting the knowledge of the Vedas is expected to observe certain norms. Such a teacher should never accept a salary for imparting this knowledge. He should choose an appropriate disciple, perform the rite of thread ceremony on him and then teach him the Vedas.

However the question was how to preserve this knowledge once it was imparted. Hence the Brahmayadnya was included in daily ritualistic actions. Perusal of some parts of the Vedas already studied everyday itself is called Brahmayadnya a mention of which is made in the five great sacrificial fires (panchamahayadnya). Reading of the Vedas should be done regularly following the same restrictions as observed during its study. Apart from this, one studying the Vedas should always maintain a pure and clean conduct. He should consider preservation of the Vedas as the mission of his life. During the perusal contemplation on the meaning of Vedic mantras should also be done. Yaska has labelled the one who chants Vedic mantras without understanding their meaning as a ‘pillar (sthanu)’ (Nirukta 1.18).

In the ancient times the rite of thread ceremony (upanayan) was performed on girls as well and they were allowed to study the Vedas. Some examples of such women well versed in the Vedas are Apala, Vishvavara, Ghosha, etc.’(12)

Very long ago scholars well versed in all the four Vedas were called Chaturvedi, those knowledgeable in three were called Trivedi and those who could recite two of them were called Dvivedi.

5. Vedic deities

‘Followers of the Vedas glorified Brahman as Prajapati, Hiranyagarbha and Purush (Absolute Being). The Purushsukta describes how Brahman or Purush is omnipresent. Purush is the one adorning a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. Despite encompassing the entire earth His body extends by the breadth of ten fingers. The Atharvaveda too describes this Brahman in its Uchchishtasukta (11.9). Uchchishta (in Sanskrut means leftover) means the principle that remains after encompassing everything or that unaffected by everything, in short The Supreme Brahman. The Bruhadaranyak expresses this Uchchishta with ‘not this [neti (नेति)]’ (2.3.11). Not this, not that, not any of the objects visualised in the entire universe; but that which remains (uchchishta) as subtle, formless, unmanifest and beyond them should be considered as Brahman. The non-dual (advait) Vedanta has attributed great significance to the statement mentioned in the above Suktas, that the Name and form are dependent on the uchchishta. The author of the Sukta says that the glory of Uchchishta is beyond description.’(13)

‘The Suktas were compiled referring to various energies from Nature as Indra, Varun, Marut, Parjanya, Ushas, etc. The term “Vishvedevaha” was used in the context of all deities. To prevent or nullify the ill effects of distressing energies on human life the practice of using tantras had also come into existence.’(14)

6. Vedic Righteousness (Dharma) and sacrificial fires

‘As new colonies of Aryans were being settled in Madhyadesh sacrificial fires (yadnya) assumed the form of ritualistic worship (karmakand) and consequently new literary works such as the Brahman holy texts came into being. There was expansion of the concept of sacrificial fires during the period of the Brahman texts. The slogan uttered then was “कृण्‍वन्‍तो विश्वमार्यम्‌” meaning “let us make the entire universe Aryan”.’ (15)

7. The Vedas and the stages in spiritual practice

The Vedas recommend three main stages of spiritual practice viz. the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand), the stage of mental worship (upasanakand) and the stage of acquiring spiritual knowledge (dnyankand).

  • The stage of ritualistic worship: This describes the rituals and the mode of performing them along with the restrictions to be observed.
  • The stage of mental worship: This encompasses topics such as ritualistic worship (puja), devotion, etc.
  • The stage of acquiring spiritual knowledge: The Upanishads which are a part of the Vedas provide information in this regard. Maharshi Vyas has systematically compiled this information from different Upanishads into His holy texts, the Brahmasutras. Even today the commentary of Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya on the philosophy of non-duality (advait) from the Vedas is considered the greatest philosophy in the world. According to this philosophy nothing is dual in this world. Everything in this universe is Brahman itself and nothing else.

There are 1,00,000 verses (rucha) written on the Vedas, of which 80,000 are on the stage of ritualistic worship, 16,000 on the stage of mental worship and 4000 on the stage of acquiring spiritual knowledge. The fourth stage is of Self-realisation. It is also known as the stage of devotion after Self-realisation (dnyanottarbhaktikand).

8. Vedic culture

The social life of people from the Vedic period was dominated by five principles viz. family life, repayment of the three debts, the system of classes (varna) and that of stages of life (ashrams) and the four pursuits (purusharthas) of life.

9. Family life during the Vedic period

‘It is mainly the householder who was responsible for fulfillment of responsibilities such as looking after the entire family, constantly striving for the happiness of his family, earning money and wealth and saving it. It was during this period that the fire acquired an important position in the institution of a family. The Vedics have named a fire established in the home as the master of the home (gruhapati). The householder had to perform several rites with the assistance of this fire for the welfare of his family members. He had to perform the five great sacrificial fires – for deities (the devyadnya), for ancestors (pitruyadnya), for cosmic elements (bhutyadnya), for guests (atithiyadnya) and for Brahman (Brahmayadnya). The society had accepted the sanctity of the institution of marriage. Those bound in wedlock had to maintain its restrictions throughout their lives.’(16)


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 9, Pg. 582                 [2]. Vol. 9, Pg. 66
[3]. Vol. 6, Pg. 650                 [4]. Vol. 9, Pg. 70
[5]. Vol. 10, Pg. 99                 [7]. Vol. 9, Pg. 150
[8]. Vol. 4, Pg. 307                 [9]. Vol. 9, Pg. 79, 80
[10]. Vol. 5, Pg. 120-123       [11]. Vol. 5, Pg. 120-123
[12]. Vol. 9, Pg. 61-71           [13]. Vol. 9, Pg. 77, 78
[14]. Vol. 9, Pg. 71, 72           [15]. Vol. 9, Pg. 76
[16]. Vol. 9, Pg. 73

[6]. Dharmashastracha Itihas (first half). Second edition : 1980, Page 8. Publisher : Secretary, Maharashtra State Literary and Cultural Society, Secretariat, Mumbai 34


Why are Upanishads also known as Brahmavidya?


1. Divisions of the Veda

‘मंत्रब्राह्मणयोर्वेदनामधेयम्‌’ means literature composed of the mantra part and the Brahman part of holy texts are the Vedas (Apastamba Paribhasha 31). Grossly every Veda is divided into four parts – the Sanhitas, Brahmans, Aranyaks and Upanishads. The Sanhitas comprise of the mantra aspect and the Brahmans, Aranyaks and Upanishads, the Brahman part. The Aranyaks and the Upanishads are a part, that is an epilogue of the Brahman holy texts. However because of the method of writing and the linguistic pattern they are considered to be different. The Aranyaks and Upanishads were basically parts of the Brahman holy texts. Only the Ishavasyopanishad is a part of the Sanhitas.

 The Ayurveda is called the fifth Veda.

1.1 The Sanhitas

The part which has to be learnt by rote by a student in the Guru’s hermitage (ashram), during the stage of celibacy is referred to as the Sanhita. In the Shruti (Veda) rules of religious scriptures appear concomittantly. Different Sanhitas give important tenets on marriage and its types, categories of sons, the rite of adoption, division of wealth, division of inheritance, the rite of shraddha for the departed ancestors, a woman’s personal property, etc.

1.2 The Brahman holy texts

A. Meaning: ‘The word Brahman (ब्राह्मण) when neuter in gender means a holy text (ब्रह्मणं ब्रह्मसङ्‌घाते वेदभागे नपुंसकम्‌ ।). The word Brahman was used in the context of a holy text first in the Taittiriya Sanhita (

  • The word Brahman (ब्रह्म) is also used ordinarily to refer to a Veda or a mantra in Vedic literature. Hence Brahman means the Vedas and that which imparts the knowledge of Brahman are the Brahman holy texts.
  • The basic meaning of the word Brahman is the commentary of a Vedic scholar on a subject from among the rituals in a sacrificial fire (yadnya). The holistic meaning of the word is taken as the collection of discussions and commentaries of those performing sacrificial fires on rituals from the sacrificial fire.
  • Brahman also means a sacrificial fire. It is because of this very reason that the focus of the Brahman holy texts is upon prescribing the method of ritualistic worship of sacrificial fires. In these sacrificial fires, besides suggesting which mantra to chant, the significance of chanting it with that particular act is also explained. The Brahman holy texts chiefly explain which mantra is to be chanted with which act, that is why they are a science of practical utility. The Brahman texts can be described as a great encyclopaedia containing scientific, physical and spiritual concepts. Along with sacrificial fires the Brahman texts also discuss different sciences related to sacrificial fires.

B. Content: These texts encompass mainly three topics that is rites, prohibitions and argumentation philosophy.

  • Description of sacrificial fires: The Brahman text gives a vivid description of the sacrificial fire to be performed daily by one who has accepted the Agnihotra vowed observance. Apart from the Agnihotra, Darshapurnamas, Chaturmasya, Somyag and other sacrificial fires, great fire sacrifices like Ahin, Satre, etc. are also explained in detail. A mention of sacrifices performed for fulfillment of desires (kamyayag) is also made. These texts also give details of different rituals to be performed in all the above sacrificial fires. This part is called the ‘ritual section’ of the Brahman texts.
  • Prohibition of non-actions : They also state which acts are inappropriate.
  • The philosophy of argumentation: A large section of these texts is constituted by the philosophy of argumentation. The four main types of this philosophy are – praise, criticism, actions performed by others and an account of events which have occurred in the previous kalpa (a period of time comprising of 1000 turns of the four yugs).
  • Since the Brahmans are the first holy texts to attempt to give an explanation of mantras they are referred to as the pioneer holy texts giving commentaries of mantras. Apart from the use of particular mantras for particular actions the Brahmans also explain how the meaning of the words in the mantra harmoniously blends with the action being performed with great expertise.

C. Authority: The Vedas or their branches can be classified into two sections – the Sanhitas in the form of mantras and the Brahmans in the form of discourses or statements. Though according to the time the composition of the Brahmans follows the Sanhitas, the Brahmans are included in the divine holy texts.

D. The time period: The Brahmans have tried to explain the meaning of mantras from the Sanhitas and their conversion into various actions (karma). That explicitly illustrates that the Brahmans were written after the Sanhitas. However some Sanhitas are in a mixed form with mantras and resemble the Brahmans; hence they are believed to be written during the Brahman period.

     Astrology is a better science than philology or the description of various ritualistic actions in determination of the time. In the Brahman texts Kruttika is believed to be the first lunar asterism (nakshatra). The text Shatpath ( states that this lunar asterism never vanishes from the east. The lunar asterisms from Kruttika to Vishakha are the lunar asterisms of deities while those from Anuradha to Bharani are the lunar asterisms of Lord Yama (the deity of death). In other words to the northern side of the equator are the lunar asterisms of deities and to its south are the lunar asterisms of Lord Yama. The same is described in the Taittiriya Brahman texts. Research carried out in this connection infers that the Brahman texts must have been written before 2000 B.C. Lokmanya Tilak has estimated the period of the Rugveda to be approximately 4000 years B.C. From this it appears logical that the Brahman holy texts must have been written around 2000 years B.C.

E. Some Brahman holy texts: Though there are several Brahman texts written on the different Vedas the ones available nowadays are given below.

  • Brahmans of the Rugveda: There are two Brahman holy texts associated with the Rugveda. They are 1. Aitareya and 2. Shankhayan. The Aitareya Brahman elaborates on the Somyag, Dvadashaha, Satre, etc. Shunahashep’s famous discourse is included in this Brahman. A Shankhayan Brahman is also called the Kaushitaki Brahman. This Brahman text describes the ritual of worshipping fire (hautrakarma) to be performed during the Agnihotra, Chaturmasya, Somyag, Ahin, Satre and other sacrificial fires.
  • Brahmans of the Yajurveda: The Shukla Yajurveda has two branches – 1. Madhyandin and 2. Kanva. The Brahman holy texts of both these branches are available but there is hardly any difference between them. The Brahmans of both the Madhyandin and Kanva branches of the Shukla Yajurveda are known as the Shatpath. Since this Brahman has a hundred chapters it is named so (shat means 100; pat means chapters). The Shatpath Brahman is the biggest and most important of all the Brahman texts. Yadnyavalkya is considered as its author. It is the oldest of all the Brahman holy texts available today.

    Though the Krushna Yajurveda has four branches the Brahman texts of only the Taittiriya branch are available today. The Taittiriya Brahman exists in a mixed form as a mantrabrahman since it includes some mantras which are discussed in the Sanhitas and many from the Sanhitas are discussed in this Brahman.

  • Brahmans of the Samaveda: Currently the Samaveda has three branches. Of them there is absolutely no difference between the Kauthumi and Ranayani branches. Hence their Brahman texts are common. The third Jaimini branch has its independent Brahman. It discusses various aspects of a samagan such as those which are to be sung during fire sacrifices, how they acquired those names, the importance of samagan in fire sacrifices, etc.
  • Brahmans of the Atharvaveda: The Atharvaveda has two branches – the Shaunak and the Paippalad. But today only one Brahman, the Gopath Brahman is available. This Brahman must be of recent origin.’(1)

F. Theology

  • 1. From the theological viewpoint deities from the Sanhitas are mentioned in the Brahmans but in the latter there is a great difference between the status, whether superior or inferior. Subordinate deities from the Rugveda such as Shiva, Vishnu and Prajapati are accorded a superior status in the Brahmans.
  • 2. In the ancient times a sacrificial fire (yadnya) was a means of worshipping deities; but today it has become the end.

G. Importance of a sacrificial fire: ‘The main trend of thought from the Brahmans is that performing a sacrificial fire is the greatest of all actions. In some contexts a sacrificial fire is said to be effulgent like the Sun deity while in others it is considered to be Prajapati (Shatpath Brahman, By performing a sacrificial fire, man is liberated from all sins. The one performing the Ashvamedh sacrificial fire is liberated even from the sin of killing a Brahman (priest). A sacrificial fire fulfills the worldly pursuits of man and even helps him to attain heaven (svarga). All those performing meritorious actions acquire merit. The only means of being liberated from the cycle of rebirth and death is a sacrificial fire (Shatpath Brahman, Recitation of Vedic mantras steadies the mind and makes it strong. Chanting of mantras changes the environment completely and causes the cycles of Righteousness (Dharma) to become established in the entire universe (Aitareya Brahman 1.4.3). Fire sacrifices based on the Brahman texts were performed both at home and in the villages.

H. Social and cultural thinking: Though the primary objective of the Brahman holy texts is holistic contemplation on sacrificial fires, it includes definition and explanation of words, the family trees of kings, teachers and sages and different apologues and sub-apologues. Some social and cultural trends of thoughts of sages belonging to the Brahman era are projected through them.’(2)

1.3 The Aranyaks

A. Definition: ‘In the commentary on the Aitareya Aranyak Sayanacharya says – “अरण्‍ये एव पाठ्यत्‍वादाण्‍यकमितीर्यते । meaning the Aranyaks are holy texts to be studied in the stage of a retired householder (vanaprasthashram)”.The Aruneya Upanishad states that in the state of a retired householder out of the Vedas only the Aranyaks and the Upanishads should be studied. When imparting knowledge to students about recitation of the Aranyaks along with the correct method of their pronunciation, they were instructed in a forest instead of doing so in a village. Even today it is preached only in the temples.

B. Content: The Aranyaks do not include sacrificial fires rather the analysis of facts of Spirituality associated with them. A sacrificial fire is not a rite but a concept from the Darshan included in it. All the Aranyaks are the concluding chapters of the Brahman texts. The chapters from it which explain philosophies are called the Upanishads. If examined minutely then it is obvious that the discussion from the Aranyaks is closer to the Upanishads than the Brahman texts.

     Description of the divine and spiritual forms of sacrificial fires (yadnya) is their chief objective. They explain the mysterious and implied meaning of sacrificial fires. The language from the Aranyaks is simple, abridged and explains rituals. They emphasise more on the sacrificial fire performed psychologically than the actual ritual. The definition of a sacrificial fire from the Darshans is given here. They advocate that a sacrificial fire is the controller and also responsible for the welfare of animate and inanimate creation. There is no faith in actions with expectation (sakam karma) and the result of actions (karmaphal) in these scriptures. According to the Aranyaks the Path of Action above is insufficient to bestow supreme happiness. It has to be combined with the Path of Knowledge. It is the revolutionary mission of the Aranyaks to reduce man’s desire and faith in external rituals and to divert it to worship with the mind.

     The Aranyak literature is one which unites the Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas) and the Brahmans. Various routine ritualistic actions (nityakarma) described in the Gruhyasutra or similar to them are described in the Aranyaks (Taittiriya Aranyak 2.11). Some rules regarding pronunciation are also mentioned in it (Aitareya Aranyak 2.2). Thus the ancient form of education (shiksha) is seen in the Aranyaks. Concepts such as good and bad omen not described in the Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas) but which appear in the literature which followed them are found in these scriptures.’(3)

1.4 The Upanishads

A. Origin and meaning: The word Upanishad (उपनिषद्‌) is derived by prefixing the prepositions upa (उप) and ni (नि) to the root word sad (सद्‌). Sad means to sit down and upa means near, so the word Upanishad means to sit close. The spiritual knowledge acquired by a disciple by sitting with his Guru, with intense devotion and spiritual emotion is known as the Upanishad.

B. Synonyms: Since the Upanishads come last in the hierarchy of Vedic literature they are also known as the Vedanta (anta = end). Apart from this since they constitute the part of spiritual knowledge (dnyankand) of the Vedas they are also known as Brahmavidya (science of Brahman). In the further period masters of the Vedanta divided it into three separate disciplines (prasthan) for the attainment of God. They are the Shrutis, Smrutis and Nyaya. The Upanishads consist of the Shrutiprasthan, Bhagvadgita, Sanatsujatsanhita, etc. form the Smrutiprasthan and aphorisms such as the Brahmasutra, etc. constitute the Nyayaprasthan.’(4)

C. Subject: ‘The Aranyaks illustrated the psychological aspect of performing various ritualistic actions (kriya karma). Continuing on these lines later the Upanishads which expressed the futility of ritualistic actions and advocated Self-realisation as a means of fulfillment of the pursuits of human life were written. Just as the Brahman holy texts are devoted to the science of sacrificial fires (yadnya), the Upanishads are the foremost holy texts devoted to philosophy. The objective of creating the Upanishads was to revolt against the institution of sacrificial fires. Basically both the Aranyaks and Upanishads being a part of the Brahmans it is extremely difficult to demarcate between them. Nevertheless priests, philosophies on Righteousness (Dharma), occult philosophies on sacrificial fires and philosophy of symbols are the general features of the Aranyaks. To some extent these features have been carried forward into the Upanishads as well. But the core of the Upanishads consists of discrimination between the soul principle and that which is not, the search for creation of the universe, nature of the God principle, research on the principle of the embodied soul (jiva), eternal happiness and the means of attaining it.’(5) ‘Since the Upanishads preach philosophies they are also known as Brahmavidya. The Upanishads discuss topics such as what is Brahman, how and why the manifestation (illusion) of the universe occurs in Brahman, how to attain Self-realisation, the nature of the soul, the secret of non-duality of Brahman and the soul principle with elaborate detail.

     The Upanishads primarily discuss the three topics of Righteousness, creation and the principle of the ultimate object, that is the soul (atma) or The Supreme Soul (Paramatma). The Upanishads consider the soul or Brahman to be the ultimate and eternal goal. A quote from the Mundakopanishad (1.1-3) is “कस्‍मिन्‍नु खलु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवति । meaning that principle after realising which one acquires the knowledge of all other subjects”.

     The Supreme Soul (Paramatma) is referred to as the Hiranyamay Purush in the Upanishads. In the Sanhitas and Brahmans importance is endowed to the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand) and these rituals constitute the fire sacrifices in them. The Upanishads have proclaimed that the Final Liberation (Moksha) is the ultimate form of happiness in comparison to which all other forms of happiness are worthless. They define the Final Liberation as the liberation from the bondage of the cycles of birth and death. It is these very holy texts which performed the important task of drawing man from the manifest deities such as Indra, Varun, Surya, Agni, etc. to the formless Brahman. The word soul, Supreme Soul or Supreme Brahman are generally used synonymously and refer to the same Principle. They propagate the concept that Brahman exists in every particle of Nature just as the absolute ether element is present both within and outside the human body.

     During the period of the Upanishads the society considered performing sacrificial fires (yadnya) as the ultimate code of Righteousness (Dharma) and craved to obtain material pleasure on the earth and in life beyond in the other regions. Authors of the Upanishads placed different ideals before the people, showed them the subtle form of Righteousness and taught them how in life the greatest happiness lies in sacrifice and not in enjoying worldly pleasures. Liberation from the bondage of the cycles of birth and death is the real enigma of human life and the Final Liberation is its sole and ultimate solution.

     Hence the Upanishads preached righteous conduct, the necessity to develop good qualities, glorified sacrifice and penance and proclaimed that only attainment of the knowledge of Brahman is the fulfillment of life. Several doctrines from the Upanishads are contradictory to one another. The Supreme Soul is of the nature of Bliss while the soul is tormented with unhappiness. The Supreme Soul is omnipotent while the soul possesses limited energy. As a consequence of these contrasting concepts the various Darshans on duality (dvait), qualified non-duality (vishishtadvait), non-duality (advait), etc. came into existence from the Upanishads.’ (6)

D. Special features: ‘Vedic literature written before the Upanishads was not intellectual. The queries and doubts in it are not logical. They seem to be influenced by religious faith to a great extent. However in the Upanishads intellectual concepts which transformed that faith and theology came into existence. Rarely does one find the concept expressed in the Upanishads that spiritual knowledge is that which is propounded by God and those who are enlightened with divine grace. But one thing which one should realise is that in the Upanishads the concepts described are for varying spiritual levels.

     However the level of philosophy is the most important and striking concept and is noticed at once. Though actual subtle experience is accorded a high status in the Upanishads they do not oppose the concepts of logic. As intellectual analysis and logical deductions began in the Upanishads they did not attain the well established status as in the Darshans. The Upanishads are forerunners of the organised Darshans. It is from them that later the famous ancient group of Darshans originated.

     The concepts from the ancient Upanishads are on the borderline of non-dual materialism (advait-jadvad) and the non-dual philosophy of divine consciousness (advait-chetanavad). They shed light upon the very core of both the Darshans.’(7)

E. The main Upanishads: ‘According to an account in the Muktik Upanishad there are 108 Upanishads in all. Elsewhere the number is quoted as upto 250. The Upanishads on which Shankaracharya has written commentaries are considered as the most important ones. They are the 1. Ish, 2. Ken, 3. Kath, 4. Prashna, 5. Mundak, 6. Mandukya, 7. Taittiriya, 8. Aitareya, 9. Chandogya, 10. Bruhadaranyak and 11. Nrusinhapurvatapani Upanishads.

F. Others: Some Upanishads are in the form of mantras and others in prose. The former have mantra notes and the latter have Brahman notes. They are studied accordingly. The period from 1200 to 600 B.C. is considered as the period of the Upanishads.’(8)

1.5 Parts of every Veda

‘The disciple lineage of Sage Vyas preserved the Vedas; however in the process several branches emerged amongst them. Several texts on aphorisms (sutras) were written on each branch of the Veda with the aim of describing rituals. Different branches came into existence according to the Sutras which they followed. Most of these branches were more or less similar to each other but over the passage of time many of them faded into oblivion. The table below gives the branches of the Vedas available today along with their Brahmans, Aranyaks and Upanishads.

  Rugveda Yajurveda
Samaveda Atharvaveda
Taittiriya Tandya
Aitareya Bruhadaranyak
, Ishavasya,
, etc. the 52

1.6 Great quotes

‘The four phrases which summarise entire philosophies from the Aranyaks and Upanishads are known as the great quotes (mahavakya). These quotes are “spiritual knowledge is Brahman (pradnyanam Brahman)”, “the soul is Brahman (ayamatma Brahman)”, “I am Brahman (aham Brahmasmi)” and “You are that Principle (tattvamasi)”. All these four quotes state the unity of the soul and Brahman.

  • Pradnyanam Brahman (spiritual knowledge is Brahman): This quote is present in the Aitareya Aranyak of the Rugveda. Man views different forms because of the impressions made by the illusions of divine consciousness (chidabhas) on the subconscious mind (antahkaran) and those emitted by the eyes. Thus the divine consciousness (chaitanya) manifesting in all the organs and different attitudes of the mind, is spiritual knowledge (pradnyan) in the above quote. Similarly Brahman is the divine consciousness present in all embodied souls assuming superior, moderate or inferior forms as deities, man or animals respectively; that present in cosmic elements such as absolute ether (akash) and which is also responsible for creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. Therefore spiritual knowledge (pradyan) whose nature is one of divine consciousness and which assumes the stance of a spectator (sakshibhav) exist in every body which is distinct from the various organ systems of the body, is the same divine consciousness which is the direct cause of creation of the universe and is known as Brahman. The implied meaning is that just as the spiritual knowledge existing everywhere is Brahman so is the spiritual knowledge within oneself.
  • Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman): This quote appears in the Bruhadaranyakopanishad of the Yajurveda. The word aham (individual consciousness) in this quote symbolically refers to The Supreme Soul (Paramatma) who is devoid of any discrimination (or difference) such as place, etc. and who is present in the stance of a spectator in the subtle bodies of those who have command over knowledge of this illusory world. Asmi is a term indicating the union of the one who experiences as a spectator and The Supreme Soul.
  • Tattvamasi (You are that Principle) : This quote makes its appearance in the Chandogya Upanishad of the Samaveda. The principle devoid of any individual consciousness and without a name and a form exists in the same manner even after creation of the universe. This is the implied meaning of the word tat. The word asi is indicative of the implied meaning of these two principles.
  • Ayamatma Brahman (The soul is Brahman) : This quote appears in the Mandukyopanishad of the Atharvaveda. The word ayam in it projects the nature of the soul as self-illuminating and that which can only be experienced directly (aparokshatva). It being self-illumined it cannot be perceived through any other medium.

Thus the gist of all the four quotes lies in the non-duality of the Brahman (God principle) and the soul (atma). When accepting the stage of a renunciant one of these four great quotes are preached to the renunciant.’(10)


Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 6, Pg. 331-334         [2]. Vol. 6, Pg. 334
[3]. Vol. 1, Pg. 463, 464         [4]. Vol. 1, Pg. 662
[5]. Vol. 9, Pg. 580, 581         [6]. Vol. 1, Pg. 662-665
[7]. Vol. 4, Pg. 29                   [8]. Vol. 1, Pg. 662
[9]. Vol. 9, Pg. 69                   [10]. Vol. 7, Pg. 243, 244