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Hindu literature can be divided into two categories: Shruti–that which is revealed and Smriti–that which is remembered. The Vedas constituting the former category are considered sacred scripture. Later texts like the various shastras and the itihaasas form Smruti. Holding an ambiguous position between the Upanishads of the Vedas and the epics, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be revered scripture by most Hindus today. All Shruti scriptures are composed in Sanskrit. Much of the morphology inherent in the learning of Sanskrit is inextricably linked to study of the Vedas and other early texts.
According to the Rigveda, the Vedic Mantras were composed by various seers who had 'seen' (dṛś) them in deep concentration (dhī). However, to post-Vedic tradition, the Vedas are apauruṣeya "not human compositions", being supposed to have been directly revealed, and thus are called śruti ("what is heard"). A number of Vedic mantras are recited as Hindu prayers, at religious functions and other auspicious occasions.
The philosophies and religious sects that developed in the Indian subcontinent have taken various positions on the Vedas. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (āstika). Other Indian philosophies, such as Buddhism, Jainism and materialism, did not accept the authority of the Vedas (but did not deny the Vedas) and the former two evolved into separate religions. In Indian philosophy these groups are referred to as "heterodox" or "non-Vedic" (nāstika) schools.
The four Vedas are the Ṛig-, Yajur-, Sāma- and Atharva Vedas. They are transmitted in various shākhās, or branches of knowledge. Depending on the branch, various early different commentaries (Brahmanas) and instructions (Sutras) are associated with each Veda.
Each of the four Veda has traditionally been divided into several sections:
The Brāhmaṇas are liturgical manuals regarding the procedure of the Saṃhitās. They may be further divided in to Āraṇyakas (आरण्यक) and the Upaniṣhads (उपनिषद्), which mainly contain early philosophical and metaphysical texts about the nature of macrocosm (the gods and the universe),ritual (yajña) and microcosm (humans) as well as the relationship between the soul (ātman) and the universal Brahman. The Upanishads are often referred to collectively as Vedanta ("the end of the Vedas"), not only because they appear physically in the concluding sections of each Veda, but also because their teachings are traditionally seen as the culmination of all other Vedic knowledge.
The Upanishads literally mean "sittings near, laying siege to a Teacher" to acquire knowledge. They are part of the Shruti and primarily discuss early philosophy; they also contain accounts of various debates between contemporary priests and sages. There are more than 200 texts counted as Upanishads; however, only 13 are generally accepted as primary.
The Dharmashastras (law books), though derivatives of earlier Vedic texts such as the Dharmasutras, are traditionally considered as part of the Smrti. From time to time great law-givers (e.g. Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parashara) emerged, who collected existing customs and laws and to ensure that the then way of life was consistent with both the Vedic spirit and the changing times. However, Dharmashastras have been disregarded by many groups of Hindus, namely those following Vedanta, Bhakti, bhakti and Tantra streams of Hinduism, even if they practically speaking still follow the samskaras from birth to death.
One aspect of the philosophy reflected in the epics is the concept of Avatar (appearance of God on the Earth). The two main avataras of Vishnu that appear in the epics are Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and Krishna, the protagonist in the Mahabharata. Unlike some of the deities of the Vedic Samhitas and the all-pervading and formless Brahman of the Upanishads, the avataras have more developed personalities, as loving and righteous descents of the Supreme Being among mortals.
The Bhagavad Gita is a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. This scripture contains a conversation between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna on a variety of philosophical issues. Commentators see the setting of the Gita in a battlefield as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life. The Bhagavad Gita's call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who referred to the Gita as his "spiritual dictionary". Numerous commentaries have been written on the Bhagavad Gita with widely differing views on the essentials, beginning with Adi Sankara's commentary on the Gita in the eighth century CE.
The Puranas are a vast medieval literature of stories and allegory. Eighteen are considered to be Mahapuranas, or Great Puranas, and thus authoritative references on the Gods and Goddesses, religious rites and holy places (most of which are in the Indian subcontinent, known as Bharat). In addition, there are 19 Upapuranas.
The Tevaram is a body of remarkable hymns exuding Bhakti composed more than 1400–1200 years ago in the classical Tamil language by three Saivite composers. They are credited with igniting the Bhakti movement in the whole of India.
The Nalayira Divya Prabandha (or Nalayira (4000) Divya Prabhamdham) is a divine collection of 4,000 verses (Naalayira in Tamil means 'four thousand') composed before 8th century AD, by the 12 Alvars, and was compiled in its present form by Nathamuni during the 9th – 10th centuries. The work is the beginning of the canonization of the twelve Vaishnava poet saints, and these hymns are still sung extensively today. The works were lost before they were collected and organized in the form of an anthology by Nathamunigal. The Prabandha sings the praise of Sriman Narayana (or Vishnu) and his many forms. The Alvars sung these songs at various sacred shrines. These shrines are known as the Divya Desams.
In South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, the Divya Prabhandha is considered as equal to the Vedas, hence the epithet Dravida Veda. In many temples, Srirangam, for example, the chanting of the Divya Prabhandham forms a major part of the daily service. Prominent among the 4,000 verses are the 1,100+ verses known as the Thiru Vaaymozhi, composed by Nammalvar (Kaaril Maaran Sadagopan) of Thiruk Kurugoor.
Other famous texts of Hinduism include those of the bhakti yoga school (loving devotion to God) such as the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas (an epic poem based on the Ramayana), the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva (a religious song of the divine love of Krishna and his consort Radha), Adi Shankara's commentaries and other works, Ramanujacharya's nine books including "Sri Bhasya", Madhvacharya's commentaries and the Devi Mahatmya (the tales of Devi, the mother goddess, in her many forms as Shakti, Durga, Parvati, etc.).