The Hindu view of Scriptures

Rigveda MS in Sanskrit on paper, India, early 19th c

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

I was asked about the Hindu understanding and interpretation of scriptures, and what they mean to me. I decided that I would answer this in a post rather than as a comment reply.

There are various types of Hindu scripture, the oldest of which are the Vedas. All orthodox Hindus regard the vedas as the divine word of God. The vedas are mostly songs of praise, and so are open to a number of different interpretations. Some of these are resolved by the Upanishads,  philosophical discourses on the vedas. Again these texts are regarded as sacred by all orthodox Hindus.

In addition to these  universally accepted scriptures, each sect has  agamas, which detail the worship of the deity or deities worshipped by that sect. These are regarded as sacred by the followers of the sect, though they see them as only applicable to sect members. The vedas and agamas are known as Shruti, meaning “that which is heard”.

There are also scriptures known as Smriti means “that which is remembered”. These include the Itihasas, the great epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Some sects may take these literally, others symbolically, and others as just moral stories which teach the concepts of Dharma.

Hindus are generally tolerant of differing beliefs of other sects, so even a sect which sees the Bhagavad Gita as literally true would see a Hindu from a different sect which interpreted it symbolically as valid, though maybe  they would personally think that this was not the best way to read it. Some sects allow a wide range of beliefs within the sect, for example Dr. Sara Sastra writes on Balinese Hindu philosophy:

If you say God is different from the human being, the Balinese will accept it. And if you say God is the same as human, we accept that also. All this makes Balinese very strong.

I have only just touched on the many different types of Hindu scriptures. Much more information can be found on Wikipedia, in Chapters 26 and 27 of “Dancing with Shiva”, and in “Am I A Hindu? The Hinduism Primer” by Ed Viswanathan, and in rather less detail in his online article “What is Hinduism“.

Different understandings of the Gita

Krishna as Arjuna's charioteer.

Just to illustrate the ways that different Hindus can look at a text, I will describe the way different Hindus may look at it.

A Vaishnava Hindu may see the story as a completely true historic event, where Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu really was the charioteer in a war against the Kurus. Other Vaishnavas might see it as a real event, but having happened on another plane, or maybe in a previous cycle of the universe.

A Smarta Hindu might see it as a highly esoteric symbolic story. Krishna could represent a person’s spiritual elements (Atman and Paramatman), Arjuna the intellect, and the five horses the senses. The spiritual and intellect can control the senses, pulling the chariot (person) through samsara unhindered.

A Saiva Hindu might see it as a story, with a very good explanation of dharma, samsara, karma, and reincarnation. A good Saiva Hindu would respect it as a book holy to other Hindus, and understand how for some it is the key to their beliefs.

How I see the Scriptures

As a Saiva Hindu of the Kailasa Parampara of the Nandinatha Sampradaya, I see the Vedas as the first ultimate truth. Most of my understanding of the vedas comes from the Master Course Trilogy, by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (A Satguru of the lineage), which I see as divine teachings. The Saiva Agamas and the Tamil Tirumurai and Tirukural are also divine scriptures.

Whereas I acknowledge the Gita, Mahabharata, and Ramayana as a genuine source of inspiration to many Hindus, as a worshipper of Shiva I do not see them as part of my scriptural canon. I don’t view them as historical events of this world, though I am undecided on whether they may have been real events on another plane or in a previous cycle of the universe.

Images from Wikimedia, and are shared under the creative commons license.

8 responses to “The Hindu view of Scriptures

  1. Vedas are foundatiön. Divided into karma khanda- Brahmana, Samhita.
    And jnanakanda- Aranyaka and upanishad.
    Every Vaidhika hindu should follow both Jnana kanda and karma khanda.
    A hindu may refer to anyone who is part of a religion born in Hindu Desha.

  2. Nick Sutton of the Oxford Center of Hindu Studies has something to say about the Hindu Scriptures-

  3. as for whether mahabharata is a historical event or not , please go to youtube and search “when did mahabharata happened” you will get an 8-part series where the author uses the astronomical data available in spiritual texts and proves the existance of krishna . he might hav different name though as many names in sanskrit reflects the nature of the character in those epics ex. krishna – the black one or the attacting one , duryodhana – bad warrior etc. as for whether krishna is god or not , it is up to your belief.

  4. You bring up some of my own views upon the end here, very kindred views. I often wonder at times wether certain events happen here or elsewhere.

    This post is a wonderfull explanation for those who would wish to know the many angles in the Beloved Paths of SD. Beloved Shiva and Beloved Krishna sit upon my walls as a reminder of the wondrous rich knowledge which resides within our scriptures. Such a wealth of Truth, we are such a fortunate group.

    Hari Om<3

  5. In Devanāgarī: सत्यमेव जयते नानृतम् सत्येन पन्था विततो देवयानः । येनाक्रमन्त्यृषयो ह्यात्मकामो यत्र तत् सत्यस्य परमं निधानं ॥
    satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ
    satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ |
    yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā
    yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam ||
    Meaning: Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.
    सत्यमेव जयते or Truth alone triumphs –> national motto of india is a Hindu mantra from the ancient scripture Mundaka Upanishad.

  6. I must say that its pretty difficult to define the Hindu Religion,as there are a number of stories behind it,a number of purans,vedas… to completely understand Hinduism it’s very difficult.
    Ganpati Wallpaper

  7. Read another interpretation of a story in Skand Prana in my novel MAN AND THE GODS published by and on KINDLE, quite recently.

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