Ancillary sacred literature of Hinduism
Summary: Hinduism has one of the richest sacred literature. Some of its sacred texts have a history of a few thousand years. Many ancillary texts also played an important role in its development. In this essay we examine the importance of ancillary sacred literature of Hinduism namely the puranas, vedangas, darshanas, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, bhagavad gita, sutras, devotional literature, agamas and the tantras.
Hinduism has drawn richly from several literary sources. The vedas are the most important among them. They form the core of hindu ritual and spiritual knowledge, beliefs and practices. Other important texts of the vedic period include six ancillary texts or limbs of the vedas (vedangas) and four texts or aphorisms (sutras). In the following discussion we will examine the secondary texts which contribute to our knowledge of Hinduism.
The vedangas, meaning the limbs of the vedas, are the ancillary texts. They enhance our study and understanding of the vedas besides preserving and protecting the purity and integrity of their content, structure and expression. They are six namely shiksha (study), chhanda (meter), vyakarna (grammar), nirukta (lexicon), jyotisha (astrology), and kalpa (methodology of rituals). Each of them has a particular value in the ritual practices of vedism. For example, chhanda helps in the chanting or singing of the vedic hymns according to the establish metrical rhythm. Nirukta helps in the study of the Sanskrit words and their meaning. Jyotisha helps in the study of the planetary positions and divisions time to determine auspicious time to perform various vedic rituals. Kalpa helps in preparing and setting the stage for the performance of the rituals. Thus the vedangas help as aids in the study of the vedas as well as in the performance of the sacrificial ceremonies by avoiding common mistakes.
The sutra texts establish the rules and procedures for the performance of various, domestic and nondomestic rituals and sacrifices. The four sutras are the shrauta sutras (on how to perform rituals), the sulba sutras ( on how to perform domestic rites) and the dharma sutras (on how to live virtuously according to ones dharma). They form part of the kalpa sutras. The grihya and dharma sutras are often combined under the generic name smarta sutras.