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Ancillary sacred literature of Hinduism

The puranas


The puranas contain legends, histories of ancient kings, sages, warriors, and royal lineages, cosmogony, creation theories, the exploits and adventures of gods and goddesses, intermixed with useful information on the essentials of philosophy, devotional theism, morality and spirituality. They form part of the smriti tradition, and serve an important role in creating and promoting religious awareness, beliefs and practices. They also describe the metaphysical truths regarding creation, and the battles between gods and demons. Although for a student of history they may not represent authentic historic documents, for a student of Hinduism they are a valuable source of information. Hindu tradition recognizes 18 principal (maha) puranas and 18 ancillary (upa) puranas. There are multiple recensions for each puranas, whose authorship is uncertain. They were probably composed by numerous scholars over time. They are further divided into Shaiva, Vaishnava, agni, brahma, and surya puranas. The main puranas are the matsya purana, Padma purana, naradiya purana, Vishnu purana, varaha purana, vamana purana, brahma purana, shiva purana, skanda purana, markandeya purana, garuda purana, agni purana, linga purana, brahmavaivarta purana, kurma purana, brahmanda purana, vayu purana, and bhagavata purana. There is not unanimity about what constitute the 18 ancillary puranas. A few important upa puranas are vashistha, devi, ganesha, parasara. Bhargava, varuna, nandi, surya, durvasa, kapila, Bhargava and samba puranas. They are relatively less known than the maha puranas and less important. The puranas played a significant roles in the transformation of Hinduism, restructuring of the ancient vedic pantheon and elevating the chief deities, shiva and Vishnu, who were relatively unknown during the early vedic period. They synthesized diverse beliefs and practices and facilitated the continuation of the ancient as well contemporary aspects of Hinduism, besides contributing to the rise of popular devotional Hinduism and creating public awareness about the deities and their religious and spiritual significance.


The darshanas


Darshana means a vision or a viewpoint. Each darshana represents a particular school of hindu philosophy, or a perspective of truth or the reality of existence. The darshanas are six namely the nyaya, vaisheshika, Samkhya, yoga, mamansa and Vedanta. Of them the last two are also known as purva and Uttara mimansa (inquiry) respectively. The six darshanas are again traditionally paired into three subgroups because of their close association namely nyaya-vaisheshika, Samkhya-yoga, and purva-uttara mimnasa. Of them the last two are directly derived from the vedas. All the schools are considered theistic (astika) because they believe in afterlife and in either god or soul or both. However, except for the Vedanta, the remaining schools do not believe in the existence of a supreme being or his role as creator, although they acknowledge the existence of eternal, indestructible, eternal souls. Apart from them, there are other schools which are decidedly atheistic. Prominent among them is the charvaka school, which formed part of the ancient lokayata (materialistic) tradition. They did not believe in afterlife or the inviolability of the vedas or their divine origin. The darshanas provide an insight into ancient Indian philosophies and their value to Hinduism in understanding its essential concepts, beliefs and practices. They explain the philosophical basis of the main concepts of Hinduism such as the nature of reality, the properties of matter and the objective world, the means to ascertain the truths of existences and the metaphysical truths within the limitations to which we are subject. Our knowledge of Hinduism shall remain incomplete without their study. Each of the darshanas has its own scriptural basis, teacher traditions and sub schools. The principal texts of the six schools are the nyaya sutras of Gautama, the vaisheshika sutra of kanada, the Samkhya karika of isvara Krishna, the yogasutras of patanjali, the mimansa sutra of jaimini and the Vedanta sutra of badarayana.


The devotional literature


In the post Buddhist era, the indian subcontinent witnessed the rise of hindu devotional theism, spearheaded by the followers of both Shaivism and Vaishnavism, which gave birth to a rich corpus of devotional literature. Indeed, it was an offshoot of the vedas, epics, the puranas and sectarian literature only.


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