The epic literature
The two major hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, constitute the itihasa literature. They are complex stories of a very ancient past about whose antiquity and real historical basis no one can ascertain. They are also the largest and the most ancient epics in the world, interspersed with rich philosophy, veiled history, and the play of gods and god in the affairs of the human beings. As religious works they occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of hindus. They also gave birth to a rich collection of derivative works, commentaries and interpretations. The epics still capture the imagination of hindus, who do not get tired even after repeatedly listening to the same stories and incidents. Since ancient times they have been playing significant role in spreading religious awareness among the masses and strengthening their faith. In many ways, they did a greater service to Hinduism than any other religious text, including the vedas and the Upanishads. No study of Hinduism is ever complete without their study.
The bhagavad gita
The bhagavad gita forms part of the Mahabharata. It contains the teachings of lord Krishna to Arjun, in the middle of the battlefield, about the meaning of true self, renunciation of desire-ridden actions, the resolution of karma, the realities and modes of nature, the role of god and his numerous manifestations in creation, diving and demonic qualities, the value of true devotion and surrender to god, the importance of cultivating purity and working for liberation. It contains 600 verses, divided into 18 chapters of varying lengths, which synthesizes the diverse belief and practices of Hinduism into a harmonious and integrated system of yoga to achieve liberation. The text, which has been translated into almost every major world language has profoundly influence many generations of hindus and continues to play a significant role in molding their lives. Apart from them, there are many other works of devotional value, both in Sanskrit and vernacular languages such as the composition of the alvars and the nayanars, and the works of several medieval bhakti saints and spiritual teachers. The scope of this essay does not allow us to specifically mention them.
Other principle sacred texts of Hinduism include the saiva agamas, which are treatises on the greatness of lord shiva and his various aspects, and Vaishnava samhitas, which deal with the worship of lord Vishnu and his various forms. There are also many tantras, which deal with the ritual and spiritual worship of Shakti or mother goddess, her numerous power and potencies and the symbolism and spiritual value of the mantras, madalas, chakras, and sacred syllables. Hinduism was also greatly benefited by the works of latter day scholars such as shankaracharya who wrote commentaries on major Upanishads, apart from original works and devotional compositions. According to tradition, he played a significant role in the revival of Hinduism and strengthening its roots at a time when Buddhism was on decline in india. He also expounded advaita, the philosophy of nondualism, according to which brahman was the only existential reality, and his creation was a temporary projection or an illusion. Other prominent texts which deserve to be mentioned are the works of ramanuja, madhava, the alvars, nayanars, ramananda, vallabhacharya, nimbarka, tulsidas etc. during the british period many scholars and spiritual masters contributed to the renewal and reform of Hinduism through their writings. They tried to use religious beliefs and values which were enshrined in the ancient hindu sacred texts to inculcate feelings of unity and nationalism among the Indians and unite them against the colonial rule. Prominent among them were swami dayananda saraswathi, ramakrishan paramahansa, swami Vivekananda, ramana maharshi, aurobindo, yogananda, Rabindranath tagore, annie besant, balgangadhar tilak, mahatma Gandhi and several others. Through their teachings and actions, they inspired millions of hindus to take pride in their religious heritage and adhere to its eternal values.