In Vedic culture the available body of knowledge comes from the  revealed scriptures called Vedas. The word comes from root “vid” (to know, knowledge). The scriptures are mainly of two categories: sruti and smrti. Sruti refers to the four Vedas and they were originally received by Brahma from the Supreme Lord, Krsna.

The smrtis are the literature compiled by self-realized sages based on their realizations of the sruti. Sruti is composed in Vedic Sanskrit and smrtis in laukika Sanskrit. There are some basic differences between these two types of Sanskrit. In Vedic Sanskrit the words have accent, akin to notes in music, and a word’s meaning can change drastically simply by changing the accent of its letters.

Therefore these words have to be heard properly from the guru in disciplic succession and hence Vedas are called sruti (lit. hearing). Nobody has the authority to change even a single syllable of the sruti. They are passed on from one age to another. Sometimes some parts of srutis get lost due to break in disciplic succession. Then they are again heard in trance by great sages called rsis. Rsi means a seer, or one who sees the Vedic texts. He hears it in trance and realizes its meaning. The Vedic Sanskrit has its own grammar and it is used only in the Vedas. No new book can be composed in Vedic Sanskrit.

Smrtis on the other hand are written in laukika Sanskrit or Sanskrit spoken by people. It does not have accent in its words. Itihasas, Puranas, Agamas are all part of smrtis. Among the smrti literature there is a body of literature which is also called smrti such as Manu-smrti. These smrtis are part of dharma sastra or books giving religious code. Smrti sastras are compiled remembering the meaning of the sruti and hence the name smrti (lit. remembrance). The smrtis change from age to age in their structure but the essence is same.

The classification of sruti and smrti literature

(for the texts themselves see Links/Vedic Books Online)

4 Vedas: Rg (Rig), Sama, Yajur (Sukla – Madhyandina and Kanva; Krsna), Atharva

Due to different ways in reading (pata bedha) in different kulas (family traditions) different sakhas manifested.

ekavimsatibhedena rgvedam krtavan pura
sakhanantu satenaiva yajurvedamathakarot
samavedam sahasrena sakhanam pravibheda sah
atharvanamatho vedam vibheda navakena tu

The Rgveda was divided into 21 branches and the Yajurveda into 100 branches, the Samaveda into 1,000 branches and the Atharvaveda into 9 branches. (Kurma Purana 52.19-20)

Patanjali attributes to Yajurveda 101 sakhas.

Further, every branch has four subdivisions called Samhita (or Mantra), Brahmana (contains mantras and prayers), Aranyaka and Upanisad (both with philosophical contents). So all in all, the Vedas consist of 1130 Samhitas, 1130 Brahmanas, 1130 Aranyakas, and 1130 Upanisads, a total of 4520 titles. By the influence of time, however, many texts have been lost, stolen and destroyed (soldiers of Alexander the Great used the scriptures as fuel in kitchens; Muslims destroyed them whenever possible; Britons carried many scriptures away; Germans and Russians took Atharva Veda which contains Dhanur Veda, military science). Thus at present according to Jiva Gosvami’s Tattva-sandarbha only about 11 Samhitas, 18 Brahmanas, 7 Aranyakas, and 220 Upanisads are available. This is less than 6% of the original Vedas.

Thus Vedas cannot be studied today (example: one cannot study BG from only one chapter!). There are also no qualified brahmanas to teach them. Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore stresses the SB. Gosvami-grantha is the most intimate knowledge of rasa and by its importance overcomes even the original Vedic scriptures. Some scriptures were so intimate that Jiva Gosvami personally buried them in his samadhi in order to not to be misused by anyone in Kali-yuga…

Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanisads: ritual and philosophical treatises affiliated with each of the four Vedic samhitas. Muktikopanisad lists 108 main ones.

Purpose and Origin of the Vedas
How can we know that the original Vedic scriptures have not been changed over many generations?

4 Upavedas: Ayur (medicine), Gandharva (music), Dhanur (martial science), Sthapatya (architecture)

6 Vedangas (“limbs of Veda”): Siksa (pronunciation), Canda (poetic meter), Nirukta (etymology and lexicology), Vyakarana (grammar), Kalpa (ritual), Jyotisa (astronomy and astrology)

First two teach how to speak the Veda, second two teach how to understand the meaning of the Veda and the last two teach how to use the Veda.

Part of the Vedas

Smrti: There are 20 smrtis (dharma sastras) listed in Yajnavalkya Smrti 1.4-5:

manv atri viSNu hArIta yajJavalkya uzano agGirAh
yama Apastamba samvartAh kAtyAyana bRhaspatI
parASara vyAsa zaGkha likhitA dakSa gautamau
zAtAtapo vasiSThaz ca dharma zAstra yojakAh

Manu, Atri, Visnu, Harita, Yajnavalkya, Usana, Angira, Yama, Apastamba, Samvarta, Katyayana, Brhaspati, Parasara, Vyasa, Sankha, Likhita, Daksa, Gautama, Satatapa, Vasistha.


Itihasa: Ramayana and Mahabharata

Puranas: They explain the teachings of the four Vedas in story form, making spiritual life more simple, and therefore in this age they are more important. There are eighteen Maha Puranas with altogether 398 000 verses (given the traditional verse numbers) divided into three groups along with three predominating Deities: sattva (goodness) – Visnu, rajas (passion) – Brahma and tamas (ignorance) – Siva. Padma Purana, Uttara khanda 236.18-21:

Sattva: Visnu, Narada, Bhagavata Garuda, Padma, Varaha
Rajas: Brahmanda, Brahma-vaivarta, Markandeya, Bhavisya, Vamana, Brahma
Tamas: Matsya, Kurma, Linga, Vayu/Siva, Skanda, Agni

Garuda Purana 1.223.15-16 replaces Vamana with Vayaviya:

“The eighteen Maha Puranas are – 1. Brahma, 2. Padma, 3. Vaisnava, 4. Saiva (or Vayu), 5. Bhagavata, 6. Bhavisya, 7. Naradiya, 8. Skanda, 9. Linga, 10. Varaha, 11. Markandeya, 12. Agneya, 13. Brahmavaivarta, 14. Kaurma, 15. Matsya, 16. Garuda, 17. Vayaviya and 18. Brahmanda.”

Garuda Purana 3.1.43,45,64 also adds: “Bhagavata is the best of all Puranas.”

They are divided in this way to gradually raise the conditioned soul from ignorance to pure goodness. The three divisions appeal to people in these respective modes and elevate them to the perfection of life.

Puranas – table (Java applet)
Puranas in tables by Ekanath Das

18 Upapuranas:

Sanat Kumara, Narasimha, Brhannaradiya, Linga, Durvasa, Kapila, Manava, Ausanasa, Varuna, Kalika, Mahesvara, Samba, Saura, Parasara, Devibhagavata, Aditya, Vasistha, Visnudharmottara.

18 Vidyas: (Garuda Purana 1.223.21)

Purana, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Dharma sastra, Rg, Sama, Yajur, Atharva, Siksa, Kalpa, Canda, Jyotisa, Nirukta, Vyakarana, Ayurveda, Gandharva, Dhanur, Arthasastra.

Prasthanatrayi (main sources of scriptural evidence): Bhagavad-gita (700 verses), principle Upanisads and Brahmasutras (Vedanta-sutra consisting of 560 terse codes, or sutras).

64 Kalas (traditional arts mentioned in SB 10.44): Singing, Playing musical instruments, Dancing, Acting in theatre, Painting, Painting the body with tilak and cosmetics, Making designs with rice powder and flowers, Decorating with flowers, Playing music in water, Water play, Colour mixing, Making garlands, Decorating head with garlands and flowers, Dressing the actors, Ear decoration, Making fragrances, Putting on ornaments, Juggling or Magic, Sleight of hand, Culinary, Making drinks, Needlework, Playing with thread, Playing vina and damaru, Solving riddles, Reciting verses with specific conditions, Making difficult verses, Reciting books, Reciting plays and stories, Solving enigmatic verses, Preparing designs of cloth, cane and arrows, Spinning, Carpentry, Architecture, Testing metals and jewels, Metallurgy, Tinging jewels, Mineralogy, Herbal medicine, Lamb & Cock sport fighting, Domesticating parrots, Applying perfumes, Hair care, Sending message with symbols, Sophistry, Dialects, Making toys, Making yantra, Use of amulets, Conversation, Mental verses composition lexicography, Concealing one’s identity by use of dress, Gambling, Magic arts, Ghostly knowledge, Chariot driving, Writing, Taking care of elephants and horses, Making tambula, Swimming.

64 Tantras or Agamas: Tantra literature is spoken by Lord Siva to Devi. It has three divisions called Agama, Yamala and Tantra. It is also divided according to the worshipable deity and there are three division called saiva, vaisnava and sakta.

Maha-sidhi-sarasvata-tantra lists the following 64 tantras:

1) Siddhisvara, 2) Mahatantra, 3) Kalitantra, 4) Kularnava, 5) Jnanarnava, 6) Nila, 7) Fetakare, 8) Devi-agama, 9) Uttara, 10) Sri-krama, 11) Siddhi-yamala, 12) Matsya-sukta, 13) Siddha-sara, 14) Siddhi-sarasvata, 15) Varahi, 16) Yogini, 17) Ganesa-vimarsini, 18) Nitya, 19) Sivagama, 20) Camunda, 21) Mundamata, 22) Hamsamahesvara, 23) Niruttara, 24) Kula-prakasaka, 25) Kalpa, 26) Gandharvaka, 27) Kriyasara, 28) Nibandha, 29) Svatantra, 30) Sammohana, 31) Lalita, 32) Radha, 33) Malini, 34) Rudra-yamala, 35) Brhat-srikrama, 36) Gavaksa, 37) Sukumudini, 38) Visuddhesvara, 39) Malinivijaya, 40) Samayacara, 41) Bhairavi, 42) Yogini-hrdaya, 43) Bhairava, 44) Sanat Kumara, 45) Yoni, 46) Tantrantra 47) Nava-ratnesvara, 48) Kula-cudamani, 49) Kamadhenu, 50) Kumari, 51) Bhuta-damara, 52) Malini-vijaya, 53) Brahma-yamala, 54) Bhava-cudamani, 55) Visva-sara, 56) Mahatantra, 57) Mahakata, 58) Kulamrta, 59) Kuloddisa, 60) Kunjika, 61) Cintamani, 62) Yamala, 63) Tantra-devaprakasa, 64) Kama

Tantras are similar to the Vedic smrti sastras insofar as mantra, yantra and tantra are concerned (mantra = the sounds used in executing the duties; yantra = the paraphernalia needed for the duties; tantra = the method of executing the duties. These comprise the essence of duties, so in this the vaidika and tantrika systems are the same. The main difference between vaidika and tantrika sastras is in structure; vaidika sastras deal with gotra(family) whereas the tantrika sastras are open for one initiated into them by a guru.

Pancaratra Agamas

There are three main agamic schools – the Saiva, Sakta and Vaisnava – and each has their own Pancaratras. Among the Vaisnavas the followers of Sri-sampradaya (Sri Vaisnavas) draw a lot from the agamas. All of these agamas comprise four topics in general:

Jnana or knowledge; kriya (service such as construction of temples, installation of deities); carya or conduct (such as the observance of daily rites, festivals); and yoga or devotion, or attention.

Common features of all agamas:

(a) They accept the existence of a supreme being with a predominant male or female aspect.
(b) The existence of undivided souls.
(c) The reality of the objective universe.
(d) Devotion is the only means of emancipation.

Pancaratras are tantras in the mode of goodness, or the mode of transcendental goodness. Therefore there is scope for “creating” brahmanas, though at the same time it must be said that wherever Veda specifically stipulates that such and such thing is for vaidika brahmanas only, that thing won’t be given in Pancharatra. Pancaratra is especially applicable in the Kali-yuga. It is as good as Veda, because it was spoken by the Lord Himself to Brahma when Brahma inquired how the Lord should be worshiped.

The name “Pancaratra” has different explanations. It is said that Lord Visnu spoke these instructions through five nights (panca ratri) of Brahma; that’s where the name comes from. Alternatively, it is said that the Pancaratra makes the five processes dark: these five processes referred to are differently listed in different Pancaratriki scriptures, but they are things like karma, jnana, astanga-yoga, sankhya, and so on. Ahirbudhnya-samhita says that Pancaratra has it name because it deals with five-fold manifestation of Lord Vasudeva – Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Arca and Antaryami. And Bhaktivinoda Thakura says in Navadvipa Mahatmya, ch. 13: “The five rsis (Sandilya, Upagayana, Maunjayana, Kausika, and Bharadvaja) were previously each instructed for one day and night (panca-ratra, “five nights”) by Lord Narayana. Headed by Narada Muni they wrote the Pancaratra here (in Vidyanagara) to teach the people about practical devotional service.” According to Narada Pancaratra the word Pancaratra means five types of knowledge.

There are 59 types of Pancaratras:

1) Agastya-samhita, 2) Aniruddha, 3) Ahirbudhnya, 4) Isvara, 5) Kapinjala, 6) Kasyapa, 7) Jayakhya, 8) Narada, 9) Pancaratra, 10) Naradiya, 11) Parama, 12) Parama Purusa, 13) Parasara 14) Padma-samhita, 15) Padma-tantra, 16) Paramesvara, 17) Purusottama, 18) Pauskara, 19) Brhad Brahma, 20) Bharadvaja, 21) Markandeya, 22) Laksmi-tantra, 23) Visvamitra, 24) Visnu, 25) Visnutilaka, 26) Visvaksena, 27) Sandilya, 28) Seva, 29) Sri Prasna, 30) Sanat Kumara, 31) Satvata, 32) Hayasirsa, 33) Trailokyamohana, 34) Vaibhava, 35) Prahrada, 36) Garga-galava, 37) Sandilya, 38) Satyokta, 39) Vasistha, 40) Savanakara, 41) Narayaniya, 42) Jnanarnava, 43) Svayambhuva, 44) Kapila, 45) Vihagendara, 46) Atreya, 47) Narasimhakhya, 48) Anamdakhya, 49) Aruna 50) Baudhayana, 51) Vaisnavacarita, 52) Mahatantri, 53) Bhagavata, 54) Sivohita, 55) Visnubhasita, 56) Padmodbhava, 57) Varaha, 58) Samanya, 59) Vyarokta

There are supposed to be 108 Pancaratragamas but most of them are lost.