Our country is very rich in literary heritage. Literature means novels, poetry plays, prose and other creative written works. They are considered to have artistic qualities. They have permanent worth through their intrinsic excellence. These artistic writings are worthy of being remembered.
The Vedic Literature in Ancient India
The Vedas are the earliest literary works in India. The Rig Veda is the earliest record of the Indo-Aryan culture. Though devoted more to the study of spiritual and moral subjects, it contains frequent references to the daily life of the early Vedic people, their manners, customs, beliefs, their society, political organisation, their trade and occupations and their mode of warfare. These references put together enable us to construct a vivid picture of the ancient Indian society. There are many references in RigVeda which bear resemblance to Harappan Culture. In the RigVeda, is the Gayatri Mantra which is recited by millions of Hindus everyday. The RigVeda was followed by other three Vedas. The Samveda or the book of chants contains 1549 hymns taken from Rig Veda. Yajurveda is generally called the book of “sacrificial prayers”. It treats the principles of Yajnas sacrifices and some magical formulas and charms. The Atharvaveda contains hymns dealing mostly with special customs, magic and witchcrafts. It also throws light on Vedic civilization and culture.
The Brahmanas are the explanation of the meanings of the Vedic hymns. They were written by lamed priests to explain Vedic texts in simple prose. The Aryanakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas. They deal with philosophy and stress the path of knowledge.
The general body of early philosophical treatises is known as upanishad. Their number is about 200. They deal with high philosophical problems. What is this world? What becomes of one after death? Such questions are asked and boldly answered in the Upanishadas. The Vedanagas are the limbs of the Vedas and deal with such subjects as Grammer, Phonetics and Astronomy. The Upvedas deal with four secular subjects : (a) Ayurved (medicine), (b) Dhanurveda or military science (c) Gandharva veda or music (d) Shilpveda or architecture.
The Sutras represent the last phase of the Vedic literature. They are written in a very compressed style. They deal with the vedic rituals and customary law. The Sruta Sutra describe the itua1s of greater sacrifices. The Garahya Sutra describes the ceremonies connected with the domestic life from birth to death. The Dharam Sutra are the earliest works on law both religious and secular.
Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy
They make a systematic and logical examination of the doctrines
of life and Moksha. These schools are
(1) The Samkhya School of Kapila
(2) The Yoga System of Patanjali
(3) Nayaya School of Gautma
(4) The Vaisesika System of Kanda,
(5) Uttra Mimamsa of Vyasa
The Two Great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata
The Ramayana was written by Rishi Valmiki and it is the oldest and the most popular epic. It is devoted to the celebration of the deeds of Rama. This work is the first example of Sanskrit Kavya and comprises of 21,000 couplets. The style is simple but highly literary. The Mahabharata is the longest epic in the world and contains more than 100,000 slokas or verses. Its main theme is “the Great epic of the War of the descendants of Bharata” but numerous other stories have been added to illustrate the main theme. It is believed to be the work of a legendary sage Vyasa. But in its present form it cannot be regarded as the work of one author. The Mahabharata is regarded as the “encyclopaedia” of moral teachings as conceived by Brahmanical mind.
The historical importance of the two great epics is really great. They reflect the social customs, political and religious conditions of the age. They vividly portray the virtues and vices and ideals of the people. These epics have considerably influenced the daily life of the Hindus. The lives of Rama and Sita have always supplied to Hindu men and women their ideals of life. Rama is still regarded as an ideal son and an ideal king. Sita is still regarded as a model of Indian womanhood for both purity and loyalty Lakshmana is still looked upon as an ideal brother. Similarly, Yudhishtra is regarded as an embodiment of truthfulness and Lord Krishna as an incarnation (Avtar) of God Vishnu.
Shrimad Bhagvada Gita is the most instructive and the most interesting portion of the Mahabharata. It is the most beaitftil and perfect song of the Supreme God. Hindus believe that it contains the very words of Shri Krishha incarnation (Avtar) of God Vishnu, to his disciple and friend
0 the Pandav hero Arjuna. It teaches the doctrine of rnshkama karma (work done without seeking any, reward) and Bizakii (loving faith) in God of Grace. Man must do his duty in a selfless way without any desire for reward. The Bhagvad Gita, for more than two thousand years, has deeply influenced the Hindu thought. It is read and revered by millions of Hindus to this day. It has been translated in almost all the living languages of the world. According to Aldous Huxley, “It is of enduring value not only for the Indians but for mankind”.
The Puranas are the storehouse of Indian philosophy and ancient Indian history They are eighteen in numbers. They deal with exploits of gods and heroic princes. Some Puranas gave the names of several kings of different dynasties, in succession. The main purpose of the Puranas was to propagate religion and morals and to create a fear of God in the minds of people. The exact date of the Puranas cannot be fixed but they are a valuable source of information for the history of the period before the 6th century B.C.
Panini, the celebrated Sanskrit grammarian, flourished not later than the fourth century B.C. He was the author of the Ashtadhyayi, the most scientific work on Sanskrit grammar. According to Max Mullar, the Hindus and Greeks are the only nations which have developed the science of grammar and Panini perhaps is the greatest grammarian that the world has ever seen.