The Vedas are the HolyScriptures of Hinduism. Literally Veda means knowledge or wisdom.Because the Rishis or sages had the Vedas channelled to them whilst in deep meditative states, they have been described as apaurusheya, i.e., not created by any human agency.
These Vedas are four: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Out of these the Rigveda is the most ancient work at approximately 8000 years old.
The Rigveda is primarily a collection of 1017 prayer hymns to many forms of God. The Samaveda has set to music a selected number of hymns from the Rigveda. Incidentally, Hindu classical music originates from the Samaveda. The Yajurveda deals mainly with sacrificial rites and rituals. The Atharvaveda is mostly a compendium of ethical principles and also some branches of science like Ayurveda. The Atharvaveda also has hymns for controlling the weather, subduing enemies and curing diseases.
Traditionally, each of the four Vedas has been divided into four parts: Mantra or Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. The Samhitas are collections of prayers addressed to various Vedic deities like Indra, Varuna, and Vishnu. The Brahmanas describe how Vedic rituals should be performed. The Aranyakas describe various meditations based on the sacrificial rites. The Upanishads are philosophical prose dealing with such topics as the Truth behind the universe, the true nature of human beings, the goal of life and the means of achieving it. There are 108 parts to the Upanishads.
The Mahabharata concerns an epic war fought at Kuruksetra. The Good guys are the Pandavas and the bad guys the Kauravas. The war pits family members against other family members. As the battle is about to begin so begins a portion of the book called the Bhagavad-Gita (Geeta).
The Bhagavad-Gita or ‘song of God’ is about a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna. It consists of 18 chapters. It is the most popular Hindu religious scripture. It is often memorised word for word. It begins with Arjuna’s confusion and doubt about the upcoming battle. Lord Krishna assures Arjuna that the battle is not one family member against another but a fight of good against evil and that he should fight because it is the right thing to do. During Arjuna’s lengthy conversation with Krishna he realises that he is speaking to God and asks that he reveal himself as God. Lord Krishna does so and Arjuna sees within Krishna the lives of all living things simultaneously. Understandably his senses are overwhelmed and Lord Krishna again takes on human form. Lord Krishna asks Arjuna to surrender himself to him in return for Lord Krishna’s protection and love. Oh, and the good guys win, obviously.
The Ramayana is a Hindu epic of biblical length. It tells of Lord Rama and his Family in South India It includes the famous story of Lord Rama’s rescue mission for his wife Sita after the demon king Ravanna kidnapped her.
The 19 major Puranas detail the major Hindu gods and their worldly activities. They are sometimes known as the 5th Veda, and whilst the 1st four Vedas were reserved for certain castes the Puranas were for everyone. Amongst the information contained within the Puranas are such concepts as the formation of the universe, the multibillion year creation- destruction cycles, the kinds of humans on earth and the important Hindu rulers through history. The Puranas are often revised but the oldest ones predate the Vedas. The Puranas also tell us that we humans are descendants of Manu, a survivor of the great flood (yes Hinduism has a great flood story too!). From Manu we get the words Man, Mankind, and manners.