19. What is the meaning of the word Sastra?
Sastra in Sanskrit means that which gives teaching, instruction or command.
20. What are the Sastras?
The Vedas are the most important sastras. There is no sastra higher than the Veda. Then we have Smiriti, Itihasa, Purana and Agama, about which we will discuss later.
21. What are Samhita and Aranyaka. ?
Modern thinkers divide Vedas into four portions, as follows: Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka, and Upanishads. Samhita denotes collection of Mantras. Brahmanas have already been described earllier. Aranyakas are texts, which were recited in hermitages in forests. Upanishads contain philosophical thoughts, in the form of discussions and explanations.
22. Why are Upanishads called Jnana Kanda or Brahma Kanda?
They talk about realisation of God, how to attain salvation. Since they speak about realising Brahman or the ultimate reality the Upanishads are called Brahma Kanda. Since they give us Knowledge about attaining salvation, they are also called Jnana Kanda. The Upanishads are also called Veda Siras, i.e., the head of the Veda. When we say the head, we mean the most important part of the Veda.
23. What is the difference between Brahma and Brahman? Are both the same?
No. Brahma is the four-faced one, who came from the lotus, out of the navel of Lord Narayana. Brahman means one who is great and hence denotes the Supreme Being or the Ultimate Reality.
24. Talking about Upanishads, how many Upanishads are there?
People say that there are more than a hundred Upanishads, but only some of the Upanishads are accepted authoritatively by all sections of the Hindus. The important ones are called Dasopanishad, i.e., the ten Upanishads. These ten Upanishads are accepted as authority and quoted by ancient philosophers like Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva.
25. What are the ten Upanishads?
The ten Upanishads are: Isavaya Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Kata Upanishad, Prasna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
26. Are there any other important and accepted Upanishads?
We have Svetasvatara Upanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad, Subala Upanishad, and Maha Narayana Upanishad forms part of Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
27. From which of the Vedas do these Upanishads come?
Aitareya Upanishad is in Rig Veda Isavasya Upanishads, Kata Upanishads, Taittiriya Upanishad Bridhadaranyaka Upanishad are in Yajur Veda. Kena Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad are from Sama Veda. Prasna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad and Mandukya Upanishad are all in Atharva Veda.
28. What are the Angas or subsidiaries of the Vedas?
There are six such Angas (part or limbs) of Vedas. These are 1)Siksha 2) Vyakarana 3) Chandas 4) Jyotisha 5) Nirukta and 6) Kalpa.
29. Can you tell me what the six Veda Angas talk about?
1)Siksha explains the proper pronunciations of the Vedas.
2)Vyakarana explains the grammar of the Vedic words.
3)Chandas explains the metres of the various Riks.
4)Jyotisha helps in deciding the proper time for the performance of the various rituals.
5)Nirukta gives the meanings of difficult words in the Vedas.
6)Kalpa describes the proper method of performing the various ritual mentioned in the Vedas. These six angas of the Vedas help in a proper understanding of the Vedas. They also help in the performance of the various rituals or the yagas (yagnas), prescribed by the Vedas.
30. How are these six Vedangas divided?
They can be divided into two groups: 1) Those which are connected with the text of the Vedas: Siksha, Vyakarana, Chandas. 2)Those which are connected with the meaning of Vedas: Jyotisha, Nirukta, Kalpa.
31. After the Vedas and Vedangas, what are the important texts or authorities for us?
Next comes Smriti. Smriti helps us in understanding the various injunctions and truths propounded in the Vedas.
32. How many Smritis are there?
The Smritis are many in number and even an exact definition of Smriti is perhaps not available. Many of the Smritis are also not available now and are lost to humanity. The more important Smritis are : Manu Smriti, Parasarra Smriti, Yagnavalkya Smriti, Harita Smriti ans Sandilya Smriti. Some say there are 20 Smritis and some others say that there are 57 Smritis.
33. What do thse Smritis talk about?
The Smritis describe the codes of conduct for mankind in day-to-day life; how they should conduct themselves; and for any wrong doings, what are the punishments or atonements (prayaschitta) to be undergone. The Smritis can be considered as elaborating or explaining the Karma Kanda of the Vedas.
34. What are Itihasas?
Ramayana and Mahabharata are called Itihasas.
35. Are they considered very sacred?
They are considered as sacred as the Vedas themselves. The Mahabharata is called the Fifth Veda.
To be continued….
source of this content: A Dialog on Hinduism By Sri V.N. Gopala Desikan