• kewal sethi

aren't we proud of these achievements

aren't we proud of these achievements


It is universally accepted that rig veda is the oldest book in existence. but what is there in rig veda. just some hymns. maybe but still let us see the extent.

rigveda has ten parts, called mandals. each mandal has sub parts called sookta. in its turn each sookta has richas. how many are there? the details are


mandal sookta richa

first 191 2006

second 43 429

thrid 62 617

fourth 58 589

fifth 87 727

sixth 75 765

seventh 104 841

eighth 92 1636

ninth 114 1108

tenth 191 1254

-------- ----------

1017 10472-


it is acknowledged that these were not straight away written down but passed from generation to generation till the man was ready to put it in writing.

yajur veda has many versions. the most popular version madhyantit has 40 chapters and 1975 mantras, some 700 are from rig veda. samveda has 1549 richas, most of them taken from rig veda. only 75 are different. the fourth atharva veda has 20 parts (known as kand), 730 sub parts (called sookta) and about 6000 mantras. about 1200 are from rig veda.

the next part of sruti sahitya is brahamanas associated with the vedas. The Brahmanas are glosses on the mythology, philosophy and rituals of the Vedas. the exact number is not known, many of them lost to time but at least nineteen are extant in their entirety. one of them shatapatha brahmana has 100 chapters. mostly they are in prose.

the next part is vedang which has six parts viz. education, metres (poetry), grammar, linguistics, astronomy and rituals. the main aim of the first four was to preserve the pronunciation of the richas and mantras. each of these branches developed with time. the earlier books were much before AD, but the progress continued for a long time.

upanishads are the foundation of the philosophical thinking though rig veda has a number of philosophical ideas. upanishad are also part of vedang and thus a continuation of the vedas. they explore the nature of the world, of the life and of the afterlife. mostly they are in the form of dialogues between the guru and the chela – teacher and disciple. the number of upanishads are said to be 200 to 220 but eleven of the upanishads are considered to be most important which are acknowledged by shankar, ramanujam and madhava. along with brahmsutra and bhagvad gita, they form prasthan-trayi. while ishavasya upanishad has only eighteen mantras, brihadanryak is the longest with five chapters.

we now come to epics. ramayana is the most important composed by valmiki. the ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (kāṇḍas) and 500 cantos (sargas). verses in the ramayana are written in a 32-syllable meter called anustubh. to write 24,000 verses in a single metre is unique achievement. the other epic mahabharata had, originally, 24,000 shlokas. the original name was jaya itihas and was also called chaturvinshatisahastri samhita. later many additions were made. the present version has 18 parvas, 1948 chapters and 83,146 shlokas. another version, found in south india, has 1959 chapters and 95,586 shlokas. still another version has different set up which contains of 100 parvas.

the next item is puranas. puranas were defined to be the descriptions concerned with creation and expansion of universe, the dynasties which ruled the universe and the main events of their period. naturally they are influenced by their times and are sometimes biased in favour of a ruling dynasty but their relevance to describe the period can be acknowledged. how old are they? it is said in mahabharata that the puranas were edited for the twenty eighth time that is to say they were in existence much before that. additions were made at a later date which disturbs the fixing of exact date. al baruni, in year 1031, mentions 18 puranas and 18 sub puranas. another 18 ati puranas are also mentioned in some literature.

jains and boudh also wrote their own puranas on the same style. some believe that they were written in sixth and seventh century AD. jains have 24 puranas corresponding to 24 tirthankras. nepali boudhs have nine puranas.

brahm purana has 13,783 shlokas in the presently current version. padam purana has, in the present version, 48,452 shlokas. vishnu purana has many versions, the number of shlokas ranging from 6000 to 23000. there is a sequel also which, if added would increase the number of shlokas from 6000 to 16000. shiv purana (also called vayu purana) has about 24,000 shlokas. srimad bhagwat purana has 18,000 shlokas. narad purana has, in the currently available version, 22000 shlokas. similar figures can be given for other puranas.

we next come to smritis. these are compilation of the rules for the society and are also called dharam sutras. manu smriti is the most famous one, believed to be compiled in 200 to 300 CE. it has twelve chapters dealing with different subjects such as creation of universe, the lakshanas of dharma, the four ashrams of life, the four varnas, the direction for rulers, the rules for adjudication, the succession rules, the rules for education etc. other famous smriti is yagvalkya smriti which deals with the personal conduct of men, the social conduct of men, and the modes of repentance. another twenty smritis are also mentioned. some of the names are atri, vishnu, harit, aushnasi, angiras, yama, aapstambh, bhrigu, narad etc. they differ from each other in their descriptions and reflect the change with time of the variuos concepts.

the darshan shastras are too well known to be subject of description in this article. the philosophers were busy right till fourteenth century in writing commentaries on dharam sutra, bhagvad geeta etc.

non-literary  work on a variety of themes like law, health, astronomy, grammar, administration also form a part of the indian literary heritage which have not been dealt with above. nor have we touched upon the literary work like fiction, drama, biography, poetry, drama, novels, short stories, literary criticism etc.

the tamil ancient literature should also be mentioned. the activity starts with sangha period which is, roughly speaking, coincides with vedic period. the earlier literature is not available but in the latter period of sangha period the tolkappium granth is fully available. its period is, according to some scholars, sixth century BC.

the sangha period was succeeded by a flourishing period of jaina and boudh literature. tirukurral, the sacred book, also belongs to this period. other notable books are shilpattikaram and manimekhlai, created by jain and boudh scholars. following the revival of sanatan dharam, shaiv and vaishnav literature flourished. tiruvai mauli and tirumurai are two important creations of this period. former has 4000 verses and the latter of 10000 verses. between 800 AD and 1200 AD, was the golden period of tamil literature. kant (skandh) puranam, periya puranam, tiruvilaiyadal puranam were written by shaiva saints. tamil literature continued to flourish even after north india was overrun by the muslims and the creative activity therein was completely strangulated.

like tamil, telugu also had a rich literary tradition but, unfortunately, the books of that period are not available. andhramahabharatamu of the eleventh century is the best available book. this was jointly written by three poets. rangnath ramayanam is another epic available. it was written by gon budh reddy. another version of ramayan was bhaskar ramayan written by five poets as a joint venture. srinath and bommer potna were two poets in the fourteenth century followed by the rich contributions of the vijayanagar empire's poets led by the king krishna dev raya. himself.


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