History Notes: Vedic Literature Part – II

By Rahul Chadha|Updated : February 5th, 2021

In continuation to our previous posts on Vedic Literature and its History, here is the next part of the series Vedic Period and its details. These notes are important for SSC, Railways and all other competitive exams.

The vast literature of the Aryans is divided into two parts -

  • Sruti
  • Smriti 

In continuation to our previous posts on Vedic Literature and its History, here is the next part of the series Vedic Period and its details. These notes are important for SSC, Railways and all other competitive exams.

The vast literature of the Aryans is divided into two parts -

  • Sruti
  • Smriti 

1. Sruti Literature: The word Veda has been divided from the Sanskrit word Ved, which means 'spiritual knowledge'. The Vedas are four in number - Rig Veda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. The Rig Veda contains a references only to the first three Vedas, which suggests that the fourth Veda was composed at some later date.

The Vedic literature is usually divided into three periods:-

  1. The Mantra period when the Samhitas were composed
  2. Brahaman period when the Brahamanas, Upanishads and Aranyakas were composed
  3. the Sutra period.
  • Brahmanas are massive prose text which contain speculation of the meaning of the hymns, give precepts for their application, relate stories of their origin in connection with sacrificial rites and explain the secret meaning of the later.
  • The Aranyakas are the concluding parts of the Brahamanas. It doest not lay much stress on rites, rituals and sacrifices, but merely contain the philosophy and mysticism. The lead with the problems of soul, origin and elements of universe and the creation of universe.


  • Literarily, it means 'Jungle'
  • Provides the description of Moral Science and Philosophy
  • Provides details of hermits and saints who lived in Jungles
  • Give stress on meditation
  • Protests the system of 'Yajnas'

It would be appropriate to describe Upanishadas as mystic writings. There are 108 Upanishads in all, the most prominent of them being Ish, Prasana, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chhandogaya, Kathoupanishad, Ishopanishad, Brehadaranyaka, etc.


  • Literary meaning is 'Satra' (to sit near masters feet) in which Guru offers band of knowledge to their disciples
  • Is a combination of Tatva-mimansa and philosophy
  • They are also called "Vedanta"
  • Primitive upanishada are "Brahadaranyaka" and "Chandogya"
  • Later Upnishada like "Katha" and "Swetaswatar" have been written in poetic forms.
  • Brahma is the summary of philosophy, which is the only a 'truth' in the world.
  • Knowledge awards salvation says Upanishadas
  • Oldest possibility Narsinghpurvatapani
  • Latest possibility Allopanishada in Akbar's reign

2. Smriti Literature: Smriti is traditional knowledge and designates almost the entire body of post-Vedic classical Sanskrit literature. Smriti literature generally includes the following overlapping subjects:-

  1. The Vedangas: They refer to certain branches of post-Vedic studies regarded as auxiliary to the Vedas. The Vedangas are conventionally divided into six heading namely:-

(i)Kalpa or the ritual canon, including the dharma shastras or legal codes,

(ii)Jyotisha or astronomy,

(iii) Siksha or phonetics,

(iv)Chhanda or metre

(v) Nirukta or etymology

(vi)Vyakarana (Grammer)

  1. The Shad-Darsana: Six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, namely Nyaya, 'Vaiseshikha', Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.
  2. Itihasa: Legendary or semi-legendary works, specifically the Ramayana and Mahabharata and often extended to the Puranas.
  3. Puranas: Being a fairly late description of ancient legends, they are heavily coloured with the superstitions. The Puranas represent the most corrupt form of Hinduism. They are 18 in number
  • The Eighteen Puranas
  • Brahma Purana
  • Vishnu Purana
  • Shiva Purana
  • Padma Purana
  • Shrimad Bhagwat Purana
  • Agni Purana
  • Narad Purana
  • Markandey Purana
  • Bhavishya Purana
  • Ling Purana
  • Varah Purana
  • Vaman Purana
  • Brahm Vaivertya Purana
  • Shanda Purana
  • Surya Purana
  • Matsya Purana
  • Garuda Purana
  • Brahmand Purana

Upaveda: Also known as the auxiliary Vedas, they deal with medicine, architecture, erotics, archery and various arts and crafts. These were partly derived from original Vedic texts and were traditionally associated with one or other of the Vedas.

Tantras: Tantras are the writings of Shakta or Shaivite sects and also of certain antinomian Buddhist scholars

Agamas: They are scriptures of sectarian Hindus like Vaishnavites, Shaivites and Shaktas.

Upangas: They are a generic name for any collection of treatises although traditionally confined to the philosophical systems of 'Nyaya' and 'Mimansa' - the 'Dharma Sutras' the 'Puranas' and the 'Tantras'


Some historians regard the Later Vedic Period as the Period of Epics. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are the two great epics of this period.
Ramayana: It is said to have been composed by the sage, Valmiki. The incident related in it precedes the Mahabharata by about a hundred and fifty years. The story of Ramayana is of indigenous origin and had existed in ballad form in Prakrit, in more than one version. It was rewritten in Sanskrit and augmented with many 'Shlokas'. The epic was given a Brahmanical character which was not visible in the original work. It is also known as Adi Kavya. Evidence places the oldest part of the Ramayana to before 350 BC. The reference in the epic to the mingled hords of Yavanas and Shakas suggests that it received accretions in the Graeco-Scythian period and may have acquired its final shape by about AD 250.

Mahabharata: The Mahabharata is the bulkiest epic consisting of 100,000 verses and is divided into 18 paravas (books). This book is usually assigned to Rishi Ved Vyas, but scholars have expressed doubts if such a great work could have been accomplished by one single person. The story itself occupies only about one-fourth of the poem. It is a tale about conflict between Aryans-Kaurava and Pandava.

The rest is episodical comprising cosmology, theogony, state craft, the science of war, ethics, legendary history, mythology, fairy tales and several digressional and philosophical interludes, of which the best known is the Bhagavad Gita.


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