The principles of Hinduism are formulated in the basic Vedic Texts and these truths were revealed to the sages and seers. The Vedas are regarded as the fountainhead of Hinduism. They contain ideas and suggestion that have shaped the entire Hindu tradition. When the Aryans came into India they brought with them a new language, Sanskrit, which they moulded into a remarkably versatile medium for the expression of sublime thoughts and rich images. Thrilled by the grandeur of the Himalaya and by the luxuriance of Indian forests and river valleys, the Aryans poured out their joy, their sense of mystery their reverence for the Divine in beautiful hymns and prayers. These have been collected in the four Vedas, in which Rig Veda is the most important.
The Vedic hymns, composed between 1600 and 1000BC were addressed to gods and goddesses who were regarded as personifications of the powers of nature: Indra, god of rain and thunder; Prajapati, "Lord of the creatures", Agni, god of the sacred fire' the Maruts, gods of winds and storms; Savitr, the sun god; Ushas, goddess of dawn; and Varuna, god of the sea and upholder of the moral law. The hymns are believed to have been composed by rishis. These include the mantras, Brahmanas or liturgical portions; Aranyaks or the forest treatises and the Upanishads or philosophical dissertations. These are collectively known as Shruti or 'what has been heard'.
Shrutis contain eternal truths which have to be reinterpreted and expounded for the use of different ages and climes. This task has been undertaken by the writers of Shrutis or secondary texts which include the dharmashastra (Smrities) or copies of law; the agamas or manuals of worship the Puranas or chronicles and legends; Itihasas or epics; and Darshanas or systems of philosophy. Customs and practices, rituals and rites as also philosophical doctrines are elaborated here. Do's or don'ts are enumerated and the whole material is brought home with stories from history and legend. Smritis possess a more concrete complexion than the Shrutis.
Although different gods were worshipped, they were increasingly seen as manifestations of a single Divine-Principle. The Vedic concept of rita (cosmic law) points to a single rhythmic force animating the entire universe. This led to deep feeling for the close kinship between man and nature which has always characterised Indian life. Also, by combining religion with philosophy and poetry, the Vedas initiated a typical Hindu concept of perfection, the concept that the man of wisdom must combine the intellectual clarity of the philosopher with the faith of the sage and the aestheticism of the artist.
The Upanishads was composed between 800 to 400 BC. They are dialogues between teachers and disciples and are regarded as a continuation of the Vedas and hence a part of Shruti. Upanishads is also called the Vedanta (end part of the Vedas) which deal with philosophical truths of the profoundest nature, of soul, to god, the ultimate spiritual oneness of all that exists etc. and are punctuated with illustrated stories. They are all replete with spiritual knowledge and the idea of an eternal, impersonal principle the sole reality - the Brahman or Atman.
The most popular text in the Vedic tradition is the 'Bhagavad Gita ('song of god'). Although it is a part of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is strongly influenced by the Upanishads. The Gita is presented to us in dialogue form between Sri. Krishna and Arjuna on the momentous occasion of the dharmaudha or the righteous war in Kurukshetra. Not only does the Gita present the basic truths, it goes further in declaring that whatever way of life, whatever mode of worship man has and shall adopt, so long as it is guided by an earnest desire or Sraddha for betterment, they are to be deemed worthy of recognition and respect.
The Gita's tremendous appeal derives from its earnestness, optimism and tolerance. The Gita accepts the validity of three different paths leading to the common goal of self-realisation: the path of Jnana (knowledge), the path of Bhakti (Devotion and Love), and the path of Karma (work). These correspond to the intellectual, the emotional and the practical sides of human nature. Millions of people have derived hope and consolation from the Gita's simple message. Work without attachment, dedicating the fruit of your work to the Divine. In addition, the "special path", the path of yoga, is also recognised. Through yoga (inner integration ) one can proceed from physical control, through mental control, to the recognition of one's reality as Pure Spirit. Through self -recognition, tranquility can be attained.
The Gita enunciates various disciplines for various kinds of people. Jhanayoga for the intellectually inclined, Bhaktiyoga to the emotionally charged, karmayoga to the volitionally driven have been recommended. Mahavratas the common bedrock of virtues. The five Mahavratas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyam (truth), Asteya (non-coveting), Brahmacharya (continence) and Aparigraha (non-poss ession).