Is there a single book in Hinduism, which is considered as its authority, like Bible in Christianity or Quran for Islam? This is a question often asked by different strata of society, often without a clear answer.A simple reply would be – not one book but many. Strictly speaking, there is no religion born as Hinduism. The concept is many millennia older than the other religions, and evolved over a period from a vedic religion (sruti) to Dharma Sastram oriented religion (smriti), ably supported by different puranas and came to be called Sanatana Dharma. The name Hinduism came much later. Notwithstanding this evolution, there are certain books of authority for ‘Hindu religion’.“Angaani Vedaas Chatvaaroh Meemamsa Nyaaya Vistarah. Puraanam darma saastram ca vidyaa hyoetas chaturdasah”(Manu Smriti)“Puraana Nyaaya Meemamsaa Dharma saastra anga misritaah. Vedaah staanaani vidyaanaam dharmasya ca chaturdasah”(Yaagnavalkya smriti)Both these smritis say that there are fourteen ‘Pramaana’ (authority) books. They are 1) The four vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva veda2) The six angas or parts (like the limbs, ear, eye, mouth, nose) namely:a. Siksha – the life-giving breath-nostrils (Nose). This controls the pronunciation, way of singing and the meters, the chandas.b. Vyaakaranam – The mouth of the vedas. Written by sage Panini. A vaartikam (explanatory notes) on the sutra was written by the sage Vararuchi and the commentary by sage Patanjali. We all may have heard of the 14 Maheswara Sutras like:1) A e un. 2) Ru look 3) ye ong 4) Aye ouch 5) Ha ya va rat 6) Lan etc, which originated from the Damaru (udukkai) of lord Nataraja when he performed his cosmic dance. These 14 sutras were ‘revealed’ to Panini and he made use of them and wrote, for the first time, all the alphabets in Sanskrit and wrote the grammar to use them.There is a town in Madhya Pradesh, called Taar. This was the capital of the famous Maharaja Bhoja, the patron of all education and culture. There is a famous mosque in this town. In a hidden wall, there is a large wheel like feature, in which is written all the sutras of Panini in the form of slokas in a wheel. This was a temple for Goddess Saraswati during Bhoja’s time !c) Chandas : the feet of the veda. A separate article has been written, on this, and hence not repeated.d) Nruktam : The ears of the vedas. Nruktam is called the dictionary of the veda. This explains the root of every word and the meaning of every akshara in its context, in the word. This study is known as etymology in English. There are many who have written the ‘Kosam’ or ‘Nikandu’ or the more popular ‘Amara kosam’ to explain the meaning of the words, in the ‘Nrukta Sastram’. The one written by sage Yaskar is considered important, among these.e) Jyotisham : The eye of the veda. Many sages like Garga, Narada and Parasara have written the samhitas for jyotisham. The science of astronomy studies the planets and stars in the space. Josyam or Astrology is the science studying the influence of these planets and stars, their position, movement, etc on humans and the environment. The science dealing with both astronomy and astrology is known as ‘Jyotisham’.The jyotisha sastram has three skandas called Siddhanta, Hora and Samhita Skandas. They cover, among themselves, the entire spectrum of mathemetics, including arithmetic, trigonometry, geometry, algebra, calculus, differential equations, etc. This has led to research and presentation of their findings by Varahamihira (Bruhat Samhita), Bhaskaracharya (Leelavati Ganitam) and others. Bhaskaracharya writes that any number divided by zero is infinity. This is called ‘Kaharam’ by Bhaskaracharya. ‘Kham’ means zero. ‘Haram’ means division. He calls the resultant ‘infinity’ as ‘ Paramatma Tatwa’ and makes his ‘Mangala sloka’ by worshipping Paramatma.f) Kalpam: The hand of the veda. Since all the rituals are performed by hand, ‘Kalpam’ is considered as the hand of the vedas. There are a number of Rishis who have composed the Kalpa Sastra (Sutra). Apasthambar, Bodhayanar, Vaikenasar, Satyashadar, Bharadwajar and Agnivesar are the six who have written the sutras for Krishnayajurveda – Aasvalayanar and to a lesser extent, Saankaayanar, have written for the Rig Veda. Katyayanar has written the kalpa sutra for Shukla Yajur Veda. For Sama Veda, Laadyayanar has written for the Gautama branch, Traahyaayanar for Raanaayanjaneeya branch and Jaimini for Talevakaara branch.These small details have been given about the six parts (Angas) of the body of the vedas, only to bring out the enormity of the information available in the ‘Shadangas’ or the ‘six parts’.Besides the four vedas and six angas, there are four more which are considered as authoritative to be followed. They are : i) Meemamsa, ii) Nyayam, iii) Puranam and iv) Dharma Sastram. Let us see very briefly about them also. They are called ‘upa-angas’ or ‘sub parts’ of the vedas.i) Meemamsa : The sastra which researches, studies, and explains the meanings of the vedas is known as Meemamsa. The one which concerns the ritual part of the vedas, or the Karmakanda is known as Purva Mimamsa. The one which deals with the upanishadic (Gnanakanda) part of the vedas is known as Uttara Mimamsa. The Purva Mimamsa Sutra is written by sage Jaimini. The Vartikam or explanatory notes were written by Kumarila Bhatta and the commentary (Bhaashyam) by Sabarar. The vedas are the eternal law. The interpretation of the intricacies of law is left to the judges and the advocates advance the arguments, pro and con. Similarly, the judgement or the interpretation of the karmakanda of the vedas is done by Sage Jaimini and that is Purva Mimamsa. As has been always the case with the vedas,- whether there is God or not,- what is more important – the rituals or the search for truth, etc, this difference of opinion was carried forward in the Mimamsa as well. Kumarila Bhatta and Mandana Misra were strong adherents of the Purva Mimamsa – the rituals. Mandana Misra is the Rushi who lost in the debate with Adi Sankara, then accompanied him as a sanyasi and was coronated as Suresvaracharya, the first Peethatipati of Sringeri Mutt, after renouncing the superiority of rituals and by embracing Advaitam ( the monoism, Atma and Brahman are one, and Brahman or God is within yourself). It will be interesting to know that the Vaartikam (explanatory notes ) for the Uttara Mimamsa (Gnana Kanda part of the vedas , the Upanishads ) were written by none other than Suresvaracharya, who, as Mandana Misra, was a strong proponent of the importance of rituals – the Purva Mimamsa ! This does not mean that Advaitam or Adisankara did not accept Purva Mimamsa. They respected and accepted the need for rituals and the daily rituals (Nitya Karma Anushtana), but, as a preliminary, purificatory part to attain God. This can be explained by a simple example. Sandhyavandanam is a Nitya Karma Anushtanam, that is prescribed, to be done daily. One does not earn any punya or good, but, if one does not perform Sandhya Vandana, it is papa or sin. The fiscal deficit in his account goes on increasing. If he wants to arrest the fiscal deficit, he must do his daily rituals at least from now. The same is applicable to Deva Runam (Runam means Debt), Rushi Runam, Pithru Runam, Agnihotram, Sraddham, etc. “Sarvam Karmakhilam Partha Gnane Parisamapyate”Says lord Krishna to Arjuna. All rituals end in understanding of the final truth. The rigorous treatment given to the Mimamsa, including by its opponents, who had religiously practiced all the rituals prescribed (perhaps, for fear that not doing any ritual may increase the debt – remember Sandhya Vandanam and fiscal deficit ?) had led to many scholars to write books on Mimamsa elaborately. As a result, the practice of rituals and learning and understanding of Mimamsa has increased during the last couple of centuries. ii) Nyaayam : Tarka Sastram: The Nyaya Sastram examines the truth with the help of four Pramanas or Authorities. They are :a) Pratyaksham or what you seeb) Anumaanam or inferencec) Upamaanam or comparison, andd) Sabdam or sound.This sastra has been written by the sage Gautama. Another sage Ganaathar has written a slightly different version and this is called ‘Vaiseshikam’. Logic and philosophy are the two main pillars on which this upa-Angam or sub-part of the veda stands.i) What one sees, or hears, with his own eyes or ears is called Pratyakshamii) We may see some smoke emanating on the top of a hill or in a multistoreyed building. We infer that this is probably a forest fire or some apartment is on fire, for some reason. This is ‘Inference’ or ‘Anumaanam’. The understanding of the 24 Prakriti Tatwas arise from here. ‘Vaiseshikam’ draws heavily from the ‘Pramaanam’ – ‘Inference’.iii) Upamaanam is the method by which we try to understand something we do not know, by comparing it with something that we know. We may, for example, talk about Kamadhenu. We do not know how it looks. But, when it is described as a cow with certain special attributes, we are nearer to understanding the truth.iv) ‘Sabdam’ is an important Pramaanam. It is , in other words, ‘Sruti’. Whatever the great sages have told as certain things ‘revealed’ to them, there is no doubting them and this is ‘Sabda Pramaanam’.In ‘Vaiseshikam’, ‘Ganaathar’ interprets with the help of Nyaya Sastra that everything is composed of atoms and its particles and that God has created this world, by arranging the atoms and the different particles of atoms in myriad ways, and the various animate and inanimate objects exist as a result.There is a story about ‘Gautamar’, the author of the Nyaya Sastra. He used to constantly think and discuss within himself, even while walking. On one such occasion, he fell into a well, the absent minded professor, since he was oblivious of the presence of a well during his thoughts. It is said that God himself pulled him up and gave him another pair of eyes on his feet. Because of this, he is also known as ‘Aksha Pada’.‘Tarka Sastram’ is essentially an exchange of thoughts, with an open mind, to finally arrive at the truth. A debate, where one is already pre-determined with a conclusion and is not open to any other view, is called ‘Jalpam’. Yet another group, who take up opposing stands on every issue, merit or no merit, is known as ‘Vithanda’. The tamil word ‘Vithandaa Vaatham’ came from this only.The Nyaya Sastra lends more support to the ‘Visishta dwaita’ philosophy saying that the world is ‘real’ and not ‘maya’, and that jeevatma and paramatma are two different things. However, this is considered as very important by the ‘Advaitis’, also, since it laid the route for further discussion and evolution of thoughts towards ‘Monoism’ or ‘Advaitam’.
Is there a single book of Religious authority in Hinduism ?