Hindu Scriptures

Chitra Sankaran, Assistant Professor of English and the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

The chief store-houses of the Hindu myths, as also the major influential texts within Hinduism, have been the two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha, the Puranas, eighteen in number, and the five principal Tantras.

The Ramayana

The Ramayana (adventures of Rama), considered by certain scholars to be the oldest of the Sanskrit epic poems, is reputed to have been written by the sage Valmiki. Scholars believe it to have been composed around the 5th century B.C. and to have received its present form a century or two later. Ramayana is divided into seven Kandas (sections) and contains about 50,000 lines.

The Maharabharatha

The Maharabharatha (the great story) is the longest epic poem of the world. It is divided into eighteen Parvas (or books) and contains about 220,000 lines. The reputed author is Vyasa, the arranger of the Vedas themselves. The origin of the work Is buried in antiquity. It is believed to have been passed down through the oral tradition for several centuries before it was first written down, presumably in the ninth century B.C. This written version was continuously added to and modified by successive generations till about 200 A.D. Many of its legends and stories are of Vedic character and of great antiqulty. The Mahabharatha has been the source for innumerable poems and dramas of later days. In fact there is a school which traces the source of the Ramayana itself to the Mahabharatha.

The Puranas

"Purana" means an ancient legend or tale of olden times. The Puranic period succeeded the Itihasa or epic period. The oldest of the Puranas, Vayu Purana, may date back to about the sixth century. and some of the others may be as recent as the thirteenth century. The Puranas are eighteen in number, and in adition to these there are eighteen Upa Puranas or subordinate works which were written at a later date. Among these are the Sthala puranas, which deal with the legendary histories of places, especially temples. The Upa-Puranas share with the Puranas the characteristic of extolling the virtues of one particular deity while recognizing other deities as subsidiary.

Other modern works exist, to which the term Purana has been applied. The Purunas are all written in verse, and their invariable form is that, of a dialogue between an exponent and an inquirer. interspersed with the dialogues and observations of other individuals. Whereas the epics treat of the legendary actions of heroes as mortal men, the Puranas celebrate the powers and works of Gods. But perhaps the most charateristic feature of the Purunas is that they are essentially diffuse and expansive and deal with almost every topic of interest to mankind. Thus, there are philosophical speculations, theology, and mythology all combined together within the expository narrative.


Sankaran, Chitra. The Myth Connection: The Use of Hindu Mythology in Some Novels of Raja Rao and R. K. Narayan. Ahmedabad, Bombay, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Bangladore, Lucknow, Calcutta, New Delhi, Maadras: Allied Publishers, 1993.

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