There are two broad groupings of scriptures. The first group of sacred writings is known as the shruti (that which is heard) and the second is the smriti (that which is remembered). Some Hindus believe that the shruti and the smriti are on the same level, whilst the majority view is that the shruti are the more authoritative.
The shruti include the four Vedas which are said, originally, to have been transmitted orally for many years before they were written down. The Four Vedas are the:
- Rig Veda, containing mantras for use in worship
- Sama Veda, containing sung mantras
- Yajur Veda, also containing mantras, and instructions concerning worship
- The Atharva Veda, containing mantras to be used in various other ways
Each of the Vedas has four parts:
- Samhitas, concerned with recitation
- Brahmanas, concerned with ritual and sacrifice
- Aranyakas, concerned with the role of Vedic rituals in the cosmos
- Upanishads, concerned with the knowledge necessary for self-realisation
The smriti present Hindu teaching in widely accessible ways and have six parts:
- Grihya Sutra
- Dharma Shastra
- Prasthana Vakya
The Itihasas, or stories, contain the two famous epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
- The Ramayana tells the story of how King Rama fought against Ravana and the forces of evil. Rama and his wife Sita are, for many Hindus, models of right living.
- The Mahabharata incorporates the Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Blessed Lord, which is the record of a discourse between Krishna and Prince Arjuna and has become a centrally important scripture for many contemporary Hindus because of its teachings about dharma.
There are also, in addition, a range of other texts, including the Dharma Shastras, or law books and the Prasthana-vakyas, a range of literature which include, for example, the esoteric Tantras.