The Hindu scriptures are massive, and were written between 1400 B.C. and A.D. 500. The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Veda, which literally means “wisdom” or “knowledge.” The Vedas contain hymns, prayers, and ritual texts composed from about 1400 to about 400 B.C.
The Upanishads are a collection of writings composed between 800-600 B.C. Over one hundred of them still exist. These writings marked a definite change from the sacrificial humans and magic formulas in the Vedas, to the mystical ideas about man and the universe – specifically the Brahman, and the atman (the self or soul). The Upanishads had a great influence on Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
The Ramayana is one of the two major epic tales of India, the other being the Mahabharata. A sage-poet named Valmiki wrote the Ramayana. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based upon the life of Rama, a righteous king who was supposedly an incarnation of the God Vishnu. The Mahabharata is the second epic. It is an the story of the deeds of Aryan clans, and consists of some 100,000 verses and was composed over an 800-year period beginning about 400 B.C. Contained within this work is a great classic, the Bhagavad Gita, or the “Song of the Blessed Lord.”
The Bhagavad Gita is not only the most sacred book of the Hindus, but it is also the best known and the most read of all Indian works in the entire world, despite the fact it was added late to the Mahabharata, sometime in the first century A.D. The story revolves around man’s duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance this story has on Hindu belief is its endorsement of bhakti, or devotion to a particular god, as a means of salvation, since Arjuna, the story’s main character, decides to put his devotion to Vishnu above his own personal desires. The Gita ends with Arjuna devoted to Vishnu and ready to kill his relatives in battle.
Hindu scriptures are classified into two parts: Shruti and Smriti.
The Vedas are classified under Shruti. Unlike other religions which claim authority of their scriptures as being delivered by a personal
God or special messengers of God, Hindus claim that the Vedas do not owe their authority to anybody, rather the Vedas themselves are the authority, being eternal – the knowledge of God. According to Hindu tradition, the mass of knowledge called the Vedanta was discovered by persons called Rishis, seers of thought. This mass of knowledge was recorded in the written form. The written forms of texts do not reveal
any information about the dates of discovery. The Hindu tradition of preserving Vedas is mainly carried on an oral fashion.
The written forms are somewhat more recent compared to the original oral tradition. Moreover, many modern historians do not have undisputed
artifacts to prove exact dates of the written forms of the texts.
Below is a chronological list of (groups of) Hindu texts. All dates refer to the written forms of the texts, and are approximate.
Rigveda, 1700 – 1100 BC
Samaveda, 1700 BC and later
Yajurveda, 1400 – 1000 BC
Atharvaveda, 1200 – 1000 BC
Upanishads, 1200 – 500 BC
Ramayana, 5th – 4th century BC
Mahabharata, 5th – 4th century BC
Bhagavad Gita, 100 BC – 300 AD
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 100 BC – 500 AD
Puranas, 3rd – 16th century AD
Yoga Vasistha, 10th – 14th century AD