Hindu Scriptures – in general
The scriptures are sacred or holy books or writings of religions. They vary in form, volume, and age. Hindu scriptures were originally oral and were passed down as memorized texts through many generations before being put in writing. This may be the reason why they were written in the poem or hymn form and can be sung. People still try to recite or chant the scriptures aloud.
It is surprising to know that the word “scripture” is also being monopolized by some! The scriptures in general are supposed to be the sacred books or writings of any religion. The literature includes all kinds of written texts, whereas, the scriptures specifically include authentic holy and sacred religious texts.
Hindu scriptures include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purāns, the Itihāses (such as, Rāmāyan and Mahābhārat), Bhagvad Gitā, Agams, Darshan Shāstras, major authentic commentaries called Bhāshyas of different acharyas and scholars, etc.
The Vedic scriptures are categorized as Shrutis and Smrutis.
The four Vedas:
Rig-Veda: The Ṛigveda contains hymns (mantras) that formulate the mythology of ancient Vedic practice. Rigveda hymns (invocations and litanies).are recited by the hotr priests in the ritual or yagna ceremonies.
Yajur-Veda: The Yajurveda contains detailed prose instructions for the sacrifices. Yajurveda hymns are recited by the adhvaryu priests. The adhvaryu are usually in charge of the physical details of the sacrifice. They used to measure the ground, to build the altar, to prepare the sacrificial vessels, to fetch wood and water, to light the fire, to bring the animal and immolate it, among other duties. Each action is accompanied by supplicative or benedictive formulas (yajus), drawn from the Yajurveda.
Sāma-Veda: The Sāmaveda consists mostly of mantras from the Rigveda, but arranged in an order specifically suited to the Soma sacrifice. The soma pavamāna used to be the freshly pressed juice of the soma plant. Samaveda hymns, which are set to melodies (sāman) are recited or chanted by the udgatr priests during the Yagna or ritual ceremonies.
Atharva-Veda: The Atharvaveda comprises semi-magical spells against enemies, sorcerers, diseases and mistakes made during the sacrificial ritual, as well as kingly duties and some deeper spiritual truths. The entire performance of yagna or sacrifice is supervised by the Brāhman (Brāhmin) priests. They are responsible for correcting mistakes by means of supplementary invocations.
Each of the four Vedas is further divided into two sections: Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas.
1. The Saṃhitā portion includes Mantras. It is a collection of hymns to be used in Vedic sacrifices (Yagnas) and rituals.
2. The Brāhmaṇas portion (not to be confused with Brāhman or the Brāhmin priest caste), contains specific rules and regulations for the sacrifices as well as prose commentaries explaining the meaning of the mantras and rituals.
The Brāhmaṇas, describing rules and purpose of Vedic mantras of Saṃhitās, are also further divided into: Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣhads.