Shastras and sutras
Shruti or Shruthi (Sanskrit: श्रुति; IAST: Śruti;
IPA/Sanskrit: [ʃrut̪i]) in Sanskrit means "that which is heard" and
refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts
comprising the central canon of Hinduism. It includes the four
Vedas including its four types of embedded texts—the Samhitas, the
Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the early Upanishads.
Śrutis have been variously described as a revelation through anubhava
(direct experience), or of primordial origins realized by ancient
Hindu tradition, they have been referred to as
apauruṣeya (authorless). The
Śruti texts themselves assert that
they were skillfully created by Rishis (sages), after inspired
creativity, just as a carpenter builds a chariot.
All six orthodox schools of
Hinduism accept the authority of
śruti,[note 1] but many scholars in these schools denied that the
śrutis are divine. Nāstika (heterodox) philosophies such as
the Cārvākas did not accept the authority of the śrutis and
considered them to be flawed human works.
Shruti (Śruti) differs from other sources of
particularly smṛti “which is remembered” or textual material.
These works span much of the history of Hinduism, beginning with the
earliest known texts and ending in the early historical period with
the later Upanishads. Of the śrutis, the
Upanishads alone are
widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishadic śrutis are at
the spiritual core of Hindus.
2 Distinction between śruti and smṛti
4 Role in
7 See also
9.1 Cited sources
10 External links
The Sanskrit word "श्रुति" (IAST: Śruti; IPA/Sanskrit:
[ɕrut̪i]) has multiple meanings depending on context. It means
"hearing, listening", a call to "listen to a speech", any form of
communication that is aggregate of sounds (news, report, rumor, noise,
hearsay). The word is also found in ancient geometry texts of
India, where it means "the diagonal of a tetragon or hypotenuse of a
triangle", and is a synonym of karna. The word śruti is also
found in ancient Indian music literature, where it means "a particular
division of the octave, a quarter tone or interval" out of twenty-two
enumerated major tones, minor tones, and semitones. In music, it
refers the smallest measure of sound a human being can detect, and the
set of twenty-two śruti and forty four half Shruti, stretching from
about 250 Hz to 500 Hz, is called the Shruti octave.
In scholarly works on Hinduism, śruti refers to ancient Vedic texts
from India. Monier-Williams traces the contextual history of this
meaning of śruti as, "which has been heard or communicated from the
beginning, sacred knowledge that was only heard and verbally
transmitted from generation to generation, the Veda, from earliest
Rishis (sages) in Vedic tradition. In scholarly literature, Śruti
is also spelled as Shruti.
Distinction between śruti and smṛti
Smriti literally "that which is remembered," refers to a body of Hindu
texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down but
constantly revised, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature)
considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the
generations and fixed.
Smriti is a derivative secondary work and is
considered less authoritative than Sruti in Hinduism. Sruti are
fixed and its originals preserved better, while each
exists in many versions, with many different readings. Smritis were
considered fluid and freely rewritten by anyone in ancient and
Both śrutis and smṛtis represent categories of texts of different
Hindu philosophy. According to Gokul Narang, the
Sruti are asserted to be of divine origin in the mythologies of the
Puranas. In contrast, states Roy Perrett, ancient and medieval
Hindu philosophers have denied that śruti are divine, authored by
Mīmāṃsā tradition, famous in
Hindu tradition for its Sruti
exegetical contributions, radically critiqued the notion and any
relevance for concepts such as "author", the "sacred text" or divine
origins of Sruti; the
Mimamsa school claimed that the relevant
question is the meaning of the Sruti, values appropriate for human
beings in it, and the commitment to it.
Nāstika philosophical schools such as the Cārvākas of the first
millennium BCE did not accept the authority of the śrutis and
considered them to be human works suffering from incoherent
rhapsodies, inconsistencies and tautologies.
Smṛtis are considered to be human thoughts in response to the
śrutis. Traditionally, all smṛtis are regarded to ultimately be
rooted in or inspired by śrutis.
The śruti literature include the four Vedas:
Each of these
Vedas include the following texts, and these belong to
the śruti canon:
The literature of the shakhas, or schools, further amplified the
material associated with each of the four core traditions.
Of the above śrutis, the
Upanishads are most widely known, and the
central ideas of them are the spiritual foundation of Hinduism.
Patrick Olivelle writes,
Even though theoretically the whole of Vedic corpus is accepted as
revealed truth [śruti], in reality it is the
Upanishads that have
continued to influence the life and thought of the various religious
traditions that we have come to call Hindu.
Upanishads are the
scriptures par excellence of Hinduism.
— Patrick Olivelle
Shrutis have been considered the authority in Hinduism.[note 1]
Smṛtis, including the Manusmṛti, the
Nāradasmṛti and the
Parāśarasmṛti, are considered less authoritative than śrutis.
स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् ।
Translation 1: The whole
Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law,
next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the
Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally)
Translation 2: The root of the religion is the entire Veda, and (then)
the tradition and customs of those who know (the Veda), and the
conduct of virtuous people, and what is satisfactory to oneself.
वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः
स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः ।
साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम्
Translation 1: The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous
men, and one's own pleasure, they declare to be the fourfold means of
defining the sacred law.
Translation 2: The Veda, tradition, the conduct of good people, and
what is pleasing to oneself – they say that is four fold mark of
Only three of the four types of texts in the
Vedas have behavioral
Hindu all belief takes its source and its justification in the
Vedas [Śruti]. Consequently every rule of dharma must find its
foundation in the Veda. Strictly speaking, the Samhitas do not even
include a single precept which could be used directly as a rule of
conduct. One can find there only references to usage which falls
within the scope of dharma. By contrast, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas
Upanishads contain numerous precepts which propound rules
— Robert Lingat
Bilimoria states the role of śruti in
Hinduism has been inspired by
"the belief in a higher natural cosmic order (Rta succeeded later by
the concept Dharma) that regulates the universe and provides the basis
for its growth, flourishing and sustenance – be that of the gods,
human beings, animals and eco-formations".
Levinson states that the role of śruti and smṛti in
Hindu law is as
a source of guidance, and its tradition cultivates the principle that
"the facts and circumstances of any particular case determine what is
good or bad". The later
Hindu texts include fourfold sources of
dharma, states Levinson, which include atmanastushti (satisfaction of
one's conscience), sadacara (local norms of virtuous individuals),
smṛti and śruti.
The śrutis, the oldest of which trace back to the second millennium
BCE, had not been committed to writing in ancient times. These were
developed and transmitted verbally, from one generation to the next,
for nearly two millenniums. Almost all printed editions available in
the modern era are copied manuscripts that are hardly older than 500
Michael Witzel explains this oral tradition as follows:
The Vedic texts were orally composed and transmitted, without the use
of script, in an unbroken line of transmission from teacher to student
that was formalized early on. This ensured an impeccable textual
transmission superior to the classical texts of other cultures; it is,
in fact, something like a tape-recording.... Not just the actual
words, but even the long-lost musical (tonal) accent (as in old Greek
or in Japanese) has been preserved up to the present.
— Michael Witzel
Ancient Indians developed techniques for listening, memorization and
recitation of śrutis. Many forms of recitation or pathas were
designed to aid accuracy in recitation and the transmission of the
Vedas and other knowledge texts from one generation to the next. All
hymns in each
Veda were recited in this way; for example, all 1,028
hymns with 10,600 verses of the
Rigveda was preserved in this way; as
were all other
Vedas including the Principal Upanishads, as well as
the Vedangas. Each text was recited in a number of ways, to ensure
that the different methods of recitation acted as a cross check on the
other. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat summarizes this as follows:
Samhita-patha: continuous recitation of Sanskrit words bound by the
phonetic rules of euphonic combination;
Pada-patha: a recitation marked by a conscious pause after every word,
and after any special grammatical codes embedded inside the text; this
method suppresses euphonic combination and restores each word in its
original intended form;
Krama-patha: a step-by-step recitation where euphonically-combined
words are paired successively and sequentially and then recited; for
example, a hymn "word1 word2 word3 word4...", would be recited as
"word1word2 word2word3 word3word4 ...."; this method to verify
accuracy is credited to Vedic sages Gargya and Sakalya in the Hindu
tradition and mentioned by the ancient Sanskrit grammarian Panini
(dated to pre-Buddhism period);
Krama-patha modified: the same step-by-step recitation as above, but
without euphonic-combinations (or free form of each word); this method
to verify accuracy is credited to Vedic sages Babhravya and Galava in
Hindu tradition, and is also mentioned by the ancient Sanskrit
Jata-pāṭha, dhvaja-pāṭha and ghana-pāṭha are methods of
recitation of a text and its oral transmission that developed after
5th century BCE, that is after the start of Buddhism and Jainism;
these methods use more complicated rules of combination and were less
These extraordinary retention techniques guaranteed an accurate
Śruti, fixed across the generations, not just in terms of unaltered
word order but also in terms of sound. That these methods have
been effective, is testified to by the preservation of the most
ancient Indian religious text, the Ṛgveda (ca. 1500 BCE).
This part of a Vedic student's education was called svādhyāya. The
systematic method of learning, memorization and practice, enabled
these texts to be transmitted from generation to generation with
Max Müller in an 1865 lecture stated:
The idea of revelation, and I mean more particularly book revelation,
is not a modern idea, nor is it an idea peculiar to Christianity. In
no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely
elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is shruti,
which means hearing; and this title distinguished the Vedic hymns and,
at a later time, the Brahmanas also, from all other works, which
however sacred and authoritative to the
Hindu mind, are admitted to
have been composed by human authors.
But let me state at once that there is nothing in the hymns themselves
to warrant such extravagant theories. In many a hymn, the author says
plainly that he or his friends made it to please the gods; that he
made it, as a carpenter makes a chariot (Rv 1.130.6; 5.2.11), or like
a beautiful vesture (Rv 5.29.15); that he fashioned it in his heart
and kept it in his mind (Rv 1.171.2).
— Max Muller
^ a b Elisa Freschi (2012): The
Vedas are not deontic authorities in
absolute sense and may be disobeyed, but still recognized as an
deontological epistemic authority by a
Hindu orthodox school;
(Note: This differentiation between epistemic and deontic authority is
true for all Indian religions)
^ a b c James Lochtefeld (2002), "Shruti", The Illustrated
Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing.
ISBN 9780823931798, page 645
^ a b c d e f Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the
Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press,
ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
^ Michael Myers (2013). Brahman: A Comparative Theology. Routledge.
pp. 104–112. ISBN 978-1-136-83572-8.
^ P Bilimoria (1998), ‘The Idea of Authorless Revelation’, in
Indian Philosophy of Religion (Editor: Roy Perrett),
ISBN 978-94-010-7609-8, Springer Netherlands, pages 3, 143-166
^ Hartmut Scharfe (2002), Handbook of Oriental Studies, BRILL
Academic, ISBN 978-9004125568, pages 13-14
^ Klaus Klostermaier (2007), Hinduism: A Beginner's Guide,
ISBN 978-1851685387, Chapter 2, page 26
^ Elisa Freschi (2012), Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prabhakara
Mimamsa, BRILL, ISBN 978-9004222601, page 62
^ a b Roy Perrett (1998),
Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study,
University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824820855, pages 16-18
^ P Bilimoria (1990),
Hindu Doubts About God - Towards a Mīmāmsā
Deconstruction, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 30,
Issue 4, pages 481-499
^ a b Richard Hayes (2000), in Philosophy of Religion: Indian
Philosophy (Editor:Roy Perrett), Routledge, ISBN 978-0815336112,
^ a b Original Sanskrit version:Sarvasiddhanta Samgraha, pages 3-7;
English version: The
Charvaka System with commentary by Madhava
Acharya, Translators: Cowell and Gough (1882), pages 5-9
^ Flood, Gavin. pp. 39.
^ a b Wendy Doniger (1990), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism,
1st Edition, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226618470,
pages 2-3; Quote: "The
Upanishads supply the basis of later Hindu
philosophy; they alone of the Vedic corpus are widely known and quoted
by most well-educated Hindus, and their central ideas have also become
a part of the spiritual arsenal of rank-and-file Hindus."
^ a b Patrick Olivelle (2014), The Early Upanisads, Oxford University
Press, ISBN 978-0195352429, page 3; Quote: "Even though
theoretically the whole of vedic corpus is accepted as revealed truth
[śruti], in reality it is the
Upanishads that have continued to
influence the life and thought of the various religious traditions
that we have come to call Hindu.
^ a b c d zruti Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne
Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
^ TA Amma (1999), Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India,
ISBN 978-8120813441, page 261
^ Miloš Zatkalik, Milena Medić and Denis Collins (2013), Histories
and Narratives of Music Analysis, Cambridge Scholars Publishing,
ISBN 978-1443850285, page 509
^ Shruti, Encyclopædia Britannica (2015)
^ Kim Knott (2016). Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford
University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-19-874554-9. Quote:
There are different views among Hindus about which scriptures are
shruti and which fall into the other important category of sacred
literature, smriti, that which is remembered or handed down.
^ Wendy Doniger (1988). Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism.
Manchester University Press. p. 2.
^ James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0823931798,
^ Sheldon Pollock (2011), Boundaries, Dynamics and Construction of
Traditions in South Asia (Editor: Federico Squarcini), Anthem,
ISBN 978-0857284303, pages 41-58
^ Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 448
^ Gokul Chand Narang (1903). Message of the Vedas. Рипол
Классик. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-5-87256-097-5.
^ Francis X. Clooney (1987), Why the
Veda Has No Author: Language as
Ritual in Early
Mīmāṃsā and Post-Modern Theology, Journal of the
American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 4, page 660
^ "Shruti: The Four Vedas".
^ Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge
University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, pages 33-40
^ A Bhattacharya (2006), Hinduism: Introduction to Scriptures and
Theology, ISBN 978-0595384556, pages 8-14
^ Flood, Gavin. 1997. pp. 39
^ James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 9780823931798,
pages 656 and 461
^ a b The Laws of Manu 2.6 with footnotes George Bühler (Translator),
The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25, Oxford University Press
^ a b Brian Smith and Wendy Doniger (1992), The Laws of Manu, Penguin,
ISBN 978-0140445404, pages 17-18
^ Robert Lingat (1973), The Classical Law of India, University of
California Press, ISBN 978-0520018983, pages 7-8
^ Bilimoria, Purushottama (2011), The idea of
Hindu law, Journal of
Oriental Society of Australia, Vol. 43, pages 103-130
^ a b Devid Levinson (2002), Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment,
Volume 1, SAGE Publications, ISBN 978-0761922582, page 829
^ Quotation of "... almost all printed editions depend on the late
manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still
extant and superior oral tradition" - M Witzel, "
Upaniṣads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to
Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-4051-3251-5, pages
^ M Witzel, "
Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The
Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.,
ISBN 1-4051-3251-5, pages 68-71
^ a b Hartmut Scharfe (2002). Handbook of Oriental Studies. BRILL
Academic. pp. 24–29, 226–232. ISBN 90-04-12556-6.
^ a b Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat (2006). Karine Chemla, ed. History of
Science, History of Text. Springer. pp. 138–140.
^ Wilke, Annette and Moebus, Oliver. Sound and Communication: An
Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit
Hinduism (Religion and
Society). De Gruyter (February 1, 2007). P. 495. ISBN 3110181592.
^ Frits Staal (1996). Ritual and Mantras: Rules Without Meaning.
Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 220–221.
^ Müller, Max. 1867. Chips from a German Workshop. “Lecture on the
Vedas or the Sacred Books of the Brahmans, Delivered at Leeds,
1865”. Oxford University Press pp. 17–18
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