Dharma Shastra & Kavya Shastra

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A brief introduction of Dharma Shastras

Hindu Scriptures  Part  1
By Swami Shivananda
The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Sanskrit Literature

Sanskrit literature can be classified under six orthodox heads and four secular heads. The six orthodox sections form the authoritative scriptures of the Hindus. The four secular sections embody the latter developments in classical Sanskrit literature.

The six scriptures are:

  1. Srutis
  2. Smritis
  3. Itihasas
  4. Puranas
  5. Agamas
  6. Darsanas

The four secular writings are:

  1. Subhashitas
  2. Kavyas
  3. Natakas

The Vedangas

There are six Angas or explanatory limbs, to the Vedas:

  1. The Siksha of Maharshi Panini (Phonetics)
  2. Vyakarana of Maharshi Panini (Sanskrit Grammar)
  3. The Chhandas of Pingalacharya (Prosody metre)
  4. The Nirukta of Yaska (Philosophy or etymology)
  5. The Jyotisha of Garga (Astronomy and astrology)
  6. The Kalpas (Srauta, Grihya, Dharma and Sulba) belonging to the authorship of various Rishis.

Siksha is the knowledge of phonetics. Siksha deals with pronunciation and accent. The text of the Vedas is arranged in various forms or Pathas. The Pada-patha gives each word its separate form. The Krama-patha connects the word in pairs.

Vyakarana is Sanskrit Grammar. Panini’s books are most famous. Without knowledge of Vyakarana, you cannot understand the Vedas.

Chhandas is metre dealing with prosody.

Nirukta is philosophy or etymology.

Jyotisha is astronomy and astrology. It deals with the movements of the heavenly bodies, planets, etc., and their influence on human affairs.

Kalpa is the method or ritual. The Srauta Sutras which explain the ritual of sacrifices belong to Kalpa. The Sulba, which treat of the measurements which are necessary for laying out the sacrificial area, also belong to Kalpa. The Grihya Sutras which concern domestic life, and the Dharma Sutras which deal with ethics, customs and laws, also belong to Kalpa.

The Pratishakhyas, Padapathas, Kramapathas, Upalekhas, Anukramanis, Daivatsamhitas, Parisishtas, Prayogas, Paddhatis, Karikas, Khilas, and Vyuhas are further elaborations in the rituals of the Kalpa Sutras.

Among the Kalpa Sutras, the Asvalayana, Sankhayana and the Sambhavya belong to the Rig-Veda. The Mashaka, Latyayana, Drahyayana, Gobhila and Khadira belong to the Sama-Veda. The Katyayana and Paraskara belong to the Sukla Yajur Veda. The Apastamba, Hiranyakesi, Bodhayana, Bharadvaja, Manava, Vaikhanasa and the Kathaka belong to the Krishna Yajur-Veda. The Vaitana and the Kaushika belong to the Atharva-Veda.

The Smritis

Next in importance to the Sruti are the Smritis or secondary scriptures. These are the ancient sacred law-codes of the Hindus dealing with the Sanatana-Varnasrama-Dharma. They supplement and explain the ritualistic injunctions called Vidhis in the Vedas. The Smriti or Dharma Sastra is founded on the Sruti. The Smritis are based on the teachings of the Vedas. The Smriti stands next in authority to the Sruti (Vedas). It explains and develops Dharma. It lays down the laws which regulate Hindu national, social, family and individual obligations.

The Celebrated Hindu Law-Givers

From time to time, a great lawgiver would take his birth. He would codify the existing laws and remove those that had become obsolete. He would make some alterations, adaptations, readjustments, additions and subtractions, to suit the needs of the time and see that the way of living of the people would be in accordance with the teachings of the Veda. Of such law-givers, Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara are the most celebrated persons. Hindu society is founded on, and governed by, the laws made by these three great sages. The Smritis are named after them.

We have Manu Smriti or Manava Dharma-Sastra (Laws of Manu or the Institutes of Manu), Manu is the greatest law-giver of the race. He is the oldest lawgiver as well.

Yajnavalkya Smriti and Parsara Smriti. The Yajnavalkya Smriti follows the same general lines as the Manu Smriti and is next in importance to it. Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti are universally accepted at the present time as authoritative works all over India. Yajnavalkya Smriti is chiefly consulted in all matters of Hindu Law. Even the present day Government of India is applying some of these laws.

There are eighteen main Smritis or Dharma Sastras. The most important are those of Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parasara. The other fifteen are those of Vishnu, Daksha, Samvarta, Vyasa, Harita, Satatapa, Vasishtha, Yama, Apastamba, Gautama, Devala, Sankha-Likhita, Usana, Atri and Saunaka.

The Laws of Manu are intended for the Satya Yuga; those of Yajnavalkya are for the Treta Yuga; those of Sankha and Likhita are for the Dvapara Yuga; and those of Parasara are for the Kali Yuga.

The laws and rules which are based entirely upon our social positions, time and clime, must change with the changes in society and changing conditions of time and clime. Then only the progress of the Hindu society can be ensured.

The Sruti And The Smriti

The Sruti and the Smriti are the two authoritative sources of Hinduism. Sruti literally means what is heard, and Smriti means what is remembered. Sruti is revelation and Smriti is tradition. Upanishad is a Sruti. Bhagavad-Gita is a Smriti. (Bhagavad-Gita forms part of The Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva, Sections XIII – XLII (also known as Bhagavad-Gita Parva).

Sruti is direct experience. Great Rishis heard the eternal truths of religion and left a record of them for the benefit of posterity. These records constitute the Vedas. Hence, Sruti is primary authority. Smriti is a recollection of that experience. Hence, it is secondary authority. The Smritis or Dharma Sastras also are books written by sages, but they are not the final authority. If there is anything in a Smriti which contradicts the Sruti, the Smriti is to be rejected.

The Itihasas (history)

The Friendly Treatises And the Commanding Treatises

There are four books under this heading:

  1. The Valmiki-Ramayana
  2. The Yogavasishtha
  3. The Mahabharata
  4. The Harivamsa

These embody all that is in the Vedas, but only in a simpler manner. These are called the Suhrit-Samhitas or the Friendly Treatises, while the Vedas are called the Prabhu-Samhitas or the Commanding Treatises with great authority. These works explain the great universal truths in the form of historical narratives, stories and dialogues. These are very interesting volumes and are liked by all, from the inquisitive child to the intellectual scholar.

The Itihasas give us beautiful stories of absorbing interest and importance, through which all the fundamental teachings of Hinduism are indelibly impressed on one’s mind. The laws of Smritis and the principles of the Vedas are stamped firmly on the minds of the Hindus through the noble and marvelous deeds of their great national heroes. We get a clear idea of Hinduism from these sublime stories.

The common man cannot comprehend the high abstract philosophy of the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Hence, the compassionate sages Valmiki and Vyasa wrote the Itihasas for the benefit of common people. The same philosophy is presented with analogies and parables in a tasteful form to the common run of mankind.

The well known Itihasas (histories) are the epics (Mahakavyas), Ramayana and Mahabharata. They are two very popular and useful Sastras of the Hindus. The Ramayana was written by the Sage Valmiki, and the Mahabharata by Sage Vyasa.

The Ramayana

The Ramayana, the Adi-Kavya or the first epic poem, relates the story of Sri Rama. The ideal man. It is the history of the family of the Solar race descended from Ikshvaku, in which was born Sri Ramachandra, the Avatara of Lord Vishnu, and his three brothers. The ideal characters like Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata and Sri Hanuman that we find in Ramayana firmly established Hindu Dharma in our minds. The story of the birth of Rama and his brothers, their education and marriages, the exile of Sri Rama, the carrying off and recovery of Sita, his wife, the destruction of Ravana, the Rakshasa King of Lanka, and the reign of Sri Rama, are described in detail in Ramayana. How a man should behave towards his superiors, equals, and inferiors, how a king ought to rule his kingdom, how a man should lead his life in this world, how he can obtain his release, freedom, and perfection, may be learnt from this excellent epic. The Ramayana gives a vivid picture of Indian life. Even today our domestic, social, and national ideals are copied from the noble characters in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The great national heroes stand even today as beacon-lights to guide and inspire the people of the whole world. The lives of Rama, Bharata and Lakshmana provide a model of fraternal affection and mutual service. Sri Hanuman stands as an ideal unique Karma Yogi. The life of Sita is regarded as the most perfect example of womanly fidelity, chastity and sweetness. The Ramayana is written in twenty-four thousand verses, by Sage Valmiki.

The Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is the history of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. It gives a description of the great war, the Battle of Kurukshetra, which broke out between the Kauravas and the Pandavas who were cousins and descendants of the Lunar race. The Mahabharata is an encyclopedia of Hindu Dharma. It is rightly called the fifth Veda. There is really no theme in religion, philosophy, mysticism and polity which this great epic does not touch and expound. It contains very noble moral teachings, useful lessons of all kinds, many beautiful stories and episodes, discourses, sermons, parables and dialogues which set forth the principles of morals and metaphysics. The Pandavas obtained victory through the grace of Lord Krishna. The Mahabharata is written in one hundred thousand verses by Sage Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa

The Bhagavad-Gita

The most important part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita. It is a marvelous dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield, before the commencement of the great war. Bhagavan Sri Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna. Sri krishna explained the essentials of Hindu religion to Arjuna. Just as the Upanishads contain the cream of the Vedas, so does the Gita contain the cream of the Upanishads. The Upanishads are the cows. Lord Krishna is the cowherd. Arjuna is the calf. The Gita is the milk. The wise men are those who drink the milk of Gita.

The Gita is the most precious jewel of Hindu literature. It is a universal gospel. The Gita teaches the Yoga of Synthesis. It ranks high in the religious literature of the world.

Arjuna saw before him his dear relatives and teachers in the battlefield. He fainted and refused to fight against them. Then Lord Krishna imparted knowledge of the Self to Arjuna and convinced him that it was his duty to fight regardless of the consequences. Afterwards Arjuna gave up his Moha, or delusion. All his doubts were cleared. He fought against the Kauravas and achieved victory.

Knowledge Of Ancient Indian History and Culture

The Mahabharata contains also immortal discourse of Bhishma on Dharma, which he gave to Yudhishthira, when he was lying on the bed of arrows. The whole Mahabharata forms an encyclopedia of history, morals and religion unsurpassed by any other epic in the world.

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata speak to us clearly about ancient India, about her people, her customs, her ways of living, her arts, her civilisation and culture, her manufactures, etc. If you read these two books, you will come to know how great India once was, and you will be inspired to make her great once more. No other country has produced so many great men, great teachers, great Yogis, great seers, great Rishis, great prophets, great Acharyas, great kings, great heroes, great statesmen, great patriots and great benefactors, as India. The more you know of India and Hinduism, the more you will honour and love it and the more thankful to the Lord you will be that you were born in India as a Hindu. Glory to India! Glory to Hinduism! Glory to the seers of the Upanishads! Glory, glory to Lord Krishna, the author of the Song Divine (Bhagavad-Gita).

The Agamas

Another class of popular scriptures are the Agamas. The Agamas are theological treatises and practical manuals of divine worship. The Agamas include the Tantras, Mantras and Yantras. These are treatises explaining the external worship of God, in idols, temples etc. All the Agamas treat of :

  1. Jnana or Knowledge
  2. Yoga or Concentration
  3. Kriya or Esoteric Ritual
  4. Charya or Exoteric Worship

They also give elaborate details about entology and cosmology, liberation, devotion, meditation, philosophy of Mantras, mystic diagrams, charms and spells, temple-building, image-making, domestic observances, social rules, public festivals etc.

The Agamas are divided into three sections:

  1. The Vaishnava
  2. The Saiva
  3. The Sakta

The chief sects of Hinduism, viz., Vaishnavism, Saivism and Saktism, base their doctrines and dogmas on their respective Agamas.

The Vaishnava Agamas or Pancharatra Agamas glorify God as Vishnu.

The Saiva Agamas glorify God as Siva and have given rise to an important school of philosophy known as Saiva-Siddhanta, which prevails in South India, particularly in the districts of Tirunelveli and Madurai.

The Sakta Agamas or Tantras glorify God as the Mother of the Universe, under one of the many names of Devi (Goddess).

The Agamas do not derive their authority from the Vedas, but are not antagonistic to them. They are all Vedic in spirit and character. That is the reason why they are regarded as authoritative.

The Vaishnava Agamas

The Vaishnava Agamas are of four kinds:

  1. The Vaikhanasa
  2. Pancharatra
  3. Pratishthasara
  4. Vijnana-lalita

The Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and Naradiya are the seven groups of the Pancharatras. The Naradiya section of the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata is the earliest source of information about the Pancharatras.

Vishnu is the Supreme Lord in the Pancharatra Agamas. The Vaishnavas regard the Pancharatra Agamas to be the most authoritative. They believe that these Agamas were revealed by Lord Vishnu Himself. Narada-Pancharatra says: “Everything from Brahma to a blade of grass is Lord Krishna”. This corresponds to the Upanishadic declaration:

“All this is, verily, Brahman-Sarvam, Khalvidam Brahma”.

The following extract is from The Mahabharata, Santi Parva
Section CCCXL

Bhishma continued: Narada also, endued with great energy, having obtained the high favour that he had solicited, then proceeded with great speed to the retreat called Vadari, for beholding Nara and Narayana. This great Upanishad, perfectly consistent with the four Vedas, in harmony with Sankhya-Yoga, and called by him by the name of Pancharatra scriptures, and recited by Narayana Himself with His own mouth, was repeated by Narada in the presence of many listeners in the abode of Brahma (his sire) in exactly the same way in which Narayana (while that great God had showed Himself unto him) had recited it, and in which he had heard it from his own lips.
There are two hundred and fifteen of these Vaishnava texts. Isvara, Ahirbudhnya, Paushkara, Parama, Sattvata, Brihad-Brahma and Jnanamritasara Samhitas are the important ones.

The Saiva Agamas

The Saivas recognise twenty-eight Agamas, of which the chief is Kamika. The Agamas are also the basis of Kashmir Saivism which is called the Pratyabhijna system. The latter works of Pratyabhijna system show a distinct leaning to Advaitism (non-dualistic philosophy). The Southern Saivism, i.e., Saiva Siddhanta, and the Kashmir Saivism, regard these Agamas as their authority, besides the Vedas. Each Agama has Upa-Agamas (subsidiary Agamas). Of these, only fragmentary texts of twenty are extant. Lord Siva is the central God in the Saiva Agamas. They are suitable to this age, Kali Yuga. They are open to all castes and both the sexes.

The Sakta Agamas

There is another group of scriptures known as the Tantras. They belong to the Sakta cult. They glorify Sakti as the World-Mother. They dwell on the Sakti (energy) aspect of God and prescribe numerous courses of ritualistic worship of the Divine Mother in various forms. There are seventy-seven Agamas. These are very much like the Puranas in some respects. The texts are usually in the form of dialogues between Siva and Parvati. In some of these, Siva answers the questions put by Parvati, and in others, Parvati answers, Siva questioning.

Mahanirvana, Kularnava, Kulasara, Prapanchasara, Tantraraja, Rudra-Yamala, Brahma-Yamala, Vishnu-Yamala and Todala Tantra are the important works. The Agamas teach several occult practices some of which confer powers, while the others bestow knowledge and freedom. Sakti is the creative power of Lord Siva. Saktism is really a supplement to Saivism.

Among the existing books on the Agamas, the most famous are the Isvara-Samhita, Ahirbudhnya-Samhita, Sanatkumara-Samhita, Narada-Pancharatra, Spanda-Pradipika and the Mahanirvana-Tantra.


A Sutra or an aphorism is a short formula with the least possible number of letters, without any ambiguity or doubtful assertion, containing the very essence, embracing all meaning, without any stop or obstruction and absolutely faultless in nature.

The Sutrakara or the composer of the aphorisms is said to be as happy as one would be while getting the first male child, if he is but able to reduce one letter in his abstruse Sutra of far-fetched words and ideas. The best example of the greatest, the tersest and the most perfect of Sutra literature is the series of aphorisms called the Ashtadhyayi composed by Panini. Panini is the father of all Sutrakaras from whom all others seem to have borrowed the method of composition. The Sutras are meant to explain a big volume of knowledge in short assertions suitable to be kept in memory at all times. The six Vedangas and the six systems of Hindu philosophy form the twelve sets of Sutra literature of the world. In addition to these, there are later compositions like the Narada-Bhakti Sutras, the Sandilya-Bhakti Sutras, etc., which also wish to assume an equal form with the famous Sutras mentioned above.


A Bhashya is an elaborate exposition, a commentary on the Sutras, with word by word meaning of the aphoristic precepts, their running translation, together with the individual views of the commentator or the Bhashyakara. The best and the exemplary Bhashya in Sanskrit literature is the one written by Patanjali on the Vyakarana (grammar) Sutras of Panini. This Bhashya is so very famous and important that it is called the Mahabhashya and its celebrated author is specially called the Bhashyakara. Patanjali is the father of Bhashyakaras. The next important Bhashya is the one on the Mimamsa Sutras written by Sabara-Swami who learnt the art from Patanjali’s commentary. The third important Bhashya was written by Sankara on the Brahma Sutras, in close following with the Sabara-Bhashya. The Bhashyas on the six sets of aphorisms dealing with Indian philosophy were written by Vatsyayana, Prasastapada, Vijnanabhikshu, Vyasa, Sabara and Sankara. On the Vedanta or Brahma Sutras, there are about sixteen Bhashyas, like those of Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabha, Nimbarka, etc.


A Vritti is a short gloss explaining the aphorisms in a more elaborate way, but not as extensively as a Bhashya. An example is Bodhayana’s Vritti on the Brahma Sutras.


A Varttika is a work where a critical study is made of that which is said and left unsaid or imperfectly said in a Bhashya, and the ways of making it perfect by supplying the omissions therein, are given. Examples are the Varttikas of Katyayana on Panini’s Sutras, of Suresvara on Sankara’s Upanishad-Bhashyas, and of Kumarila Bhatta on the Sabara-Bhashya on the Karma-Mimamsa.

Vyakhyana or Tika

A Vyakhyana is a running explanation in an easier language of what is said in the original, with little elucidations here and there. A Vyakhyana, particularly of a Kavya (poetry and prose), deals with eight different modes of dissection of the Sloka, like Pada-Chheda, Vigraha, Sandhi, Alankara, Anuvada, etc. This forms an important aspect in the study of Sanskrit Sahitya Sastra (science of Sanskrit literature). An Anu-Vyakhyana- like the one written by Sri Madhava- is a repetition of what is already written, but in greater detail. An Anuvada is merely a running translation or statement of an abstruse text of the original. Tika is only another name for Vyakhyana. The best Vyakhyanas are of Vachaspati Misra on the Darsanas, especially on Sankara’s Brahmasutra-Bhashya.


Tippani is just like a Vritti, but is less orthodox than the Vritti. It is an explanation of difficult words or phrases occurring in the original. Examples are Kaiyata’s gloss on the Mahabhashya of Patanjali, Nagojibhatta’s gloss on Kaiyata’s gloss, or Appayya’s gloss on Amalananda’s gloss on the Bhamati of Vachaspati Misra.

Other Scriptures

The Tevaram and the Tiruvachakam which are the hymns of the Saiva saints of South India, the Divya-Prabandham of the Alvar saints of South India, the songs of Sant Kabir, the Abhangas of Sant Tukaram and the Ramayana of Sant Tulasidas- all of which are the outpourings of great realised souls- are wonderful scriptures. They contain the essence of the Vedas.

The Secular Writings: The Subhashitas

The Subhashitas are wise sayings, instructions and stories, either in poetry or in prose. Examples are Bhartrihari’s three centuries of verses, the Subhashita-Ratna-Bhandagara and Somadeva Bhatta’s Katha-Sarit-Sagara or Kshemendra’s Brihat-Katha-Manjari. The Pachatantra and the Hitopadesa also belong to this category.

The Kavyas

These are highly scholarly compositions in poetry, prose or both. The greatest of poetical Kavyas are those of Kalidas (The Raghuvamsa and Kumara-sambhava), Bharavi (The Kiratarjuniya), Magha (The Sisupalavadha), and Sri Harsha (The Naishadha). The best prose Kavyas in the whole of Sanskrit literature were written by Bhattabana (The Kadambari and Harshacharita), the great genius in classical Sanskrit. Among those containing both poetry and prose, the Champu-Ramayana and the Champu-Bharata are most famous. These are all wonderful masterpieces which will ever remain to glorify India’s literary calibre.

The Natakas (dramas)

These are marvelously scholastic dramas embodying the Rasas (expressions, mostly facial) of Sringara (decorate or beautify), Vira (brave), Karuna (compassion), Adbhuta (astonishment), Hasya (laugh), Bhayanka (fearsome), Bibhatsa (disgusting or loathsome) and Raudra (terrible). It is told that none can write on the ninth Rasa, viz., Santi (peaceful). It is attainable only on final Liberation. The best dramas are written by Kalidasa (Sakuntala), Bhavabhuti (Uttara-Rama-Charita), and Visakhadatta (Mudrarakshasa).

The Alankaras

These are grand rhetorical texts, treating of the science of perfection and beauty of ornamental language and of effective composition with elegance and force, both in poetry and in prose. These are the fundamentals of Sanskrit Sahitya (literature), even superior to the Kavyas and the Natakas. The best Alankara Granthas (Granthas = volumes) are those of Mammata (Kavyaprakasa) and Jagannatha (Rasagangadhara).


These constitute the entirety of Sanskrit literature- sacred and secular. The Sruti is the root; the Smritis, Itihasas and Puranas are the trunk; the Agamas and Darsanas are the branches; and the Subhashitas, Kavyas, Natakas and Alankaras are the flowers of the tree of India’s Culture.

The Smritis, the Itihasas, the Puranas, the Agamas and the Darsanas are only developments of the Veda. Their ultimate source is the Veda. Their one common aim is to enable man to annihilate his ignorance and attain perfection, freedom, immortality, and eternal bliss through knowledge of God or the Eternal. Their purpose is to make man like God and one with Him.

The Kalas

by Sri V.A.K.Ayer

We shall now have a quick look at the different sciences or Kalas known to have existed, those that come under the category of Vedas.

The first that calls for mention is the encyclopaedic Sastra which goes by the name of Akshara-laksha. The authorship of this science is attributed to Sage Valmiki. All kinds (325 to be exact) of mathematics including modern geometry, algebra, trigonometry, physics or applied mathematics; minerology, hydels; the method of measuring air, heat and even electricity; geography etc., are said to have been treated. This work comprehends earlier discoveries by Sage Kashyapa, Ganapati, Soorya, Brihaspati, Jaimini, Hanuman and others

This work consists of 50 chapters. The first half deals with mathematics and the second half is about the Shaktis that make up the world.

The next science of importance is Sabda Sastra. One Kandika Rishi wrote this. It deals with sounds, echoes of moving and non-moving objects in creation. It also deals in five chapters with capturing or mechanically reproducing sounds, measuring their pitch, velocity, etc.

Sage Sakatayana is the author of Lakshana Sastra, or the science of determining the sex in animate and inanimate creation. Babhru Muni has written about Kanya-Lakshana in which 32 marks are indicated for chastity etc. Sage Garga has written on Sakuna Sastra, the determination of good and bad effects from the sounds of birds, words of human beings etc. (in other words, omens).

Shilpa Sastra is said to have been written by Sage Kashyapa and it consists of 22 chapters. 307 varieties of Shilpas including 11 types of constructions like temples, palaces, halls etc., are detailed. Earlier writers on this subject are Viswakarma, Maya, Maruti, Chayapurasha, etc., whose thoughts have been incorporated in the above.

Supa-Sastra deals with the science of cooking. One Sukesa is the first author of this science. 108 varieties of preparations, from condiments and pickles to sweetmeats, cakes, puddings, and 3032 kinds of dishes meant for people living in different parts of the world are mentioned.

Sage Rishyasringa is credited with writing a comprehensive treatise on the science called Malinee Sastra which consists of flower arrangements, making garlands, bouquets, hair-do’s in various styles for women, writing love messages on flower petals to convey to beloveds in codes. This work consists of 16 chapters.

The science of Kala or Time was written by Lord Karttikeya. Its division into definite periods, their classification into auspicious and inauspicious moments, the deities that preside over each are dealt with in this work.

Samudra Raja, or the Lord of the Ocean is the original author of Samudrika Sastra. He noted down the auspicious marks on the body of Lord Vishnu while the latter was resting on Aadisesha in the ocean. This science was later developed by Sages like Narada, Varaha and Mandavya and Lord Kartikeya. Palmistry belongs to this sastra.

Aswini Kumaras are credited with writing the science of Dhatuvada which, in 7 chapters treats of natural as well as artificial Dhatus or primary substances, their combinations and transmutations. Alchemy or converting copper into gold etc. is dealt with in this work.

The science of poisons or Visha Sastra is said to have been exhaustively written about by Aswini Kumaras. This treats of 32 kinds of poisons, their properties, their preparations, effects and antidotes.

Bhima is credited with having composed the science of fine arts called Chitrakarma Sastra. It consists of 12 chapters and expounds nearly 200 kinds of drawings. There is a section in which students are taught to recreate the figure of a person after seeing a single hair or nail or a bone of that person.

One Malla is said to have composed a comprehensive work on Malla Sastra which deals with 82 kinds of gymnastics and sports necessary for preservation of health and athletic activities and 24 kinds of infantry warfare where hand to hand combat is involved. This work consists of 3 parts.

The revered Valakhilyas are credited with writing the science on Parakaya Pravesha i.e., entering into one body from another body, and it teaches 32 kinds of Yogas and the eight-fold Siddhis (super-human capabilities), Anima, Mahima etc.

One Agnivarma has written exhaustively on the science of horses, their auspicious marks, their physiology, breeding, training etc. Similarly, one Kumaraswamy has written exhaustively on Gaja Sastra (about elephants). He has given 16 methods to test various marks on the bodies of elephants.

Sage Vatsyayana has composed a work on Ratna Pariksha or testing of gems (precious stones). His analysis shows 24 characteristics of gems or precious stones, natural and artificial ones; their forms, weights etc are discussed and classified into categories. 32 methods of testing them for genuineness are also described.

Veerabahu, the lieutenant of Lord Subramanya, is the author of a work on Mahendrajala or the science of magic. It teaches how illusions, like walking on the water, riding in the air etc., are made.

Sage Vyasa is said to have composed a work on Artha Sastra consisting of three chapters, in which he teaches 82 ways of earning money, even while leading a righteous life.

Sage Agastya is credited with the composing of Shakti Tantra consisting of eight chapters in which Mulaprakriti, Maya etc., and 64 kinds of external Shaktis of bodies like those of the Sun, Moon and Air, Fire etc., are explained and their particular applications are also given. Atomic fission or nuclear science appears to form part of this science.

Sage Matanga is credited with composing a science called Soudamini Kala by which all phenomena could be attracted through shadows and even ideas. Also taught is the science of photographing interiors of mountains, earth etc.

Authorship of the science which treats of the clouds, is attributed to Sage Atri. This work deals with 12 kinds of clouds, their characteristics, 12 kinds of rains, 64 kinds of lightnings, 32 varieties of thunderbolts etc.

In a work on Yantras by Bharadwaja, he explains about 339 types of vehicles useful in travelling on land, 783 kinds of boats and ships to be used on water and 101 varieties of airships, by use of the Mantra, Tantra, and artificial means and those used by semi-divine beings like Gandharvas etc., are also explained.


The next among the supplementary Angas is Nyaya Sastra or logic, written by Sage Gautama. It consists of 537 Sutras in five chapters. It helps in obtaining an intimate knowledge of topics like Prameya, Pramana and other items of learning. It deals with the analysis of the mental process of knowing. One Vatyayana has commented on it.


Vaiseshika Sastra which is supplementary to it (Nyaya) was written by Sage Kanada and it consists of about 373 Sutras in twelve chapters. This science helps us to get a clear knowledge of the six-fold type of existing things like Dravya (money), Guna (Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas), Karma etc. The metaphysics and logic of both are more or less the same. This science recognises the scripture.


The third in this list is Mimamsa Sastra which is of two kinds: the Karma (or Poorva) Mimamsa and Sharirika (or Uttara) Mimamsa or Vedanta. Sage Jaimini composed the first which consists of 12 chapters. Shabaraswamin has written a commentary on it. Sage Jaimini has also written the Upasana Kanda in four chapters.

Brahma Sutras

The second kind known as Brahma Sutras, consist of four chapters and is said to have been written by Sage Bhadrayana or Vyasa. It starts with “Athatho-Brahma-Jignyasa.” The great Acharyas have written commentaries on it. The object of Mimamsa Sastra is to explain the process of realising the identity of Jiva (individual soul) with Brahman (Supreme Reality). In the first, the world is taken as eternally dynamic while in the second it is phenomenal.


Mention may also be made of what is known as Sankhya system of philosophy. The text is in six chapters and is attributed to Sage Kapila, according to whom the world is real, balanced by intelligence, activity and matter. The goal of life according to this Sastra is to get absolute freedom from the three kinds of miseries from the knowledge of the difference between Prakriti and Purusha. Sage Gaudapada and Sage Vachaspati Misra have commented upon it. This science recognises the scriptures as a source of valid knowledge.


The Yoga system explains the practical side of Sankhya. Sage Patanjali is the author of the text on this branch and it consists of 194 Sutras in four parts. Sage Vyasa has commented upon it. Control of Character by control of body, mind (emotions), intellect etc., forms the subject matter of the eight-fold steps taught in this Sastra. It is also known as Raja-Yoga.

The philosophical views of the physical world in Indian Sastras are of three kinds. They are known by the names of Arambha Vada, Parinama Vada and Vaivartha Vada. According to them atoms are of four kinds- of the earth, water, light and air. They become molecules and gradually grow into the universe. Logicians hold that Asat itself has grown into the universe. Mimamkasa hold that the triple Gunas – Sattwa,Rajas, Tamas – become Mahat, Ahankara and develop into the universe. But the Yoga, Pasupata and Sankhya Schools hold that Sat itself brings the universe into being. The Vaishnava School holds that the universe is only a manifestation of Brahman. Brahmavadins hold that the universe is the illusion caused by the Maya of Brahman. All these views veer round the one God.

Classical Poetry in Sanskrit Literature

Classical poetry in Sanskrit literature unveils the scholarly works of the great Sanskrit poets.

Classical poetry in Sanskrit literature can absolutely and blindly be referred to as the most prolific, most scholarly, most erudite and the most exhaustively-researched work ever to have been accomplished in ancient India. The amount of effort and exertion put in by authors like Kalidasa or Sriharsha, bear eminent proof in the invention of the verse metres or other poetic specifications still being espoused. Every line emoted a profound sense of pathos, of exaltation or even satire to their most bitter extent; umpteen commentaries on the classical form of poetry have been published ever since, that perhaps can only be envisaged by the limit of Sanskrit literature and attempts at its revival.

Classical poetry pertains to that section of verse developed approximately from the 3rd to 8th centuries. Kalidasa is the foremost example coming under this Classical category. An impressive characteristic in this particular Sanskrit literary tradition is that sometimes poets had the habit to flaunt their technical adroitness employing highly structural word-games, like stanzas that read the same backwards and forwards, words that could be split in different ways to create different meanings, sophisticated metaphors, and so forth. This distinctive style is referred to as Kavya. An authoritative example under this Sanskritic literary genre is the poet Bharavi and his magnum opus, the Kiratarjuniya (6th-7th century). Yet another luminary in this verse category, Magh is respected for his epic poem (Mahakavya) Shishupala Vadha, the 20 cantos of which are based upon the Mahabharata episode where the insolent king Shishupala is beheaded by Krishna`s sudarshana chakra.

The greatest works of Classical Sanskrit poetry in this period are the five Mahakavyas, or interpreted into English as “great compositions”, comprising: Kum?rasambhava by Kalidasa, Raghuvansa by Kalidasa, Kiratarjuniya by Bharavi, Shishupala Vadha by Magha and, Naishadha-Charita by Sriharsha. However, a specific bunch of scholars also include the Bhattikavya as the sixth Mahakavya. Other major Sanskritic literary works from this period include Kadambari by Banabhatta, the first Sanskrit novelist (6th-7th centuries), the Kama Sutra by Vatsayana and the three shatakas of Bhartrhari.

More Articles in Sanskrit Literature

Contribution of South India to Sanskrit Kumarasambhava Sanskrit Literature During the Gupta Age
Titles of Honour in Sanskrit Proficiency Tulsidas Kalidasa
Anala Narayana Bhattatiri Rajasekhara
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Mattavilasa Prahasana Appaya Dikshita Ananda Giri
Fairy tales and fables in Sanskrit Literature Classical Poetry in Sanskrit Literature Scholarly treatises in Sanskrit Literature
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Gadyakarnamrita Jayadeva Geeta Gobinda
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Asvaghosha Shishupala Vadha Amaru
Sanskrit Secular Poetry Sanskrit Religious Poetry Sanskrit Anthologies
Sanskrit Gnomic Poetry Sanskrit Didactic Poetry Origin of Fable in Sanskrit
Historical Kavya in Sanskrit Literature Banabhatta Brihatkatha
Dandin Subandhu Vasavadatta
Somadeva Development of Sanskrit Literature Brihatkathmanjari
Sanskrit Scientific Literature Origin of Sanskrit Lexicography Features of Sanskrit Literature
School of Early Poetics


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