The Hindu texts were memorized and transmitted orally, from one generation to next. There are two historic classifications of Hindu texts: Shruti – that which is heard, and Smriti – that which is remembered.
The Srutis are called the Vedas. The Hindus have received the Vedas through revelation. Vedas are considered to be apauruṣeya, or entirely superhuman, without any author. The Vedas are the foundational scriptures of the Hindus.
श्रुति || Shruti (hearing, listening), often spelled 'sruti' or 'sruthi' mainly in South India, is the body of sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of dharma. Sruthi means a note of sound. The Vedas are a result of the divine hearing of the Rishis of the various divine sounds. As they are received through the art of hearing, Vedas are called Srutis – that which can be heard. These sacred works span much of the history of Hinduism, beginning with some of the earliest known Hindu texts and ending in the early modern period with the later Upanishads. The Vedas are considered Apauruseya.
This literature differs from other sources of Hindu Philosophy, particularly smriti or 'remembered text', because of the purely divine origin of śruti. This belief of divinity is particularly prominent within the Mimamsa tradition. The initial literature is traditionally believed to be a direct revelation of the 'cosmic sound of truth' heard by ancient Rishis who then translated what was heard into something understandable by humans.
श्रुति स्मृति भेद || Distinction between Shruti and Smriti
Swami Sivananda says: Both श्रुति || Shruti and स्मृति || Smriti represent categories of texts that are used to encapsulate Hindu Philosophy. However, they each reflect a different kind of relationship that can be had with this material. Śruti is considered solely of divine origin. Because of the divine origin, it is preserved as a whole, instead of verse by verse. Smriti on the other hand may include all the knowledge that has been derived and inculcated 'after' Śruti had already been received by the great seers or Rishis. In other words it is not 'divine' in origin, but was 'remembered' by later Rishis by transcendental means, and passed down though their followers. In some of the Smriti text itself, we are reminded of the divine nature of the Śruti texts, and are ever advised that in case of any conflict of interest between the two, the Śruti will always overrule Smriti.
Swami Ranganathananda explains that Sruti contains universal truths - they contain the ideas that are Sanatana. Along with this idea of Sanatana Dharma, comes the idea of Yuga Dharma, a Dharma for a particular Yuga or period, for a particular age of history, for a particular group of people - this is called Smriti.
शास्त्र || Texts
Pre-eminent in śruti literature are the Four Vedas, which are also called the Samhita part of each veda:
- Rig-Veda (rk mantras recited by the hotar)
- Yajur-Veda (yajus mantras recited by the adhvaryu)
- Sama-Veda (saman mantras recited by the udgatr)
- Atharva-Veda (a collection of ancient spells and charms, brahma)
The liturgical core of each of the Vedas are supplemented by commentaries on each text which all belong to the śruti:
The literature of the शाखा || shakhas, or schools, further amplified the material associated with each of the four core traditions.
The subject matter of the whole Veda is divided into Karma-Kanda, Upasana-Kanda and Jnana-Kanda. The Karma-Kanda or Ritualistic section deals with various sacrifices and rituals. The Upasana-Kanda or Worship section deals with various kinds of worship or meditation. The Jnana-Kanda or Knowledge-Section deals with the highest knowledge of Nirguna Brahman. The Samhitas and the Brahmanas constitute Karma-Kanda; the Aranyakas constitute Upasana-Kanda; and the Upanishads constitute Jnana-Kanda.
Role In Dharmic Law
Dharma being a pluralistic philosophy allows for more than one interpretation of any texts including and up to the Śruti texts. However since its origin is considered divine in nature, the interpretations of śruti cannot be ascribed to a set group of people who were granted access to this information, like the आचार्य || acharyas (teachers), for the purpose of interpretation. Since the nature of the Acharya and/or external factors such as regional customary laws followed by a person who reads and interprets the Vedas, may change the meaning of what is understood, therefore the interpretations, in conjunction with the interpreters' own knowledge are ascribed as Smriti, that provide further human interpretation of Śruti. The Śruti and Smriti texts thus form the information hierarchy that Hindus looked toward to dictate the proper conduct of their lives. The specific information regarding such proper conduct was not found directly in the Vedas (Śruti) because they do not contain explicit codes or rules that would be found in a legal system. However, because of the Vedas’ divine and unadulterated form, a rule in the Smriti that claims connection to this literature is given more merit even if it does not cite a specific passage. However since the theosophy of the Śruti in inherently different to 'Abrahamic religion' or 'religion' for that matter, it contains no 'rules' or 'laws' in their entirety. In this sense, even though 'Śruti' exists as a source for all Hindu Laws as developed from 'Smriti' without dictating any specifics, it is important to note that all Smriti is not about law either, in contrast to its entirety, only a trivial amount of these human interpretations called Smriti can be associated with some sort of 'rules' or 'laws'. More often than not the fascination of Indologists and western theologians alike to want to find similarities between what may have been their own beliefs often led to them to look for such connections under the purview of Hindu Law. A good example of this is the Dharmaśāstra (a Smriti text), which because of its sophisticated jurisprudence, was taken by early British colonial administrators to be the law of the land for Hindus in India. Ever since, Dharmaśāstra has been linked with Hindu law, despite the fact that its contents deal as much or more with religious life as with law. In fact, a separation of religion and law within Dharmaśāstra is artificial and has been repeatedly questioned.
Max Müller in an 1865 lecture stated
""In no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is Sruti, 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. The Laws of Manu, for instance, are not revelation; they are not Sruti, but only Smriti, which means recollection of tradition. If these laws or any other work of authority can be proved on any point to be at variance with a single passage of the Veda, their authority is at once overruled. According to the orthodox views of Indian theologians, not a single line of the Veda was the work of human authors. The whole Veda is in some way or the other the work of the Deity; and even those who saw it were not supposed to be ordinary mortals, but beings raised above the level of common humanity, and less liable therefore to error in the reception of revealed truth. The views entertained by the orthodox theologians of India are far more minute and elaborate than those of the most extreme advocates of verbal inspiration in Europe. The human element, called paurusheyatva in Sanskrit, is driven out of every corner or hiding place, and as the Veda is held to have existed in the mind of the Deity before the beginning of time...""
- Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 30-31
- Ranganathananda, S. (2000). Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gītā: An Exposition of the Gītā in the Light of Modern Thought and Modern Needs. Vol. 1. Advaita Ashrama.
- Jho, C. (1987). History and Sources of Law in Ancient India. Delhi:Ashish Publishing House.
- Gupta, R. M. (2007). The Chaitanya Vaishnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami: When Knowledge Meets Devotion. Abingdon:Routledge.