The basis of Hindu philosophy is found in the four Vedas. These are a collection of hymns, which had been passed on orally up until 1200BCE which is when the Vedas began to be written although they took hundreds of years to complete. The Rg Veda is the earliest and holiest (about 800BC).
The Upanishads (about 600BC.) These consider the nature of the individual soul (Atman) and the universal soul (Brahman.) One of the Upanishads contains the earliest reference to the reincarnation of the soul in different bodies (transmigration) of the soul.
The Mahabharata is an epic poem. It tells the story of a war between two branches of a family. The Bhagavad-Gita forms part of this and means “The Song of God.” In it Vishnu relates his philosophy through Krishna. Krishna has come down in human form to the earth to help; he is an avartar of Vishnu i.e.. At the end of the Gita, Arjuna, who Krishna is talking to about his duty realises that he is Vishnu. This sets out rules for daily life that are still major sources of reference for Hindus today.
One of the most famous Hindu epics is the Ramayana. This was probably based on the Mahabharata. It tells the story of the god Rama’s battle with Ravana( the demon King.) One reason why it is so respected can be found in the introduction. This states:
” He who reads and repeats this holy life giving Ramayana is liberated from all his sins and exalted with all his posterity to the highest heaven “
Other important sacred books – Smriti (‘tradition) are the Laws of Manu (250 BC) and the Puranas (ancient tales) written at about the same time.
Hindus revere all these works, as expressions of a shared belief, but do not follow all of the practices to which they refer, such as animal and even human sacrifice.