Sanatana Dharma (in later days was called as the Hindu Dharma, and this is the name by which it is now usually known) is the oldest of living cultures, and no other culture has produced so many great men great teachers, great writers, great sages, great saints, great kings, great warriors, great statesmen, great benefactors, great patriots. The more you know of it, the more you will honour and love it, and the more thankful you will be that you were born into it. But unless you grow up worthy of it, this great and holy Religion will do you no good.
This Ancient Religion is based on one strong foundation on which are erected the walls of its structure.
The foundation is called 'Shrutih' " that which has been heard.
The walls are called 'Smrtih', that which has been remembered.
Shruti is of supreme authority and is accepted by every faithful follower of the Sanatana Dharma as final. All the sects, all the philosophical systems, appeal to the Shruti as the fina1 authority, determining ever. The Shruti has been given through very wise men, who heard it and received it from Devas ; these sacred teachings were not written down till comparatively modern times, but were learnt by heart, and constantly repeated. The teacher sang them to his pupils, and the pupils sang them after him, a few words at a time, over and over again, till they knew them thoroughly. Boys still learn the Shruti in the same way as their forefathers learnt it in very ancient days, and you may hear them chanting it in any Vaidika Pathashala at the present time.
The Shruti consists of the Chaturvedah, the Four Vedas .Veda means knowledge, that which is known ; and the knowledge which is the foundation of Religion is given to man in the Four Vedas.
They are named :
Each Veda is divided into three parts :
1. Mantrah or Samhita (collection)
The Mantra portion of vedas
It consists of Mantras, or sentences in which the order of sounds has a particular power, produces certain effects. These are in the form of hymns to the Devas and when they are properly chanted by properly instructed persons, certain results follow. These are used in religious ceremonies, and the value of the ceremony depends chiefly upon their proper repetition.
The Brahmana portion of Vedas
It consists of directions about rituals and explains how to perform the ceremonies in which were used the Mantras given in the first part ; and further, stories connected with them.
The Upanishat portion of Vedas
It consists of deep philosophical teachings on the nature of Brahman, on the supreme and the separated Self, on man and the universe, on bondage and liberation. It is the foundation of all philosophy, and when you are men, you may study it and delight in it. Only highly educated men can study it; it is too difficult for others.
* There was a fourth part of the Veda in the ancient days, sometimes called the Upavedah, or Tantram ; this consisted of science, and of practical instructions based on the science ; but very little of the true ancient Tantra remains, as the Rishis took them away as unsuitable for times in which people were less spiritual. Some Tantrika forms of ritual are, however, used in worship, along with, or instead of, the current Vaidika forms. The books now extant under the name of Tantras are generally not regarded as part of the Veda.
The Smriti or Dharma Shastra, is founded on, and stands next in authority to, the Shruti, and consists of four great works, written by Sages, the chief contents of which are laws and regulations for the carrying on of individual, family, social and national life. Hindu Society is founded on, and governed by, these laws. They are :
1. Manu Smrtih or Manava Dharma Shastram (The Institutes of Manu).
2. Yajnavalkya Smrtih.
3. Shankha Likhita Smrtih
4. Parashara Smritih.
The first of these is the chief compendium of law, Manu being the great Law-giver of the race. The Yajnavalkya Smrtih follows the same general line as the Manu Smrtih and is next in importance to it. The other two are not now much studied or referred to, except in some parts of Southern India.
*While the Shruti and the Smriti are the foundation and the walls of the Sanatana Dharma, there are two other important supports like buttresses ; the Puranani, Puranas, and the Itihasah.
The Puranas consist of histories and stories and allegories, composed for the use of the less learned part of the nation, especially for those who could not study the Vedas. They are very interesting to read, and are full of information of all kinds. Some of the allegories are difficult to understand, and require the help of a teacher.
The Itihasa comprises two great poems :
1. The Ramayanam
2. The Mahabharatam
These two books, the Ramayanam and the Mahabharatam, tell us most of what we know about ancient India, about her people and customs, and her ways of living, and her arts, and her manufactures. If you read these, you will learn how great India once was, and you will also learn how you must behave to make her great once more. [ref]