Ancient Scriptures and Folklores of India
The search for Self and the Ultimate Truth has been the Holy Grail that man has sought after ceaselessly down the ages. Why? What? Whence? Whither? The answers to these questions have persistently eluded man, and perhaps that is how things were meant to be.
The term Upanishad (‘upa’ near; ‘ni’ down; ‘shad’ to sit) means sitting down near; this implies the students sitting down near their Guru to learn the big secret.
In the splendid isolation of their forest abodes, the philosophers who composed the Upanishads contemplated upon the various mysteries – whether common, or metaphysical. There is no exact date for the composition of the 18 principal Upanishads. They continued to be composed over a long period, the core being over 7th -5th centuries BC. The Upanishads were originally called Vedanta, which literally means the conclusion to the Vedas.
The Mahabharata originally called Jaya (victory), with perhaps some justification, is said to be the longest poem in the world. 100,000 stanzas strong, the epic has a story which is as relevant to the world today as it was then.
The Mahabharata is an amazing tale full of drama, scheming, jealousy, human foibles and failings. The legendary author of the epic is called Vyasa, which means the compiler so we don’t really know the real name of the writer; although it has been suggested that a whole team of Brahmins composed it under the alias of Vyasa.
Bhagwad Gita – Holy Book of Hindus
The Bhagwad Gita (the blessed Lord’s song) is a 700-verse section of the Mahabharata and occurs just before the great battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. It is written as a conversation between Arjuna, the third of the Pandava brothers, after Yudhishtra and Bhima, and Lord Krishna, the statesman-god. The path, as laid down by the Bhagwad Gita, is still considered ideal way of life by Indians.
The Ramayana is about Utopian ideals and lofty principles which creates the perfect: the virtuous elder brother, the obedient, ever-devoted younger brothers and the self-sacrificing, ever-loving wife. All those who appear to be flawed in some way – like Dhashratha, the father of lord Rama, Keikeyi, the step-mother, and above all Ravana the villain – seem to have been put in the story only as examples of how-not-to-be and to enhance the goodness of the principle characters.
The Panchtantra means five sections (panch, five and tantra, sections) and has 87 stories. The stories were most probably written down in the second century BC, although they had been around for a pretty long time by then, as is evinced by various Sanskrit works.
Simple, though brilliant, these fables always have morals (in verse format) in the end. The moral of the story is clearly most important; for the story is made to fit the moral and not the other way around. Many of these maxims are taken from older books, like the Vedas, and are sometimes straight quotations.
The Jatakas are Buddhist parables and tales – loose parallels of the Panchtantra actually. They tell the tales of Buddha in his previous lives (when he was called Bodhisattva or Buddha-to-be), which included incarnations in the form of a snake and an elephant. These stories reflect the travails and experiences that the he had to go through to attain the wisdom of the Buddha.