References to Indian Texts Used in the Sanskrit Glossary


Veda is a generic name for the most ancient Indian sacred literature, i.e. the Rg-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda and Atharva-veda. Each of these books is divided into two portions, mantra and brahmana. The term Veda is generally reserved for the mantras or metrical hymns, especially those of the Rg-veda. Sri Aurobindo has translated and/or commented on many of the Vedic hymns. Most of his writings related to the Vedas have been collected in Volumes 10 and 11of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library(SABCL), The Secret of the Veda, and Hymns to the Mystic Fire.

"I propose...that the Rig-Veda is itself the one considerable document that remains to us from the early period of human thought of which the historic Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries were the failing remnants, when the spiritual and psychological knowledge of the race was concealed, for reasons now difficult to determine, in a veil of concrete and material figures and symbols which protected the sense from the profane and revealed it to the initiated. One of the leading principles of the mystics was the sacredness and secrecy of self-knowledge and the true knowledge of the Gods.

The an inspired knowledge as yet insufficiently equipped with intellectual and philosophical terms. We find a language of poets and illuminates to whom all experience is real, vivid, sensible, even concrete, not yet of thinkers and sytematisers to whom the realities of the mind and soul have become abstractions.

The Vedic Rishis believed that their Mantras were inspired from higher planes of consciousness and contained this secret knowledge. The words of the Veda could only be known in their true meaning by one who was himself a seer or mystic; from others the verses withheld their hidden knowledge.

Many of the lines, many whole hymns even of the Veda bear on their face a mystic meaning; they are evidently an occult form of speech, have an inner meaning.

Under pressure of the necessity to mask their meaning with symbols and symbolic words...the Rishis resorted to fix double meanings, a device easily manageable in the Sanskrit language where one word often bears several different meanings, but not easy to render in an English translation and very often impossible....The Rishis, it must be remembered, were seers as well as sages, they were men of vision who saw things in their meditation in images, often symbolic images which might precede or accompany an experience and put it in a concrete form, might predict or give an occult body to it. ...The mystics were and normally are symbolists, they can even see all physical things and happenings as symbols of inner truths and realities, even their outer selves, the outer happenings of their life and all around them."

-- Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda, SABCL Vol. 10


These are writings at the end of the Vedas, regarded as the source of the Vedanta philosophy. Sri Aurobindo has translated and/or commented on the Isa, Kena, Katha, Mundaka, Prasna, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Svetasvatara, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka, Kaivalya, and Nilaruda Upanisads. Most of his writings related to the Upanisads have been collected in Volume 12 of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library (SABCL), The Upanisads.

"How many Upanisads once existed is unknown. One hundred and eight have been preserved, these ranging in length from a few hundred to many thousands of words, some in prose, some in verse, some part one, part the other. In style and manner they vary widely, often within the same Upanisad, being now simply and concretely narrative, now subtly and abstractly expository, often assuming, in either case, a dialogue form. ... Who wrote them, no one knows, nor, with any accuracy, when they were written.

Of the one hundred and eight extant Upanisads sixteen were recognized by Samkara as authentic and authoritative. In his commentary on the Vedanta Aphorisms he included quotations from six. On the other ten he wrote elaborate commentaries. It is these ten which...have come to be regarded as the principal Upanisads: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka, Aitareya, and Taittiriya."

-- Swami Prabhavananda, The Spiritual Heritage of India

"The rooted and fundamental conception of Vedanta is that there exists somewhere, could we but find it, available to experience or self-revelation, if denied to intellectual research, a single truth comprehensive and univ ersal in the light of which the whole of existence would stand revealed and explained both in its nature and its end. This universal existence, for all its multitude of objects and its diversity of forces, is one in subs tance and origin; and there is an unknown quantity, X or Brahman to which it can be reduced, for from that it started and by that it still exists. This unknown quantity is called Brahman."

-- Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads

Aitreya Upanishad
It belongs to the Rg Veda. It is considered as one of the principal Upanisads and concerns with imparting the knowledge of the Self (atman) as the unequalled substance of the universe, that He is pure consciousness, that he also has become everything from Indra and Prajapati down to the lowest and last in creation.

Brhadaranyaka Upanisad
"Teachings from the forest." The Brhad is the longest and the oldest of the Upanisads. It contains dialogues between Gargya and King Ajatasatru, between Vajnavalkya and Maitreyi, and between Vajnavalkya and King Janaka. It belongs to the Sukla Yajur Veda and primarily deals with the exoteric and esoteric aspects of the horse sacrifice.

Chandogya Upanisad
The Chandogya Upanisad contains the story of Svetaketu, a boy who was sent away by his father to be educated. When he returns, Svetaketu and his father engage in a dialogue regarding his knowledge. It is classified under Sama Veda.

"The Chhandogya, we see from its first and introductory sentences, is to be a work on the right and perfect way of devoting oneself to the Brahman; the spirit, the methods, the formulae are to be given to us."
-- Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, SABCL 12 p. 393

Katha Upanisad
The Katha contains the story of Natchiketas, who is granted three wishes by Yama, the lord of death. The last wish Natchiketas asks for is the knowledge of that which is beyond death, the Absolute, Brahman.

Kena Upanisad
"The Kena Upanishad ...concerns itself only with the relation of mind-consciousness to Brahman-consciousness and does not stray outside the strict boundaries of its subject. The material world and the physical life are taken for granted, they are hardly mentioned. But the material world and the physical life exist for us only by virtue of our internal self and our internal life. According as our mental instruments represent to us the external world, according as our vital force in obedience to the mind deals with its impacts and objects, so will be our outward life and existence. The world is for us what our mind and senses declare it to be; life is what our mentality determines that it shall become. The question is asked by the Upanishad, what then are these mental instruments? what is this mental life which uses the external? Are they the last witnesses, the supreme and final power? Is mind all or is this human existence only a veil of something greater, mightier, more remote and profound than itself?"
-- Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, SABCL 12 pp. 155-56

Sandilya Upanisad
This is one of the minor Upanisads and contains dialogues between the sages Atharvan and Sandilya. It concerns with the eight stages of yoga and points to the attainment of the state of Brahman as the final resort.

Bhagavad Gita

Dated between the 5th and the 2nd centuries B.C., the Gita, which comprises 18 chapters, is a part of the Mahabharata. In the form of a dialogue between Sri Krishna, the divine incarnation, and his friend and disciple Arjuna, it teaches how to achieve union with the supreme Reality through the paths of knowledge, devotion, selfless work, and meditation.
-- Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook, p. 17-18

See selections from Sri Aurobindo's the Essays on Gita.


A treatise on the Samkhya philosophy, written by Isvarakrsna, one of the proponents of the Samkhya system of philosophy, founded by Kapila. The karika is a work of seventy verses as its other name swarna saptati suggests. It is the earliest available and the most popular text of the Samkhya system. It is considered to be a work of the third century.

Yoga Sutra

A succint set of aphorisms or sutras written by Patanjali which describe what has come to be known as Rajayoga.

"[Rajayoga] aims at the liberation and perfection not of the bodily, but of the mental being, the control of the emotional and sensational life, the mastery of the whole apparatus of thought and consciousness. It fixes its eyes on the citta, that stuff of mental consciousness in which all these activities arise, and it seeks, even as Hathayoga with its physical material, first to purify and to tranquilise. ... The preliminary movement of Rajayoga is a careful self-discipline by which good habits of mind are substituted for the lawless movements that indulge the lower nervous being. By the practice of truth, by renunciation of all forms of egoistic seeking, by abstentin from injury to others, by purity, by constant meditation and inclination to the divine Purusha who is the true lord of the mental kingdom, a pure, glad, clear state of mind and heart is established.

This is the first step only. Afterwards, the ordinary activities of the mind and sense must be entirely quieted in order that the soul may be free to ascend to higher states of consciousness and acquire the foundation for a perfect freedom and self-mastery."

-- Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga,
Introduction, The Systems of Yoga, SABCL Vol. 20


"The most ancient Sanskrit epic poem, written by the sage Valmiki. It is estimated to have been composed about 500 B.C., and contains approximately 50,000 lines. The Ramayana describes the life of Sri Rama: his banishment from Ayodhya; life in the forest with his faithful wife Sita; Sita's abduction by Ravana; the war of Rama and his allies against Ravana; defeat of Ravana and rescue of Sita; Rama's return to Ayodhya as ruler; slander of Sita by the people of Ayodhya and her banishment from the kingdom; her subsequent exoneration and final ascent to heaven, where she is joined by Rama."
-- Ramakrishna-Vedanta Wordbook

"The Ramayana is a work of the same essential kind as the Mahabharata; it differs only by a greater simplicity of plan, a more delicate ideal temperament and a finer glow of poetic warmth and colour. The main bulk of the poem in spite of much accretion is evidently by a single hand and has a less complex and more obvious unity of structure. There is less of the philosophic, more of the purely poetic mind, more of the artist, less of the builder. The whole story is from beginning to end of one piece and there is no deviation from the stream of the narrative. At the same time there is a like vastness of vision, an even more wide-winged flight of epic sublimity in the conception and sustained richness of minute execution in the detail.

...The eopic poet has taken here also as his subject an Itihasa, an ancient tale or legend associated with an old Indian dynasty and filled it in with detail from myth and folklore, but has exalted all into a scale of grandiose epic figure that it may bear more worthily the high intention and significance. The subject is the same as in the Mahabharata,, the strife of the divine with the titanic forces in the life of the earth, but in more purely ideal forms, in frankly supernatural dimensions and an imaginative heightening of both the good and the evil in human character. On one side is portrayed an ideal manhood, a divine beauty of virtue and ethical order, a civilization founded on the Dharma and realising an exaltation of the moral ideal which is presented with a singularly strong appeal of aesthetic grace and harmony and sweetness; on the other are wild and anarchic and almost amorphous forces of superhuman egoism and self-will and exultant violence, and the two ideas and powers of mental nature living and embodied are brought into conflict and led to a decisive issue of the victory of the divine man over the Rakshasa. All shade and complexity are omitted which would diminish the single urity of the idea, the representative force in the outline of the figures, the significance of the temperamental colour and only so much admitte as is sufficient to humanise the appeal and the significance.

The poet makes us conscious of the immense forces that are behind our life and sets his action in a magnificent epic scenery, the great imperial city, the mountains and ocean, the forest and wilderness, described with such a largeness as to make us feel as if the whole world were the scene of his poem and its subject the whole divine and titanic possibility of man imaged in a few great or monstrous figures. The ethical and the aesthetic mind of India have here fused themselves into a harmonious unity and reached an unexampled pure wideness and beauty of self-expression. The Ramayana embodied for the Indian imagination its highest and tenderest human ideals of character, made strength and courage and gentleness and purity and fidelity and self-sacrifice familiar to it in the suavest and most harmonious forms..."

-- Sri Aurobindo, The Foundations of Indian Culture,
SABCL Vol 14 pp. 289-90


"[The Mahabharata] is...probably the longest single poem in the world's literature. Traditionally the author of the poem was the sage Vyasa, who is said to have taught it to his pupil Vaisampayana. The latter, according to tradition, recited it in public for the first time at a great sacrifice held by King Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna, one of the heroes of the story. ...the poem tells of the great civil war in the kingdom of the Kurus, in the region about the modern Delhi, then known as Kuruksetra."
-- A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India, p. 407

"The Mahabharata is the creation and expression not of a single individual mind, but of a whole people. ...The whole poem has been built like a vast national temple unrolling slowly its immense and complex idea from chanber to chamber, crowded with significant groups and sculptures and inscriptions, the grouped figures carved in divine or semi-divine proportions, a humanity aggrandised and half-uplifted to super-humanity and yet always true to the human motive and idea and feeling, the strain of the real constantly raised by the tones of the ideal, the life of this world amply portrayed but subjected to the conscious influence and presence of the powers of the worlds behind it, and the whole unified by the long embodied procession of a consistent idea worked out in the wide steps of the poetic story."

"The leading motive is the Indian idea of the Dharma. Here the Vedic notion of the struggle between the godheads of truth and light and unity and the powers of darkness and division and falsehood is brought out from the spiritual and religious and internal into the outer intellectual, ethical and vital plane. It takes there in the figure of the story a double form of a personal and a political struggle, the personal a conflict between typical and representative personalities embodying the greater ethical ideals of the Indian Dharma and others who are embodiments of Asuric egoism and self-will and misuse of the Dharma, the political a battle in which the personal struggle culminates, an international clash ending in the establishment of a new rule of righteiousness and justice, a kingdom or rather an empire of the Dharma uniting warring races and substituting for the ambitious arrogance of kings and aristocratic clans the supremacy, the calm and peace of a just and humane empire. It is the old struggle of Deva and Asura, God and Titan, but represented in the terms of human life."

-- Sri Aurobindo, The Foundations of Indian Culture, SABCL Vol.14 pp. 287-88


"Literally "ancient"; any one of eighteen sacred books of Hinduism, attributed to Vyasa, which elaborate and popularize the spiritual truths of the Vedas by means of illustrations from the lives of divine incarnations, saints, kings, and devotees, whether historical or mythological.

Bhagavata Purana
It is the fifth purana in length but is the most popular and influencial among the puranas. It is primarily a vaishnava text and is later to and influenced by the Visnupurana. As the name indicates, it describes some of the incarnations of Visnu and particularly that of Krsna. It is a marvellous bhakti work and includes the story of bhagavathas or devotees of the Lord.
"The metaphysical and spiritual legacy of the Vedas and the upanishads is ably synthesized with the agamic tradition of the pancaratras and embraced even non-aryan tribes in its fold."
-- G V Tagare, Ancient Indian Traditions and Mythology, Vol. 7

Devi Mahatmyam
Otherwise known as the Durgasaptasati or the Candi, this is a sacred text to the Divine Mother used for chanting.

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Last modified on Jul 21, 1996