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Shruti (Sanskrit, IAST: śruti) means "that which is heard" and refers to the body of most authoritative, ancient religious texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism.[1] It includes the four Vedas including its four types of embedded texts - the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the early Upanishads.[2]

Shrutis have been considered revealed knowledge, variously described as of divine origin,[3] or nonhuman primordial origins.[1] In Hindu tradition, they have been referred to as apauruṣeya (authorless).[4] All six orthodox schools of Hinduism accept the authority of śruti,[5][note 1] but many scholars in these schools denied that the shrutis are divine.[7][8] Nāstika (heterodox) philosophies such as the Cārvākas did not accept the authority of the shrutis and considered them to be flawed human works.[9][10]

Shruti differs from other sources of Hindu philosophy, particularly smṛti “which is remembered” or textual material. These works span much of the history of Hinduism, beginning with the earliest known texts and ending in the early historical period with the later Upanishads.[11] Of the śrutis, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishadic śrutis are at the spiritual core of Hindus.[12][13]


The Sanskrit word śruti (श्रुति) has multiple meanings depending on context. It means "hearing, listening", a call to "listen to a speech", any form of communication that is aggregate of sounds (news, report, rumor, noise, hearsay).[14] The word is also found in ancient geometry texts of India, where it means "the diagonal of a tetragon or hypotenuse of a triangle",[14] and is a synonym of karna.[15] The word śruti is also found in ancient Indian music literature, where it means "a particular division of the octave, a quarter tone or interval" out of twenty-two enumerated major tones, minor tones, and semitones.[14] In music, it refers the smallest measure of sound a human being can detect, and the set of twenty-two śruti and forty four half Shruti, stretching from about 250 Hz to 500 Hz, is called the Shruti octave.[16]

In scholarly works on Hinduism, śruti refers to ancient Vedic texts from India. Monier-Williams[14] traces the contextual history of this meaning of śruti as, "which has been heard or communicated from the beginning, sacred knowledge that was only heard and verbally transmitted from generation to generation, the Veda, from earliest Rishis (sages) in Vedic tradition.[1]

Distinction between Shruti and Smriti

Both śrutis and smṛtis represent categories of texts that are used to encapsulate Hindu Philosophy.[17] Śruti have been considered solely of divine origin, in some way or the other the work of the Deity.[3] Many orthodox Indian philosophers have denied that śruti are divine, authored by God.[7]

The belief of divinity is particularly prominent within the Mīmāṃsā tradition.[18]

Nāstika philosophical schools such as the Cārvākas of the first millennium BCE did not accept the authority of the shrutis and considered them to be human works suffering from incoherent rhapsodies, inconsistencies and tautologies.[9][10]

Smritis are considered to be human thoughts in response to the shrutis.[2] Traditionally, all smṛtis are regarded to ultimately be rooted in or inspired by shrutis.[2]


The śruti literature include the four Vedas:[19][20]

Each of these Vedas include the following texts, and these belong to the śruti canon:[21]

The literature of the shakhas, or schools, further amplified the material associated with each of the four core traditions.[22]

Of the above śrutis, the Upanishads are most widely known, and the central ideas of them are the spiritual foundation of Hinduism.[12] Patrick Olivelle writes,

Even though theoretically the whole of Vedic corpus is accepted as revealed truth [śruti], in reality it is the Upanishads that have continued to influence the life and thought of the various religious traditions that we have come to call Hindu. Upanishads are the scriptures par excellence of Hinduism.

— Patrick Olivelle[13]

Role in Hindu Law

Shrutis have been considered the authority in Hinduism.[note 1] Smritis, including the Manusmṛti, the Nāradasmṛti and the Parāśarasmṛti, are considered less authoritative than śrutis.[23]

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् ।
आचारश्चैव साधूनामात्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च ॥
Translation 1: The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction (Atmanastushti).[24]
Translation 2: The root of the religion is the entire Veda, and (then) the tradition and customs of those who know (the Veda), and the conduct of virtuous people, and what is satisfactory to oneself.[25]

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः ।
एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥
Translation 1: The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men, and one's own pleasure, they declare to be the fourfold means of defining the sacred law.[24]
Translation 2: The Veda, tradition, the conduct of good people, and what is pleasing to oneself – they say that is four fold mark of religion.[25]

Only three of the four types of texts in the Vedas have behavioral precepts:

For the Hindu all belief takes its source and its justification in the Vedas [Śruti]. Consequently every rule of dharma must find its foundation in the Veda. Strictly speaking, the Samhitas do not even include a single precept which could be used directly as a rule of conduct. One can find there only references to usage which falls within the scope of dharma. By contrast, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads contain numerous precepts which propound rules governing behavior.

— Robert Lingat[26]

Bilimoria states the role of śruti in Hinduism has been inspired by "the belief in a higher natural cosmic order (Rta succeeded later by the concept Dharma) that regulates the universe and provides the basis for its growth, flourishing and sustenance – be that of the gods, human beings, animals and eco-formations".[27]

Levinson states that the role of śruti and smṛti in Hindu law is as a source of guidance, and its tradition cultivates the principle that "the facts and circumstances of any particular case determine what is good or bad".[28] The later Hindu texts include fourfold sources of dharma, states Levinson, which include atmanastushti (satisfaction of one's conscience), sadacara (local norms of virtuous individuals), smṛti and shruti.[28]


The śrutis, the oldest of which trace back to the second millennium BCE, had not been committed to writing in ancient times. In the absence of writing technologies, these were developed and transmitted verbally, from one generation to the next, for nearly two millenniums. Almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years.[29] Michael Witzel explains this oral tradition as follows:

The Vedic texts were orally composed and transmitted, without the use of script, in an unbroken line of transmission from teacher to student that was formalized early on. This ensured an impeccable textual transmission superior to the classical texts of other cultures; it is, in fact, something like a tape-recording.... Not just the actual words, but even the long-lost musical (tonal) accent (as in old Greek or in Japanese) has been preserved up to the present.

— Michael Witzel[30]

Ancient Indians developed techniques for listening, memorization and recitation of śrutis. This part of a Vedic student's education was called svādhyāya. The systematic method of learning, memorization and practice, enabled these texts to be transmitted from generation to generation with inordinate fidelity.[31] For example, memorization of the sacred Vedas included up to eleven forms of recitation of the same text. For example,[32]

  • jaṭāpāṭha (literally "mesh recitation") in which every two adjacent words in the text were first recited in their original order, then repeated in the reverse order, and finally repeated again in the original order. The recitation thus proceeded as: word1word2, word2word1, word1word2; word2word3, word3word2,...
  • dhvajapāṭha (literally "flag recitation") a sequence of N words were recited (and memorized) by pairing the first two and last two words and then proceeding as: word1word2, word(N-1)wordN; word2word3, word(N-3)word(N-2); ...; word(N-1)wordN, word1word2;
  • ghanapāṭha (literally "dense recitation"), took the form: word1word2, word2word1, word1word2word3, word3word2word1, word1word2word3; word2word3, word3word2, word2word3word4, word4word3word2, word2word3word4; ...


Max Müller in an 1865 lecture stated:

The idea of revelation, and I mean more particularly book revelation, is not a modern idea, nor is it an idea peculiar to Christianity. In no country, I believe, has the theory of revelation been so minutely elaborated as in India. The name for revelation in Sanskrit is shruti, 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.
But let me state at once that there is nothing in the hymns themselves to warrant such extravagant theories. In many a hymn, the author says plainly that he or his friends made it to please the gods; that he made it, as a carpenter makes a chariot (Rv 1.130.6; 5.2.11), or like a beautiful vesture (Rv 5.29.15); that he fashioned it in his heart and kept it in his mind (Rv 1.171.2).

— Max Muller[33]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Elisa Freschi (2012): The Vedas are not deontic authorities in absolute sense and may be disobeyed, but still recognized as an deontological epistemic authority by a Hindu orthodox school;[6] (Note: This differentiation between epistemic and deontic authority is true for all Indian religions)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 James Lochtefeld (2002), "Shruti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 9780823931798, page 645
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1988), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-1867-6, pages 2-3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Müller, Max. 1865. pp. 17–18
  4. P Bilimoria (1998), ‘The Idea of Authorless Revelation’, in Indian Philosophy of Religion (Editor: Roy Perrett), ISBN 978-94-010-7609-8, Springer Netherlands, pages 3, 143-166
  5. Klaus Klostermaier (2007), Hinduism: A Beginner's Guide, ISBN 978-1851685387, Chapter 2, page 26
  6. Elisa Freschi (2012), Duty, Language and Exegesis in Prabhakara Mimamsa, BRILL, ISBN 978-9004222601, page 62
  7. 7.0 7.1 Roy Perrett (1998), Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824820855, pages 16-18
  8. P Bilimoria (1990), Hindu Doubts About God - Towards a Mīmāmsā Deconstruction, International Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 481-499
  9. 9.0 9.1 Richard Hayes (2000), in Philosophy of Religion: Indian Philosophy (Editor:Roy Perrett), Routledge, ISBN 978-0815336112, pages 187-212
  10. 10.0 10.1 Original Sanskrit version:Sarvasiddhanta Samgraha, pages 3-7;
    English version: The Charvaka System with commentary by Madhava Acharya, Translators: Cowell and Gough (1882), pages 5-9
  11. Flood, Gavin. pp. 39.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wendy Doniger (1990), Textual Sources for the Study of Hinduism, 1st Edition, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226618470, pages 2-3; Quote: "The Upanishads supply the basis of later Hindu philosophy; they alone of the Vedic corpus are widely known and quoted by most well-educated Hindus, and their central ideas have also become a part of the spiritual arsenal of rank-and-file Hindus."
  13. 13.0 13.1 Patrick Olivelle (2014), The Early Upanisads, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195352429, page 3; Quote: "Even though theoretically the whole of vedic corpus is accepted as revealed truth [shruti], in reality it is the Upanishads that have continued to influence the life and thought of the various religious traditions that we have come to call Hindu.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 zruti Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
  15. TA Amma (1999), Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India, ISBN 978-8120813441, page 261
  16. Miloš Zatkalik, Milena Medić and Denis Collins (2013), Histories and Narratives of Music Analysis, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN 978-1443850285, page 509
  17. Coburn, Thomas B. 1984. pp. 448
  18. Clooney, Francis X. 1987. pp. 660
  19. "Shruti: The Four Vedas".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Gavin Flood (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, pages 33-40
  21. A Bhattacharya (2006), Hinduism: Introduction to Scriptures and Theology, ISBN 978-0595384556, pages 8-14
  22. Flood, Gavin. 1997. pp. 39
  23. James Lochtefeld (2002), "Smrti", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 9780823931798, pages 656 and 461
  24. 24.0 24.1 The Laws of Manu 2.6 with footnotes George Bühler (Translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 25, Oxford University Press
  25. 25.0 25.1 Brian Smith and Wendy Doniger (1992), The Laws of Manu, Penguin, ISBN 978-0140445404, pages 17-18
  26. Robert Lingat (1973), The Classical Law of India, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520018983, pages 7-8
  27. Bilimoria, Purushottama (2011), The idea of Hindu law, Journal of Oriental Society of Australia, Vol. 43, pages 103-130
  28. 28.0 28.1 Devid Levinson (2002), Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, Volume 1, SAGE Publications, ISBN 978-0761922582, page 829
  29. Quotation of "... almost all printed editions depend on the late manuscripts that are hardly older than 500 years, not on the still extant and superior oral tradition" - M Witzel, "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-4051-3251-5, pages 68-71
  30. M Witzel, "Vedas and Upaniṣads", in: Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-4051-3251-5, pages 68-71
  31. (Staal 1986)
  32. (Filliozat 2004, p. 139)
  33. Müller, Max. 1867. Chips from a German Workshop. “Lecture on the Vedas or the Sacred Books of the Brahmans, Delivered at Leeds, 1865”. Oxford University Press pp. 17–18

Cited sources

  1. Coburn, Thomas, B. Scripture" in India: Towards a Typology of the Word in Hindu Life Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Sep., 1984),
  2. Clooney, Francis X. Why the Veda Has No Author: Language as Ritual in Early Mīmāṃsā and Post-Modern TheologyJournal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1987).
  3. Jho, Chakradhar. 1987. History and Sources of Law in Ancient India Ashish Publishing House.
  4. Flood, Gavin. 1997. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press
  5. Gupta, Ravi M. 2007. Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami.

External links