The Vedas are four in number and the oldest of these is the Rig Veda, meaning hymn-lore, a collection of over 1000 hymns in 10,580 highly-finished verses, dating from as far back as 5000 years ago. The Rig Veda represents an oral tradition that goes back even further, to the time when the Aryan tribes wandered the Central Asian steppes. The later Vedas are more Indian in nature, in the sense they begin to incorporate many elements of the indigenous culture that existed in India before the coming of the Aryans.

Other Vedic literature that are part of the Samhita are the Brahmanas, of which a special and more philosophic part is familiar as the Upanishads and the Sutras. This enormous body of literature was largely orally transmitted, and it is not clearly known when it was first put into writing or why.

Classical Sanskrit, or Sanskrit from the literature, is primarily a constructed language based on the precepts set forth by the great grammarian Panini. Later grammars were also put forth by Maharishi Patanjali, the father of modern hatha yoga, who was also a mathematician, grammarian and musician. It differs from Vedic Sanskrit primarily in the loss of verbal forms and in the substitution of large compounds where the older language would have constructed clauses. Its history begins with the literature of the epics, the Ramayana story and the Mahabharat story, which can be dated to about 500 BC when they first put into written form. Later on the Puranas were added to this list. The Purana of Lord Shiva, the holy scripture for Lord Shiva, the main deity of the Hindu trinity, and the Vishnu Puran, the scripture for Vishnu, also of the Hindu trinity, were among the first of the Puranas.

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