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The Vedic texts of Hinduism Upanishads entwined in the History of Karnataka

Also known as the ‘Sanatan Dharma’, which means eternal order or eternal path, the Upanishads form the epistemological-spiritual basis of the Hindu religious order. The name also assumes the meaning, ‘to sit down closely’, this attributes to the attention with which one should use in the interpretation of the Upanishads. Alternatively, it is also commonly referred to as a text that reveals underpinning truths. These truths include the knowledge that has been encapsulated in the sacred texts of Hinduism, ‘the Vedas’, this knowledge broadly encompasses the creation and functioning of the universe. Forming the latter part of the Vedas, the Upanishads are also called the ‘Vedanta’ texts which means the end of the Vedas. These texts come under Shruti literature in Hinduism which denotes ‘what is heard’, attributing to the medium through which the teachings of these texts have been acquired. 


The Upanishads interact with ceremonial practices and the individual's place in the cosmos, developing the theoretical foundations of Brahman, the Divine Energy Over The Soul (God) who conceived and forms the universe, and Atman, the individual's greater self, whose objective in life is the unification with Brahman. These writings describe and continue to shape Hinduism's founding principles. There exist about 180-200 Upanishads, however, the most popular of these are the texts that are found within the textual matter of the Vedas. 


The most prominent Upanishads that appear in Kannada literature are: 

  • Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Considered one of the Principal Upanishads and among the earliest in Upanishadic doctrines, this text mainly focuses on the Atman (self). It comprises excerpts on philosophical teachings, morals and the quest for knowledge. It is known to be an influential text in the birth of many Indian religions and movements. 


  • Chandogya Upanishad: The Chandogya Upanishad is a part of the Chandogya Brahmana found in the Sama Veda. It is revered as one of the oldest Upanishads. It is also the largest text among the Upanishads with 8 Prapathakas (chapters). It comprises a vast range of tales and motifs. Like the Samaveda, the Chandogya Upanishad deals with the significance of dialogue, rhetoric, melodies and chants that play an important role in the attainment of salvation and knowledge.


  • Taittiriya Upanishad: This Upanishad is a part of the Yajur Veda. Like the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, it is a Principal Upanishad as well. It consists of three chapters and is considered a part of the ‘black’ Yajur Veda (unorganized collection of verses). This particular text largely comprises prayers and invocations. 


  • Aitareya Upanishad: This particular Upanishad is also a Mukhya Upanishad (Principal Upanishad). It is attributed to the Rig Veda. Its content mainly focuses on 3 metaphysical motifs, which is, that man and the world are a result of the formation of the Atman (Universal self), the second being that the Atman has a threefold birth and finally, the third being, that the consciousness is at the core of the Atman. 


  • Kena Upanishad: This Upanishad is also a part of the Mukhya Upanishads (Principal Upanishads). It is found within the last volume of the Talavakara Brahmanam of the Sama Veda. It specifically deals with the nature of the Brahman (God) and the role of all the different Gods present in Hinduism. 


  • Katha Upanishad: A Mukhya Upanishad (Principal Upanishad) is found embedded in the Yajur Veda. The content written in this Upanishad revolves around the Atman (self) that includes teachings about the power of self-knowledge and how it provides the highest form of bliss. 


  • Isha Upanishad: One of the most prominent Upanishads in all regions, this text is regarded as one of the shortest scriptures, forming a part of the Shukla Yajur Veda. This Upanishad describes the Atman (Self) doctrines of Hinduism. 


  • Mundaka Upanishad: A part of the Atharva Veda, the Mundaka Upanishad is one of the most commonly translated Upanishadic scriptures. It speaks of freedom, bravery, ultimate deliverance, self-reliance and bliss. 


  • Prashna Upanishad: This Upanishad is a part of the Atharva Veda and like the name suggests poses a bunch of philosophical questions, with each chapter encompassing the answer to those questions. It is renowned for its design and sociological observations related to the Indian educational system.


  • Mandukya Upanishad: The Mandukya Upanishad is the shortest Upanishad that exists and is ascribed to the Atharva Veda. It contains knowledge on the attainment of moksha and the symbol Aum. 


FAQ’s: 


Q1. How many Principal Upanishads exist? 


The Upanishads are divided into the Mukhya Upanishads (Principal Upanishads) and the Samanya Upanishads (Minor Upanishads). The Mukhya Upanishads are ten in number and they are - Isha Upanishad, Kena Upanishad, Katha Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Taittiriya Upanishad, and the Aitareya Upanishad. 


Q2. Which of the Upanishads serves as a good introduction to the texts? 


The Katha Upanishad is considered the best to start with, as it introduces the concepts that are spoken about in the other Upanishads.