The lost Hindu literature

Author: Ram Abloh, (Hindu, studied Veda (incl. Upanishads), Vedanta, Gita)
Mar 1st, 2020

There are hundreds of Hindu scriptures that are now lost permanently.

To start, the Vedic corpus available to us now is probably 10% of the original extant. As is commonly known, in ancient times the Rig Veda had 21 recensions, the Yajur Veda 100, the Sama Veda 1000 and Atharva Veda 9. This is according to Patanjali, in his commentary on the vArttika “sarve deshAntare” (in his Mahabhashya “ekashatam adhvaryushAkhAh sahasravartmA sAmaveda ekavimshatidhA bAhvRcyam navadhA AtharvaNo vedah”. Today, there remains only one complete recension of Rig Veda (shAkala), 5 of Yajur Veda (taittirIya, maitrAyaNIya, kAThaka, kANva, mAdhyandina), 3 of Sama Veda (rANAyanIya, jaiminIya, kauthuma) and 1 of Atharva Veda (paippalAda). Of course, the understanding is that “recensions” have large parts in common. However, this is a huge loss, especially for Sama Veda for which there were 1000 distinct singing traditions.

The tradition of Niruktam, which is the system of traditional exegesis of Vedic texts has only survived in one single text, the “Niruktam” of Yaskacharya. He himself quotes older teachers such as Shakapuni, Sthaulashthivi, Shakalya, etc whose works, if any, are lost.

The tradition of Vyakarana (grammar) which is now only represented by the school of Panini, used to be much more extensive. Panini himself counts 21 pUrvAcAryas (older teachers) who each led a distinct school of grammar. Especially the ancient Aindra grammar which is supposed to be inspired by the god Indra himself was the dominant grammar before Panini. There is a traditional Sanskrit saying that the variety of words in Aindra used to be an ocean in comparison to the words in Panini which is the amount of water that can fit in a cow’s footprint (goShpadam).

Several valuable ancient commentaries on the Vedas are now lost or only available in fragments. One example is Uvatacarya’s commentary on Rig Veda.

According to Ramanujacarya, there used to be just one copy of Bodhayana’s ancient vRtti (a kind of short commentary) on Brahmasutras in Kashmir. Ramanuja reportedly traveled to Kashmir to study it and make notes for writing his own Shribhashya. That vRtti is now lost. Ramanuja mentions other ancient teachers of Vedanta whose philosophy agreed with his own — Tanka, Dramida, Guhadeva, Bharuci, Kapardin. None of the works, if any, of these teachers have survived.

Among the non-religious literature, one of the more fascinating lost works is the Brhatkatha of Gunadhya. It is only known through references in works that we have now, which claim to be re-tellings of the original. These are Brhatkathamanjari, Kathasaritsagara, and Brhatkathashlokasangraha. The original Brhatkatha is supposed to have been written in an unknown dialect of Sanskrit called Paishaci.