There are many books available today on a variety of subjects. There are several books on each of the religions. However, the pride of place is given in each religion to a particular book. Each religion has a founder and his writings and preachings are given pride of place in that religion.
It is believed that the founder's book is the most authentic and authoritative. In some cases, the book is worshipped and enshrined in a temple.
For example, the Sikhs do so. They reverently refer to their holy book as the "Granth Sahib". Similarly, every religion has adopted a particular text as showing the path to self-betterment and salvation.
Although a book may be named after its founder, it is believed to contain the Lord's own words - His commandments coming through the founder or Savant or Prophet as the case may be. They are, therefore, called 'Revealed Texts'.
We Hindus call the Vedas, our Sacred texts, as Apourusheyam - meaning not authored by purusha or man, man being merely an instrument of God to spread His words.
What is the authoritative book on which one's religion is based? People of other religions can unhesitatingly reply to this question. The Christians call it the 'Bible'; the Mohammedans call it the 'Koran'; to the Buddhists it is 'Dhammapada'; and to the Parsees, the 'Zend Avesta'. But for us Hindus, there is no similar ready answer because it is not a single book; nor is the authorship attributed to any human being.
Some will consider the Ramayana to be our sacred text - some others, the Bhagavad Gita; yet others will say that the Vedantic texts are the books to be followed.
This was not always so. The confusion and divergence in view points have arisen because, whereas in other religions there is a basic religious education provided through a basic text book, in Hinduism we have no such preliminary religious education being insisted upon. Hence nowadays we find that we ourselves criticise and denigrate our holy books while the followers of other religions safeguard their own texts and sometimes even vilify other religious doctrines.
If we learn the essential texts of our religion even in our childhood as other religionists are doing, we will not be doubting about our religious texts, nor will we have the present-day ignorance about them.
We have to know what our religion is and this can be learnt only through our sacred texts. Before that, we must know why we should have a religion.
Religion does not mean mere ritual. It means Dharma. What is Dharma? That which if we follow, will make us contented and happy. To know Dharma and the principles of Dharma, we must refer to certain specific texts or books. Such books are referred to as'Dharmapramana.' "Pramana" means that which establishes the truth.So "Dharmapramana" means that which gives one the true knowledge of Dharma. Which are the sacred texts that speak about true Dharma?
Angaani Vedaaschatwaro meemaamsa nyaaya vistarah Puraanam
Dharmasaastramcha vidyaa taahye chaturdasa.
These are fourteen and they are: The four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva); the six Vedaangas or auxiliaries to the Vedas, viz., 'Siksha' which is euphony and pronunciation; 'Vyaakarna' which is grammar; 'Chandas' or metre; 'Niruktha' or etymology; 'Jyotisha' or astronomy' 'Kalpa' or procedure, 'Meemaamsa' or interpretation of Vedic texts; 'Nyaaya' or logic; 'Puraana' or mythology and 'Dharma Saastraas' which contain the codes of conduct.
Knowledge and wisdom are enshrined in these. Hence these fourteen are known as the 'Vidyaasthaanas'.