The word `Hindu' originally meant `those who lived on the other side of the river Indus (in Sanskrit, Sindhu)'. Alternate names for the people following the religion can be `Vaidikas', followers of the Vedas, or `Vedantists', followers of the Vedanta. So, let us have a brief overview of the Vedas.
The Vedas is not the utterance of persons. The Vedas do not owe their authority to anybody, they are themselves the authority, being eternal -- the knowledge of God. They were never written, never created, they have existed throught time; just as creation is infinite and eternal, without beginning and without end, so is the knowledge of God without beginning and without end. And this knowledge is what is meant by `the Vedas' (`Vid' -- to know). The mass of knowledge called the Vedanta was discovered by personages called Rishis. The Rishi is a seer of thought. He is the discoverer of the eternal Vedas. The Rishis were spiritual discoverers.
The Vedas are divided into two principal parts, the Karma Kaanda and the Jnaana Kaanda -- the work portion and the knowledge portion, the ceremonial and the spiritual. The Karma Kaanda consists of the duties of man, duties as a student, duties as a householder, duties as a recluse, and the various duties of the various stations of life. The spiritual portion of the religion is the second part, the Jnaana Kaanda. This is called `Vedanta' -- the end of the Vedas, the gist, the goal of the Vedas. The essence of the knowledge of the Vedas was called by the name of Vedanta, which comprises the Upanisads. All sects of India which comes within the fold of Hinduism must acknowledge the Upanisads of the Vedas. They can have their own interpretations, but they must obey the authority. All the various symbols used for worship come from the Vedanta. They are all present in the Vedanta as ideas, which these symbols represent.
Next come the Smritis. These are books written by the sages. These are subordinate to the Vedanta. The Smritis have varied from time to time. As essential conditions changed, as various circumstances came to have their influence on the race, manners and customs had to be changed, and these Smritis, as mainly regulating the manners and customs of the nation, had also to be changed from time to time. But the basic principles in the Vedanta, like the dynamics of the soul, which are eternal do not change.
Then there are the Puraanas. They deal with history, cosmology, symbolic illustrations of philosophical principles, and so forth. They were written to popularise the religion of the Vedas. They give the lives of saints and kings and great men and historical events, etc. The sages made use of these to illustrate the eternal principles of religion.
There are still other books, the Tantras. These are very much like the Puranas in some respects, and in some of them there is an attempt to revive the old sacrificial ideas of the Karma Kaanda.
All these books constitute the scriptures of the...