Shastra Defined: Relationship of Vedic Scripture to Sikhism

Vedic Rituals Rejected by Sikh Gurus

Shastra Vedic Scripture Gita
Shastra Vedic Scripture Gita. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Definition of Shastra:

Shastra (saastr) is a Sanskrit term meaning code, rules, or treatise, and refers to Vedic scriptures, which includes 14 to 18 sacred books of Hindu philosophy considered in Hinduism to be of sacred authority.  The Shastras originated with an oral tradition passed down verbally over countless millennial. Eventually transcribed into texts, the written Shastras have for centuries been the subject of controversial discussion, and continue to prompt vigorous debates among Vedic scholars.

Six Shastras, or Vedangas, analysis of instructive scripture include :

  1. Vyakarana - Grammar.
  2. Shiksha - Pronunciation.
  3. Nirukta - Definition.
  4. Chhanda - Meter.
  5. Jyotisha - Auspicious astrological influence determining performance of ritual.
  6. Kalpa - Sutras, or correct method of performing ritual:
    • Shrauta Sutra - Rules governing ritual.
    • Sulba Sutra - Geometric calculations.
    • Grihya Sutra - Domestic rites.
    • Dharma Sutra - Rituals of conduct, castes system and stages of life including:
      • Manu Smitri - Marriage and funeral rites, rules governing women and wives, dietary law, pollutants and purification rites, judicial law, reparation rites, alms giving, sacraments, initiation, obeisance, study of theology, doctrine of transmigration and reincarnation.
      • Yajnavalka Smitri - Conduct, law and penance.

Shastra is also used a suffix meaning principles of instruction applied to various modes of learning including:

  • Artha Shastra - Economics
  • Bhautika Shastra - Physics
  • Jeeva Shastra - Biology
  • Naga Shastra - Yoga
  • Neeti Shastra - Politics
  • Rasayana Shastar - Chemistry
  • Shilpa Shastra - Sculpture
  • Vastu Shastra - Architecture

Phonetic Roman and Gurmukhi Spelling and Pronunciation:

Shastra (*shaastra, or **saastr) - Phonetic stress is on the first Gurmukhi vowel kannaa phonetically transliterated with Roman characters aa having a long sound.

The *Punjabi Dictionary gives Gurmukhi spelling as beginning with subscript dot Sh, or Sasaa pair bindi while **Sikh scriptures give Gurmukhi spelling as beginning with S or Sasaa.

  • Pronunciation: Shaastar, shaastr or saastr is correct, but commonly is pronounced shaas-tra.
  • Alternate Spellings: Shaastras, saastr, saasathr.
  • Common Misspellings: Shastar (*shastr or **sastr) (meaning weaponry).

Sikhism Scripture in Relation to the Shastras:

In Sikhism, the Hindu rituals described in the texts of the Shastra are rejected by the Sikh gurus as spiritually meaningless. Debate over doctrine is regarded as pointless for the advancement of spirituality and worthless as a means to enlightenment. The authors of Sikhism's holy scripture the Guru Granth Sahib make many references to the futility of empty rituals outlined in Shastras.


Third Guru Amar Das advises that though the Shastras outline rules of conduct, they lack spiritual substance.

  • "Simrit saasath punn paap beechaaradae tatai saar na jaanee ||
    The Simritees and the Shaastras discriminate between good and evil, but they do not know the true essence of reality." SGGS||920
  • "Simrit saasathr bahuth bisathhaaraa || maaeiaa mohu pasariaa paasaaraa ||
    The great volumes of the Simritees and the Shaastras only extend the extension of attachment to Maya." SGGS|| 1053

Fifth Guru Ajrun Dev stresses that spirituality is not gained through debating scriptures, or practice of rituals, rather enlightenment and liberation come from contemplation of the divine.

  • "Nga-ngaa ngiaan nehee mukh baato ||
    NGANGA: Spiritual wisdom is not obtained by mere words of mouth..."
    "Anik jugat saasathr kar bhaato ||
    It is not obtained through the various debates of the Shastras and scriptures..."
    "Ngiaanee soe jaa kai drirr so-oo ||
    They alone are spiritually wise, whose minds are firmly fixed on the Lord." SGGS||251
  • "Ghokae shastra baed sabh aan na kathatou koe||
    I have searched the religious text of the Shastras and Vedas, they speak of nothing but this:
    Aad jugaad hun hovat Naanak ekai soe||
    In the beginning, throughout the ages, now, and forever O Nanak, the One Lord alone exists. SGGS||254
  • " Asattapadee ||
    Jaap taap giaan sabh dhiaan ||
    Chanting, intense meditation, spiritual wisdom and all meditations;
    Khatt saasathr simrith vakhiaan ||
    the six schools of philosophy and sermons on the scriptures;
    Jog abhiaas karam dhram kiriaa ||
    the practice of Yoga and righteous conduct;
    Sagal tiaag ban madhae phiriaa ||
    the renunciation of everything and wandering around in the wilderness;
    Anik prakaar keeeae bahu jatanaa ||
    the performance of all sorts of works;
    Punn daan homae bahu ratanaa ||
    donations to charities and offerings of jewels to fire;
    Sareer kattaae homai kar raatee ||
    cutting the body apart and making the pieces into ceremonial fire offerings;
    Varat naem karai bahu bhaatee ||
    keeping fasts and making vows of all sorts
    Nehee tul raam naam beechaar ||
    - none of these are equal to the contemplation of the Name of the Lord,
    Naanak gurmukh naam japeeai eik baar ||1||
    O Nanak, if, as Gurmukh [the enlightened mouth], one chants the Naam, even once." ||1||  SGGS||265
  • "Sinmrit saastr bahu karam kamaa-ae prabh tumarae daras bin sukh naahee ||1||
    One may read the Simritees and the Shastras, and perform all sorts of religious rituals; and yet, without the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan, God, there is no peace at all." ||1||  SGGS||408
  • "Baed kathaeb simrit sabh saasat enh parriaa mukath na hoee ||
    One may read all the books of the Vedas, the Bible, the Simritees and the Shastras, but they will not bring liberation. SGGS||747

Guru Gobind Singh writes in Dasam Granth that the study of doctrines described by Shastra and Vedic texts is a vain venture for the divine is unknowable through such texts. :

  • "Sinmrit saasatr baed sabhai bahu bhaed kehain ham ek na jaanayo ||
    The Simritis, Shastras and the Vedas lay down different doctrines, but I do not recognize any of these." DG||0
  • "Kott sinmrih puraan saasatr na aavee vahu chit || 86||
    Despite perusal of Myriads of Simrities (Hindu Scriptures written through recollections), Puranas (Hindu Historical and Theological Accounts) and Shastras (Hindu Divine ordinances), Thou remains as Unknowable. (86)" DG||13

Bhai Gurdas makes commentaries referencing the futile debate of Vedic Shastras in his Vars:

  • "Jujar vaed ko mathan kar tat breham vich bharam milaava||
    This school of [Vedic] Shastra thought, while stirring the ingredients of Yajurveda, mixes delusions with the supreme reality the Brahm." Vars of Bhai Gurdas 1  
  • "Saekhanaag paathanjal mathiaa gurmukh saasatr naag sunaaee||
    Gurmukh Patanjali the (supposed) incarnation of the Sesnaga, very thoughtfully recited, the Naga-Shastra, (Patanjal-Yoga Shastra/Sutras)." Vars of Bhai Gurdas 1
  • "Brehman bahu parkaar kar saasathr vaed puraan larraa-ae||
    Many Categories of Brahmins came into being who propounded Shastras, Vedas and Purans contradicting one another." Vars of Bhai Gurdas 1

*The Punjabi Dictionary by Bhai Maya Singh
**Scriptures of Siri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), Dasam Granth Bani and Vars of Bhai Gurdas Translation by Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa.

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Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Shastra Defined: Relationship of Vedic Scripture to Sikhism." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2020, August 26). Shastra Defined: Relationship of Vedic Scripture to Sikhism. Retrieved from Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "Shastra Defined: Relationship of Vedic Scripture to Sikhism." Learn Religions. (accessed June 9, 2023).