The Upanishads

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Upanishads, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. Dating from about 700 BC, the Upanishads were passed down through an oral tradition in priestly castes and were not written down until the 6th century AD. They constitute the final part of the Vedas, the collection of texts which form the foundation of the Indian Hindu world, and were originally spoken during sacrificial rituals.

Yet the Upanishads go beyond incantations performed during sacrifices, and ask profound questions about human existence and man's place in the cosmos. The concepts of Brahman (the universal cosmic power) and Atman (the deeper soul of the individual) are central to the understanding of the Upanishads. Each individual treatise has its own character. Some are poetic; some are scientific; others are dialogues between kings and sages or metaphysical reflections. More than one hundred Upanishads were produced, thirteen of which are regarded as the canonical scriptures of Hinduism.


Jessica Frazier
Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies at the University of Oxford

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad
Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University

Simon Brodbeck
Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Cardiff

Producer: Natalia Fernandez.

Release date:

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 8 Nov 2012 21:30

Related topics


Brian Black, ‘The Character of the Self in Ancient India: Priests, Kings, and Women in the Early Upanishads’ (State University of New York Press, 2007)


Signe Cohen, ‘Text and Authority in the Older Upanishads’ (Brill, 2008)


Gavin Flood, ‘An Introduction to Hinduism’ (University of Cambridge, 1996)


Yohanan Grinshpon, ‘Crises and Knowledge: The Upanishadic Experience and Storytelling’ (Oxford University Press, 2003)


Patrick Olivelle (trans.), ‘Upanishads’ (Oxford University Press, 1996)


Patrick Olivelle, ‘Samnyasa Upanisads’ (Oxford University Press, 1992)


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ‘Indian Philosophy’, 2nd edn, vol. 1 (Oxford University Press, 2010)


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ‘Principal Upanishads’ (HarperCollins, 2006)


Valerie Roebuck (trans.), ‘The Upanishads’ (Penguin, 2003)


Ben-Ami Scharfstein, ‘Ineffability: Failure of Words in Philosophy and Religion’ (State University of New York Press, 1993)

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