Brahmanas are ancient Hindu texts which contain prose commentaries attached to the four Vedas, the oldest Hindu sacred texts. These contain explanations of mantras and hymns from the Vedas, teachings of legends illustrated by the myths, information about the performance of rituals, as well as some philosophy. Each of the four Vedas, namely, Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda, consists of two parts: the Samhita and the Brahmana. There exist one or more Brahmanas attached to each Veda. They serve as an explanation of the Samhita portion of the Vedas and explain the secret meanings of the mantras and hymns. After several centuries of oral transmission, these Brahmanas are assumed to have been coded between 900–700 BCE.
The word ‘Brahmana’ loosely translates to ‘Explanations of sacred knowledge or doctrine.’ It is supposed to have been derived from the word ‘brahman,’ implying the brahman priests who have the knowledge and understanding of the Vedas. It means the explanation of a ritual learned by priests.
Contents of the Brahmanas
The content of the Brahmanas are divided into two main sections:
- Vidhi: It comprises the instructions and warnings related to the performance of particular rituals.
- Arthavada: It comprises the explanatory commentaries in relation to the Mantras and particular rituals.
The utmost importance is given to the Vidhi. Other topics covered in the Brahmanas are etymology, praises of the Devas, illustrations, condemnation, scientific knowledge, observational astronomy, and geometry of the Vedic period. They also contain mythological tales and legendary stories. It is said that without the Brahmanas, the Vedic Mantras have no meaning. The Brahmanas and the Upanishads are connected by the Aranyakas, which generally contain speculative philosophical texts of the latest Vedic literature.
For each Veda Samhita, there are prose commentaries attached in the form of the Brahmanas. The principal explanatory texts attached to the Vedas are:
1. Brahmanas on Rigveda
Aitareya Brahmana & Kaushitaki Brahmana are related to the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit, Rigveda. These texts describe the 12 days rites, the daily sacrifices conducted in the morning and evening.
- Aitareya Brahmanas – Recorded around 600-400 BCE, it contains eight books, the pañcikās, each containing five chapters. It relates to the sage Mahidasa Aitareya of the Shakala Shakha of the Rigveda and the ceremonies of royal inauguration.
- Kaushitaki Brahmana- It is of the Vatkal or Bashkala shakhas of Rigveda and contains thirty chapters discussing food and drink (soma) sacrifice and the legend of the gods.
2. Brahmanas on Samaveda
Samaveda has the 10 Brahmanas, of which Pancavimsa, the Sadvimsa (“of 26 [books]”), and the Jayminiya Brahmana are the main ones.
- Pancavimsa Brahmana- It is one of the oldest and most important Brahmanas comprising the 25 prapathakas. It contains details about many old legends like Vratyastoma and others.
- Sadvimsa Brahmana- It consists of 5 adhyayas or chapters. The text content of this brahmana supplements Pancavimsa and contains additional information about miracles and omens.
- Jayminiya Brahmana- It contains the description of the daily oblation of the sacrificial fire. However, a full translation of it is not available.
3. Brahmanas on Yajurveda
The Shatapatha brahmana is attached to the Shukla Yajurveda and the Taittiriya brahmana to the Krishna Yajurveda. These contain knowledge of geometry and details of astronomical events. The record of drying of the Sarasvati river is also found in these. It also contains a list of the avatars of the god Vishnu and information about the origin of Puranic legends.
The Gopatha Brahmana is singly attached to the Atharvaveda. It is divided into two parts: Purva-brahmana and the uttara-brahmana. The chapters of the Purva glorify Atharvan and its priest. A section of the Gopatha is emphasising the functions of the Brahman priest who supervise the sacrifice.
Aranyakas are ancient texts that link between the Brahmanas and the later developed Upanishads. They describe in detail the rituals of the Brahmanas with philosophical speculations. They act as an appendix to the corresponding brahmana. They also contain secret rituals not described in the Brahmanas. It acts as a bridge between the Karma- Kanda and Jnana-Kanda. Important geographical, historical, social and cultural points are also listed in the Aranyakas. Each of the four Vedas has Aranyakas associated with them except for Atharvaveda which has no surviving Aranyaka.
Brahmanas are ancient Hindu texts which contain explanations of mantras and hymns from the four Vedas, the oldest Hindu sacred texts. They also contain teachings of legends illustrated by the myths, information about the performance of rituals, as well as some philosophy. They serve as an explanation of the Samhita portion of the Vedas.
Their content can be divided into two main sections: Vidhi, the instructions and warnings related to the performance of particular rituals; and Arthavada, the explanatory commentaries in relation to the Mantras and particular rituals.
Aitareya Brahmana & Kaushitaki Brahmana are related to the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit, Rigveda. For Samaveda, the main brahmana is Pancavimsa, the Sadvimsa, and the Jayminiya. The Shatapatha brahmana is attached to the Shukla Yajurveda and the Taittiriya brahmana to the Krishna Yajurveda. The Gopatha Brahmana is singly attached to the Atharvaveda.
Aranyakas are the link between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. They describe in detail the rituals of the Brahmanas with the philosophical speculations and act as a bridge between the Karma- Kanda and Jnana-Kanda.