What Are The Brahmanas?
The Brahmanas are particularly noted for their instructions on the proper performance of rituals, as well as explain the original symbolic meanings- translated to words and ritual actions in the main text. Brahmanas lack a homogeneous structure across the different Vedas, with some containing chapters that constitute Aranyakas or Upanishads in their own right.
Each Vedic shakha (school) has its own Brahmana. Numerous Brahmana texts existed in ancient India, many of which have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are extant at least in their entirety.
The dating of the final codification of the Brahmanas and associated Vedic texts is controversial, which occurred after centuries of verbal transmission. The oldest is dated to about 900 BCE, while the youngest Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), were complete by about 700 BCE. According to Jan Gonda, the final codification of the four Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and early Upanishads took place in pre-Buddhist times (ca. 600 BCE).
The Brahmana are a layer of texts in Vedic Sanskrit embedded within each Veda, and form a part of the śruti literature of Hinduism. They are primarily a digest incorporating mythology and Vedic rituals and in some cases speculations about natural phenomenon or philosophy.
Mythology and rituals
The Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature contain the exposition of the Vedic rites and rituals. For example, the first chapter of the Chandogya Brahmana, one of the oldest Brahmanas, includes eight suktas (hymns) for the ceremony of marriage and rituals at the birth of a child. The first hymn is a recitation that accompanies offering a Yajna oblation to deity Agni (fire) on the occasion of a marriage, and the hymn prays for prosperity of the couple getting married. The second hymn wishes for their long life, kind relatives, and a numerous progeny. The third hymn is a mutual marriage pledge, between the bride and groom, by which the two bind themselves to each other, as follows (excerpt),
यदेतद्धृदयं तव तदस्तु हृदयं मम ।
यदिदं हृदयं मम तदस्तु हृदयं तव ॥
That heart of thine shall be mine,
and this heart of mine shall be thine.— Chāndogya Brāhmaṇa, Chapter 1, Translated by Max Muller
The next two hymns of the first chapter of the Chandogya Brahmana invoke deities Agni, Vayu, Kandramas, and Surya to bless the couple and ensure healthful progeny. The sixth through last hymn of the first chapter in Chandogya Brahmana are not marriage-related, but related to hymns that go with ritual celebrations on the birth of a child, and wishes for health, wealth and prosperity with a profusion of milch-cows and artha.
The Brahmanas are particularly noted for their instructions on the proper performance of rituals, as well as explain the symbolic importance of sacred words and ritual actions in the main text. These instructions insist on exact pronunciation (accent), chhandas (छन्दः, meters), precise pitch, with coordinated movement of hand and fingers – that is, perfect delivery. Satapatha Brahamana, for example, states that verbal perfection made a mantra infallible, while one mistake made it powerless. Scholars suggest that this orthological perfection preserved Vedas in an age when writing technology was not in vogue, and the voluminous collection of Vedic knowledge were taught to and memorized by dedicated students through Svādhyāya, then remembered and verbally transmitted from one generation to the next.
Speculations about nature and philosophy
The Brahmanas are a complex layer of texts within the Vedas. Some embed speculations about natural phenomenon such as sunrise and sunset. For example, section 3.44 of the Aitareya Brahmana speculates whether sun really rises or sets.
The sun does never rise nor set. When people think the sun is setting it is not so. For after having arrived at the end of the day, it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making night to what is below and day to what is on the other side.
When they believe it rises in the morning this supposed rising is thus to be accounted for. Having reached the end of the night, it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making day to what is below and night to what is on the other side.— Aitareya Brahmana 3.44, Translator: J.S. Speyer
The Panchavimsha Brahmana speculates on rivers starting in mountains, fed by snow and rain, flowing over the ground and underground, both emptying into the sea. These speculations, however, are in the context of rituals. Each Vedic shakha (school) has its own Brahmana, many of which have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are extant at least in their entirety: two associated with the Rigveda, six with the Yajurveda, ten with the Samaveda and one with the Atharvaveda. Additionally, there are a handful of fragmentarily preserved texts. They vary greatly in length; the edition of the Shatapatha Brahmana fills five volumes of the Sacred Books of the East. The Brahmanas were seminal in the development of later Indian thought and scholarship, including Hindu philosophy, predecessors of Vedanta, law, astronomy, geometry, linguistics (Pāṇini), the concept of Karma, or the stages in life such as brahmacarya, grihastha, vanaprastha and eventually, sannyasa.
Brahmanas also lack a homogeneous structure across the different Vedas, with some containing sections that are Aranyakas or Upanishads in their own right. The Shathapatha Brahmana discusses ontological and soteriologicalquestions.
Language and chronology
The language of the Brahmanas is a separate stage of Vedic Sanskrit, younger than the text of the samhitas (the mantra texts of the Vedas proper), ca. 1000 BCE, but for the most part are older than the text of the Sutras. As with the whole of Vedic literature, no dating more precise than within a few centuries is possible. The Brahmanas as a whole are generally placed in the first half of the 1st millennium BCE, with the oldest parts perhaps dating to about 900 BCE, and the youngest Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), may date to the 7th or 6th century BCE.
According to Jan Gonda, the final codification of the four Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and early Upanishads took place in pre-Buddhist times (ca. 600 BCE). Erdosy suggests that the later Brahmanas were composed during a period of urbanisation and considerable social change. This period also saw significant developments in mathematics, geometry, biology and grammar.
List of Brahmanas
Each Brahmana is associated with one of the four Vedas, and within the tradition of that Veda with a particular shakha or school:
- Shakala shakha
- Aitareya Brahmana, rarely also known as Ashvalayana Brahmana (AB). It consists of 40 adhyayas (lessons, chapters), dealing with Soma sacrifice, and in particular the fire sacrifice ritual. Parts of the Aitareya Brahmana reads like an Aranyaka.
- Bashkala or Iksvakus shakha (unclear)
- Kaushitaki Brahmana (also called Śāṅkhāyana Brahmana) (KB, ŚānkhB). It consistes of 30 chapters, the first six of which are dedicated to food sacrifice, and the remaining to Soma sacrifice in a manner matching the Aitareya Brahmana.
Keith has published his translation of Aitereya Brahmana, and the Kaushitaki Brahmana.
- Kauthuma and Ranayaniya shakhas
- Tandya Mahabrahmana or Panchavimsha Brahmana (Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa) (PB) is the principal Brahmana of both the Kauthuma and Ranayaniya shakhas. This is one of the oldest Brahmanas and includes twenty five books. It is notable for its important ancient legends and Vratyastomas.
- Sadvimsha Brahmana (Ṣaḍviṃṡa Brāhmaṇa) (ṢadvB) is considered as an appendix to the Panchavimsha Brahmana and its twenty-sixth prapathaka.
- Samavidhana Brahmana, and the following Samaveda “Brahmanas” are in Sutra style; it comprises 3 prapathakas.
- Arsheya Brahmana is an index to the hymns of Samaveda.
- Devatadhyaya or Daivata Brahmana comprises 3 khandas, having 26, 11 and 25 kandikas respectively.
- Chandogya Brahmana is divided into ten prapathakas (chapters). Its first two prapathakas (chapters) form the Mantra Brahmana (MB) and each of them is divided into eight khandas (sections). Prapathakas 3–10 form the Chandogya Upanishad.
- Samhitopanishad Brahmana has a single prapathaka (chapter) divided into five khandas (sections).
- Vamsa Brahmana consists of one short chapter, detailing successions of teachers and disciples.
- Jaiminiya shakha
- Jaiminiya Brahmana (JB) is the principal Brahmana of the Jaiminiya shakha, divided into three kandas (sections). One of the oldest Brahmanas, older than Tandya Mahabrahmana, but only fragments of manuscript have survived.
- Jaiminiya Arsheya Brahmana is also an index to the hymns of Samaveda, belonging to the Jaiminiya shakha.
- Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana (JUB) also known as Talavakara Upanishad Brahmana, is to some extent parallel to the Chandogya Upanisad, but older.
- In the Krishna Yajurveda, Brahmana style texts are integrated in the Samhitas; they are older than the Brahmanas proper.
- Maitrayani Samhita (MS) and an Aranyaka (= accented Maitrayaniya Upanishad)
- (Caraka) Katha Samhita (KS); the Katha school has an additional fragmentary Brahmana (KathB) and Aranyaka (KathA)
- Kapisthalakatha Samhita (KpS), and a few small fragments of its Brahmana
- Taittiriya Samhita (TS). In addition to the Brahmana style portions of the Samhita, the Taittiriya school has an additional Taittiriya Brahmana (TB) and Aranyaka (TA) as well as the late Vedic Vadhula Anvakhyana (Br.). It includes a description of symbolic sacrifices, where meditation substitutes an actual sacrifice.
- Madhyandina Shakha
- Shatapatha Brahmana, Madhyandina recension (SBM)
- Kanva Shakha
- Shatapatha Brahmana, Kanva recension (SBK)
- The Satapatha Brahmana consists of a hundred adhyayas (chapters), and is the most cited and famous among the Brahmanas canon of texts. Much of the text is commentaries on Vedic rituals, such as the preparation of the fire altar. It also includes Upanayana, a ceremony that marked the start of Brahmacharya (student) stage of life, as well as the Vedic era recitation practice of Svadhyaya. The text describes procedures for other important Hindu rituals such as a funeral ceremony. The old and famous Brhadaranyaka Upanishad form the closing chapters of Śatapatha Brahmana.
- Shaunaka and Paippalada Shakhas
- The very late Gopatha Brahmana probably was the Aranyaka of the Paippaladins whose Brahmana is lost.
- “Brahmana”. Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary
- Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 35–37. ISBN978-0-521-43878-0.
- Speyer, J. S. (1906). “A remarkable Vedic Theory about Sunrise and Sunset”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Cambridge University Press. 38 (03): 723–727. doi:10.1017/s0035869x00035000.
- Brahmana Encyclopædia Britannica (2013)
- Klaus Klostermaier (1994), A Survey of Hinduism, Second Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0791421093, pages 67-69
- Moriz Winternitz (2010), A History of Indian Literature, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120802643, pages 178-180
- Moriz Winternitz (2010), A History of Indian Literature, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120802643, pages 175-176
- Klaus Klostermaier (2007), A Survey of Hinduism, Third Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0791470824, page 47
- Michael Witzel, “Tracing the Vedic dialects” in Dialectes dans les litteratures Indo-Aryennes ed. Caillat, Paris, 1989, 97–265.
- Biswas et al (1989), Cosmic Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, ISBN978-0521343541, pages 42-43
- Klaus Klostermaier (1994), A Survey of Hinduism, Second Edition, State University of New York Press, ISBN978-0791421093, page 67
- Gavin D. Flood (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 35–37. ISBN978-0-521-43878-0.
- Max Muller, Chandogya Upanishad, The Upanishads, Part I, Oxford University Press, page LXXXVII with footnote 2
- Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120814684, page 63
- The Development of the Female Mind in India, p. 27, at Google Books, The Calcutta Review, Volume 60, page 27
- The pronunciation challenge arises from the change in meaning, in some cases, if something is pronounced incorrectly; for example hrA, hrada, hradA, hradya, hrag, hrAm and hrAsa, each has different meanings; see Harvey P. Alper (2012), Understanding Mantras, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120807464, pages 104-105
- Max Muller, A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature at Google Books, page 147
- Gavin Flood (Ed) (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ISBN1-4051-3251-5, pages 67-69
- Lionel D. Barnett (1994). Antiquities of India. Asian Educational Services. pp. 203 footnote 1. ISBN978-81-206-0530-5.
- Rigveda Brahmanas: The Aitareya and Kausitaki Brahmanas of the Rigveda. Translated by AB Keith. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. 1998. p. 193. ISBN978-81-208-1359-5.
- Catherine Ludvík (2007). Sarasvatī, Riverine Goddess of Knowledge: From the Manuscript-carrying Vīṇā-player to the Weapon-wielding Defender of the Dharma. BRILL Academic. pp. 271–272. ISBN90-04-15814-6.
- Ian Philip McGreal (1996). Great Literature of the Eastern World. HarperCollins. p. 175. ISBN978-0-06-270104-6.
- Erdosy, George, ed, The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1995
- Doniger, Wendy, The Hindus, An Alternative History, Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN978-0-19-959334-7, pbk
- Theodor Aufrecht, Das Aitareya Braahmana. Mit Auszügen aus dem Commentare von Sayanacarya und anderen Beilagen, Bonn 1879; TITUS etext
- Moriz Winternitz (2010), A History of Indian Literature, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN978-8120802643, pages 176-178
- Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads at Google Books, pages 4-6
- Michael Witzel, Gour brahmana are now known RishiswarThe Vedic Canon and its Political Milieu, Harvard University Press, pages 320-321
- KB Keith, Rigveda Brahmanas, Harvard Oriental Series, pages 22-45
- ed. E. R. Sreekrishna Sarma, Wiesbaden 1968.
- KB Keith, Rigveda Brahmanas: Aitereya, Harvard Oriental Series, pages 105-344
- KB Keith, Rigveda Brahmanas: Kaushitaki, Harvard Oriental Series, pages 345-540
- “Vedic Samhitas and Brahmanas – A popular, brief introduction”.
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