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Brahmana Books: Insights into Hindu Vedic Texts

Whereas the Samhitas comprise the mantras or hymns in praise of the various Vedic deities like Agni and Indra, the Brahmanas, composed in prose, explain the mantras, prescribe their use in sacrifices and also give the know-how of the sacrifices in detail.

Yajnas and yagas sacrifices offered into the duly consecrated fire occupied the central place in Vedic religion. Hence, the need for clear and elaborate instructions to conduct them was keenly felt. And, the Brahmanas fulfilled that need.

The primary content of the Brahmanas can be stated as 'vidhi' or injunctions concerning the various rites and rituals which form a part of the sacrificial system. It comprises such details as: when to perform a sacrifice, which sacrifice for which purpose, who is the person fit to perform it, which are the various components, what are the mantras to be used, where and how, and so on.

Apart from the vidhis, the Brahmanas also contain other topics: hetu, nirukti, stuti or arthavada and akhyana.

Those portions of the work that provide logic and reasoning in support of a vidhi are called 'hetu'. Wherever certain words are explained with their etymological derivations, such statements are termed as 'nirukti'. Stuti or arthavada comprises the statements of praise in support of the injunctions and of derogation, in support of prohibitions. Akhyanas are stories or narration of ancient incidents interspersed in the body of the Brahmana literature. They are often full of esoteric meanings or philosophical speculations.

The Brahmanas occupy a very important place in the Vedic lore. They provided not only the necessary details for the performance of Vedic rites but also the inspiration to sustain them. The various discussions that used to take place during the Brahmana period, concerning the several aspects of the sacrificial religion, gave rise to the Mimamsa system of philosophy.

Each of the four Vedas has its own Brahmanas. Since the number of the extant Brahmanas is rather small compared to what has been mentioned in the grhyasutras and other ancient works, it can safely be surmised that many of them have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.

The Brahmanas available now, may be listed as follows:


Aitareya Brahmana and Kausitaki Brahmana.


Taittiriya and Satapatha Brahmana.


Tandya Brahmana, Sadvimsa Brahmana, Samavidhana Brahmana, Arseya Brahmana, Daivata Brahmana, Samhitopanisad Brahmana, Upanisad Brahmana, Vamsa Brahmana and Jaiminiya Brahmana.


Gopatha Brahmana.


Q1. How many types of Brahmanas are there?


The Brahmanas are ancient explanatory texts related to the mantras and hymns of the four Hindu Vedas. The Brahmanas are divided into 10 main territorial divisions, five of which are associated with the north and five with the south. The northern group consists of Sarasvati, Gauda, Kannauj, Maithil, and Utkal Brahmans, and the southern group comprises Maharashtra, Andhra, Dravida, Karnata, and Malabar Brahmans. Some Brahmanas contain mystical and philosophical material, which is what the Aranyakas and Upanishads are made out of. Each Veda has one or more Brahmanas, each of whom is often linked with a certain Shakha or Vedic school. There are just about twenty Brahmanas left, as most have been lost or destroyed.

Q2. Why are Brahmanas important?


The Brahmanas contain legends, myths, notes on the performance of rituals, as well as explanations of particular sacred words from the Vedas and some philosophy. More commonly, Brahmanas are used to refer to the explanation and meaning of a sacred word. The details given in the Brahmanas are often precise instructions as to how the rituals described in the Vedas should be properly performed. This may include details about the proper pronunciation (accent), chhandas (छन्दः, meters), and intonation with the coordinated movement of hand and fingers –for the chanting of mantras. The Satapatha Brahamana, for example, states that verbal perfection made a mantra infallible, while one mistake made it powerless.

Q3. What are the Brahmanas?


RigVeda has two Brahmanas


Aitareya Brahmana : it is also known as Ashvalayana Brahmana. The legendary author ascribed to this Brahmana is Mahidas Aitareya. It is of Shakala shakhas of Rig-Veda.


Kaushitaki Brahmana : It is of the Vatkal or Bashkala shakhas of Rig-Veda and is sometimes also known as Śānkhāyana Brahmana.


Samveda Brahmanas - Although Sama Veda has 10 Brahmanas, some are Jaiminiya, Mantra or Chandogya Brahmana etc.


Yajurveda Brahmanas : Satapatha Brahmana, Krishna, the Brahmanas are integrated into the Samhitas.


Atharva Veda Brahmanas : Gopatha Brahmana.

Q4. What do the Brahmanas contain?

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. They are a layer or category of Vedic Sanskrit texts embedded within each Veda and form a part of the Hindu śruti literature. Expounds scientific knowledge of the Vedic Period, including observational astronomy and, particularly about altar construction, geometry. Divergent in nature, some Brahmanas also contain mystical and philosophical material that constitutes Aranyakas and Upanishads.