The Brahmanas (/ˈbrɑːmənə/; Sanskrit: ब्राह्मणम्, Brāhmaṇa) are a collection of ancient Indian texts with commentaries on the hymns of the four Vedas. They are primarily a digest incorporating myths, legends, the explanation of Vedic rituals and in some cases philosophy. They are a layer or category of text embedded within each Veda, and form a part of the Hindu śruti literature.
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 Brahmanas are primarily a digest incorporating myths, legends, the exposition of rituals in the Vedas and in some cases philosophy. 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),
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.
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 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.1000BCE, but for the most part are older than the text of the Sutras. The dating of the Brahmanas is controversial, with oldest being 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). 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.
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 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.
Shatapatha Brahmana, Madhyandina recension (SBM)
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.