Brahmana

A 17th-century manuscript page of Sadvimsha Brahmana, a Pañcaviṃśa-Brāhmaṇa supplement (Sanskrit, Devanagari). It is found embedded in the Samaveda.

The Brahmanas (; Sanskrit: ब्राह्मणम्, Brāhmaṇam) are a collection of ancient Indian texts with commentaries on the hymns of the four Vedas. They are a layer or category of Vedic Sanskrit texts embedded within each Veda, and form a part of the Hindu śruti literature.[1][2] They are primarily a digest incorporating myths, legends, the explanation of Vedic rituals and in some cases speculations about natural phenomena[3] or philosophy.[4][5]

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.[4] 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.[8] The oldest is dated to about 900 BCE, while the youngest Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), were complete by about 700 BCE.[4][9][10] 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).[11]

The Brahmana are a layer of texts in Vedic Sanskrit embedded within each Veda, and form a part of the śruti literature of Hinduism.[2] They are primarily a digest incorporating mythology and Vedic rituals and in some cases speculations about natural phenomenon[3] or philosophy.[4][5]

The Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature contain the exposition of the Vedic rites and rituals.[4][5] 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.[12][13] 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.[13] The second hymn wishes for their long life, kind relatives, and a numerous progeny.[12] 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.

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.[12] 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.[12]

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.[4] These instructions insist on exact pronunciation (accent),[15] chhandas (छन्दः, meters), precise pitch, with coordinated movement of hand and fingers – that is, perfect delivery.[5][16] Satapatha Brahamana, for example, states that verbal perfection made a mantra infallible, while one mistake made it powerless.[5] 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.[5][17]

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.[3][18]

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.

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.[20] These speculations, however, are in the context of rituals.[3][19] 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 soteriological questions.[21]

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.[4][9][10]

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).[11] Erdosy suggests that the later Brahmanas were composed during a period of urbanisation and considerable social change.[22] This period also saw significant developments in mathematics, geometry, biology and grammar.[23]

Each Brahmana is associated with one of the four Vedas, and within the tradition of that Veda with a particular shakha or school:

Keith has published his translation of Aitereya Brahmana,[30] and the Kaushitaki Brahmana.[31]