The Brahmanas are a section in the Vedas and were said to be mostly written in 1400-1200 BC (Haug 47). The Brahamanas mostly consist of the proper way to conduct ritual practices of the priestly class. Hindus believe that if they practice these rituals it will grant them pride of acting rightly because performance of rituals was equal to acting rightly (Satheye 435). Each particular Veda has a Brahamana (Haug 6), but some of the teachings in each may be a little different, but still represent the same general idea. Each Brahmana was not just one part of itself, but each Brahmana was broken into more precise parts explaining different ideas and rituals.
The first Brahmana that will be looked at is Aitareya Brahmana, which is appended to the Rg Veda. At the time these hymns were written the caste system was not absolute and was subject to change because it was possible for the lower classes to become Brahmins (Satheye 436). At the time Hindus also relied on ritual practices in order to survive and they also had to be correctly done otherwise they were not legitimate (Satheye 440). The Aitareya Brahmana shows what Hindus are supposed to do through their life and the details associated with these rituals. For instance, Brahmin priests were evaluated on how correctly they would perform rituals (Satheye 435). They were made to believe that what they do in their life, good or bad, could affect their descendents, so behavior along with ritual practice was taken very seriously (Satheye 439). The Aitareya Brahmana also discusses the meaning of mantra and the application of mantra to the Hindus (Haug 3). Hindus believe that there are connections between the origins of their existence and the sacrificial rituals they perform and the Aitareya Brahmanas help explain the meaning of this (Haug 3). The many gods’ that they recognize now were not very consistent in the Aitareya Brahmana, which means there wasn’t much knowledge about these gods except for the ones that are known about now (Satheye 439). Finally, the Aitareya Brahmana is “inspired by ideals of safety, self-preservation, and rare preservation” (Satheye 440) and goes into detail of what this is all about.
The next Brahmanas are attached to the Vedic hymn collection called the Sama Veda, which also talks about the rules of certain rituals and practices. The one section of these Brahmanas that will be discussed is the Jaiminiya Brahmana. The second Brahmana of the Sama Veda is called the Chandogya Brahmana. One of the things explained is what type of person is allowed to participate in rituals and which people are not (Bodewitz 151). The sacred plant soma, which is a hallucinogenic used in some rituals, is also only to be consumed by certain individuals during rituals (Bodewitz 151). As mentioned in the Aitareya Brahmana, the Jaiminiya Brahmana also reinforces the fact that there is a certain way that rituals should be performed (Bodewitz 151). Lastly, the Jaiminiya Brahmana has very close similarities with that of another Brahmana called the Catayana Brahmana (Oertel 15). The reason that these two Brahmanas are similar is due to the stories that are told in them.
The second Brahmana which is part of the Sama Veda is one of the more popular. The Chandogya Brahmana is described as being quite long and a very important text (Lincoln 128). Where and when it was written are hard to tell, but scholars say it most likely comes from Northern India (Lincoln 128). The Chandogya Brahmana was a lot like other Vedic texts as it referred to other texts or most of it was made up of previous texts maybe just written in different context (Lincoln 128). One of the reasons that it was written was to explain the significance and the meaning of the four asramas (Olivelle 205). The four asramas refer to the four stages in a Hindu’s life: the student stage, the householder stage, the forest dweller stage and finally the renouncer stage. Although there is some speculation from certain scholars whether or not this is actually what the Chandogya Brahmana consists of; there is a lot of disagreement (Olivelle 206). Those that believe this is true have studied that the Hindus believe the first three stages only get you merit where as if you are able to get to the renouncer stage you will able to achieve immortality (Olivelle 205). Some of the other rituals and ideas mentioned are that of sacrificial practices and even about the “understanding of the cosmos, the self and nature of being” (Lincoln 128).
The Yajur Veda contains two Brahmanas, the Shatapatha Brahmana and Taittirya Brahmana. The Shatapatha Brahmana explains how the Vedic hymns are used in certain areas of Brahmanical rituals (Muir 31). The Shatapatha Brahmana is the only one that gives any detail on the ritual of human sacrifices (Dumont 177). The concept of certain gods or deities also comes up and how they came into being and certain myths believed about these divine beings. The god Visnu is mentioned in previous Vedic hymns, but in this particular Brahmana Visnu is perceived a little different and even portrayed in new legends that were not heard of before (Muir 32). Visnu is a also portrayed as a tortoise instead of Prajapati who was usually depicted as a tortoise in earlier mythology (Muir 40). There is also the myth of all the gods creating Prajapati (Muir 38), but then their sort of confusion with the creation of Agni (the fire god) by Prajapati (Muir 40). Another myth known in the Shataptha Brahmana is about the gods being able to achieve immortality (Muir 41), but even though they were all immortal there was still an inequality that developed among the gods (Muir 44).
The Taittiriya Brahamana is second Brahmana that is part of the Yajur Veda and has some contrasting rituals and explanations of these rituals. The Shatapatha Brahmana mentioned human sacrifices, but in the Taittiriya Brahmana these human sacrifices were symbolic and that were allowed to go as soon as the fire was about to consume them (Dumont 177). The interesting thing was that they even had a list of the names that were to be used in these human sacrifices (Dumont 178-182). Although both of these texts talk about human sacrifice as an important ritual there is no evidence of actual human sacrifice (Dumont 178). Another ritual discussed in the Taittiriya Brahmana is the full moon sacrifices (Dumont 585), which require following certain procedures in order for it to be done correctly. One of these procedures would be the “ritual cleaning, heating and brushing of sacrificial spoons” (Dumont 585).
The final Brahmana that will be explained is the Gopatha Brahmana, which belongs to fourth Veda; the Atharvaveda. This Brahmana itself is split into two separate parts: the Uttara-Brahmana and the Purva-Brahmana. The Uttara-Brahmana has about 123 different sections, but 79 of these sections take ideas from other texts or they are very closely linked (Bloomfield 4-5). The Purva-Brahmana is all about “mystics, theosophical treatment of the sutra and other forms of soma sacrifice” (Bloomfield 7). Three different soma sacrifices are discussed in the Brahmana (Bloomfield 11). Since the two parts discuss different topics, scholars suggest that the Gopatha Brahmana are written by two different people (Bloomfield 8). The Gopatha Brahmana is also said to not have much originality because it was written so late in history (Bloomfield 10).
In conclusion, the Brahmanas discussed are not necessarily the most popular, but scholars had done the most research on these Brahmanas and their relation to Hindu spiritual life. Even though some of the sources provided in these Brahmanas are taken from other texts they are still considered some of the most prestigious and respected texts not only by Hindus, but by scholars as well. Another misconception is that these would be the only Brahmanas surviving, but there are many more surviving that are appended to each Veda, but are not as well known. The Brahmanas are very complex so this research would only be the scratching of the surface of the Brahmanas, but gives the basic details of what they are all about.
References and Further Recommended Reading
Bloomfield, Maurice. (1898) “The Position of the Gopatha-Brahmana in Vedic Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 19, 1-11.
Bodewitz, H.W. (1977) “Notes on the Jaiminiya Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2, 150-157.
Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1959) “The Full-Moon and New-Moon Sacrifices in the Taittiriya-Brahmana (Second Part): The Third Prapathaka of the Third Kanta of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 103 (April), 584-608.
Dumont, Paul-Emile. (1963) “The Human Sacrifice in the Taittiriya-Brahmana: The Fourth Prapathaka of the Third Kanda of the Taittiriya-Brahmana with Translation.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 107 (April), 177-182.
Haug, Martin. (1863) The Aitareya Brahmanam of the Rigveda. Bombay: Government Central Control Book Depot.
Lincoln, Bruce. (2006) “How to Read a Religious Text: Reflections on Some Passages of the Chandogya Upanisad.” History of Religions, 46 (November), 127-139.
Muir, J. (1863) “Legends Chiefly from the Satapatha Brahmana.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 20, 31-48.
Oertel, Hanns. (1897) “Contributions from the Jaiminiya Brahmana to the History of the Brahmana Literature.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 18, 15-48.
Olivelle, Patrick. (1996) “Dharmaskandhah and Brahmasamsthah: A Study of Chandogya Upanisad.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 116 (April-June), 205-219.
Sathaye, S.G. (1969) “The Aitareya Brahmana and the Republic.” Philosophy of East and West, 19 (October), 435-441.
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Article written by Tyler Scholten (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.