Elacqua, Joseph, et. al. "Brahmanas." Faithology.com. Faithology, 27 February 2013. Web. 19 April 2014.

Elacqua, J., et. al. (2013, Feb 27). Brahmanas. Faithology. Retrieved from http://faithology.com/texts/brahmanas

Elacqua, Joseph, et. al"Brahmanas" Faithology, LLC. Last modified February 27, 2013. http://faithology.com/texts/brahmanas

Elacqua, Joseph, et. alBrahmanas. Faithology, LLC, 2012. http://faithology.com/texts/brahmanas (Accessed Apr 19, 2014).

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  • Last Updated: February 27, 2013
  • Originally Published: February 27, 2013
  • Brahmanas


The Brahmanas serve to describe the origin and meaning of the ritual sacrifices described in the Samhitas. In addition, these texts aim to prove the significance and validity of mantras and chants as well as to describe how these sacrifices were intimately connected to the ancient Hindu world. As such, social order and social life (as well as political and military aspects) appear frequently within a religious context. Each of the Brahmanas also assumes its audience’s familiarity with the Vedas and the intricacies of Hindu sacrifices as almost all topics discussed are described from the angle of ritual. Though varying in their use of explanation, polemic, exegesis, philosophy, and mythology, the authors of the Brahmanas attempted above all to explain the powers operating in the world and how these powers might be influenced by the means of properly understood and accurately performed rituals.


The Hindu lord Vishnu, depicted here with Lakshmi, gained prominence through the Brahmanas

In terms of chronology, the Brahmanas are just as difficult to date as the Samhitas. Many of these texts are thought to have existed in ancient times due to a great number of existing quotes from lost Brahmanas. Though scholars have traced the beginnings of the Brahmanas to the prose commentary contained in the Black Yajurveda recensions, it is impossible to tell if there was one original Brahmana from which the genre of Brahmanas was born. As the Brahmanas embody the oldest existent collection of Indian prose, it is clear that by the time they were formed, the Rigveda Samhita had already been composed and the poetic hymns were very distant. It seems clear enough that the other Samhitas also predated theBrahmanas. However, it also seems that the final compilation of these last three Samhitas was roughly contemporaneous with the beginnings of Brahmana literature. Thus, the latest sections of the Samhitas may be contemporaneous with the earliest sections of the Brahmanas. In addition, early Buddhist literature presupposes the existence of Brahmana texts, so the earliest Brahmanas must have predated the advent of Buddhism. Considering that the massive number of existent Brahmanas is in all likelihood a fraction of what may have once existed, it is reasonable that the main Brahmanas came to exist between the 10th and 7th centuries BCE.

Each of the existent Brahmanas corresponds to a particular Samhita. The Rigvedic Brahmanas are the Aitareya and the Shankhayana (or Kaushitaki) Brahmanas. The first of these is comprised of forty adhayayas, divided into eight sections. The latter ten sections are thought to be of later origin. The Shankhayana Brahmana contains thirty adhayayas and is thought to postdate the Aitareya Brahmana. The Gopatha Brahmana, thought to be among the last Vedic texts, relates to the Atharvaveda Samhita. Similarly, the Samavedic Brahmanas are the Pancavimsha (or Tandyamaha) and Jaiminiya Brahmanas. Both of these texts are thought to be among the oldest Brahmanas. The former consists of twenty-five "books" while only fragments remain of the latter. The Taittiriya Brahmana is related to the Black Yajurveda and thought to be merely a continuation of this text, as it seems to contain the earliest examples of this type of literature. The Shatapatha Brahmana—one of the most extensive and well-known Brahmanas—relates to the White Yajurveda and consists of one hundred adhayayas. Its two recensions, the Kanya and the Madhyadina, are named for the two White Yajurveda recensions, and likewise follow their contents.

The contents of the Brahmanas are arranged into two categories. One is called Vidhi, or "precepts." These are the rules and regulations for the performance of rituals. The other category is the Arthavada, or "explanations of meaning." It is this section that provides the commentary on and interpretations of the sacrificial rites. This latter section can be further subdivided into the Itihasas, Akyanas, and Puranas, These subsections contain myths and legends that coincide with the explanations and interpretations of the sacrifices. The Itihasas and Akyanas include the stories of gods and men, while the Puranas are legends of origin or of creation. It is notable that there is no single account of creation—or even a central one—to be found among the Vedic texts. While some of these legends may have their origins in earlier antiquity, there are others that were almost certainly invented by the Brahmana compilers.

The Brahmanas all generally agree with each other in terms of the core of their contents. They all shift the beginnings of Indian sacrifice back to a much more remote past. The sacrifices were elevated in the Brahmanas to the most important of acts: the greatest aim of existence and of the utmost importance in Brahmanic literature, alongside the avoidance of pollution and evil. In these texts, the sacrifices have become a truly natural part of the Hindu lifestyle. Even the slightest ritual actions are described in complete detail. Thus, the Brahmanas have turned the rituals into a religious system complete with its own laws and procedures.

Though the old Rigvedic deities continue to appear in the Brahmanas as they appeared in the other three Samhitas, their significance has faded and their importance only centers around the sacrifices. Oppositely, deities considered minor in the Rigveda gained greater prominence in the other Samhitas and also the Brahmanas. Such deities include Vishnu, Rudra (of whom the name Shiva was originally an epithet), and Prajapati—the Brahmanic creator of the world who is exalted as the highest deity of the Brahmanas. Just as the deities were reclassified in the Brahmanas, so were Hindu practices. For example, the Brahmanas contain additional rituals such as an ascension ceremony for kings. During this ritual, the king is raised to the status of a divinity and an elaborate horse sacrifice is performed.

The Brahmanas also demonstrate the full development of the Indian caste system. In these texts, the priestly caste—the brahmans—are empowered as the highest of the four castes. Many of the texts relate the origin myth of how the four castes arose respectively from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of Prajapati. Some of the Brahmanas equate the brahman class itself with divinity. The brahmans are exalted above all others and granted the abilities to touch any items or perform any acts that have been otherwise declared taboo.