Aranyakas are generally the concluding portions of the several
Brahmanas, but on account of their distinct character, contents and
language deserve to be reckoned as a distinct category of
literature. They are partly included in the Brahmanas themselves,
but partly they are recognized as independent works. Aranyaka
literature is rather small as compared to the Brahmanas. Whereas the
Brahmanas deal with the huge bulk of sacrificial paraphernalia which
represents Karma-Kanda, the Aranyakas and Upanishads, on the
other hand, chiefly deal with the philosophical and theosophical
speculations which represent Jnana-Kanda.
1. Meaning of the Term 'Aranyaka'
The term Aranyaka is derived from
the word 'Aranya' meaning 'forest'. The Aranyaka texts are
so-called because 'they were works to be read in the forest' in
contradistinction to the regular Brahmanas, which were to be read in
the village. Sayana in the Taittiriya Aranyaka explains-
Yajna and other rituals are
prescribed only for those who live in homes and lead the life of
house-holders. But it has to be understood that Vedic rituals are
intended to confer not only material benefits but also mental purity
by constant discipline. Having obtained purity, one must seek the
solitude of forests for further concentration and meditation. The
Brahmanas advocating the actual observances of the sacrifices are
meant for Grihastha and the Aranyakas containing explanations
of the rituals and allegorical speculations thereon are meant for
Vanprasthas, who renounce family life residing in the forests
for tapas and other religious activities. Winternitz calls them as
‘'forest texts'’ to be studied by forest-hermits.
Or the reason might be that these texts were propounded by the
Rishis who resided in the forests and thought upon the secrets of
the Yajnas. Aranyakas describe the actions of life and also
acquisition of knowledge. These works form the basis of the
Rahasya or secrets discussed in the Upanishads, therefore,
another name of the Aranyakas was 'Rahasya' as well. This
name is mentioned in the Gopatha Brahmana and Manusmriti.
2. Contents of the Aranyakas
The major contents of the
Aranyakas are theosophy (Brahmavidya), meditation (Upasana)
and knowledge of breath (Pranavidya). They describe the
secret meaning of the sacrifice and the concept of Brahma as well.
The creation of the universe, the power of the Almighty, Om, the
soul and the cycle of birth and death are explained in
Brihadaranyaka in a simple manner. No nation, no country, no culture
in this age of science has been able to produce such great truths
related to the knowledge of the Self and the Almighty as are
mentioned in this Aranyaka. In this reference dialogue between
Maitreyi and Yajnavalkya is often quoted. Aranyakas are generally
regarded as a link between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. The
oldest Upanishads are in part included in these texts Taittiriya
Aranyaka is only a continuation of the Taittiriya Brahmana.
Brihadaranyaka found in the Shatapatha Brahmana, is the greatest of
all Upanishads; it is regarded the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad also.
Aranyakas play the role
of the middle path and help to bridge the gulf between the Karma-
kanda and Jnana-kanda. In the Aranyakas we find certain
important geographical, historical, social and cultural points also.
All this makes their study more significant.
3. Classification of the Aranyakas
Today only seven
Aranyakas are available. There is no Aranyaka which belongs to the
(A) Aranyakas of the
(1) Aitareya Aranyaka
(2) Kaushitaki/ Shankhayana Aranyaka
(B) Aranyakas of the
(3) Talavakara or
(4) Chandogya- Aranyaka
(C) Aranyaka of
(D) Aranyakas of Krishna
(7) Maitrayaniya Aranyaka
Among them Aitareya
Aranyaka, Shatapatha Aranyaka and Taittiriya Aranyaka are most
important for study.