The name 'Veda' is given to
the vast body of literature made up of Mantra and Brahmana. So far
we have been referring mostly to Mantras which constitute the
Samhita portion of the Veda, now we go to the Brahmanas. Brahmanas
are most important among several other texts, which were composed in
ancient times to explain the difficult meaning and secret knowledge
of the Vedic Samhitas.
1. Meaning of the Term 'Brahmana'
The word Brahmana in neuter gender
means Brahmana texts. Why these literary compositions are given this
name? Authors of Brahmanas and their commentators have not offered
any definition of this word. Sayana has only said in the
introduction of his commentary on the Rigveda: "Which in tradition
is not a hymn or a Mantra is a Brahmana and which is not Brahmana is
a Mantra". The term 'Brahmana' has been variously interpreted by the
scholars. It comes from the word Brahman which means both the
Veda and the Mantra - "Brahma Vai Mantrah." Thus the word
Brahmana means 'that which relates to Brahman or the Veda'.
It is derived from the root brih 'to grow', 'to expand'.
In other words, the name 'Brahmana'
means the explanation of a ritual by a learned priest. Later this
word came to mean a collection of such explanations by the priest on
the science of sacrifice. The Brahmanas are thus the ritual
text-books on the details of sacrifice or Yajna.
2. Contents of the Brahmanas
Apastamba defines Brahmanas as 'Karmacodana
Brahmanani' meaning Brahmanas are injunctions for the performance of
sacrificial rites. According to him, these texts deal with the
following six topics:
Vidhi Arthavada , Ninda,
Prashansha , Purakalpa and Parakriti.
injunctions for the performance of particular rites.
comprises the numerous explanatory remarks on the meaning of
Mantras and particular rites.
censure consists in criticism and, refutation of the opponents'
means eulogy, recommendation.
refers to the performance of sacrificial rites in former times.
the achievements of others.
The main subject of the Brahmanas
is injunction (Vidhi), all other topics being subservient to it.
They may be classified differently. Shabara, in his commentary, has
summed up their subjects into ten following heads:
Hetu - reasons
Nirvacana - etymology
Ninda - censure ,condemn
Prashansha - eulogy,
Parakriya - feats/deeds
Purakalpa - legendary
Vyavadharana- Kalpana -
Upamana - illustration.
Yajna is not only sacrifice.
In Brahmanas we find it as symbolic also. Here it often represents
the knowledge of creation and thus describes the secrets of
3. Classification of the Brahmanas
Originally, there were numerous
Brahmanas, of which only a few have survived to us. There are a
number of lost Brahmanas which are quoted in the available Sanskrit
For each Samhita, there are
corresponding Brahmanas. Names of the principal Brahmanas of all the
Vedas are listed here:
(A) Rigveda :
(1 ) Aitareya Brahmana,
(2) Kaushitaki / Sankhayana Brahmana
(B) Shukla-yajurveda :
(3) Shatapatha Brahmana
(C) Krishna-Yajurveda :
(4) Taittiriya Brahmana
(5) Tandya Brahmana,
(7) Samavidhana Brahmana,
(8) Arsheya Brahmana,
(9)Daivata/ Devatadhyaya Brahmana,
(10) Upanishad Brahmana,
(11) Samhitopanishad Brahmana,
(12) Vamsha Brahmana,
(13) Jaiminiya Brahmana,
15) Jaiminiyopanishad Brahmana
(E) Atharvaveda :
(16) Gopatha Bramana