Aranyaka (आरण्यकम्)

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Aranyakas (Samskrit : आरण्यकम्) 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. The term Aranyaka (आरण्यक) is derived from the word Aranya (अरण्यम्) meaning ‘forest’. The Aranyaka texts are so-called because ‘they were works to be read in the forest’ as against the Brahmanas used by those in grihastha ashrama.[1][2]

परिचयः || Introduction

The Vedas have been divided into four styles of texts – the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The Samhitas are sometimes identified as karma-kanda (action/ritual-related section), while the Upanishads are identified as jnana-kanda (knowledge/spirituality-related section).[3] Another opinion states: "The Samhitas and the Brahmanas form the Karma-Kanda segment of the Vedas. They are apparently concerned with the ceremonial rites and rituals. The Aranyakas and the Upanishads form the Jnana-Kanda segment of the Vedas. They explicitly focus on the philosophy and spiritualism.[4][5] The Aranyakas form the third part of the Vedas, developed by the rishis living in the forests, and reflect an explicit transition in the philosophy of life of man. The speculative and intuitive thinking appears to be developing in that stage. Meditative thinking is conspicuous. The Vedic man seems to be turning from the gross to the subtle. His quest for knowledge seems to be intensified.[6] Aranyakas teach methods of meditation based upon symbolical interpretations of sacrificial rites - a process of performing Yajnas and sacrifices at the mental level. For example Brihadaranyaka Upanishad starts with such analytical mental performance of अश्वमेध यज्ञ || Aswamedha Yajna.[7]

व्युत्पत्तिः|| Etymology

Aranyakas 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 a huge bulk of yajnas and their conduct, the Aranyakas and Upanishads, on the other hand, chiefly deal with the philosophical and theosophical speculations.

Sayana gave the definition आरन्यव्रतरुपम् ब्रह्मणम् || Aaranyavratarupam brahamanam. He in his introduction to his commentary on the Aitereya Brahmana writes

ऐतरेयब्राह्मणेऽस्ति काण्डमारण्यकाभिधम् । अरण्य ऐव पाठ्यत्वादारण्यकमितीर्यते ॥ (5)

सत्रप्रकरणेऽनुक्तिररण्याध्ययनाय हि । महाव्रतस्य तस्यात्र हौत्र कर्म विविच्यते ॥ (6)

Sayana in the Taittiriya Aranyaka explains [1]

अरण्याध्ययनादेतद् अारन्यकमितीर्यते । अरणये तदधीयीतेत्येवं वाक्यं प्रचक्ष्यते ॥ (Tait. Aran. Bhas. 6)

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.

According to Sankara also Aranyaka is so called because it is to be learnt or studied in the forest. The Brahmanas advocating the actual observances of the sacrifices are meant for Grihastha (गृहस्थः) and the Aranyakas containing explanations of the rituals and allegorical speculations thereon are meant for Vanprasthas (वानप्रस्थः), who renounce family life residing in the forests for tapas and other religious activities.

Alternately, 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 (secrets) discussed in the Upanishads, therefore, another name of the Aranyakas was ‘Rahasya‘ as well. This name is mentioned in the Gopatha Brahmana (2.10, Purvabhaga) and Manusmriti (2.140) and Vasishta Dharmasutras. [8]

तस्या भर्तुरभिचार उक्तं प्रायश्चित्तं रहस्येषु || (Vash. Dham. Sutr. 4.4)

tasyā bharturabhicāra uktaṁ prāyaścittaṁ rahasyeṣu || (Vash. Dham. Sutr. 4.4)

Contents of Aranyakas

The major contents of the Aranyakas apart from the description of Karma-kanda related yajnas include the Brahmavidya (ब्रह्मविद्या । theosophy), Upasana (उपासना । meditation) and Pranavidya (प्राणविद्या) the knowledge of breath or life force. They describe the secret meaning of the yajnas and the concept of Brahma as well, thus constitute a natural transition to the Upanishads.

In the Aranyakas we find certain important aspects regarding nature, geographical, historical, social and cultural points. A few of the following such aspects are listed below[8]

देशः || Geographical Locations

In the Aranyakas we find the names of the countries such as Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Videha, and Kashi. Kurushetra is described as a sacred place where devatas namely Indra, Agni, Soma, Vishnu, and Visvedevas conducted yajnas, hence is also called as Devayajana (Brha. Aran. 1.1.2).

नद्यः || Rivers

Taittriya Aranyaka (10.1.13) mentions the names of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sindhu, Varuna, Gomati, Trishtami, Supartu, Rasa, Sveta, Kubha and Mehamna. Of these Sarasvati river was personified as a devata and worshipped. In the present days, this river has dried up and known to flow underground.

ऋतवः || Rtu-s (Seasons)

The chief among seasons is personified as the Samvatsara (a year). He controls all seasons which follow his orders. Names of seasons mentioned in Aranyakas and the corresponding seasons in the present day are given below.

Seasons according Aranyakas and Present Day
S.No Season name Months acc to Aranyakas[9] Months Acc to Present day
1 Vasanta Madhu and Madhava Chaitra and Vaisakha
2 Grishma Shukra and Suchi Jyeshta and Ashadha
3 Varsha Nabha and Nabhasya Sravana and Bhadrapada
4 Sharat Isha and Urja Asveyuja and Kartika
5 Hemanta Saha and Sahasya Margashira and Paushya
6 Shishira Tapa and Tapasya Magha and Phalguna

Of all the seasons the most important is Vasanta, when all yajnas and yagas can be initiated and performed.

धान्यानि || Grains

In the Aranyakas we find the mention of different grains such as - Vrihi (व्रीहिः), Priyangu (प्रियङ्गुः) Mudga (मुद्गः) Masha (माषः) Shyamaka wheat (श्यामकः) Tila (तिलः) Yava (यवः) Anu (अणु) Khalva (खल्वः) Nivara (नीवारः) and Masura (मसूरः). Farmers and tillers used to worship 'Shunasira (शुनासीरः)' a class of devatas. 'Shuna (शुना)' were the devatas who commanded rains and sunlight, while 'Sira (सीरः)' was the hala (plough) devata. Agricultural processes were well described.

क्षीरद्रव्याणि || Milk Products

Cow and cow's milk were considered sacred and worshipped as a form of Bhudevi (earth) and Aditi (mother of devatas) in Aranyakas. Pratidhuk (warm freshly obtained milk), Shruta (boiled milk), Shara (cream on the milk), Dadhi (curds), Mastu (मस्तुः | watery part of the curd, whey), Atanchana (आतञ्चनम् | process of curdling), Navanita (नवनीतम् | butter), Ghrta (घृतम् | ghee), Amiksha (आमिक्षा | mix of boiled and coagulated milk), Vajina (वाजिनम् | scum of curdled milk), Payasya (पयस्या | curds), Prushad (पृषद्), Ajya (आज्यम् | melted or clarified butter), Shnta (षांटा) etc are included under the types of milk products mentioned in these texts.

सोमलता || Soma Plant

Soma rasa was the main havis mentioned in Aranyakas considered as the food for devatas, and represents Chandra (moon).

एष वै सोमो राजा देवानामन्नं यच्चन्द्रमाः। eṣa vai somo rājā devānāmannaṁ yaccandramāḥ। (Shat. Brah.[10]

In the hillslopes of Munjavat mountains, these plants are found, with 15 variegated leaves, developing one each till Purnima tithi and thereafter shedding one leaf everyday till Amavasya when it stands as a bare stem. Again it develops the leaves from Amavasya till Purnima tithi. Somarasa is said to lighten the senses, and hence rtviks and the yajamana consume Somarasa during the yajnas. It is bought using gold, clothes, animal hide, a she-goat and milk yielding cows. In its absence Arjuna, Phalguna and Putika (पूतिका) creepers are used.

वृक्षाः || Plants

An interesting account of the usage of plants has been observed in Aranyakas. Many plant leaves, bark, twigs, branches etc are used extensively and their usage in different yajnas have been clearly shown to give different kinds of results.

  • Apamarga (अपामार्गः | Prickly chaff flower, Botanical name is Achyranthes aspera) is used in the Rajasuya yajna and performing the "Aparmarga homa' will aid in the destruction of rakshasas.
  • Arka (अर्कः | Crown flower plant, Botanical name is Calotropis gigantea ) leaves are used in Chayana homas.
  • Asvattha (अश्वत्थः | Peepul tree, Botanical name is Ficus religiosa) a very sacred tree, is the tree where Maruts and other devatas reside. It is used in Rajasuya yajna and chayana. Its use brings about destruction of enemies and victory to the yajamana.

Similarly many other plants such as Audumbara, Kadira, Sami, Kramuka (used for samidhas in yajnas), Nyagrodha, Palasa, Devadara, Varana etc are used extensively in rajasuya, vajapeya, yajnas and chayana apart from using them to make the seats, yupas, agnihotra vessals, ladles, shankus, rathas and many other things.[8]

Animals (forest and domesticated), snakes and birds of may kinds have also found mention in Aranyakas.

Comparison of Aranyakas and Brahmanas

Following are the similarities between Aranyakas and Brahmanas with respect to yajnas and yagas mentioned in them.

  • Aranyakas, similar to the brahmanas, explain the meanings of words (padartha nirvachana) found in the samhitas, along with vyutpatti (etymology) and hence they are the basis for the construction of various nighantus (dictionaries).[8]
  • Aranyakas have ritualistic descriptions similar to the Brahmanas, with symbolism and mysticism.
    • Pravargya in Taitreya Aranyaka (Prapathakas 4 and 5) and Shatapataha Brahmana (Kanda 14)
    • Arunaketuka chayana of Taitreya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 1)
    • Kushmanda homa and Brahmayagna in Taitreya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 2)
    • Chaturhota-chiti in Taitreya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 3)
  • They have the विधि || Vidhi and अर्थवाद || Arthavada features like Brahmanas. Like the Brahmanas they also explain, glorify, justify and recommend particular rites as seen in Arthavadas.
  • Aranyakas exactly as the brahmanas use etymologies for emphasizing the significance of any particular rite. For Ex Aitereya Aranyaka (2.2.2) in the Mahavrata rite the significance of प्राण || Prana (Breath) is emphasized.
  • Indirect designation is vastly used in Aranyakas for explaining instances or descriptions related to deities by परोक्ष विधान || paroksha vidhana. For ex : derivation of name of Indra (Aitr. Aran. 2.4.3) and explanation of word Pada (Aitr. Aran. 2.2.2) [2]

Comparison of Aranyakas and Upanishads

The main characteristic bridging feature of the Aranyakas is the tendency of inwardisation or moving to the higher plane of mental faculties (symbolism and mental sacrifices) from outer or formal or actions involved in yajnas. Thus, the words Atma and Brahman are substituted for the word Prana in the Aranyakas. The aranya vaasis are trained to wean away from the performance of outer worldly formal sacrifices (consisting of oblations of rice or milk) and to focus on the inner or mental sacrifices substituting them with simpler ceremonial items such as water. For example, for Arunachiti the bricks are used in the form of water (Tait. Aran. 1.22).[2]

Thus, although yajnas are described in Aranyakas they expound their symbolism and mysticism rather than focus on the action of the yajna-karmas and the associated rules for their performance and the explanation of the rites. For ex the Pravargya (प्रवर्ग्य ) ritual is described in the Taitreya Aranyaka identifies Pravargya with the sun or Aditya (Tait. Aran. 5.4.8) suggesting that the essence consists of meditating upon it as Aditya rather than in performing the actual ritual. Arunaketuka deals with Arunaketuka or fire, which begins with a highly philosophical description of kaala (कालः).[2]

The creation of the universe, the power of the Supreme, Om, atma 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 Brahman as are mentioned in this Aranyaka. In this reference the Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi samvada is often quoted. Brihadaranyaka found in the Shatapatha Brahmana which is highly referred of all Upanishads, is regarded as 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. Questions began to be asked about topics such as Universe, creation, death, and moksha. Thus the question answer format that we see in the Upanishads is by no means lacking in the Aranyakas.[8][2]

Classification of the Aranyakas

Today only seven Aranyakas are available. There is no Aranyaka which belongs to the Atharvaveda.[5][11]

Available and Lost Aranyakas[8]
Veda Available Aranyakas Lost Aranyakas
Rig Veda Aitareya Aranyaka Paingi, Bahvrichi, Asvalayana and Galava Aranyakas
Krishna Yajurveda Taittriya Aranyaka Charaka, Svetasvatara, Kathaka, Jabala, Khandikeya, Haridravikara, Tumburu, Ahvarakara, Kankata, Chagaleya Aranyakas
Maitrayaniya Aranyaka
Shukla Yajurveda Madhyandina Brhadaranyaka
Kanva Brhadaranyaka
Samaveda Talavakara or Jaiminiya-Upanishad Aranyaka Bhallavya, Kalabvya, Raurukya, Shatyayana
Atharvaveda May have existed but none are presently available

Among them Aitareya Aranyaka, Brhdaranyaka and Taittiriya Aranyaka are most important for study.

Important Aranyakas

Here we proceed with a brief description of the contents of four important Aranyakas belonging to different vedas.

Aitareya Aranyaka

Aitareya Aranyaka belongs to the Shakala shaka of the Rigveda and it consists of five books each of which is again called Aranyaka (आरण्यकम्). The five books together contain 18 adhyayas (अध्यायाः) subdivided into Kandas (खण्डाः).[2] There are a few variations about the rshis who gave the Aitareya aranyaka.[1]

  • Mahidasa Aitareya, who had compiled and expounded the Aitereya Brahmana also expounded the first of the three (books) Aranyakas of the Aitareya Aranyaka.
  • Ashvalayana expounded the fourth Aranyaka.
  • Saunaka compiled the fifth.

Aitareya Aranyaka says ‘The same Real is worshiped as उक्थ || Uktha in the Rk, as Agni in the Yajuh and as Mahavrata in the Sama.’ (Aitareya Aranyaka, 3. 2. 3. 12). Thus the Aranyaka introduces the concept of unifying the different aspects given in Vedas thus paving way to philosophical considerations.

  • The First Aranyaka : The importance of ‘Maha-vrata’ (which is a part of the Gavaamayana sattra, described in Aitareya Brahmana), a form of Agnistoma yajna (one of the Haviryajnas). The most important constituent of Mahavrata, is the pressing of soma plant and the chanting of Mahavrata stotra made up of five Samans, and the day it is chanted is called Mahavrata Day.[2] There are eulogies about Indra getting the power to kill Vrtrasura because of Somapana by conducting Mahavrata.[8] Because of the power of these mantras, they should not be heard by pregnant women.[5]
  • The Second Aranyaka : It has six adhyayas of which the first three are about Uktha, and ‘Pranavidya’ – meaning, Prana, the Vital Air that constitutes the life-breath of a living body is also the life-breath of all mantras, all vedas and all vedic declarations (cf. 2.2.2 of Aitareya Aranyaka). It is in this portion of the Aranyaka that one finds specific statements about how one who follows the vedic injunctions and performs the yajnas goes to become the Agnidevata, Fire, or the Sun or Air and how one who transgresses the Vedic prescriptions is born into lower levels of being, namely, as birds and reptiles. Adhyayas 4 to 6 constitute the Aitareya Upanishad.[1]
  • The Third Aranyaka : It is also known as ‘Samhitopanishad’. This elaborates on the various ways – like samhita, pada-paatha (पद पाठ), krama-paatha (क्रम पाठ), etc. – of reciting the Vedas and the nuances of the svaras (स्वर-s), division of vowels and consonants. It also contains the references of Shakalya and Mandukeya and describes the usage of technical words like निर्भुज (samhita) प्रतृष्ण (pada), sandhi, etc.[1]
  • The Fourth Aranyaka : A small aranyaka containing the collection of ‘Mahaanaamni richaas (महानाम्नी ऋचाः)’ that are chanted on the 5th day of Mahavrata. These are also available in Samaveda.
  • The Fifth Aranyaka : It is devoted to the nishkevalya sastra. This is in sutra style and recited during the afternoon ceremony of the Mahavrata.[1]

Aitareya Aranyaka presents highest level of spiritual thoughts, explains about universality and mentions the vyutpatti or etymology of a large number of rishi names.[8]

Taittiriya Aranyaka

Consists of 10 Prapathakas or Aranas or chapters which are divided into anuvakas (अनुवाक). The first two prapathakas are known as Kaathaka, which were not native to the tradition of the Taittiriya shakha. There is a disagreement about the number of anuvakas and interpolations, as per the different commentators of the Tattiriya Aranyaka.

  • Prapathaka 1 (called as Bhadram) discusses the upasana of Arunaketuka fire and Istaka-chayana. Suryopasakas (those who worship Surya) call this Aruna. The practice of chanting these mantras while performing Suryanamaskaras to prevent all diseases is seen in the present days also. This prapathaka also discusses the tattva of Surya, Saptasuryas, formation and nature of a year, seasons.[5]
  • Prapathaka 2 (Sahavai) is about five Mahā-yajñas which include Svaadhyaya, the Panchamahayajnas, Yagnopaveeta dharana vidhi (ceremonially wearing the upaveeta) and its importance, arghyapradana (offering of water), sandhya and enumerate the mantras for Kushmanda homa.[2][5]
  • Prapathaka 3 (Chitti), contains mantras for Chaturhotra-chiti, Brahmamedha and Purushamedha.
  • Prapathaka 4 (Yunjate), provides the mantras used in the pravargya yajna. Here there is a description of Kurukshetra and geographical location of Khandava vana. There is a description of 'Abhichara' mantras also in this section to defeat the enemies.[1]
  • Prapathaka 5 (Devavai), contains the brahmana or the explanation of the Pravargya-yajna.
  • Prapathaka 6 (Pare), contains the पित्रमेध || ‘pitṛmedha’ mantras, recited during the rituals for the disposal of the dead body.
  • Prapathakas 7 (Shiksha) a grammatical treatise, 8 (Brahmavidya) and 9 (Bhrgu), are the three vallis of the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad.
  • Prapathaka 10 (Narayaniya), is also known as the "Mahanarayana Upanishad" also considered as Khila kanda. The number of anuvakas in this section are varied and scholars have divergent views.[1][2]

Other important parts of this Aranyaka include

The famous Subrahmanya richa (1.12.3)

The description of hell is mentioned. (1.20.1).

Four types of waters are mentioned - चत्वारि व अपाम् रूपाणि | मेघो विद्युत स्तनयित्नुर्वृष्टिः || Chatvari va apaam rupaani. Megho vidyut stanayitnurvrishtih (1.24.1)

The यज्ञोपवीत || yajnopavita (sacred thread) is found mentioned for the first time in this aranyaka. It is stated that a yajna performed by a person wearing the sacred thread was well recognised and brahmana reciting the vedas while wearing the sacred thread performs actually a yajna: प्रसृतो ह यज्ञोपवीतिनो यज्ञ. (2.1.1)

Boudha bhikshus were designated as sramanas (श्रमणाः) in this aranyaka; the same word refers to a person who performs penance (2.7.1). It is the most useful aranyaka for explanations of many mantras.

Brhadaaranyaka of Shukla Yajurveda

The 14th section of the Shatapatha Brahmana is called as the Brhdaranyaka of Shukla Yajur veda.

Brhadaranyaka of Madhyandina shaka

It is the aranyaka associated with Shatapata brahmana of Shukla Yajurveda. It has 6 chapters and 44 sub brahmanas in all. These sub-brahmanas have further been divided into कण्ड || kandas and कण्डिका || kandikaas.

Brhadaranyaka of Kanva shaka

This aranyaka is composed of 6 brahmanas or chapters and a total of 47 sub-brahmanas. however this aranyaka is also named as Upanishad. It has a description of the intricacies of yagnas and the main subject matter relates to the soul. Yagnavalkya is the main characted of this aranyaka with whom King Janaka of Videha engages in spiritual discussion. This Upanishad is widely popular and the exhalted image of Brahmavaadinis like Gargi and Maitreyi is narrated in it.

Talavakaara Aranyaka

Consists of four chapters, which are further subdivided into anuvakas and kandas. The famous Kenaopanishad consists of the 10th to 14th anuvaka of the 4th chapter.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Upadhyaya, Baldev. (1958) Vaidik Sahitya.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 I. C. Deshpande (1975) Ph. D. Thesis : A Critical Study of the Aranyakas. Savitribai Phule Pune University.
  3. Sharma, Suman (1981) Aitareya Aranyaka – A Study. New Delhi:Eastern Book Linkers
  4. Taittiriya Aranyaka with Sayana Bhashya (1926) Pune: Anandashram
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Pt. Suryanarayana Sastry Malladi. (1982) Samskruta Vangmaya Charitra, Volume 1, Vaidika Vangmayam. Hyderabad : Andhra Sarasvata Parishat
  6., 6th Paragraph
  7., Part c
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Raghunadhacharya, S. B. (1992) Aarshavijnana Sarvasvamu, Volume Three : Aranyakalu. Tirupati: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Press
  9. Balachandra Rao, S. (2014) Indian Astronomy. Concepts and Procedures. Benguluru : M.P. Birla Institute of Management
  10. Shatapatha Brahmana (Kanda 1 Adhyaya 6 दर्शोपचारः)
  11. Dr. Shashi Tiwari (Retd.), Sanskrit Department, Delhi University in Introduction to Aranyakas on Vedic Heritage Portal