Brahmana (ब्राह्मणम्)

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Brahmanas (Samskrit: ब्राह्मणम्) are a collection of ancient texts with commentaries on the mantras of the four Vedas. They are attached to each Veda and contain the explanation for the difficult meanings and associated usage in vaidika kriyas.

परिचयः॥ Introduction

The Vedas have been divided into four styles of texts – the Samhitas, the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas and the Upanishads.[1]. The subject matter of the whole Veda is divided into Karma-Kanda, Upasana-Kanda and Jnana-Kanda. The Karma-Kanda or Ritualistic section deals with various sacrifices and rituals. The Upasana-Kanda or Worship section deals with various kinds of worship or meditation. The Jnana-Kanda or Knowledge-Section deals with the highest knowledge of Brahman. The Samhitas and the Brahmanas constitute Karma-Kanda; the Aranyakas constitute Upasana-Kanda; and the Upanishads constitute Jnana-Kanda[2]

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.[3]

Swami Sivananda says: The Brahmana portions guide people to perform sacrificial rites. They are prose explanations of the method of using the Mantras in the Yajna or the sacrifice. The Brahmana portion is suitable for the householders.[4]

Dr. K.S. Narayanacharya explains that Brahmanas are meant as explanatory texts, attached to each branch, in simple prose.

"These quote the original texts and then add notes, in order to decipher the symbolic language of the basic texts sometimes, using language of myths and giving us clues, etymologies and connecting different portions together, some other times".[5]

व्युत्पत्तिः || Etymology

The word [ब्राह्मणम्] error: {{lang}}: missing language tag (help) || Brahmana in neuter gender means Brahmana texts. One wonders why these literary compositions are given this name even though the authors of Brahmanas and their commentators have not offered any definition of this word.

  • According to Shatapatha Brahmana the word Brahma (ब्रह्म) means the samhita part of the four vedas. The commentaries which formed by collection of mantras from the samhita parts of the four vedas and adding the injunctions for their usage are termed as Brahmanas.[6]

ब्रह्म वै मन्त्रः (Shat. Brah.

सप्ताक्षरं वै ब्रह्मर्गित्येकमक्षरं यजुरितिद्वे सामेति द्वे अथ यदतोऽन्यद्ब्रह्मैव तद्द्व्यक्षरं वै ब्रह्म तदेतत्सर्वंसप्ताक्षरं ब्रह्म। (Shat. Brah.

The term 'Brahmana' has been variously interpreted by the scholars. It comes from the word ब्रह्मन् || Brahman which means ब्रह्म वै मन्त्रः || "Brahma Vai Mantrah"(both the Veda and the Mantra). Thus the word Brahmana means 'that which relates to Brahman or the Veda'. It is derived from the root बृः || brih 'to grow', 'to expand'. The Brahmanas are thus the ritual text-books on the details of sacrifice or Yajna.[7]

  • Apastamba (आपस्तम्बः) clearly defines Brahmanas as the injunctions for the performance of yajnas (sacrificial rites), they are another name for Vedas themselves.[6]

मन्त्रब्राह्मणे यज्ञस्य प्रमाणम् ३० मन्त्रब्राह्मणयोर्वेदनामधेयम् ३१ कर्मचोदना ब्राह्मणानि ३२ (Apas. Shrau. Sutr. 24.30 to 32)[8]

The texts containing the explanations of mantras from Rigveda and other three vedas referring to their appropriate place and way of usage in particular yajnas are called as Brahmanas. In the Samhitas, that meaning which is hidden (not easily understandable), is brought out with explanations and anecdotes in the Brahmanas.

  • Purvamimamsa (मीमांसासूत्राणि) and Shabara bhashyam says the parts that are not mantra form the brahmana.[6]

शेषे ब्राह्मण शब्दः || (Purv. Mima. 2.1.33)[9]

  • Sayanaacharya has said in the introduction of his commentary on the Rigveda[7]

    "Which in tradition is not a hymn or a Mantra is a Brahmana and which is not Brahmana is a Mantra".

Brahmanas lack a homogeneous structure across the different Vedas, with some containing chapters that constitute Aranyakas or Upanishads in their own right. Each Vedic shakha (शाखा school) has its own Brahmana. Numerous Brahmana texts existed in ancient India, many of which have been lost. A total of 19 Brahmanas are extant at least in their entirety.

विषयविभागः ॥ Vishayavibhaga


According to Apasthamba , these texts deal with the following six topics: Vidhi, Arthavada, Ninda, Prashansha (same as Stuti), Purakalpa and Parakriti.[6][7] Sayanacharya states that performance of vedic activities is inspired by vidhi and arthavada only:[6]

द्विविधम् ब्राह्मणम् विधिः अर्थवादश्च ||

Thus the four Stuti, Ninda, Purakalpa and Parakriti may be classified under the heading Arthavada. In Shabara Bhasyam under the heading ब्राह्मणनिर्वचनाधिकरणम् the different aspects of Brahmanas are explained.

  1. विधिः || Vidhi means injunctions for the performance of particular rites. Example : विधिः, यजमानसम्मिता उदुम्बरी भवति। as given in Shabara Bhasyam. This is further divided under two headings :
    • Apavrittapravartaka (अपवृत्तप्रवर्तकम्) injunctions which promote the yajamana into conducting yajnas previously not undertaken by him.
    • Ajnatajnapaka (अज्ञातज्ञापकम्) injunctions which informs the yajamana about the procedure of a yajna.
  2. अर्थवादः || Arthavada comprises the numerous recommendations and the explanatory remarks on the meaning of mantras and particular rites.
    • स्तुतिः || Sthuti or प्रशंसा || Prashansha means eulogy and recommendation of the injunctions. Example : प्रशंसा, वायुर्वै क्षेपिष्ठा देवता (Shab. Bhas. 1.2.7) [10] which means Vayu is a devata who travels fast. Hence he can bestow results speedily, is stated in the praise of Vayudevata.
    • निन्दा || Ninda or censure consists in criticism and refutation of the opponents' views.[7] However, according to another version, Ninda indicates the actions which should not be performed and prevents one from doing them. Example : निन्दा, उपवीता वा एतस्याग्नयः।(Shab. Bhas. 2.1.33)[11] [6]
    • परकृतिः || Parakriti indicates the antagonistic injunctions followed by others. Example : परकृतिः माषानेव मह्यं पचतीति। [6] [11]
    • पुराकल्पः || Puraakalpa refers to the performance of sacrificial rites in former times.[7] According to another version, purakalpa refers to the historical record. Example : पुरा ब्राह्मणाअभैषुः इति पुराकल्पः ।[12] [6]

Thus the main subject of the Brahmanas is injunction (Vidhi), all other topics being subservient to it.[7] Shabara, in his commentary, has summed up their subjects into ten following heads:[13]

हेतुर्निर्वचनं निन्दा प्रशंसा संशयो विधिः। परक्रिया पुराकल्पो व्यवधारणकल्पना।। (Shab. Bhas. 2.1.33)[11]

उपमानं दशैते तु विधयो ब्राह्मणस्य तु। एतद्वै सर्ववेदेषु नियतं विधिलक्षणम्।।

  1. हेतुः || Hetu - reasons
  2. निर्वचनम् || Nirvacana - etymology
  3. निन्दा || Ninda - censure ,condemn
  4. प्रशंसा || Prashansha - eulogy, praise
  5. संशयः || Samshaya - doubt,uncertainty
  6. विधिः || Vidhi - injunction,sanction
  7. परक्रिया || Parakriya - feats/deeds of others
  8. पुरकल्पः || Purakalpa - legendary background
  9. व्यवधारण कल्पना || Vyavadharana- Kalpana - managerial application
  10. उपमानम् || Upamana - illustration.

Yajna is not only sacrifice. In Brahmanas we find it symbolic also. Here it often represents the knowledge of creation and thus describes the secrets of creation.[7]

Texual Design

Like Veda samhita Brahmanas are not metrically composed, yet they are treated as mantras having padapatha even though they contain prose. This is more pronounced in Taittriya and Shatapatha Brahmanas of Yajurveda where mantras are seen. Even though Brahmana texts agree with the Samhitas in the context of performing Yajnas, the difference in language style and description of social conditions indicate that all Brahmana texts did not arise in a single point of time.

Tattriya Brahmana is said to be the oldest of all Brahmanas due to the following reasons.[14]

  • Extensive usage of vedic words (प्राचीनप्रयोगबाहुल्यम्)
  • Profound prose compositions (प्रढगद्यशैली)
  • Rules for Svaras (स्वरनियमाः)
  • Importance to Yajnas and yagas (यज्ञजीवत्वम्)

Classification of Brahmanas

Each Brahmana is associated with one of the four Vedas, and within the tradition of that Veda with a particular shakha or school. Originally, there were numerous Brahmanas, of which only a few have survived to us. For each Samhita, there are corresponding Brahmanas which are listed here:

Rig Samhita 

There are two available brahamanas associated with Rig veda.[6][14]

  1. ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण || Aitareya Brahmana : It consists of 8 Panchikas each containing 5 adhyayas thus a total of 40 adhyayas (अध्याय | lessons, chapters) are present. Some say that Bahvrucha brahmana (बहुव्रुच ब्राह्मण) is the same as Aitareya brahmana belonging to the Shakala shaka of Rig Samhita.[6] In this brahmana the first 16 adhyayas deal with Soma sacrifice. Apart from this Agnistoma, Hotri krityas for yajnas like Jyotistoma, Atiratram, Gavamana and Agnihotra rituals are described.
  2. कौषितकि / साङ्खयन ब्राह्मण || Kaushitaki / Sankhayana Brahmana : It consists of 30 adhyayas and belongs to the Shankhyayana and Bashkala shakas of Rig Samhita. The first six adhyayas are dedicated to food sacrifice and the remaining to Soma sacrifice in a manner matching the Aitareya Brahmana. However, differences are seen with respect to Agnyadhana, Agnihotra, Darsapurnamasa istis, Chaturmasya yajnas.

Earlier Rig samhita was supposed to have 21 shakas and each shaka had an associated brahmana.

Four of the Rig samhita brahmanas namely Paingi, Bahvrucha, Ashvalayana, Gaalava brahmanas are lost in time.[6]

Yajus Samhita

Brahmanas of Yajur veda includes two important shakas.

  1. Shukla-Yajurveda : (1) Madhyandina Shatapatha Brahmana and (2) Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana are available.
  2. Krishna-Yajurveda : (1) Taittiriya Brahmana is available.

The Shatapatha Brahmana consists of a hundred adhyayas (chapters), and is the most cited and famous among the Brahmana texts. Much of the text is commentaries on Vedic rituals, such as the preparation of the fire altar. It also includes Upanayana, a ceremony that marked the start of Brahmacharya (student) stage of life, as well as the Vedic era recitation practice of Svadhyaya. The text describes procedures for other important Hindu rituals such as a funeral ceremony. The old and famous Brhadaranyaka Upanishad form the closing chapters of Śatapatha Brahmana.

Brahmana associated with Maitrayani Shaka is not available.

The Taittreya Brahmana considered as the oldest text consists of information on various important yajnas such as Aswamedha Yajna, information about nakshatras, their ruling deities and associated astronomical information. This became the root for the development of astrology as a subject subsequently.[14]

Twelve Yajus samhita related brahmanas have been lost in time. They are Charaka, Svetasvatara, Kaathaka, or Shataadhyayana, Maitraayani, Jaabala, Khandikeya, Oukheya, Haridravika, Tumburu, Aavhvaraka, Kankati, Chaagaleya brahmanas.[6]

Sama Samhita

Brahmanas available in Sama samhita include [6][14]

  1. जैमिनीय ब्राह्मण || Jaiminiya Brahmana (तलवकार ।Talavakara) is the principal Brahmana of the Jaiminiya shakha, divided into three kandas (sections). One of the oldest Brahmanas, older than Tandya Mahabrahmana, but only fragments of manuscript have survived.
  2. तानद्य || Taandya (प्रौढ । Proudha or महाब्राह्मणम्। Mahabrahmana or पञ्चविंश । Panchavimsha Brahmana) is the principal Brahmana of both the Kauthuma (कौथुम) and Ranayaniya (राणायनीय) shakhas. This is one of the oldest, vast and most important of Brahmanas which includes twenty five books. It is notable for its important ancient legends and Vratyastomas and Gavayamana yajnas.
  3. छान्दोग्य || Chandogya (Mantra) Brahmana is one of the three primarily available brahmanas. Chandogya Brahmana is divided into ten prapathakas (प्रपाठकः। chapters). Its first two prapathakas (chapters) form the Mantra Brahmana and each of them is divided into eight khandas (sections). Prapathakas 3–10 form the Chandogya Upanishad.

Four Upabrahmanas or Anubrahmanas for Samaveda include - (1) Saamavidhana Brahmana (2) Devatadhyaya or Daivata Brahmana (3) Vamsha Brahmana (4) Simhatopanishad brahmana[6]

Four Saamaveda brahmanas that have been lost in time include Bhaallavi, Kaala, Rauruki, and Shaatyayana brahmanas.

Atharva Samhita 

(1) Gopatha Bramana is the only available brahmana. Names of other brahmanas are not available for this Veda samhita.

Following is the summary of Brahmanas associated with the different vedic shakas.

Brahmanas Associated with the Four Veda Samhitas
Veda Available Brahmanas Lost Brahmanas
Rigveda Aitareya (ऐतरेय) and Kaushitaki (कौषितकी) Paingi, Bahvrucha, Aashvalayana, Gaalava
Shukla-Yajurveda Madhyandina and Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana Charaka, Svetasvatara, Kaathaka, or Shataadhyayana, Maitraayani, Jaabala, Khandikeya, Oukheya, Haridravika, Tumburu, Aavhvaraka, Kankati, Chaagaleya
Krishna-Yajurveda Taittriya Brahmana
Samaveda Jaiminiya (जैमिनीय) Tandya (तानद्य) and Chandogya Brahmana (छान्दोग्य) Bhaallavi, Kaala, Rauruki, and Shaatyayana brahmanas
Atharvaveda Gopatha Brahmana None known


  1. A Bhattacharya (2006), Hindu Dharma: Introduction to Scriptures and Theology, ISBN 978-0595384556, pages 8-14
  2. Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 30-31
  3., 6th Paragraph
  4. Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 30-31
  5. Insights Into the Taittiriya Upanishad, Dr. K. S. Narayanacharya, Published by Kautilya Institute of National Studies, Mysore, Page 75 (Glossary)
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 Raghunadhacharya, S. B. (1985) Aarshavijnana Sarvasvamu, Volume Two : Brahmanalu. Tirupati: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Press
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Introduction to Brahmanas By Dr.Shashi Tiwari (Retd.), Delhi University From Vedic Heritage Portal
  8. Apastamba Shrauta Sutras (Prashna 24)
  9. Purvamimamsa (2.1.33)
  10. Shabara Bhasyam (Adhyaya 1 Pada 2)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Shabara Bhasyam (Adhyaya 2 Pada 1)
  12. Vachaspatyam (See Brahmana)
  13. Sharma, Ram Murthy. (1987 2nd edition) Vaidik Sahitya ka Itihas Delhi : Eastern Book Linkers
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Pt. Suryanarayana Sastry Malladi. (1982) Samskruta Vangmaya Charitra, Volume 1, Vaidika Vangmayam. Hyderabad : Andhra Sarasvata Parishat