Brahmana


Brahmana
/brah"meuh neuh/, n. Hinduism.
one of a class of prose pieces dealing with Vedic rituals and sacrifices. Cf. Veda.
[ < Skt brahmana]

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Any of a number of discourses on the Vedas that explain their use in ritual sacrifices and the symbolism of the priests' actions.

Dating to 900–600 BC, they constitute the oldest historical sources for Indian ritual. The Aitareya and Kausitaki Brahmana, compiled by followers of the Rig Veda, include discussions of daily sacrifices, the sacrificial fire, new-and full-moon rites, and the rites for installation of kings. The Pancavimsa, Sadvimsa, and Jaiminiya Brahmana discuss the "going of the cows," soma ceremonies, and atonements for mistakes in ritual. The Satapatha Brahmana introduces elements of domestic ritual, and the Gopatha Brahmana treats the priests' supervision of sacrifices.

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▪ Hindu literature
      any of a number of prose commentaries attached to the Vedas, the most ancient Hindu sacred literature, explaining the significance of the Vedas as used in the ritual sacrifices and the symbolic import of the priests' actions. The word brāhmaṇa may mean either the utterance of a Brahman (priest) or an exposition on the meaning of the sacred word; the latter is more commonly accepted by scholars.

      The Brāhmaṇas belong to the period 900–700 BC, when the gathering of the sacred hymns into Saṃhitās (“collections”) had acquired a position of sanctity. They present a digest of accumulated teachings, illustrated by myth and legend, on various matters of ritual and on hidden meanings of the sacred texts. Their principal concern is with the sacrifice, and they are the oldest extant sources for the history of Indian ritual. Appended to the Brāhmaṇas are chapters written in similar language and style, but with a more philosophic content, which specifically instruct that the matter of these chapters should be taught only in the forest, away from the village. These later works, called Āraṇyakas (q.v.), served as a link between the Brāhmaṇas and the Upanishads.

      Of the Brāhmaṇas handed down by the followers of the Rigveda, two have been preserved, the Aitareya Brāhmaṇa and the Kauṣītaki (or Śāṅkhayāna) Brāhmaṇa. Discussed in these two works are “the going of the cows” (gavāmayana), the 12 days' rites (dvādaśāha), the daily morning and evening sacrifices (agnihotra), the setting up of the sacrificial fire (agnyādhāna), the new- and full-moon rites, the four months' rites, and the rites for the installation of kings.

      Properly speaking, the Brāhmaṇas of the Sāmaveda are the Pañcaviṃśa (25 books), aḍviṃśa (26th), and the Jaiminīya (or Talavakāra) Brāhmaṇa. They show almost complete accordance in their exposition of the “going of the cows” ceremony, the various soma (q.v.) ceremonies, and the different rites lasting from one to 12 days. Also described are the atonements required when mistakes or evil portents have occurred during sacrifices.

      The Brāhmaṇas of the Yajurveda were at first inserted at various points in the texts alongside the material on which they commented. This was at variance with the practice followed by the teachers of the Rigveda and the Sāmaveda, who probably did not wish to upset the arrangement of such a sacred collection and who gathered the expository lectures together as the various Brāhmaṇas. The Yajurveda fell into two separate groups, the later White (Śukla) Yajurveda, which separated out the Brāhmaṇas, and the Black (Krishna) Yajurveda, whose Saṃhitās contain much Brahmanic material. Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (or 100 “paths”), consisting of 100 lessons, belongs to the White Yajurveda. Ranking next to the Rigveda in importance, this Brāhmaṇa survives in two slightly differing versions, the Kāṇva and the Mādhyaṃdina. Elements more closely connected with domestic ritual are introduced here.

      Finally, to the Atharvaveda belongs the comparatively late Gopatha Brāhmaṇa. Relating only secondarily to the Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas, it is in part concerned with the role played by the brahmán (“pray-er”) priest who supervised the sacrifice.

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Universalium. 2010.

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