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Each Vedic shakha (school) had its own Brahmana, and it is not known how many of these texts existed during the Mahajanapadas period. A total of 19 Brahmanas are extant at least in their entirety: two associated with the Rigveda, six with the Yajurveda, ten with the Samaveda and one with the Atharvaveda. Additionally, there are a handful of fragmentarily preserved texts. They vary greatly in length; the edition of the Shatapatha Brahmana fills five volumes of the Sacred Books of the East.
The Brahmanas are glosses on the mythology, philosophy and rituals of the Vedas. Whereas the Rig Veda relied on the effectiveness of truth contained in the mantras but was not dogmatic, the Brahmanas express confidence in the infallible power of correctly pronouncing the mantras. The Brahmanas hold the view that, if executed with shraddhaa (belief), the rituals will not fail. The later Brahmanas were composed during a period of urbanisation and considerable social change. During the first millennium BCE the people who composed the Veda gradually abandoned their semi-nomadic lifestyle and began to settle permanently. The rituals became increasingly complex, giving rise to developments in mathematics, geometry, animal anatomy and grammar.
The Brahmanas were seminal in the development of later Indian thought and scholarship, including Hindu philosophy, predecessors of Vedanta, law, astronomy, geometry, linguistics (Pāṇini), the concept of Karma, or the stages in life such as brahmacarya, grihastha and eventually, sannyasi. Some Brahmanas contain sections that are Aranyakas or Upanishads in their own right.
The language of the Brahmanas is a separate stage of Vedic Sanskrit, younger than the text of the samhitas (the mantra texts of the Vedas proper), ca.1000BCE, but for the most part are older than the text of the Sutras. Some of the younger Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), date to about the 6th century BC. Historically, this corresponds to the great kingdoms or Mahajanapadas emerging out of the earlier tribal kingdoms during the later Vedic period.
List 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:
- Shakala shakha
- Bashkala shakha (?)
- In the Krishna Yajurveda, Brahmana style texts are integrated in the Samhitas; they are older than the Brahmanas proper.
- Maitrayani Samhita (MS) and an Aranyaka (= accented Maitrayaniya Upanishad)
- (Caraka) Katha Samhita (KS); the Katha school has an additional fragmentary Brahmana (KathB) and Aranyaka (KathA)
- Kapisthalakatha Samhita (KpS), and a few small fragments of its Brahmana
- Taittiriya Samhita (TS). In addition to the Brahmana style portions of the Samhita,the Taittiriya school has an additional Taittiriya Brahmana (TB) and Aranyaka (TA) as well as the late Vedic Vadhula Anvakhyana (Br.)
- Madhyandina Shakha
- Shatapatha Brahmana, Madhyandina recension (SBM)
- Kanva Shakha
- Shatapatha Brahmana, Kanva recension (SBK)
- Kauthuma and Ranayaniya shakhas
- Tandya Mahabrahmana or Panchavimsha Brahmana (Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa) (PB) is the principal Brahmana of both the Kauthuma and Ranayaniya shakhas.
- Sadvimsha Brahmana (Ṣaḍviṃṡa Brāhmaṇa) (ṢadvB) is considered as an appendix to the Panchavimsha Brahmana and its twenty-sixth prapathaka.
- Samavidhana Brahmana, and the following Samaveda "Brahmanas" are in Sutra style; it comprises 3 prapathakas.
- Arsheya Brahmana is an index to the hymns of Samaveda.
- Devatadhyaya or Daivata Brahmana comprises 3 khandas, having 26, 11 and 25 kandikas respectively.
- Chandogya Brahmana is divided into ten prapathakas (chapters). Its first two prapathakas (chapters) form the Mantra Brahmana (MB) and each of them is divided into eight khandas (sections). Prapathakas 3–10 form the Chandogya Upanishad.
- Samhitopanishad Brahmana has a single prapathaka (chapter) divided into five khandas (sections).
- Vamsa Brahmana consists of one short chapter, detailing successions of teachers and disciples.
- Jaiminiya shakha
- Jaiminiya Brahmana (JB) is the principal Brahmana of the Jaiminiya shakha, divided into three kandas (sections).
- Jaiminiya Arsheya Brahmana is also an index to the hymns of Samaveda, belonging to the Jaiminiya shakha.
- Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana (JUB) also known as Talavakara Upanishad Brahmana, is to some extent parallel to the Chandogya Upanisad, but older.
- Shaunaka and Paippalada Shakhas
- The very late Gopatha Brahmana probably was the Aranyaka of the Paippaladins whose Brahmana is lost.
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- Gaastra, D. Das Gopatha Brahmana, Leiden 1919
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