Aitareya Brahmana

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The Aitareya Brahmana (Sanskrit: ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण) is the Brahmana of the Shakala shakha of the Rigveda, an ancient Indian collection of sacred hymns. This work, according to the tradition, is ascribed to Mahidasa Aitareya.[1][2]


Sayana of Vijayanagara, a 14th century commentator, attributes the entire Aitareya Brahmana to a single man: Mahidasa Aitareya.[3] In his introduction to the text, Sayana suggests that "Aitareya" is a matronymic name. Mahidasa's mother was "Itaraa" (इतरा), whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word "itara" (इतर, literally "the other" or "rejected"). She was one of the wives of a great rishi (sage). The rishi preferred sons from his other wives over Mahidasa. Once he placed all his other sons on his lap, but ignored Mahidasa. On seeing tears in the eyes of her son, Itara prayed to the earth goddess Bhūmi, her kuladevi (tutelary deity). Bhūmi then appeared and gifted Mahidasa the knowledge contained in the Aitareya Brahmana.[4]

This story is considered as spurious by scholars such as Arthur Berriedale Keith and Max Müller.[4] Mahidasa is mentioned in other works before Sayana, such as the Chandogya Upanishad (3.16.7) and the Aitareya Aranyaka (2.1.7, 3.8). But none of these works mention Sayana's legend.[4] The Aitareya Aranyaka is undoubtedly a composite work, and it is possible that the Aitareya Brahmana also had multiple authors. According to AB Keith, the present redaction of the work may be ascribed to Mahidasa, but even that cannot be said conclusively.[3]

Identification with Asvalayana Brahmana[edit]

The Asvalayana Srautasutra and Asvalayana Grhyasutra, attributed to the sage Asvalayana, are the srautasutra and grhyasutra associated with the Aitareya Brahmana.[5] Some Sanskrit texts also mention a text called Asvalayana Brahmana. For example, Raghunandana (c. 16th century CE), in his Malamasatattva, quotes a verse from what he calls the Asvalayana Brahmana. The verse is a slight variation of an Aitareya Brahmana verse.[6]

The common view is that the Asvalayana Brahmana is simply another name for the Aitareya Brahmana. However, according to another theory, it might be a now-lost, similar but distinct Brahmana text.[7][8]

Date of composition[edit]

The Aitareya Brahmana is dated variously from 1000 BCE to 500 BCE.[9] Some of the estimates are as follows:


Forty adhyayas (chapters) of this work are grouped under eight pañcikās (group of five). The following is an overview of its contents:

  • Pañcikā I
    • Adhyāya I: The consecration rites
    • Adhyāya II: The introductory sacrifice
    • Adhyāya III: The buying and bringing of the Soma
    • Adhyāya IV: The Pravargya
    • Adhyāya V: The carrying forward of fire, Soma, and the offerings to the High Altar
  • Pañcikā II
    • Adhyāya I: The animal sacrifice
    • Adhyāya II: The animal sacrifice and morning litany
    • Adhyāya III: The Aponaptriya and other ceremonies
    • Adhyāya IV: The cups of Indra and Vayu, Mitra and Varuna and the Ashvins
    • Adhyāya V: The Ajya Shastra
  • Pañcikā III
    • Adhyāya I: The Prauga Shastra, the Vashat call and the Nivids
    • Adhyāya II: The Marutvatiya and the Nishkevalya Shastra
    • Adhyāya III: The Vaishvadeva and the Agnimaruta
    • Adhyāya IV: General considerations regarding the Agnishtoma
    • Adhyāya V: Certain details regarding the sacrifice
  • Pañcikā IV
    • Adhyāya I: The Shodashin and the Atiratra sacrifices
    • Adhyāya II: The Ashvina Shastra and Gavam Ayana
    • Adhyāya III: The Shadahas and the Vishuvant
    • Adhyāya IV: The Dvadashaha rite
    • Adhyāya V: The first two days of the Dvadashaha
  • Pañcikā V
    • Adhyāya I: The third and fourth days of the Dvadashaha
    • Adhyāya II: The fifth and sixth days of the Dvadashaha
    • Adhyāya III: The seventh and eighth days of the Dvadashaha
    • Adhyāya IV: The ninth and tenth days of the Dvadashaha
    • Adhyāya V: The Agnihotra and the Brahmana priest
  • Pañcikā VI
    • Adhyāya I: The office of the Gravastut and Subrahmanya
    • Adhyāya II: The Shastras of the Hotrakas at Satras and Ahinas
    • Adhyāya III: Miscellaneous points as to the Hotrakas
    • Adhyāya IV: The Sampata hymns, the Valakhilyas and the Durohana
    • Adhyāya V: The Shilpa Shastras of the third pressing
  • Pañcikā VII
    • Adhyāya I: The distribution of the portions of the victim of the sacrifice
    • Adhyāya II: Expiations of the errors in the sacrifice
    • Adhyāya III: The narrative of Shunahshepa
    • Adhyāya IV: The preparations for the royal consecretation
    • Adhyāya V: The sacrificial drink of the king
  • Pañcikā VIII
    • Adhyāya I: The Stotras and Shastras of the Soma day
    • Adhyāya II: The anointing of the king
    • Adhyāya III: The great anointing of Indra
    • Adhyāya IV: The great anointing of the king
    • Adhyāya V: The office of Purohita

Astronomical model[edit]

Astronomy played a significant role in Vedic rituals, which were conducted at different periods of a year. The Aitareya Brahmana (4.18) states the sun stays still for a period of 21 days, and reaches its highest point on vishuvant, the middle day of this period.[15] The gods feared that at this point, the sun would lose its balance, so they tied it with five ropes (the five "ropes" being five prayer verses). The vishuvant is mentioned as an important day for rituals.[16][17] The text also mentions that the sun burns with the greatest force after passing the meridian.[16]

The Aitareya Brahmana (2.7) states:[18]

The [sun] never really sets or rises. In that they think of him 'He is setting,' having reached the end of the day, he inverts himself; thus he makes evening below, day above. Again in that they think of him 'He is rising in the morning,' having reached the end of the night he inverts himself; thus he makes day below, night above. He never sets; indeed he never sets."

One possible inference is that the author visualized the universe as the hollow of a sphere, in which the inversion of the sun caused night at one end and day at the diametrically opposite end. However, at the same time, the verse also states that the sun does not actually set or rise. According to Subhash Kak, this implies that according to the author of the verse, the sun does not move and it is the earth that moves, suggesting heliocentrism and rotation of a spherical Earth.[18] According to Jyoti Bhusan Das Gupta, this verse implies that the author "clearly understood that days and nights were local rather than a global phenomenon". Das Gupta adds that the text's interest in the sun's position appears to be "purely ritualistic", and the verse cannot be conclusively taken as an evidence of the author's recognition of the earth as a sphere.[19] According to K. C. Chattopadhyaya, the verse simply implies that the sun has two sides: one bright and the other dark.[20]


  1. ^ Keith, Arthur Berriedale (1998) [1920]. Rigveda Brahmanas: the Aitareya and Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇas of the Rigveda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 28. ISBN 81-208-1359-6. 
  2. ^ Roman alphabet transliteration, TITUS
  3. ^ a b Arthur Berriedale Keith (1920). Rigveda Brahmanas: The Aitareya and Kausitaki Brahmanas of the Rigveda. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-81-208-1359-5. 
  4. ^ a b c Friedrich Max Müller (1860). A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. Williams and Norgate. pp. 336–337. 
  5. ^ Matthew R. Sayers (12 September 2013). Feeding the Dead: Ancestor Worship in Ancient India. OUP USA. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-19-989643-1. 
  6. ^ Indian Studies. Ramakrishna Maitra. 1962. p. 252. 
  7. ^ Summaries of Papers. Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. 1981. p. 16. The existence of an Asvalayana Brahmana is, though less certain, also very probable, because none of the available Rgvedic Brahmanas can satisfactorily serve as the basis of the Asvalayana Srautasutra. 
  8. ^ Proceedings of the ... World Sanskrit Conference. Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. 1985. pp. 117–119. That the Asvalayana School had its own Samhita, makes it more probable that it had also its own Brahmana. [...] The Asvalayana Brahmana was therefore very similar to the AB on one hand and to the Taittiriya texts on the other. 
  9. ^ N.R.V. Prasad, ed. (1995). The Andhra Pradesh Journal of Archaeology. Director of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Andhra Pradesh. p. 3. 
  10. ^ Jan N. Bremmer (2007). The Strange World of Human Sacrifice. Peeters Publishers. p. 158. ISBN 978-90-429-1843-6. 
  11. ^ John G. R. Forlong (1906). Encyclopedia of Religions. pp. 76–. ISBN 978-1-60520-489-5. 
  12. ^ Franklin Southworth (2 August 2004). Linguistic Archaeology of South Asia. Routledge. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-134-31776-9. 
  13. ^ Monier Monier-Williams (1875). Indian Wisdom. W.H. Allen. p. 28. 
  14. ^ E.J. Rapson (1995). Ancient India: From the Earliest Times to the First Century A.D. Asian Educational Services. p. 159. ISBN 978-81-206-1107-8. 
  15. ^ Edwin Francis Bryant; Laurie L. Patton (2005). The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History. Psychology Press. p. 321. ISBN 978-0-7007-1463-6. 
  16. ^ a b Charlotte Manning (1869). Ancient and Mediaeval India. Wm. H. Allen. pp. 360–. 
  17. ^ Martin Haug (1863). The Aitareya Brahmanam of the Rigveda: Translation, with notes. Government Central Book Depot. pp. 290–291. 
  18. ^ a b Subhash Kak (2012). "Birth and Early Development of Indian Astronomy". In Helaine Selin. Astronomy Across Cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy. Springer. pp. 324–328. ISBN 978-94-011-4179-6. 
  19. ^ Jyoti Bhusan Das Gupta (2007). Science, Technology, Imperialism, and War. Pearson. p. 32. ISBN 978-81-317-0851-4. 
  20. ^ Kshetresh Chandra Chattopadhyay (1978). Studies in Vedic and Indo-Iranian Religion and Literature. Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan. p. 90.