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Śrauta Brahmins specialize in the Sruti corpus of texts and have maintained the complex fire rituals of the Brahmanas in the Vedas, as described in the Śrauta Sutras. These rituals continue to be performed in coastal Andhra.
Shrauta traditions presently alive are:
- Rig veda: Ashvalayana (Shakala) and Sankhayana (Kausitaki)
- Sama veda: Drahyayana (Kauthuma), Latyayana (Ranayaniya), Jaiminiya
- Krishna Yajurveda: Baudhayana, Vadhoola, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakesin, Vaikhanasa (for Taittiriya) and Manava, Varaha (for Maitrayani)
- Shukla Yajurveda: Katyayana (for Kanva and Madhyandina both)
- Atharva Veda: Vaitana (Shaunaka and Paippalada)
- Yajur Veda
The Shrauta tradition places more emphasis on the performance of rituals rather than having a set of beliefs. The practices of the Shrauta tradition mainly consist of yajnas. The yajnas are divided into two categories, nitya-karma and kaamya karma. Nitya-karma refers to those yajnas that have to be performed daily or as per occasion. Kaamya-karma refers to those yajnas performed with a particular purpose, such as wishing for rain, cattle, overlordship or for a son (e.g. Putrakameshti).
- Devayajña consists of offering āhutis to devas
- Pitṛyajña consists of offering libations to ancestors or pitṛs
- Bhūtayajña consists of offering bali or food to certain spirits
- Manuṣyayajña consists of feeding guests
- Brahmayajña consists of daily repetition of reciting the Vedas.
The pantheon in the Shrauta tradition consists of various gods and goddesses, known as devas, who represent natural forces or deified social concepts. For instance, the deva Agni has one aspect as fire.
Since Shrauta focuses on conservative Vedic rituals, the pantheon corresponds to the Rigvedic deities more than to that of mainstream (Puranic) Hinduism. Among the most prominent deities are Agni, Indra (god of weather and war), and Soma (lunar god, known also as Chandra), as well as the All-gods (Viśve devāḥ), Ashvins (twin gods of sunrise and sunset), Ushas (goddess of the dawn), Surya (sun god), Savitr (another solar deity), Parjanya (god of rain and thunder), Rudra (an early form of Shiva, known as "the howler," god of storms and hunting), or Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge and the arts. (cf. Chamakam 6):
The Shrauta tradition of transmitting the Vedas consisted solely of oral tradition from the Guru (teacher) to the shishya (student). Vedic scholars have made use of manuscripts in order to teach the Vedas to their students at least since the Middle Ages, and have used printed books since the advent of Western philology in British India, but the use of writing has always been secondary to the oral tradition.
Methods of recitation
The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several ways of recitation. The students are first taught the Samhita Patha. Here, patha means a way of recitation. The other methods of chanting include "pada", "krama", "jata", "mala", "sikha", "rekha", "dhvaja", "danda", "ratha", "ghana" etc.
Some Veda reciters, called ghanapaathins, have learned the recitation of the texts up to the advanced stage called ghana. Ghanapaathins recite a mantra in different ways, with individual words repeated back and forth. Similarly, in the other methods of chanting like krama, jata, sikha, mala, and so on. The chief purpose of such methods is to ensure that not even a syllable of a mantra is altered to the slightest extent. The words are braided together, so to speak, and recited back and forth.
Recent Shrauta yaagas
Some recent major Shrauta Yajnas:
- Atiraatra- in Kerala
- Agnistoma- in Kerala
- Nakshratreshti- in Karnataka
- Arunaketuka Yaaga- in Kalahasti, Andhra Pradesh
- Knipe, David M. (2015), Vedic Voices: Intimate Narratives of a Living Andhra Tradition, Oxford: Oxford University Press