The Aranyakas


'Sadhus' by Forbes, c. 1812

Aug 30, CANADA (SUN) — The Aranyakas, a class of Vedic sruti.

The Aranyakas are part of the Hindu sruti, the four Vedas; these religious texts were composed in Late Vedic Sanskrit typical of the Brahmanas and early Upanishads; indeed, they frequently form part of either the Brahmanas or the Upanishads. "Aranyaka" (aran-yaka) means "belonging to the wilderness" (aranya), that is, as Taitt.Ar.2 says, "from where one cannot see the roofs of the settlement".

The Aranyakas contain Brahmana-style discussion of especially dangerous rituals such as the Mahavrata and Pravargya, and therefore this sruti had to be learned in the wilderness. They have also served as receptacles of later additions to the Vedic corpus. However, they have nothing to do, as later tradition has it, with Sannyasins or Vanaprasthas, nor are they of a mystical nature. Rather, they are very close to the Brahmanas proper.

The Wilderness Books

The Aranyakas are primarily concerned with the proper performance of ritual, albeit dangerous ones. They are 'secret' in the sense that they are restricted to a particular class of rituals that nevertheless were frequently included in the Vedic curriculum that was transmitted from teacher to student.

The Aranyakas are associated with and named after particular individual Vedic shakhas:

  • Aitareya Aranyaka belongs to the Shakala Shakha of Rigveda
  • Kaushitaki Aranyaka belongs to the Kaushitaki and Shankhayana Shakhas of Rigveda
  • Taittiriya Aranyaka belongs to the Taittiriya Shakha of Krishna-Yajurveda
  • Maitrayaniya Aranyaka belongs to the Maitrayaniya Shakha of Krishna-Yajurveda
  • Katha Aranyaka belongs to the (Caraka)Katha Shakha of the Krishna-Yajurveda
  • Brihad-Aranyaka in the Madhyandina and the Kanva versions. The Madhyandina version has 8 sections, of which the last 6 are the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
  • Talavakara Aranyaka or Jaiminiya Upanisadbrahmana belongs to the Talavakara or Jaiminiya Shakha of Samaveda
  • The Purvarchika of the Samaveda Samhitas have a section called the 'Aranyaka Samhita' on which the Aranyagana Samans are sung.
  • The Atharva Veda has no surviving Aranyaka, although one may regard the Gopatha Brahmana as its Aranyaka, a remnant of a larger Atharva (Paippalada) Brahmana.

Aitareya Aranyaka

There are five chapters in Aitareya Aranyaka, each of which is considered to be a full Aranyaka. The first one deals with the regimen known as ‘Mahaa-vrata’, in which the explanations are both ritualistic and absolutistic. The second one has six chapters, of which the first three deal Praana-vidyaa, meaning, Prana, the Vital Air that constitutes the life-breath of a living body Praana is also the life-breath of all mantras, all Vedas and all Vedic declarations (Aitareya Aranyaka, cf. 2.2.2).

It is in this portion of the Aranyaka that one finds specific statements about how one who follows the Vedic injunctions and performs the sacrifices goes to become the God of Fire, or the Sun or Air, and how one who transgresses the Vedic prescriptions is born into lower species.

In Aitareya Aranyaka, Praana is recommended to be worshipped in the form of Rishis. Praana is Vishvamitra because all the universe (‘vishwa’) is the object of experience of this praana deity. Praana is Vamadeva because the word “Vaama” indicates respectability and deservingness to be worshipped and served. It is also Atri Maharishi because, the word ‘traayate’ in Atri indicates the Praana that protects from sins. The Praana enters this body and supports it therefore, it is Bharadvaja - where the ‘bhara’ word denotes supporting and the ‘Vaaja’ indicates the mortal body that is made mobile by the residence of praaana. Vashishta is also Praana because the word ‘vas’ indicates the dwelling in this body of the senses made possible by praana.

The 4th, 5th and 6th chapters of this second Aranyaka constitute what is known as Aitareya Upanishad.

The third Aranyaka in this chain of Aranyakas is also known as ‘Samhitopanishad’. This elaborates on the various ways - like pada-paatha, krama-paatha, etc. -- of reciting the Vedas and the nuances of the ‘svaras’.

The fourth and the fifth Aranyaka are technical and dwell respectively on the mantras known as ‘MahaanaamnI’ and the yajna known as ‘Madhyandina’.


There are ten chapters here. The 7th, 8th and 9th constitute the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad. The tenth is a long Upanishad known as Maha-Narayana-Upanishad; it contains several important mantras culled from the three Vedas. Chapters one to six form the Aranyaka proper.

The first one is the famous Surya Namaskara chapter. The second one is a description of the five maha-yajnas that every brahmin has to do daily. Naturally the sacred thread, the yajnopavita, of the brahmin is extolled and elaborated here. The sandhya worship, the worship of the manes, worship of the brahman through the brahma-yajna, the cleansing homa-sacrifice called the kushmanda-homa are all dealt with in detail. In this chapter the word ‘shramana’ is used (2-7-1) in the meaning of a doer of penance (tapasvii); this word came to mean in later times, a recluse of the Buddhist and Jain religions.

The third and fourth chapters go into further technicalities of several other homas and yajnas. The fourth chapter has also sections on mantras that may be used for averting (or causing) havoc. The fifth is an academic treatise on yajnas. The sixth one is a collection of ‘pitr-medha’ mantras, that is, the mantras recited on the occasion of, and used for, the rituals for the disposal of the dead body.

Shankhayana Aranyaka

There are fifteen chapters here. From the third to the sixth it constitutes the Kaushitaki Upanishad. The seventh and eighth are known as a Samhitopanishad.

The first two chapters deal with the Mahavrata. The ninth talks about the greatness of Prana. The tenth chapter deals with the esoteric implications of the agnihotra ritual. All divine personalities are inherent in the Purusha, just as Agni in speech, Vayu in Prana, the Sun in the eyes, the Moon in the mind, the directions in the ears and water in the potency. The one who knows this, says the Aranyaka, and in the strength of that conviction goes about eating, walking, taking and giving, satisfies all the gods and what he offers in the fire reaches those gods in heaven. (cf.10-1).

The eleventh chapter prescribes several antidotes in the form of rituals for warding off death and sickness. It also details the effects of dreams. The 12th chapter elaborates the fruits of prayer. The 13th gets into more philosophical matters and says one must first attitudinally discard one’s bodily attachment and then carry on the ‘shravana’, manana and nidhidhyasana and practise all the disciplines of penance, faith, self-control etc.

The 14th gives just two mantras. One extols the “I am Brahman” mantra and says it is the apex of all Vedic mantras. The second mantra declares that one who does not get the meaning of mantras but only recites Vedic chants is like an animal which does not know the value of the weight it carries. The final chapter gives a long list of genealogy of spiritual teachers from Brahma downwards up to Guna-Sankhayana.

Brihad - Aranyaka

This is the famous Upanishad of that name. The Self is the subject of discussion here, from all aspects. For a complete discussion see Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad.

Rahasya Brahmanas

There is also a certain continuity of the Aranyakas from the Brahmanas in the sense that the Aranyakas go into the meanings of the 'secret' rituals not detailed in the Brahmanas. Later tradition sees this as a leap into subtlety that provides the reason for Durgacharya in his commentary on the Nirukta to say that the Aranyakas are ‘Rahasya Brahmana’, that is, the Brahmana of secrets.


Vaidik Sahitya aur Samskriti ka swarup (in Hindi) by Om Prakash Pande. Vishwa Prakashan (A unit of Wylie Eastern) 1994, New Delhi .ISBN 81-7328-037-1

Aitareya Aranyaka - English Translation by A. B. Keith, London 1909

Arthur Berriedale Keith, The Aitareya Aranyaka: Edited from the manuscripts in the India Office and the Library of the Royal Asiatic Society with introduction, translation, notes, ... unpublished of the Sankhayana Aranyaka, Eastern Book Linkers (1995) ISBN 81-86339-14-0

Aitareya Aranyaka - A Study . Dr. Suman Sharma. Eastern Book Linkers. New Delhi 1981

Taittiriya Aranyaka, with Sayana Bhashya . Anandashram, Pune 1926.

B.D. Dhawan. Mysticism and Symbolism in Aitareya and Taittiriya Aranyakas, South Asia Books (1989), ISBN 81-212-0094-6

Michael Witzel, Katha Aranyaka : Critical Edition with a Translation into German and an Introduction, Harvard Oriental Series, Harvard Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies (2005) ISBN 0-674-01806-0

Source: Wikipedia.


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