Yajnas and yagas sacrifices offered into the duly consecrated fire occupied
the central place in Vedic religion. Hence,
the need for clear and elaborate instructions to conduct them was keenly felt.
And, the Brahmanas fulfilled that need.
The primary content of the Brahmanas can be stated as 'vidhi' or
injunctions concerning the various rites
and rituals which form a part of the
sacrificial system. It comprises such details
as: when to perform a sacrifice, which
sacrifice for which purpose, who is the
person fit to perform it, which are the
various components, what are the mantras
to be used, where and how, and so on.
Apart from the vidhis, the Brahmanas
also contain other topics: hetu, nirukti,
stuti or arthavada and akhyana.
Those portions of the work that
provide logic and reasoning in support of
a vidhi are called 'hetu'. Wherever certain
words are explained with their etymological derivations, such statements are
termed as 'nirukti'. Stuti or arthavada
comprises the statements of praise in
support of the injunctions and of derogation, in support of prohibitions. Akhyanas are stories or narration of ancient incidents interspersed in the body of the Brahmana literature. They are often full
of esoteric meanings or philosophical
The Brahmanas occupy a very important place in the Vedic lore. They provided
not only the necessary details for the
performance of Vedic rites but also the
inspiration to sustain them. The various
discussions that used to take place during
the Brahmana period, concerning the
several aspects of the sacrificial religion,
gave rise to the Mimamsa system of philosophy.
Each of the four Vedas has its own
Brahmanas. Since the number of the
extant Brahmanas is rather small compared to what has been mentioned in the
grhyasutras and other ancient works, it
can safely be surmised that many of them have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.
The Brahmanas available now, may
be listed as follows:
Aitareya Brahmana and Kausitaki Brahmana.
Taittiriya and Satapatha Brahmana.
Tandya Brahmana, Sadvimsa Brahmana, Samavidhana Brahmana, Arseya Brahmana, Daivata Brahmana, Samhitopanisad Brahmana, Upanisad Brahmana, Vamsa Brahmana and Jaiminiya Brahmana.
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