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The Aranyakas (Sanskrit आरण्यक āraṇyaka) are part of the Hindu śruti, 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" (āraṇyaka) means "belonging to the wilderness" (araṇya), that is, as Taitt.Ar.2 says, "from where one cannot see the roofs of the settlement". They contain Brahmana-style discussion of especially dangerous rituals such as the Mahavrata and Pravargya, and therefore 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 and they are not of "mystical" nature but very close to the Brahmanas proper.
The Wilderness Books
The Aranyakas discuss dangerous sacrifices, in the style of the Brahmanas and thus are primarily concerned with the proper performance of ritual. The Aranyakas 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 primarily conveyed individually from teacher to student.
The Aranyakas are associated with and named after 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 M 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
- Aranyaka Samhita The Purvarchika of the Samaveda Samhitas have a section called the 'Aranyaka Samhita' on which the Aranyagana Samans are sung.
- The Atharvaveda has no surviving Aranyaka, though one may regard the Gopatha Brahmana as its Aranyaka, a remnant of a larger Atharva (Paippalada) Brahmana.
There are five chapters each of which is even considered as a full Aranyaka. The first one deals with the regimen known as ‘Mahaa-vrata’. The explanations are both ritualistic as well as absolutistic. The second one has six chapters of which the first three are about ‘Praana-vidyaa’ – meaning, Prana, the Vital Air that constitutes the life-breath of a living body is also the life-breath of all mantras, all vedas and all vedic declarations (cf. 2.2.2 of aitareya Aranyaka). 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 levels of being, namely, as birds and reptiles.
In Aitareya Aranyaka, Praana is worshipped in the form of the Rishis:
Praana is Vishva mitra, 'Vishwa' indicates all the universe is the object of experience.
Praana is Vama deva, 'Vaama' indicates the respectfull attitude towards those to be worshipped and served.
Praana is Atri Maharishi, ‘Traayate’ indicates the protection from sin.
Praana is Bharad vaja, ‘Bhara’ denotes supporting and the ‘Vaaja’ indicates the mortal body, made mobile by the resident praana.
Praana is Vash ishta, ‘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, of which, one to six form the Aranyaka proper.
Chapter 1, is the famous Surya namaskara chapter.
Chapter 2, describes the five maha-yajnas that every brahmin has to do daily. 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 or 'kushmanda-homa' are all treated 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.
Chapter 3, treats technicalities of several other homas and yajnas.
Chapter 4, treats technicalities of homas and yajnas and has sections on mantras that may be used for averting (or causing !) havoc.
Chapter 5, treats the yajnas in an academic analysis.
Chapter 6, records the ‘pitr-medha’ mantras, recited on the occasion of, the rituals for the disposal of the dead body.
Chapter 7, is the first part of the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad.
Chapter 8, is the second part of the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad.
Chapter 9, is the third part of the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad.
Chapter 10, is the Maha Naryana Upanishad, with several important mantras culled from the three vedas.
There are fifteen chapters:
Chapters 1-2 deal with the Mahavrata.
Chapters 3-6 constitute the Kaushitaki Upanishad.
Chapters 7-8 are known as a Samhitopanishad.
Chapter 9 presents the greatness of Prana.
Chapter 10 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).
Chapter 11 prescribes several antidotes in the form of rituals for warding off death and sickness. It also details the effects of dreams.
Chapter 12 elaborates the fruits of prayer.
Chapter 13 treats 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.
Chapter 14 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.
Chapter 15 gives a long genealogy of spiritual teachers from Brahma down 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.
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
- 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