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Brahmanas, Indian Literature
Brahmanas are supposed to be the oldest prose writings in any Indo-European language. They give information about the origin and meaning of Vedic ceremonies, give instructions on the use of particular verses and metres, and describe the importance of prayers, sacrifices, and their correct observance.
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 Brahmanas form the second greatest class of works belonging to the Vedas. The Brahmanas actually give the instructions for a proper performance of ritual and sacrifice. All the rituals of the Brahmana are of an outward nature. The ritual proceeds primarily through speech, breath and mind. The mantras or the chants are the main power of the ritual. The main Brahmanas are the Aitareya, Kaushitaki, Chandogya, Taittiriya and Shatapatha Brahmana. The Brahmans are sometimes much longer than their respective Upanishads.

Meaning of Brahmana
The word Brahmana means first a single explanation or utterance of a learned priest, of a doctor of the science of sacrifice, upon any point of the rituals. Used collectively, the word means, secondly, a collection of such utterances and discussions of the priests upon the science of sacrifice. For although the Brahmanas fortunately contain much that has only a distant reference to the sacrificial cult, for instance, cosmogonic myths, ancient legends and narratives, yet the sacrifice is the one and only theme from which all the discussions start, on which everything hinges. It is believed that several Brahmins from 600 BC onwards have authored these textbooks on rituals and prayers. Again, it is said that later, Ved Vyas, the arranger of the Vedas, has compiled the Brahmanas.

Content of Brahmanas
The Brahmanas deal consecutively with the great sacrifices, which are elaborately discussed in the Vajasaneyi Samhita. They give instructions on the separate rites and ceremonies, attaching to them observations upon the relations of the separate sacrificial acts to each other and to the spells and prayers, partly quoted literally and partly quoted in abbreviated form. To these are added symbolical interpretations and speculative reasons for the ceremonies and their connection with the prayer formulas.

In the concluding parts of Brahmana, the doctrines of Upanishad are found. The Vedanta traditions refer Upanishad as the `Sruti Prasthana` i.e., revealed scripture from which knowledge of `the Brahmana` is obtained. They also explain the Hindu Philosophy and also introduce concepts of Karma, `Samsara`. The Brahmana also establishes the four stages in the life of a Brahmin such as `Brahmacharya`, `Grihastha`, `Vanaprastha`, `Sanyasa` and mystical notions presaging Vedanta philosophy.

The Brahmanas are indispensable to the understanding of the whole of the later religious and philosophical literature of India, and highly interesting for the general science of religion. The Brahmanas are invaluable authorities to the student of religion, for the history of sacrifice and of priesthood.

(Last Updated on : 10/08/2012)
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