Aranyakas are generally the concluding portions of the several Brahmanas, but on account of their distinct character, contents and language deserve to be reckoned as a distinct category of literature. They are partly included in the Brahmanas themselves, but partly they are recognized as independent works. Aranyaka literature is rather small as compared to the Brahmanas. Whereas the Brahmanas deal with the huge bulk of sacrificial paraphernalia which represents Karma-Kanda, the Aranyakas and Upanishads, on the other hand, chiefly deal with the philosophical and theosophical speculations which represent Jnana-Kanda.
1. Meaning of the Term ‘Aranyaka’
The term Aranyaka is derived from the word ‘Aranya‘ meaning ‘forest’. The Aranyaka texts are so-called because ‘they were works to be read in the forest’ in contradistinction to the regular Brahmanas, which were to be read in the village. Sayana in the Taittiriya Aranyaka explains-
Yajna and other rituals are prescribed only for those who live in homes and lead the life of house-holders. But it has to be understood that Vedic rituals are intended to confer not only material benefits but also mental purity by constant discipline. Having obtained purity, one must seek the solitude of forests for further concentration and meditation. The Brahmanas advocating the actual observances of the sacrifices are meant for Grihastha and the Aranyakas containing explanations of the rituals and allegorical speculations thereon are meant for Vanprasthas, who renounce family life residing in the forests for tapas and other religious activities. Winternitz calls them as ‘’forest texts’’ to be studied by forest-hermits.
Or the reason might be that these texts were propounded by the Rishis who resided in the forests and thought upon the secrets of the Yajnas. Aranyakas describe the actions of life and also acquisition of knowledge. These works form the basis of the Rahasya or secrets discussed in the Upanishads, therefore, another name of the Aranyakas was ‘Rahasya‘ as well. This name is mentioned in the Gopatha Brahmana and Manusmriti.
2. Contents of the Aranyakas
The major contents of the Aranyakas are theosophy (Brahmavidya), meditation (Upasana) and knowledge of breath (Pranavidya). They describe the secret meaning of the sacrifice and the concept of Brahma as well. The creation of the universe, the power of the Almighty, Om, the soul and the cycle of birth and death are explained in Brihadaranyaka in a simple manner. No nation, no country, no culture in this age of science has been able to produce such great truths related to the knowledge of the Self and the Almighty as are mentioned in this Aranyaka. In this reference dialogue between Maitreyi and Yajnavalkya is often quoted. Aranyakas are generally regarded as a link between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. The oldest Upanishads are in part included in these texts Taittiriya Aranyaka is only a continuation of the Taittiriya Brahmana. Brihadaranyaka found in the Shatapatha Brahmana, is the greatest of all Upanishads; it is regarded the Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad also.
Aranyakas play the role of the middle path and help to bridge the gulf between the Karma- kanda and Jnana-kanda. In the Aranyakas we find certain important geographical, historical, social and cultural points also. All this makes their study more significant.
3. Classification of the Aranyakas
Today only seven Aranyakas are available. There is no Aranyaka which belongs to the Atharvaveda.
(A) Aranyakas of the Rigveda:
- Aitareya Aranyaka
- Kaushitaki/ Shankhayana Aranyaka
(B) Aranyakas of the Samaveda:
- Talavakara or Jaiminiya-Upanshad Aranyaka
- Chandogya- Aranyaka
(C) Aranyaka of Shukla Yajurveda:
(D) Aranyakas of Krishna Yajurveda:
- Taittiriya Aranyaka
- Maitrayaniya Aranyaka
Among them Aitareya Aranyaka, Shatapatha Aranyaka and Taittiriya Aranyaka are most important for study. By Dr.Shashi Tiwari (Retd.), Sanskrit Department, Delhi University