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The Aranyakas are part of the Hindu
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

' , often spelled shruti or shruthi, is a term that describes the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of dharma and therefore is also influential within Hindu Law...

, the four Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

; they were composed in late Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

 typical of the Brahmana
The Brāhmaṇas are part of the Hindu śruti literature. They are commentaries on the four Vedas, detailing the proper performance of rituals....

s and early Upanishads; indeed, they frequently form part of either the Brahmanas or the Upanishads.

"Aranyaka" means "belonging to the wilderness" , that is, as Taittiriya Ar. 2 says, "from where one cannot see the roofs of the settlement". The term is translated as "Forest Books" or "Wilderness Books" in English.

They contain Brahmana-style discussion of ritual regarded as especially dangerous, such as the Mahavrata
The Mahavratas are the five great vows Jain monks observe. They are:# Ahimsa # Satya # Asteya # Brahmacharya # Aparigraha...

 and Pravargya
In the historical Vedic religion, Pravargya was a ceremony introductory to the Agnishtoma , at which fresh milk is poured into a heated vessel called mahavira or gharma and offered to the Ashvins...

, 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 sannyasin
Sannyasa is the order of life of the renouncer within the Hindu scheme of āśramas, or life stages. It is considered the topmost and final stage of the ashram systems and is traditionally taken by men or women at or beyond the age of fifty years old or by young monks who wish to renounce worldly...

s or vanaprastha
A Vanaprastha is a person who is living in the forest as a hermit after partially giving up material desires. Vanaprastha ashram is the stage of life in the Vedic ashram system, when a person one gradually withdraws from the world...

s (ascetics) and they are not of "mystical" nature but very close in nature to the Brahmanas proper rather than to the esoteric Upanishads.

The Wilderness Books

The Aranyakas discuss sacrifice
In Hinduism, yajna is a ritual of sacrifice derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes...

s, in the style of the Brahmanas, and thus are primarily concerned with the proper performance of ritual (orthopraxy). The Aranyakas were restricted to a particular class of rituals that nevertheless were frequently included in the Vedic curriculum.

The Aranyakas are associated with, and named for, individual Vedic shakha
A shakha , is a Hindu theological school that specializes in learning certain Vedic texts, or else the traditional texts followed by such a school. An individual follower of a particular school or recension is called a ...

  • Rigveda
    The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

    • Aitareya Aranyaka belongs to the Aitareya Shakha of Rigveda
    • Kaushitaki Aranyaka belongs to the Kaushitaki and Shankhayana Shakhas of Rigveda
  • Yajurveda
    The Yajurveda, a tatpurusha compound of "sacrificial formula', + ) is the third of the four canonical texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. By some, it is estimated to have been composed between 1400 and 1000 BC, the Yajurveda 'Samhita', or 'compilation', contains the liturgy needed to perform the...

    • Taittiriya
      Taittirīya is a shaka of the Black Yajurveda*Taittiriya Samhita , see Black Yajurveda*Taittiriya Upanishad...

       Aranyaka belongs to the Taittiriya Shakha of the Black Yajurveda
    • Maitrayaniya Aranyaka belongs to the Maitrayaniya Shakha of the Black Yajurveda
    • Katha
      Katha may refer to:* The Sanskrit for "speech, narration, story, fable", see Katha * The Kaṭha or Caraka-Katha school of the Black Yajurveda** Katha Upanishad, a Hindu text associated with the Katha school...

       Aranyaka belongs to the (Caraka)Katha Shakha of the Black Yajurveda
    • Brihad Aranyaka in the Madhyandina and the Kanva versions of the White Yajurveda. The Madhyandina version has 9 sections, of which the last 6 are the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
      Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
      The Upanishad is one of the older, "primary" Upanishads. It is contained within the Shatapatha Brahmana, and its status as an independent Upanishad may be considered a secondary extraction of a portion of the Brahmana text. This makes it one of the oldest texts of the Upanishad corpus...

  • Samaveda
    The Sama veda , is second of the four Vedas, the ancient core Hindu scriptures. Its earliest parts are believed to date from 1700 BC and it ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rigveda...

    • Talavakara Aranyaka or Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana
      Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana
      The Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana or the Talavakara Upanishad Brahmana is a Vedic text associated with the Jaiminiya or the Talavakara shakha of the Samaveda. It is considered as an Aranyaka. A part of this text forms the Kena Upanishad...

       belongs to the Talavakara or Jaiminiya Shakha of the 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 the Gopatha Brahmana is regarded as its Aranyaka, a remnant of a larger, lost Atharva (Paippalada) Brahmana.

Aitareya Aranyaka

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 speculative. 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.

The 4th, 5th and 6th chapters of this second Aranyaka constitute what is known as Aitareya Upanishad
Aitareya Upanishad
The Aitareya Upanishad is one of the older, "primary" Upanishads commented upon by acharyas such as Adi Shankara and Madhvacharya. It is a Mukhya Upanishad, associated with the Rigveda. It figures as number 8 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads....


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’.

Taittiriya Aranyaka

There are ten chapters, of which, one to six form the Aranyaka proper. The first two chapters are part of the aṣṭau kāṭhakāni (the "8 Kathaka sections"), which were not native to the tradition of the Taittiriya shakha
A shakha , is a Hindu theological school that specializes in learning certain Vedic texts, or else the traditional texts followed by such a school. An individual follower of a particular school or recension is called a ...

. They were adopted from the Kāṭhaka shakha, and mostly deal with varieties of the Agnicayana
The Atiratra Agnicayana or Athirathram ; the piling of the altar of Agni is a Śrauta ritual of the Vedic religion, the predecessor of modern day Hinduism which is considered to be the greatest ritual as per the Vedic ritual hierarchy. It is also the world's oldest surviving ritual...


Chapter 1, is a very late Vedic chapter, which even has some Puranic names; it is usually called the Āruṇa praśna for the particular style of fire-brick piling dealt with in the text. It is also referred to as the "Surya namaskara chapter" by South Indian Brahmins who have created a ritual of reciting it with surya namaskara
Surya Namaskara
Surya Namaskara , known in English as Sun Salutation , is a common sequence of Hatha yoga asanas. Its origins lie in a worship of Surya, the Hindu solar deity...

 exercises after each of its 132 anuvakas. Parts of the Kaṭha version of this section has been published by L. v. Schroeder in 1898.

Chapter 2, discusses the five Mahā-yajñas that every brahmin has to do daily, most importantly the daily recitation of the Veda (svādhyāya). Further, the sacred thread, the yajñopavīta, sāndhyā worship, that of the ancestors (pitṛ), the brahma-yajña, and the cleansing homa-sacrifice ('kūṣmāṇḍa-homa') are all treated in detail. – In this chapter the word 'shramana
A shramana is a wandering monk in certain ascetic traditions of ancient India including Jainism, Buddhism, and Ājīvikism. Famous śramaṇas include Mahavira and Gautama Buddha....

' is used (2-7-1) in the meaning of an ascetic (tapasvin); this word was later used also for the Buddhist and Jain ascetics. – Discussed and translated by Ch. Malamoud (in French, 1977); the Kaṭha version of this section has been published by L. v. Schroeder in 1898.

Chapter 3, treats technicalities of several other homas and yajnas.

Chapter 4, provides the mantras used in the pravargya
In the historical Vedic religion, Pravargya was a ceremony introductory to the Agnishtoma , at which fresh milk is poured into a heated vessel called mahavira or gharma and offered to the Ashvins...

 Shrauta ritual that is considered to be dangerous as it involves heating a specially prepared clay vessel full of milk until it is glowing red.

Chapter 5, treats the Pravargya-yajña in prose discussion (brāhmaṇa style).

Chapter 6, records the ‘pitṛmedha’ mantras, recited during the rituals for the disposal of the dead body.

Chapters 7, 8 and 9, are the three vallis of the well-known Taittiriya Upanishad
Taittiriya Upanishad
The Taittiriya Upanishad is one of the older, "primary" Upanishads commented upon by Shankara. It is associated with the Taittiriya school of the Yajurveda...


Chapter 10, is also known as "Mahanarayana Upanishad
Mahanarayana Upanishad
Mahānārāyaṇa is the name of several upanishads.* The tenth chapter of the Taittiriya Aranyaka is also known as the Mahanarayana Upanishad of the Yajurveda...

". It has several important mantras culled from the three Samhitas. TA 10.41–44 is known as the "Me–dha sukta".

Shankhayana Aranyaka

There are fifteen chapters:

Chapters 1–2 deal with the Mahavrata.

Chapters 3–6 constitute the Kaushitaki Upanishad
Kaushitaki Upanishad
The Kaushitaki Upanishad is one of the earlier, "primary" Upanishads, belonging to the Kaushitaki shakha of the Rigveda. It is a Sāmānya Upanishad. It figures as number 25 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads.-Overview:...


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
Brahma is the Hindu god of creation and one of the Trimurti, the others being Vishnu and Shiva. According to the Brahma Purana, he is the father of Mānu, and from Mānu all human beings are descended. In the Ramayana and the...

 down to Guna-Sankhayana.


The Aranyaka of the White Yajurvda is part of its Brahmana: Satapatha Br. 14,1–3 in the Madhyandina version. It exclusively deals with the Parvargya ritual, and is followed by the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad (Satapatha Br. 14.4–9).

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
Nirukta is one of the six disciplines of Hinduism, treating etymology, particularly of obscure words, especially those occurring in the Vedas. The discipline is traditionally attributed to , an ancient Sanskrit grammarian...

to say that the Aranyakas are ‘Rahasya Brahmana’ , that is, the Brahmana of secrets.