The Aranyakas (Sanskrit āraṇyaka आरण्यक) are part of the Hindu śruti, the four Vedas; they 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 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 and Pravargya,[1] 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 (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 sacrifices, 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 shakhas.

  • Rigveda
    • Aitareya Aranyaka belongs to the Aitareya Shakha of Rigveda
    • Kaushitaki Aranyaka belongs to the Kaushitaki and Shankhayana Shakhas of Rigveda
  • Yajurveda
    • Taittiriya Aranyaka belongs to the Taittiriya Shakha of the Black Yajurveda
    • Maitrayaniya Aranyaka belongs to the Maitrayaniya Shakha of the Black Yajurveda
    • Katha Aranyaka belongs to the (Caraka)Katha Shakha of the Black Yajurveda[2]
    • 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.
  • Samaveda
    • Talavakara Aranyaka or Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana 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.

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"),[3] which were not native to the tradition of the Taittiriya shakha. They were adopted from the Kāṭhaka shakha, and mostly deal with varieties of the Agnicayana ritual.[4]

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 exercises after each of its 132 anuvakas.[5] Parts of the Kaṭha version of this section has been published by L. v. Schroeder in 1898.[6]

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' 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 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.

Chapter 10, is also known as "Mahanarayana Upanishad". It has several important mantras culled from the three Samhitas.[citation needed] 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.

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.


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

See also

  • Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad

Work online


  1. ^ M. Witzel, Katha Aranyka,Cambridge:Harvard Oriental Series 2004: xxviii sqq
  2. ^ ed. Michael Witzel, Kaṭha Āraṇyaka, Critical Edition with a translation into German and an introduction. Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series 2004.
  3. ^ Brahmana 3.10–12; Aranyaka 1–2. In a South Indian recension, the 8 Kathaka chapters are not part of the Brahmana and Aranyaka but form a separate collection.
  4. ^ Keith(1914), p.xxviii
  5. ^ See a post.
  6. ^ Die Tübinger Kaṭha-Handschriften und ihre Beziehung zum Taittirīya-Āraṇyaka, Sitzungsberichte der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische Klasse 137.4. Wien


  • 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
    • Arthur Berriedale Keith, The Aitareya Aranyaka: Edited from the manuscripts in the India Office and the Library of the Royal Asiatic Society with introduction, translation, notes, ... unpublished of the Sankhayana Aranyaka, Eastern Book Linkers (1995) ISBN 81-86339-14-0
  • 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
  • Charles Malamoud, Svādhyāya : récitation personelle du Veda Taittirīya-Āranyaka livre II : texte; traduit et commenté par Charles Malamoud. Paris : Institut de civilisation indienne, 1977
  • Houben, Jan. The Pravargya Brāhmaṇa of the Taittirīya Āraṇyaka : an ancient commentary on the Pravargya ritual; introduction, translation, and notes by Jan E.M. Houben. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1991.
  • 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
  • Bhagyalata A. Pataskar, The Kaṭhakāraṇyakam (With text in Devanāgarī, Introduction and translation. New Delhi: Adarsha Sanskrit Shodha Samstha / Vaidika Samshodhana Mandala


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