The period of the Vedas was followed by one of a totally different type — that of the theological treatises called Brahmanas, which discuss the sacrificial ceremonial. They are ritual text-books which, however, do not furnish a complete survey of the subject to those not familiar with it already. Their contents may be classified under the three heads of practical sacrificial directions (vidhi), explanations (arthavada), and exegetical, mythological, or polemical, and theosophical speculations (upanishad) on the nature of things. They reflect the spirit of an age in which all intellectual activity is concentrated on the sacrifice, describing its rites, discussing its value, speculating on its origin and significance.
These Brahmanas are connected with the Samhitas of the various Vedas. As four chronological strata can be distinguished in this class of works, their composition must have extended over a prolonged period, probably from about 800 to 500 BC.
Connected with the Rigveda is the Aitareya Brdhmana, which must have been composed in the country of the KuruPafichalas. It contains several interesting myths and legends. The Satapatha Brahmana, the 'Brahmana of the hundred paths' attached to the White Yajurveda, is, next to the Rigveda, the most important work in the whole range of Vedic literature. Its geographical data point to the land of the Kuru-Panchalas still being the center of culture; but it is clear that the Brahmanical system had by this time spread eastwards of Madhya-desa ('mid-land') to Kosala and Videha, with their respective capitals Ayodhya and Mithila. The court of king Janaka of Videha is here described as thronged with Brahmans from the Kuru-Pafichala country, and the dialectic contests held there are a prominent feature in the Brahmana.
From the evidence of this work the inference may be drawn that Videha was the region in which the White Yajurveda was edited. Yet the book contains reminiscences of the days when the country of Videha was not as yet Brahmanized, for it relates a legend in which three stages in the eastward migration of the Aryans can be clearly distinguished. There are indications in the Satapatha Brdhmana that it was composed before the rise of Buddhism, though only a short time before. Its internal evidence in general shows that it belongs to a late period of the Brahmana age. It is here, too, that for the first time one or two names famous in the epics are met with. Taken as a whole, this Brahmana is a mine of important data and noteworthy narratives.
Though generally forming a part of the Brahmanas, the Upanishads really constitute a distinct class of works. For while they are a continuation of the speculative side of the former, they represent a new religion which is virtually opposed to their ritual or practical side. Their aim is no longer to obtain earthly happiness and subsequent bliss in the abode of Yama by sacrificing correctly to the gods, but to secure through correct knowledge release from mundane existence by absorption in the world-soul. They are mainly concerned with the nature of the world-soul, which is designated by the synonymous terms atman and brahman (neuter). The former term, having in the Rigveda meant no more than 'breath,' and in the Brahmanas 'soul' or 'self,' has now come to mean 'soul of the universe.' Similarly, brahman, which simply means 'devotion' in the Rigveda, then 'universal holiness' in the Brahmanas, now designates the holy principle animating nature. Having a long subsequent history in religion and philosophy, the word brahman is a very epitome of the evolution of religious thought in India.
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