The Aitareya-Aranyaka

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

The Aitareya-ranyaka

IN giving a translation of the Aitareya-upanishad, I found it necessary to give at the same time a translation of that portion of the Aitareya-ranyaka which precedes the Upanishad. The ranyakas seem to have been from the beginning the proper repositories of the ancient Upanishads, though it is difficult at first sight to find out in what relation the Upanishads stood to the ranyakas. The ranyakas are to be read and studied, not in the village (grme), but in the forest, and so are the Upanishads. But the subjects treated in the Upanishads belong to a very different order from those treated in the other portions of the ranyakas, the former being philosophical, the latter liturgical.

The liturgical chapters of the ranyakas might quite as well have formed part of the Brhmanas, and but for the restriction that they are to be read in the forest, it is difficult to distinguish between them and the Brhmanas. The first chapter of the Aitareya-ranyaka is a mere continuation of the Aitareya-brhmana, and gives the description of the Mahvrata, the last day but one of the Gavmayana, a sattra or sacrifice which is supposed to last a whole year. The duties which are to be performed by the Hotri priests are described in the Aitareya-ranyaka; not all, however, but those only which are peculiar to the Mahvrata day. The general rules for the performance of the Mahvrata are to be taken over from other sacrifices, such as the Visvagit, Katurvimsa, &c., which form the type (prakriti) of the Mahvrata. Thus the two sastras or recitations, called gya-praga, are taken over from the Visvagit, the sastras of the Hotrakas from the Katurvimsa. The Mahvrata is treated here as belonging to the Gavmayana sattra, which is described in a different Skh, see Taittirya Samhit VII, 5, 8, and partly in other Vedas. It is the day preceding the udayanya, the last day of the sattra. It can be celebrated, however, by itself also, as an ekha or ahna sacrifice, and in the latter case it is the tenth day of the Ekadasartra (eleven nights sacrifice) called Pundarka.

Syana does not hesitate to speak of the Aitareya-ranyaka as a part of the Brhmana[55]; and a still earlier authority, Sankara, by calling the Aitareya-upanishad by the name of Bahvrika-brhmana-upanishad[56], seems to imply that both the Upanishad and the ranyaka may be classed as Brhmana.

The Aitareya-ranyaka appears at first sight a miscellaneous work, consisting of liturgical treatises in the first, fourth, and fifth ranyakas, and of three Upanishads, in the second and third ranyakas. This, however, is not the case. The first ranyaka is purely liturgical, giving a description of the Mahvrata, so far as it concerns the Hotri priest. It is written in the ordinary Brhmana style. Then follows the first Upanishad, ranyaka II, 1-3, showing how certain portions of the Mahvrata, as described in the first ranyaka, can be made to suggest a deeper meaning, and ought to lead the mind of the sacrificer away from the purely outward ceremonial to meditation on higher subjects. Without a knowledge of the first ranyaka therefore the first Upanishad would be almost unintelligible, and though its translation was extremely tedious, it could not well have been omitted.

The second and third Upanishads are not connected with the ceremonial of the Mahvrata, but in the fourth and fifth ranyakas the Mahvrata forms again the principal subject, treated, however, not as before in the style of the Brhmanas, but in the style of Stras. The fourth ranyaka contains nothing but a list of the Mahnmni hymns[57], but the fifth describes the Mahvrata again, so that if the first ranyaka may be looked upon as a portion of the Aitareya-brhmanas, the fifth could best be classed with the Stras of svalyana.

To a certain extent this fact, the composite character of the Aitareya-ranyaka, is recognised even by native scholars, who generally do not trouble themselves much on such questions. They look both on the Aitareya-brhmana and on the greater portion of Aitareya-ranyaka as the works of an inspired Rishi, Mahidsa Aitareya[58], but they consider the fourth and fifth books of the ranyaka as contributed by purely human authors, such as Asvalyana and Saunaka, who, like other Strakras, took in verses belonging to other Skhs, and did not confine their rules to their own Skh only.

There are many legends about Mahidsa, the reputed author of the Aitareya-brhmana and ranyaka. He is quoted several times as Mahidsa Aitareya in the ranyaka itself, though not in the Brhmana. We also meet his name in the Khndogya-upanishad (III, 16, 7), where we are told that he lived to an age of 116 years[59]. All this, however, would only prove that, at the time of the composition or collection of these ranyakas and Upanishads, a sage was known of the name of Mahidsa Aitareya, descended possibly from Itara or Itar. and that one text of the Brhmanas and the ranyakas of the Bahvrikas was handed down in the family of the Aitareyins.

Not content with this apparently very obvious explanation, later theologians tried to discover their own reasons for the name of Aitareya. Thus Syana, in his introduction to the Aitareya-brhmana[60], tells us that there was once a Rishi who had many wives. One of them was called Itar, and she had a son called Mahidsa. His father preferred the sons of his other wives to Mahidsa, and once he insulted him in the sacrificial hall, by placing his other sons on his lap, but not Mahidsa. Mahidsa's mother, seeing her son with tears in his eyes, prayed to her tutelary goddess, the Earth (svyakuladevat Bhmih), and the goddess in her heavenly form appeared in the midst of the assembly, placed Mahidsa on a throne, and on account of his learning, gave him the gift of knowing the Brhmana, consisting of forty adhyyas, and, as Syana calls it, another Brhmana, ?treating of the ranyaka duties? (ranyakavratarpam brhmanam).

Without attaching much value to the legend of Itar, we see at all events that Syana considered what we call the Aitareyranyaka as a kind of Brhmana, not however the whole of it, but only the first, second, and third ranyakas (atha mahvratam tydikam kry kry ityantam). How easy it was for Hindu theologians to invent such legends we see from another account of Mahidsa, given by nandatrtha in his notes on the Aitareya-upanishad. He, as Colebrooke was the first to point out, takes Mahidsa ?to be an incarnation of Nryana, proceeding from Visla, son of Abga,? and he adds, that on the sudden appearance of this deity at a solemn celebration, the whole assembly of gods and priests (suraviprasangha) fainted, but at the intercession of Brahm, they were revived, and after making their obeisance, they were instructed in holy science. This avatra was called Mahidsa, because those venerable personages (mahin) declared themselves to be his slaves (dsa)[61].

In order properly to understand this legend, we must remember that nandatrtha, or rather Visvesvaratrtha, whose commentary he explains, treated the whole of the Mahaitareya-upanishad from a Vaishnava point of view, and that his object was to identify Mahidsa with Nryana. He therefore represents Nryana or Hari as the avatra of Visla, the son of Brahman (abgasuta), who appeared at a sacrifice, as described before, who received then and there the name of Mahidsa (or Mahdsa), and who taught this Upanishad. Any other person besides Mahidsa would have been identified with the same ease by Visvesvaratrtha with Vishnu or Bhagavat.

A third legend has been made up out of these two by European scholars who represent Mahidsa as the son of Visla and Itar, two persons who probably never met before, for even the Vaishnava commentator does not attempt to take liberties with the name of Aitareya, but simply states that the Upanishad was called Aitarey, from Aitareya.

Leaving these legends for what they are worth, we may at all events retain the fact that, whoever was the author of the Aitareya-brhmana and the first three books of the Aitareya-ranyaka, was not the author of the two concluding ranyakas. And this is confirmed in different ways. Syana, when quoting in his commentary on the Rig-veda from the last books, constantly calls it a Stra of Saunaka, while the fourth ranyaka is specially ascribed to svalyana, the pupil and successor of Saunaka[62]. These two names of Saunaka and svalyana are frequently intermixed. If, however, in certain MSS. the whole of the Aitareya-ranyaka is sometimes ascribed either to svalyana or Saunaka, this is more probably due to the colophon of the fourth and fifth ranyakas having been mistaken for the title of the whole work than to the fact that such MSS. represent the text of the ranyaka, as adopted by the school of svalyana.

The Aitareya-ranyaka consists of the following five ranyakas:

The first ranyaka has five Adhyyas:

  1. First Adhyya, Atha mahftvratam, has four Khandas, 1-4.
  2. Second Adhyya, tv ratham, has four Khandas, 5-8.
  3. Third Adhyya, Hinkrena, has eight[63] Khandas, 9-16.
  4. Fourth Adhyya, Atha sdadohh, has three Khandas, 17-19.
  5. Fifth Adhyya, Vasam samsati, has three Khandas, 20-22.

The second ranyaka has seven Adhyyas:

  1. First Adhyya, Esh panthh, has eight Khandas, 1-8.
  2. Second Adhyya, Esha imam lokam, has four Khandas, 9-12.
  3. Third Adhyya, Yo ha v tmnam, has eight (not three) Khandas, 13-20.
  4. Fourth Adhyya, tma v idam, has three Khandas, 21-23.
  5. Fifth Adhyya, Purushe ha v, has one Khanda, 24
  6. Sixth Adhyya, Ko 'yam tmeti, has one Khanda, 25.
  7. Seventh Adhyya, Vn me manasi, has one Khanda, 26.

The third ranyaka has two Adhyyas:

  1. First Adhyya, Athtah samhity upanishat, has six Khandas, 1-6.
  2. Second Adhyya, Prno vamsa iti sthavirah Skalyah, has six Khandas, 7-12.

The fourth ranyaka, has one Adhyya:

  1. First Adhyya, Vid maghavan, has one Khanda (the Mahnmn's).

The fifth ranyaka has three Adhyyas:

  1. First Adhyya, Mahvratasya pakavimsatim, has six Khandas, 1-6.
  2. Second Adhyya, (Grvh)Yasyedam,has five Khandas, 7-11.
  3. Third Adhyya, (r) Indrgn, has four Khandas, 11-14

With regard to the Upanishad, we must distinguish between the Aitareya-upanishad, properly so-called, which fills the fourth, fifth, and sixth adhyyas of the second ranyaka, and the Mahaitareya-upanishad[64], also called by a more general name Bahvrika-upanishad, which comprises the whole of the second and third ranyakas.

The Persian translator seems to have confined himself to the second ranyaka[65], to which he gives various titles, Sarbsar, Asarbeb, Antrteheh. That Antrteheh [] is a misreading of [] was pointed out long ago by Burnouf, and the same explanation applies probably to [], asarbeh, and if to that, then to Sarbsar also. No explanation has ever been given why the Aitareya-upanishad should have been called Sarvasra, which Professor Weber thinks was corrupted into Sarbsar. At all events the Aitareya-upanishad is not the Sarvasra-upanishad, the Oupnek'hat Sarb, more correctly called Sarvopanishatsra, and ascribed either to the Taittiryaka or to the Atharva-veda[66].

The Aitareya-upanishad, properly so called, has been edited and translated in the Bibliotheca Indica by Dr. Rer. The whole of the Aitareya-ranyaka with Syana's commentary was published in the same series by Rajendralal Mitra.

Though I have had several MSS. of the text and commentary at my disposal, I have derived little aid from them, but have throughout endeavoured to restore that text which Sankara (the pupil of Govinda) and Syana had before them. Syana, for the Upanishad portion, follows Sankara's commentary, of which we have a gloss by nandagna.

Colebrooke in his Essays (vol. ii, p. 42) says that he possessed one gloss by Nryanendra on Sankara's commentary, and another by nandatrtha on a different gloss for the entire Upanishad. The gloss by Nryanendra[67], however, is, so Dr. Rost informs me, the same as that of nandagna, while, so far as I can see, the gloss contained in MS. E. I. H. 2386 (also MS. Wilson 401), to which Colebrooke refers, is not a gloss by nandatrtha at all, but a gloss by Visvesvaratrtha on a commentary by nandatrthabhagavatpdkrya, also called Prnapragkrya, who explained the whole of the Mahaitareya-upanishad from a Vaishnava point of view.

[55] Aitareyabrhmane 'sti kndam ranyakbhidham (introduction), a remark which he repeats in the fifth ranyaka. He also speaks of the ranyaka-vratarpam brahmanam; see p. cxiv, 1. 24.

[56] In the same manner the Kaushtaki-upanishad is properly called Kaushtaki-brahmana-upanishad, though occurring in the ranyaka; see Kaushtaki-brhmana-upanishad, ed. Cowell, p. 30.

[57] See Boehtlingk and Roth, s.v. Neun Vedische Verse die in ihrem vollstndigenWortlaut aber noch nachtnachgewiesen sind. Weber Indische Studien VIII, 68. How these hymns are to be employed we learn from the svalyana-stras VII, 12, 10, where we are told that if the Udgtris sing the Skvara Sman as the Prishthastotra, the nine verses beginning with Vid maghavan, and known by the name of Mahnmn, are to be joined in a peculiar manner. The only excuse given, why these Mahnmns are mentioned here, and not in the Brhmana, is that they are to be studied in the forest.

[58] M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, pp. 177, 335.

[59] Not 1600 years, as I printed by mistake; for 24+44+48 make 116 years. Rajendralal Mitra should not have corrected his right rendering 116 into 1600. Ait. r. Introduction, p. 3.

[60] M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 336.

[61] Colebrooke, Miscellaneous Essays, 1873, II, p. 42.

[62] M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 235.

[63] Not six, as in Rajendralal Mitra's edition.

[64] This may have been the origin of a Rishi Mahaitareya, by the side of the Rishi Aitareya, mentioned in the svalyana Grihya-stras III, 4 (ed. Stenzier). Professor Weber takes Aitareya and Mabaitareya here as names of works, but he admits that in the Snkhyana Grihya-satras they are clearly names of Rishis (Ind. Stud. I, p. 389).

[65] He translates II, I-II, 3, 4, leaving out the rest of the third adhyya afterwards II, 4-II, 7.

[66] Bibliotheca Indica, the Atharvana-upanishads, p.394

[67] A MS. in the Notices of Sanskrit MSS., vol. ii, p. 133, ascribed to Abhinavanryanendra, called tmashatkabhshyatk, begins like the gloss edited by Dr. Rer, and ends like Syana's commentary on the seventh adhyya, as edited by Rajendralal Mitra. The same name is given in MS. Wilson 94, Srmatkaivalyendrasarasvatpgyapdasishya-srmadabhinavanryanendrasarasvat.