·         Introduction

·         The word ‘Aitareya’

·         Contents of the Aitareya Braahmana

·         Mantras in the Aitareya Braahmana

·         The style of the Aitareya Braahmana

  •   Style of the author
  •   Oral tradition
  •   Recitation of the Braahmana
  •   Sacrificial and theological ideas of the Aitareya Braahmana


The Aitareya Braahmana belongs to the Rig-Veda Samhita. It explains and illustrates the duties of Hotru priest- the priest of the Rig-Veda. In a sacrifice the prime duty of a hotru priest is to recite the riks from Rig-Veda whenever and wherever necessary. So the Braahmana related to Rig-Veda gives details about the Mantras that are to be recited at a particular sacrificial rite. It contains eight Panchikaas, each of which comprises five Adhyaayas.

Some scholars think that this Brahmana is actually older than the Jaiminiya and Shatapatha Braahmanas and even older that the Brahmanical sections of the Taittiriya Samhita of the Yajurveda.

The word ‘Aitareya’

The name Aitareya is traced to ‘Itaraa’ by the tradition. Saayana narrates the following story regarding the origin of the name and the Braahmana, in his introduction to the Aitareya Braahmana, on the authority of ‘Sampradaaya vidhah’ i.e. men versed in the traditional stories. An ancient Rishi had among his many wives, one who was called Itaraa. She had a son Mahidasa, who is mentioned in Aitareya Aaranyaka as Mahidaasa Aitareya. The Rushi preferred the sons of his other wives to Mahidaasa, and on one occasion excluded him while seating other children on his lap. The boy’s mother was hurt and prayed to her family deity, the Earth, who appeared in her celestial form in the midst of the assembly. Mother Earth placed Mahidaasa on the throne and gave him, as a token of honour for his surpassing all the other children in learning, a boon which had the appearance of a Braahmana. After having received this gift, a Braahmana consisting of forty Adhyaayas came forth through the mind of Mahidaasa.

Contents of the Aitareya Braahmana

The Aitareya Braahmana does not treat all the sacrifices and the sacrificial rites which are mentioned and described in the books of the Yajurveda. They were perfectly well known to the authors of this Braahmana because the names of several sacrifices such as Vaajapeya, Aaptoryaama are mentioned without the description of the rituals belonging to them.  There are many things regarding the duties of the Hotru priest at Soma Sacrifice that have been left out.

The Aitareya Braahmana has eight books or forty chapters, each of which is divided into certain number of Kandikaas i.e. small sections or paragraphs. It treats almost exclusively the duties of the seven Hotru priests at the great Soma sacrifices and also during the inauguration functions of kings. All minor sacrifices and Ishtis, although they require the services of the Hotru priest, are excluded. The Hotru priests are to be divided into three distinct classes,

1)   The Hota- the chief of the Hotru Priests

2)   The Hotrakas- the little Hotru priests. These are- Maitravaruna, Brahmanaachhamsi and Acchaavaaka.

3)   The Hotra shamsina- they are the repeaters of the Hotru verses. They are Potaa, Neshtar and Agnidhra.

This Braamana commences with the following words

अग्निर्वै देवानामवमो विष्णु: परमस्तदन्तरेण सर्वा अन्या देवता।

(Agnir vai devaanaamavamo vishnuh paramastadantarena sarvaa anyaa devataa.)

Agni is the first among the gods and Vishnu is the most excellent among them. And all the other gods are included in these two gods.

The first thirteen chapters of the first two books and first three chapters of the third contain the duties of the chief Hotru priest at the Agnishtoma sacrifice. This sacrifice is the model of all the Soma sacrifices which last for one day. All the other Soma sacrifices of the same duration are mere modifications of it.

All the duties of the Hota priest are mentioned almost in the same order in which they are performed. It usually lasts for five days.

The Shastras or recitation of Hotru priests are treated with particular care in the Aitareya Braahmana. The fifth chapter of the second book and the three chapters of the third book describe the exposition of the Shastras of the Hota priest at morning, midday and evening libations.

The universal character of Agnishtoma and its meaning is treated especially in the fourth chapter of the third book. In the last chapter of the third book and in the first two chapters of the fourth chapter, the principal modifications of the Agnishtoma are mentioned and briefly described. These modifications are Ukthya, Shodashi, Atiraatra along with the Ashvina Shastra.

The Atiraatra sacrifice introduces the Abhisheka, Punaraabhisheka and Mahaabhisheka. The principal part of all these ceremonies consists in the sprinkling of holy water over the head of the kings, which is called Abhisheka.

The last chapter of this Braahmana is taken up with the appointment by the king of a duly qualified Braahmana to the office of a house-priest, who is called Purohita i.e. president or superintendent. The ceremonial part of this book is much enlivened by short stories of the kings who were said to have performed the great inauguration ceremony and attained to supreme rule over the whole earth. It is a simulation of the ceremony by which the gods are said to have installed Indra as a sovereign over them. The chapter concludes with the description of a magical performance by means of which a king can secretly destroy all his enemies.

Mantras in the Aitareya Braahmana

Most part of the Mantras included in this Braahmana is found in the Rig-Veda Samhitaa which is available at present. However there are several Mantras quoted which cannot be found in the presently available Samhita. Therefore scholars think that the Samhitaa of the Aitareyins belonged to a branch different from that one which is at present known. Aashvalaayana in his Shrauta Sootras, which are founded on the Aitareya Braahmana, generally supplies the text of those Mantras which are wanting in the Samhitaa. Several of them are in the Atharvaveda Samhitaaa, but they generally show different readings.


The style of the Aitareya Braahmana

The style of this Braahmana is on the whole uniform. There are certain phrases which constantly reoccur in the work. The language is like that of all the Braahmanas, more recent than that of the Samhitaas but not the classical Sanskrit. Purely Vedic forms occur, such as the infinitive forms in ‘tos’, e.g. karttos, arttos, roddhos, mahitos.

Most of it is the work of one author. Later additions can also be traced. As regards the materials which the author, who can be called Aitareya Rishi, that is, the Rishi of the Aitareya branch of the Rig-Veda used for the compilation of his work can principally be divided into four kinds,

1)   Sacred texts and formulas which are more ancient than the majority of the hymns

2)   Gaathaa i.e. stanzas, principally impromptus on sacrificial things and topics of a more worldly nature.

3)   Rules on the performance of the duties of the Hotru priests.

4)   Theological expositions of the meaning of Mantras, sacred rites etc. according to the teaching of the most eminent Brahmana priests who preceeded the author of the Aitareya Braahmana.

These materials were worked together by him with many additions of his own, and with the view to present to the followers of his branch a kind of encyclopedia of theological learning and a supplement to their Veda. The aim of the author was like that of all other Braahmana compilers, a double one, which are to serve practical as well as theoretical ends. From the practical point of view it was to be a guide to the repeaters of the Mantras of the Rig-Veda in some of their most important performances. And as regards the theoretical one the author intended to instruct them on the real ends of their profession i.e. to make the sacrificer, by the means of mystical power ascribed to the Mantras either attain to anything he might wish for or if the Hotru priest from some reason or other choose to do so, to deprive him through the same power of his property, children and life. The Hotru priests could learn from such a book how great their power was as the preservers of the sacred rik verses. Everyone who wished to perform a sacrifice as the only means for obtaining the favor of the gods was entirely given up to the hands of the Hotru priests, who could do with him what they pleased.

·         Style of the author

The authors own additions consisted principally in critical remarks, recommending certain practices and rejecting others, statement of reasons, why a particular rite must be performed in a particular way and the explanation of the apparent irregularities in the ritual. The author never speaks in the first person. The writing has an appearance of a tradition having descended from him. He is referred to only in third person. The theologians whose opinions are either accepted or rejected are generally mentioned in the third person plural.

·         Oral tradition

Like the other Braahmanas the work was orally handed down. Some external mark is still visible. At the end of each Adhyaaya the last word or phrase is put twice. This was evidently a mark for the repeater as well as the hearer by which to recognize the end of the chapter.

·         Recitation of the Braahmana

The recitation is done in a very slow tone but quite monotonously. Of very frequent occurrence in it is the Pluti i.e. lengthening of vowel to three moras marked by 3. This Pluti used in three cases,

1)   To ask question

2)   To deliberate or consider whether a thing should be done or not

3)   To give some emphasis to a certain word.

Sacrificial and theological ideas of the Aitareya Braahmana

Usually a sacrifice is conducted to achieve power of all the worlds, over beings- visible and invisible, animate and inanimate. The one who has mastery over the performance and conduct of a sacrifice is looked upon as the real master for he can attain anything with this power. The sacrifice itself is personified and is viewed as a medium to take the performer to greater glory. It originated from eternity and proceeded from the supreme being i.e. Prajaapati along with the three-fold sacred science- the Rik verses, the Saamans or chants and the Yajus or sacrificial formulas. The creation of the world itself was regarded as the fruit of a sacrifice performed by the Supreme Being.

The most important thing at a sacrifice is that all its several parts should tally together and that consequently there should neither anything in excess nor deficient in it. This agreeing of the several parts of the sacrifice constituents is Roopa i.e. form. The proper form is obtained when the Mantras which are repeated are in strictest accordance with the ceremony for which they are repeated. If the form is vitiated the whole sacrifice is lost. Mistakes, on account of the so extremely complicated ritual, were unavoidable. So the sacrifice was to be attended by a physician in the person of the Brahmaa priest. Each mistake must be made good by a Praayashchitta i.e. penance or propitiatory offering.



1)   Joshi Mahadevshastri. 1967. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Pune. Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal.

2)   Bhattacharji S. 1986. Literature in the Vedic Age. Calcutta. K. P. Bagchi and company.

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