ARANYAKA literature is rather small as compared to the Brahmana and Upanishadic literature. It is quite possible that originally the Aranyaka literature was larger,but much of it was lost in course of time. Today only six Aranyakas are available:
|1. Aitareya Aranyaka||}||which belongs|
|2. Shankhayana Aranyaka||to the Rigveda|
|3.Talavakara Aranyaka which belongs to the Samaveda|
|4. Taittiriya Aranyaka which belongs to Krishna Yajurveda|
|5. Brihadaranyaka which belongs to the Shukia Yajurveda|
|6. Maitrayaniya Aranyaka which belongs to the Charaka recension of the Shukia Yajurveda.|
Aranyakas are so called because they were supposed
to be taught in the forests (aranya). They do not deal with performance of sacrifice but with the inner symbolism and mysticism of sacrifices. The Mahabharata underlines the importance of the Aranyaka literature in the following verse:
नवनीतं यथा दध्नो मलयाच्चन्दनं यथा।
आरण्यकं च वेदेभ्य ओषधीभ्येऽमृतं यथा।। (Shantipara 301-3)
"As butter is extracted from curd, sandalwood from the Malaya Mountain, and nectar from medicinal herbs, even so the Aranyakas are extracted from the Vedas."
Aranyakas form a natural transition to the Upanishads; on the other hand, they are also component parts or concluding paras of the Brahmanas.
The Aitareya Aranyaka is appended to the Aitareya Brahmana. It consists of five books, and each book is called Aranyaka. The first one deals with the Soma sacrifice. The last four chapters constitute the Aitareya Upanishad. The third book contains allegorical and mystical interpretation of the Samhita, Pada and Krama texts. The last two books contain subjects like Mahanamni verses and details about the Nishkevalya Shastra to be recited in the Mahavrata.
The Shankhayana Aranyaka (which is also called Kaushitaki Aranyaka) is the concluding portion of the Kaushitaki Brahmana. Its contents agree very closely with those of the Aitareya Aranyaka. It consists of fifteen chapters of which three to six constitute the Kaushitaki Upanishad.
The Taittiriya Aranyaka is only a continuation of the Taittiriya Brahmana, while its seventh, eighth and ninth chapters constitute the Taittiriya Upanishad. Brihadaranyaka is the fourteenth book of the Shatapatha Brahmana and its last six chapters constitute the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Meditation, rather than ritual performance, is the spirit
of be teaching of the Aranyakas. They substitute a simpler ceremonial for the complicated ritualism of the Brahmanas. Important service was rendered by the Aranyakas when they stressed the efficacy of the inner or psychological sacrifice as distinguished from the outer or formal sacrifice. They thus helped to bridge the gulf between the Karmakanda of the Brahmanas and the Jnanakanda of the Upanishads. The Aranyakas further lay down Upasanas or courses of meditation upon certain symbols and austerities for the realisation of the Absolute.