Belonging to the Brahmins'. These ancient prose texts are considered shruti. They are sub-categorized in the Vedas and contain explanations of, and commentaries on the mantras. However, they are differentiated from mantras on account of their distinct ideas and concepts. The Brahmana are considered to be the oldest prose writings in any Indo-European language. Several Brahmins, from 600 BC onwards, are believed to have authored these textbooks on ritual and prayer. The Brahmanas are said to have been compiled later by Veda Vyasa, the 'arranger of the Vedas'.
Apart from explaining the hymns of the Sanhitas (see Mantra), the Brahmanas also provide information about the origin and meaning of Vedic ceremonies, give instructions on the use of particular verses and metres, and describe the importance of prayers, sacrifices, and their correct observance. They emphasis the observance of the caste system (see Varna) and the ashrams. According to them, sacrificial rites are so powerful that they enable the performer to control the processes of nature, and even the gods. Essentially the Brahmanas represent an earlier stage in the evolution of Hindu thought and metaphysics, which would later assert and define the vast and enduring principle of Brahman-Atman, in the Upanishads.
Each of the Sanhitas have Brahmanas associated with them, which usually maintain the essential character of the Veda to which they belong. The Brahmanas associated with the Rig Veda (see Veda) are: The Aitareya Brahmana: Also known as the Ashvalayana Brahmana, it is believed to have been composed around 600 BC and is perhaps the oldest Brahmana. It deals principally with Soma sacrifices. The Kaushitaki or Sankhayana Brahmana: It contains material similar to that of the Aitareya Brahmana and describes various sacrifices.
The Brahmanas associated with the Yajur Veda (see Veda) are: The Shatapatha Brahmana: This Brahmana is associated with the white Yajur Veda. It consists of 100 lectures, which provide information on ceremonies, and the philosophy of sacrifices. After the Rig-Veda, this text is considered the most important work in the entire range of Vedic literature.
The Taittiriya Brahmana: This Brahmana is associated with the black Yajur Veda. The Sama Veda has eight Brahmanas associated with it. Some of the important ones are The Tandya Brahmana: This is the most important Brahmana associated with the Sama Veda. It provides general information about sacrifices. The Prauda Brahmana: It has 25 sections, which enumerate the Vratyastoma ritual by which non-Aryans were admitted into the Aryan fold.
The Shadvinsa Brahmana: Literally meaning "26", it was so named because it constitutes the twenty-sixth section of the Prauda Brahmana, and was later added to it.
The Sama Vidhana Brahmana: This work is devoted entirely to magic and details the chants to be recited for various spells.
The Atharva Veda has only one Brahmana associated with it, which is the Gopatha Brahmana. It is a much later work than the others, composed largely of material gathered from previous sources including the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig-Veda and the Shatapatha Brahmana of the white Yajur Veda.