A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the brahmanas: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “the vedas, brahmanas and their philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.


After the Saṃhitās there grew up the theological treatises called the Brāhmaṇas, which were of a distinctly different literary type. They are written in prose, and explain the sacred significance of the different rituals to those who are not already familiar with them. “They reflect,” says Professor Macdonell,

“the spirit of an age in which all intellectual activity is concentrated on the sacrifice, describing its ceremonies, discussing its value, speculating on its origin and significance.”

These works are full of dogmatic assertions, fanciful symbolism and speculations of an unbounded imagination in the field of sacrificial details. The sacrificial ceremonials were probably never so elaborate at the time when the early hymns were composed. But when the collections of hymns were being handed down from generation to generation the ceremonials became more and more complicated. Thus there came about the necessity of the distribution of the different sacrificial functions amongseveral distinct classes of priests. We may assume that this was a period when the caste system was becoming established, and when the only thing which could engage wise and religious minds was sacrifice and its elaborate rituals. Free speculative thinking was thus subordinated to the service of the sacrifice, and the result was the production of the most fanciful sacramental and symbolic system, unparalleled anywhere but among the Gnostics. It is now generally believed that the close of the Brāhmana period was not later than 500 B.C.

Footnotes and references:


Weber (Hist. Ind. Lit., p. 11, note) says that the word Brāhmana signifies “that which relates to prayer brahman Max Muller (S.B. E. 1. p. lxvi) says that Brāh-mana meant “originally the sayings of Brahmans, whether in the general sense of priests, or in the more special sense of Brahman-priests.” Eggeling (S.B E. xii. Introd. p. xxii) says that the Brāhmanas were so called “probably either because they were intended for the instruction and guidance of priests (brahman) generally; or because they were, for the most part, the authoritative utterances of such as were thoroughly versed in Vedic and sacrificial lore and competent to act as Brahmans or superintending priests.” But in view of the fact that the Brāhmanas were also supposed to be as much revealed as the Vedas, the present writer thinks that Weber’s view is the correct one.