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Sayana of Vijayanagara, a 14th century commentator, attributes the entire Aitareya Brahmana to a single man: Mahidasa Aitareya. In his introduction to the text, Sayana suggests that "Aitareya" is a matronymic name. Mahidasa's mother was "Itaraa" (?), whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word "itara" (, literally "the other" or "rejected"). She was one of the wives of a great rishi (sage). The rishi preferred sons from his other wives over Mahidasa. Once he placed all his other sons on his lap, but ignored Mahidasa. On seeing tears in the eyes of her son, Itara prayed to the earth goddess Bh?mi, her kuladevi (tutelary deity). Bh?mi then appeared and gifted Mahidasa the knowledge contained in the Aitareya Brahmana.
This story is considered as spurious by scholars such as Arthur Berriedale Keith and Max Müller. Mahidasa is mentioned in other works before Sayana, such as the Chandogya Upanishad (3.16.7) and the Aitareya Aranyaka (2.1.7, 3.8). But none of these works mention Sayana's legend. The Aitareya Aranyaka is undoubtedly a composite work, and it is possible that the Aitareya Brahmana also had multiple authors. According to AB Keith, the present redaction of the work may be ascribed to Mahidasa, but even that cannot be said conclusively.
Identification with Asvalayana Brahmana
The Asvalayana Srautasutra and Asvalayana Grhyasutra, attributed to the sage Asvalayana, are the srautasutra and grhyasutra associated with the Aitareya Brahmana. Some Sanskrit texts also mention a text called Asvalayana Brahmana. For example, Raghunandana (c. 16th century CE), in his Malamasatattva, quotes a verse from what he calls the Asvalayana Brahmana. The verse is a slight variation of an Aitareya Brahmana verse.
The common view is that the Asvalayana Brahmana is simply another name for the Aitareya Brahmana. However, according to another theory, it might be a now-lost, similar but distinct Brahmana text.
Date of composition
The Aitareya Brahmana with some certainty dates to the 1st millennium BCE, likely to its first half.
Published estimates include the following:
The translator of the Br?hma?a, A. B. Keith (1920), presented detailed arguments for a date in the 6th century BCE.
Astronomy played a significant role in Vedic rituals, which were conducted at different periods of a year. The Aitareya Brahmana (4.18) states the sun stays still for a period of 21 days, and reaches its highest point on vishuvant, the middle day of this period. The gods feared that at this point, the sun would lose its balance, so they tied it with five ropes (the five "ropes" being five prayer verses). The vishuvant is mentioned as an important day for rituals. The text also mentions that the sun burns with the greatest force after passing the meridian.
The [sun] never really sets or rises. In that they think of him 'He is setting,' having reached the end of the day, he inverts himself; thus he makes evening below, day above. Again in that they think of him 'He is rising in the morning,' having reached the end of the night he inverts himself; thus he makes day below, night above. He never sets; indeed he never sets."
According to Subhash Kak, this implies that according to the author of the verse, the sun does not move and it is the earth that moves, suggesting heliocentrism and rotation of a spherical Earth. According to Jyoti Bhusan Das Gupta, this verse implies that the author "clearly understood that days and nights were local rather than a global phenomenon". Das Gupta adds that the text's interest in the sun's position appears to be "purely ritualistic", and the verse cannot be conclusively taken as an evidence of the author's recognition of the earth as a sphere. According to K. C. Chattopadhyaya, the verse simply implies that the sun has two sides: one bright and the other dark.[verification needed]
In section 3.44, among other things, the Aitareya Brahmana states (translation by Haug):
The sun does never rise or set. When people think the sun is setting (it is not so). For after having arrived at the end of the day it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making night to what is below and day to what is on the other side. When they believe it rises in the morning (this supposed rising is thus to be explained for). Having reached the end of the night, it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making night to what is below and day to what is on the other side."
Aitareya Brahmana being a Vedic corpus text and scripture in Hinduism, and the lack of any Mount Meru theories in that text, the medieval era commentators such as Sayana had significant difficulty in reconciling the Vedic era and medieval era cosmographic theories. The medieval era Indian scholars kept the spherical and disc shape cosmography in the Puranas, while the astronomy (Siddhanta) texts for time keeping assumed the spherical assumptions.
^Summaries of Papers. Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. 1981. p. 16. The existence of an Asvalayana Brahmana is, though less certain, also very probable, because none of the available Rgvedic Brahmanas can satisfactorily serve as the basis of the Asvalayana Srautasutra.
^Proceedings of the ... World Sanskrit Conference. Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. 1985. pp. 117-119. That the Asvalayana School had its own Samhita, makes it more probable that it had also its own Brahmana. [...] The Asvalayana Brahmana was therefore very similar to the AB on one hand and to the Taittiriya texts on the other.