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A shakha (Sanskrit kh?, "branch" or "limb"), is a Hindu theological school that specializes in learning certain Vedic texts, or else the traditional texts followed by such a school.[1][2] An individual follower of a particular school or recension is called a khin.[3] The term is also used in Hindu philosophy to refer to an adherent of a particular orthodox system.[4]

A related term cara?a, ("conduct of life" or "behavior") is also used to refer to such a Vedic school:[5] "although the words cara?a and kh? are sometimes used synonymously, yet cara?a properly applies to the sect or collection of persons united in one school, and kh? to the traditional text followed, as in the phrase kh?m adhite, ("he recites a particular version of the Veda")".[2] The schools have different points of view, described as "difference of (Vedic) school" (kh?bheda?). Each school would learn a specific Vedic Sa?hita (one of the "four Vedas" properly so-called), as well as its associated Brahmana, Aranyakas, Shrautasutras, Grhyasutras and Upanishads.[1][2]

In traditional Hindu society affiliation with a specific school is an important aspect of class identity. By the end of the Rig Vedic period the term Br?hma?a had come to be applied to all members of the priestly class, but there were subdivisions within this order based both on caste and on the shakha (branch) with which they were affiliated.[6] A Br?hma?a who changed school would be called "a traitor to his kh?" (kh?raa?).[1]

Summary of schools

Map of early Iron Age Vedic India after Witzel (1989). Location hypotheses for Vedic shakhas are shown in green.

The traditional source of information on the shakhas of each Veda is the Cara?a-vy?ha, of which two, mostly similar, versions exist: the 49th pari?ia of the Atharvaveda, ascribed to Shaunaka, and the 5th pari?ia of the ?ukla (White) Yajurveda, ascribed to K?ty?yana. These have lists of the numbers of recensions that were believed to have once existed as well as those still extant at the time the works were compiled. Only a small number of recensions have survived.[7]

Saraswati Gangadhar's devotional poetry written in Marathi called Shri Gurucharitra describes different shakhas of 4 Vedas in 27th chapter.[8]

The schools are enumerated below, categorised according to the Veda each expounds.

Rig Veda

?aunaka's Cara?a-vyuha lists five shakhas for the Rig Veda, the kala, Bkala, A?val?yana, ?a?kh?yana, and Muk?yana of which only the kala and Bkala and very few of Asvalayana are now extant. The Bashkala recension of the Rigveda has the Khilani which are not present in the Shakala text but is preserved in one Kashmir manuscript (now at Pune). The Shakala has the Aitareya-Brahmana, The Bashkala has the Kausitaki-Brahmana.

Shri Gurucharitra mentions 12 shakhas for the Rig Veda namely ?r?vak?, ?rava?iy?, ja, ?apha?a, phakrama(2), daa, a?val?yan?, kh?yan?, kal?, bkal? and m?k? (?, , , , ?(2), ?, , , , ?, ) in Ovi 35 to 38.[8]

There is, however, Sutra literature from the A?val?yana shakha, both a shrauta sutra and a grhya sutra, both surviving with a commentary (vrtti) by Gargya Naranaya. Gargya Naranaya's commentary was based on the longer commentary or bhashya by Devasvamin, written in the 11th century.[9]

The ?a?kh?yana shakha has been recently rediscovered in Banswada in Rajasthan where two septuagenarians are the last surviving practitioners. [10]

Yajur Veda

?aunaka's Cara?a-vyuha lists forty-two or forty-four out of eighty-six shakhas for the Yajur Veda, but that only five of these are now extant, with a sixth partially extant. For the Yajur Veda the five (partially in six) shakhas are the (Vajasaneyi Madhandina, Kanva; Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Caraka-Katha, Kapisthala-Katha).

The Yajurvedin shakhas are divided in Shukla (White) and Krishna (Black) schools. The White recensions have separate Brahmanas, while the Black ones have their(much earlier) Brahmanas interspersed between the Mantras.

  • Shukla Yajurveda: V?jasaneyi Samhita Madhyandina (VSM), V?jasaneyi Samhita K?nva (VSK): Shatapatha Brahmana (ShBM, ShBK)
  • Krishna Yajurveda: Taittir?ya Sa?hita (TS) with an additional Brahmana, Taittiriya Brahmana (TB), Maitrayani Sa?hita (MS), Caraka-Katha Sa?hita (KS), Kapihala-Katha Sa?hita (KapS).


Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
Madhyandina (VSM) Currently recited by all over North Indian Brahmins and by Deshastha Brahmins Madhyandina Shatapatha (SBM) survives as Shatapatha XIV.1-8, with accents. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad = SBM XIV. 3-8, with accents, Ishavasya Upanishad = VSM 40
Kanva (VSK) Currently recited by Utkala Brahmins, Kannada Brahmins, Karhade Brahmins and few Iyers Kanva Shatapatha (SBK)(different from madhyandina) survives as book XVII of SBK Brihadaranyaka Upanishad=SBK,with accents, Ishavasya Upanishad = VSK 40
Katyayana - -


Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
Taittiriya TS,Present all over South India and in Konkan Taittiriya Brahmana (TB) and Vadhula Br. (part of Vadhula Srautrasutra) Taittiriya Aranyaka (TA) Taittiriya Upanishad (TU)
Maitrayani MS,Recited by few Brahmins in Nasik - virtually same as the Upanishad Maitrayaniya Upanishad
Caraka-Katha Katha Aranyaka (almost the entire text from a solitary manuscript) Kathaka Upanishad, Katha-Shiksha Upanishad[11]
Kapishthala KapS (fragmentary manuscript, only first sections accented), edited (without accents) by Raghu Vira. - -

Sama Veda

?aunaka's Cara?a-vyuha lists twelve shakhas for the Sama Veda out of a thousand that are said to have once existed, but that of these only one or perhaps two are still extant. The two Samaveda recensions are the Jaiminiya and Kauthuma.

In Ovi 203 to 210 of chapter 27, Shri Gurucharitra mentions 8 of the thousands of shakhas namely ?sur?yay?, v?sur?yaya, v?t?ntarey?, prjal?, ?jñagvainavidh?, pr?c?na yogyakh?, jñ?nayoga and ryay? (?, , , , ?, ? , , ). Of these ryay? () has 10 shakhas namely ryay?, skhy?yan?, hy?, mugdala, khalval?, mah?khalval?, lgal?, kaithum?, gautam? and jaimin? (, ?, , , , , , , , ).[8]

The Kauthuma shakha has the PB, SadvB, the Jaiminiya shakha has the Jaiminiya Brahmana.

Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
Kauthuma edited,Recited by all over North and in South India[] edited (8 Brahmanas in all), no accents None. The Samhita itself has the 'Aranyaka'. Chandogya Upanishad
Ranayaniya Manuscripts of Samhita exist.Recited by Gokarna,and Deshastha Brahmins[] Same as Kauthuma with minor differences. None. The Samhita itself has the 'Aranyaka'. Same as Kauthuma.
Jaiminiya/Talavakara Samhita edited.Recited by Nambudiris and choliyal of Tamil nadu[] Two distinct styles of Saman recitation, partially recorded and published.[] Brahmana published (without accents) - Jaiminiya Brahmana, Arsheya Brahmana Tamil Nadu version of Talavakara Aranyaka (=Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana) published[] Kena Upanishad
Shatyayana - -

Atharva Veda

Only one shakha of an original nine is now extant for the Atharvaveda. The nine sakhas were Paippalada, Tauda, Mauda, Shaunakiya, Jajala, Jalada, Brahmavada, Devadarsa and Chaarana-Vaidya. In Ovi 217 to 219 of chapter 27, Shri Gurucharitra mentions 9 shakhas namely paippal?, d?nt?, pradta, stot?, aut?, brahmad? ya?ad?, ?aunak?, vedadar and cara?avidy? (?, , ?, , , ?, , , )[8]

The Shaunaka is the only shakha of the Atharvaveda for which both printed texts and an active oral tradition are known to still exist.

For the Atharvaveda, both the Shaunakiya and the Paippalada traditions contain textual corruptions, and the original text of the Atharvaveda may only be approximated from comparison between the two.

Shakha Samhita Brahmana Aranyaka Upanishad
Shaunaka AVS, edited and recited by all over North India and South India Fragmentary Gopatha Brahmana (extant and published), no accents. - Mundaka Upanishad (?) published.
Paippalada AVP; recited by Utkala Brahmins as samhita patha only. otherwise, two manuscripts survive: Kashmiri (mostly edited) and Oriya (partly edited, by Dipak Bhattacharya and others, unaccented) lost,similar to that of Gopatha Brahmana - Prashna Upanishad, Sharabha Upanishad etc. - all edited.[]

The Paippalada tradition was discontinued, and its text is known only from manuscripts collected since the 20th century. However some Orissa Brahmins [2] still continue the tradition of Paippalada. No Brahmana is known for the Shaunaka shakha. The Paippalada is possibly associated with the Gopatha Brahmana.


  1. ^ a b c V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, p. 913, left column.
  2. ^ a b c Monier-Williams, A Sanskit-English Dictionary, p. 1062, right column.
  3. ^ V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, p. 913, left column
  4. ^ E.g., Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; and Moore, Charles A. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press; 1957. Princeton paperback 12th edition, 1989. ISBN 0-691-01958-4. p. 560. The example is given here of a text which refers to a dispute involving khins [followers] who do not accept a particular position.
  5. ^ V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 429, middle column
  6. ^ Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent Before The Coming Of The Muslims. (Grove Press, Inc.: New York, 1954) p. 139.
  7. ^ For a brief summary of the shakhas as given in Shaunaka's Cara?a-vy?ha see: Monier-Williams, A Sanskit-English Dictionary, p. 1062, right column.
  8. ^ a b c d "?/ - ". Retrieved .
  9. ^ Catalogue of Sanskrit, Pali, and Prakrit Books in the British Museum (1876) p. 9. B.K. Sastry, review Archived 2016-03-14 at the Wayback Machine of K. P. Aithal (ed.), Asvalayana Grihya Sutra Bhashyam of Devasvamin, 1983.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ a lost Upanishad reconstructed by Michael Witzel as having been very similar in content to the Taittiriya Upanishad, chapter 1. M. Witzel, An unknown Upanisad of the Krsna Yajurveda: The Katha-Siksa-Upanisad. Journal of the Nepal Research Centre, Vol. 1, Wiesbaden-Kathmandu 1977, pp. 135


  • List of Pundits from different shakhas in India [3]
  • State wise list of shakhas [4]
  • Michael Witzel, Tracing the Vedic dialects in Dialectes dans les litteratures Indo-Aryennes ed. Caillat, Paris, 1989, 97–265.

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