The Aranyakas ("Forest Books") discuss rites deemed not suitable for the village (thus the name "forest"); it constitutes the philosophy behind ritual sacrifice texted in the Vedas. The major contents of the Aranyakas are theosophy (Brahmavidya), meditation (Upasana) and knowledge of breath (Pranavidya). They describe the secret meaning of the sacrifice and the concept of Brahma as well. The creation of the universe, the power of the Almighty, Om, the soul and the cycle of birth and death are explained in Brihadaranyaka in a simple manner. In the Aranyakas we find certain important geographical, historical, social and cultural points also. All this makes their study more significant.
The Brahmanas advocating Yajna and other rituals are prescribed only for those who live in homes and lead the life of house-holders (Grihastha). But it has to be understood that Vedic rituals are intended to confer not only material benefits but also mental purity by constant discipline. Aranyakas containing explanations of the rituals and allegorical speculations thereon are meant for non-materialistic seakers. This may be the reason why these texts were propounded by the Rishis who resided in the forests and thought upon the secrets of the Yajnas. Aranyakas describe the actions of life and also acquisition of knowledge. These works form the basis of the Rahasya or secrets discussed in the Upanishads, therefore, another name of the Aranyakas was ‘Rahasya‘ as well. This name is mentioned in the Gopatha Brahmana and Manusmriti.
Aranyakas is to bridge the gap between the ritualistic Brahmanas and the more philosophical Upanishads. Aranyakas are non-homogeneous in content and structure. In the immense Vedic literature, there is no absolute universally true distinction between Aranyakas and Brahmanas, as some Upanishads are incorporated inside a few Aranyakas. Aranyakas, along with Brahmanas, represent the emerging transitions in later Vedic religious practices. The transition completes with the blossoming of ancient Indian philosophy from external sacrificial rituals to internalized philosophical treatise of Upanishads.
Aranyakas describe and discuss rituals from various perspectives, but some include philosophical speculations. For example, the Katha Aranyaka discusses rituals connected with the Pravargya (ceremony introductory to the Agnishtoma (Soma sacrifice – devotion / worship / offering; to any ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with chanting mantras), at which fresh milk is poured into a heated vessel called mahavira or gharma and offered to the Ashvins (twin Vedic gods of medicine. They are also described as divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda. They are the sons of Surya (in his form as Vivasvant) and his wife Saranyu, a goddess of the clouds)). The Aitareya Aranyaka includes explanation of the Mahavrata ritual from ritualisitic to symbolic meta-ritualistic points of view.
The Aranyakas are associated with, and named for, individual Vedic shakhas.
o Aitareya Aranyaka belongs to the Aitareya Shakha of Rigveda
o Kaushitaki Aranyaka belongs to the Kaushitaki and Shankhayana Shakhas of Rigveda
o Taittiriya Aranyaka belongs to the Taittiriya Shakha of the Krishna Yajurveda
o Maitrayaniya Aranyaka belongs to the Maitrayaniya Shakha of the Krishna Yajurveda
o Katha Aranyaka belongs to the (Caraka)Katha Shakha of the Krishna Yajurveda
o Brihad Aranyaka in the Madhyandina and the Kanva versions of the Shukla Yajurveda. The Madhyandina version has 9 sections, of which the last 6 are the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
o Talavakara Aranyaka or Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana belongs to the Talavakara or Jaiminiya Shakha of the Samaveda
o Aranyaka Samhita is not a typical Aranyaka text: rather the Purvarchika of the Samaveda Samhitas has a section of mantras, called the 'Aranyaka Samhita', on which the Aranyagana Samans are sung.
The Atharvaveda has no surviving Aranyaka, though the Gopatha Brahmana is regarded as its Aranyaka, a remnant of a larger, lost Atharva (Paippalada) Brahmana.