The mahAnAryAnopaniShad is a text of considerable importance because it provides the shruti pramANa for several basic rituals of dvija-s like the saMdhyopAsana, trisuparNa ritual, shivopAsana using the pa~nchabrahma mantra-s, shaucha rites, kamorkArShIt ityAdi japa, prANAgnihotra, pariseShaNa, the daily vaishvadeva offerings and the final virajA homa with the teaching of renunciation. It is the only genuine vedic upaniShad that is peculiar in belonging to two veda-s – the taittirIya kR^iShNa yajurveda as the final section of the taittirIya AraNyaka (TA 10) and to the atharvaveda. The family tradition amongst the atharvan-s holds that it belongs to the lost AraNyaka of the atharvaveda that was cited by sha~Nkara bhagavatpAda, the famed advaitAcharya. This lost AraNyaka was most probably associated with either the paippalAda shAkha or the original shaunaka as some mantra-s in it resemble the paippalAda text as against the vulgate which is commonly known as the shaunaka. The AV recension, while similar to the TA 10 version, has several differences that help in establishing the archaic core of this text. I have a handwritten transcript with intonations, while an intonation-less version, with some errors, was published by Colonel George Jacob with nArAyaNa’s notes (Jacob was an interesting guy, who lived not far my childhood home. Though he was an English warrior who fought our armies during the great struggle, and the son and son-in-law of accursed Isaist subversionists, he turned pro-Hindu and started pressing on the English government to preserve the literary traditions of “the old shAstrI’s – those living encyclopedias of learning”.).
One important mantra used by the atharvan-s, called the mahAsAvitrI, is the mantra with the oblations are made during the first upAkarma and in subsequent recitation during brahmayaj~na. The source for this mantra is the atharvavedIya MNU:
OM bhUH | OM bhuvaH | OM svaH | OM mahaH | OM janaH | OM tapaH | OM satyaM | OM tat-savitur vareNyaM bhargo devasya dhImahI | dhiyo yo naH prachodayAt | omApo-jyotI-raso.amR^itaM brahma bhUr-bhuvas-svaroM | OM bhUr-bhuvaH-suvar-mahar-janas-tapaH satyaM madhu kSharanti | tad-brahma tad-Apa Apo jyotI-raso. amR^itaM brahma bhUr-bhuvas-svaroM| OM tad-brahma | OM tad-vAyuH | OM tad-AtmA | OM tat-sarvaM | OM tat-puroM namaH ||
The AV version of the upaniShad also contains the nArAyaNa sUkta which gives the text its name. The AV form of this chant clarifies a few otherwise minor points that are constant topics of debate amongst south Indian brAhmaNa-s: 1) The sUkta in the AV form also ends with the mantra “R^itaM satyaM…”, which suggests that this mantra was present in the ancestral form of the text. This corresponds to the oral taittirIya text of the brAhmaNa-s from the Andhra and drAviDa countries as against the printed MNU from the TA, which often elides this mantra. Thus, the oral text is most probably preserving the original form. Secondly, in the final part of the chant there is a version prevalent in South India that lists the trinity brahma, shiva and hari and then indra (sa brahma sa shivaH sa hariH sendra …). It has been alleged that this inclusion of hari is a recent interpolation by shaiva-s who want to establish the nArAyaNa here as the puruSha, rather than viShNu. It is countered that the vaiShNava-s do not include sa hariH in their version of the recitation and that the inclusion of sa hariH breaks the otherwise perfect anuShTubh meter. The AV version of the MNU lacks sa hariH strongly suggesting that it is indeed a shaiva-inspired late interpolation into the TA version of the text. As an example of how the upaniShad is recited by the atharvan-s I provide a MP3 version of this sUkta:
atharvavedIya nArAyaNa sUkta MP3
Finally, we will discuss some aspects of textual evolution and some parallels with molecular evolution using the two MNUs as a case study.