By Swami Harshananda
The Yajurveda is second of the four Vedas, the basic scriptures of the religion. It is said to have emerged out of the southern face of Brahmā, the creator. It is also called as Adhvaryuveda, since it's main use is in the performance of the Vedic sacrifices where the adhvaryu is the chief priest under whose direct guidance the entire sacrifice is performed. Its mantras are called yajus. These mantras are in Yajus.
Sections of Yajurveda
Since the ancient times, it has been available in two main streams:
- Kṛṣna Yajurveda
- Śukla Yajurveda
Legend of Kṛṣna Yajurveda
The popular legend that describes how this came about runs as follows: The sage Vaiśampāyana, to whom Vedavyāsa had imparted the Yajurveda, once incurred the sin of brahmahatyā due to a serious but technical lapse. Being too old and decrepit to perform the prescribed expiation, he asked his disciples to do it on his behalf which was permitted by the relevant scriptures. Yājñavalkya, his best disciple, probably due to the pride of his learning, offered to do it all by himself thereby slighting the other disciples. Angered by his behavior, Vaiśampāyana ordered him to give back the Veda he had taught and quit.
Yājñavalkya then spewed the Veda which was black or dark in color and left. The other disciples took the form of tittiri birds and consumed it. Since it was dark in color, it came to be known as Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. Since the tittiri birds consumed it, it was also called as Taittiriya Samhitā.
Legend of Śukla Yajurveda
Yājñavalkya later worshiped the Sun-god and got another version of the same Veda from him, who taught it assuming the form of a horse. Hence this branch came to be known as Śukla Yajurveda and Vājasaneyi Samhitā.
Reasoning For Śukla Yajurveda
Obviously this legend is highly symbolical which has to be unraveled carefully. The following is one plausible explanation:
Yājñavalkya being the most brilliant of all the students of Vaiśampāyana, had mastered the whole Yajurveda. He was now forced to teach it to the other disciples. He taught it to the extent of their memory. Some part of the Veda slipped out of his memory due to the curse of his guru. After losing it, he had to regain it, maybe in another form, by his own tapas or austerities in which he succeeded. He pleased God through meditation in the Sun-form and got it.
The sage Tittiri was an important teacher of this Veda. He was a disciple coming in the great tradition of the Vedic teachers Vyāsa and Vaiśampāyana. Hence this Veda got the name Taittiriya Samhitā. Similarly, since Yājñavalkya was the son of ‘Vājaseni’ Devarāta, his Veda came to be known as Vājasaneyi Samhitā. This is another explanation.
Normally, a Vedic Samhitā consists of only metrical compositions whereas the Brāhmaṇas are in prose. Since the Veda taught by Vaiśampāyana contained an unusual mixture of these, it might have been called Kṛṣṇa. The other Veda comprising of only the metrical compositions, might have got the title Śukla. Some scholars feel that the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda is the more ancient of the two.
Branches of Yajurveda
Just like other three Vedas, the Yajurveda also has several branches. They are listed as 101 or 86. However only 5 Samhitās are available now. They are:
- Taittiriya Samhitā
- Maitrāyaniya Samhitā
- Kāthaka Samhitā
- Kapisthala-Kāthaka Samhitā
- Vājasaneyi Samhitā
The first four belong to the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda. Out of these, the fourth has not been recovered fully. The Vājasaneyi Samhitā is the only Samhitā of the Śukla Yajurveda. It has two recensions:
- The Kānva
- The Mādhyandina
Though 13 more have been mentioned, none of them is available now.
Commentators on Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda
The commentators on the Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda are:
Commentators on Śukla Yajurveda
The following are the commentators on the Śukla Yajurveda'.
- Ānanda bodha
Sub-Sections of Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda
The Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda has only one Brāhmaṇa and one Araṇyaka. They are:
- Taittiriya Brāhmana
- Taittiriya Araṇyaka
The Upaniṣads of this Veda are:
- The Taittiriya Upaniṣad
- The Katha Upaniṣad
- The Svetāśvatara
Sub-sections of Śukla Yajurveda
Coming to the Śukla Yajurveda, the only Brāhmaṇa available now is the Śatapatha Brāhmana. This is in two recensions, they are:
- The Kānva
- The Mādhyandina
- The purvabhāga or first part of the 14th kāṇḍa of the Śatapatha Brāhmana is the Araṇyaka of the Śukla Yajurveda.
- The last part of this Brāhmaṇa is the well-known Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.
- The Iśāvāsya Upaniṣad also belongs to this Veda and forms the last chapter of the Samhitā.
Most of the gods of the Ṛgveda are also found here. Whereas some like Rudra have become more important, others like Uṣas have lost their prominence. The society reflected through this Veda is similar to that of the Ṛgveda. The varṇa system had been firmly established. The philosophy of the Yajurveda is same as the one reflected in its Upaniṣads. The element of devotion to God is also an important factor to be noted.
- Brahmahatyā means the sin of killing a brāhmaṇa.
- Tittiri birds are partridges.
- Kṛṣṇa means dark, black.
- Śukla means white, bright.
- Vājasaneyi Samhitā means horse.
- Vājaseni is the ‘one who was famous for giving the gift of vājas or food’.
- Kṛṣṇa means dark, not pure.
- Śukla means white and pure.
- Kāṇḍa means section.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore