Yajurveda is the second among the four Vedas. The worYajus (यजुस्)means mantras in the form of prose where letters are not fixed. The collection of many Yajus is called Yajurveda. Knowledge, performing our duties, and worship are the three instruments for achieving the fourobjectives of life. These are religion (धर्म) wealth (अर्थ), desire (काम), andliberation (मॊक्ष). One can achieve liberation only with knowledge and work performed with knowledge leads to success.

Yajur Veda and Karma Kand

Vedas can be divided into Karma Kand (कर्मकाण्ड) and Jnan Kand(ज्ञानकाण्ड).Jnan Kand deals with how one can free oneself from the bond of material world, cycle of life and death and reach emancipation. KarmaKand delineateshow both material comfort and spiritual happiness can be attained by performing rituals like ‘Sacrifices’.

Yajurveda explains the method of performing sacrificial rituals in detail. It also provides an insight into the world around us, on human life, nature’s impact on it, creation of the world and mankind and about religion which is based upon traditions. Its last chapter Ishavasyopanishad is well-known.

There is a popular opinion that Yajurveda was created after Rigveda.Vishnupurana mentions that at first there was only one Yajus(यजुस्) which was later divided into four parts. In Taithriya Aranyak (तैत्तिरिय आरण्यक) Omkaris called Yajus. According to Shakuntala Rao Shastri many mantras in Yajurveda can be found in Atharvaveda, so it must be created after Atharvaveda. Scholars think that Yajurveda was created at the same time asMahabharata, so its tentative period is between 1600 and 1800 BC.

Structure of Yajur Veda

Yajurveda is mixture of poetry and prose. The prose mantras of Yajurvedaare called Kaandika (काण्डिका). Short meters like’ Gayatri’ are also used insome placesPerforming Sacrifice is said to be the most important and auspicious activity amongst all in Shatpath Braahman (शतपथ ब्राह्मण). Sacrifice is said to characterize the supreme soul. In Sanskrit the word Yagna (यज्ञ)means sacrifice which is derived from root Yaj (यज्)’ which means to perform sacrifice. Four Sages represent each Veda in sacrifice, Hotha (हॊता) forRigveda, Adhvaryu (अध्वर्यु) for Yajurveda, Udhghatha (उद्गाता) for Samveda, and Brahma (ब्रह्मा) for AtharvavedaYajurveda is also known asAdhvaryuveda (अध्वर्युवेद). The root dhvar(ध्वर्) means violence; work performed without any violence is Adhvar (अध्वर) (which means sacrifice) so the Veda which outlines the practice of conducting sacrifices and its proponent is called Adhvaryu (अध्वर्यु).

Significance of conducting Sacrifices

Yagnas or Sacrifices were also meant as a medium for spreading brotherhood, unity and equality. People from all classes, all castes and groups were eligible to perform sacrificeIn ancient times whenever any sacrifice was performed, all classes of people from society would participate.There would be discussions on social as well as national issues in the sacrificial venues. They used to have debates on various sciences. Thus sacrifices were occasions that were used to strengthen social relationships. After every sacrifice the host would offer some kind of donation to the scholars who had performed the sacrifice as without this the sacrifice was not thought to be complete. This spread the spirit of charity. Thus sacrificeshelped in maintaining a harmonious social fabric apart from having religious connotations during the ancient Vedic period.

Composition of Yajur Veda

Yajurveda which explains the sacrificial system in detail has two samhitasShukla Yajurveda and Krishna YajurvedaVaishampayan is the exponent ofKrishna Yajurveda and Yagnavalkya of Shukla. Shukla Yajurveda consists ofmantras and does not explain its efficacy. On the contrary Krishna Yajurvedais a combination of both Metric mantras and prose sentences explaining theiruse and significance.

Sage Vaishampayan was an expert in Yajurveda. He taught Yajurveda tohis disciple YagnavalkyaOnce both of them had dispute and an angryVaishampayan ordered Yagnavalkya to return his knowledge of Yajurveda. So Yagnayavalkya vomited it. Afterwards he worshipped the Sun god for knowledge of the Veda and when he succeeded he named that Yajurveda as Shukla Yajurveda. And since then Vaishampayan’s Yajurveda came to beknown as Krishna Yajurveda.

Another anecdote regarding the origin of the name Krishna Yajurveda is, when Yagnavalkya vomitted the Yajurveda, some of the disciples ofVaishampayan disguised as partridges referred to as thithir (तित्तिर) in Sanskrit accepted it. So it was named as Krishna Yajurveda which is also famous as Taithriya Samhita. But according to Panini this name Taithriya is related with the Sage Thithir.

With help of King Janamejaya and King Janak, Yagnavalkya established his branch in North India. People of all classes Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyasstarted following this branch. So the followers of Krishna Yajurveda migrated from north and settled in South India. This branch is well established in Southern regions.  

According to many ancient books there are over one hundred branches of Yajurveda but today only six of them exist, of which four belong to KrishnaYajurveda and two to Shukla Yajurveda. Among the four branches of KrishnaYajurveda, the Taithriya branch is followed on the banks of River Krishna.Kokanastha Brahmins follow Hiranyakeshi branch whereas Maitraayanibranch is followed by some people in Khandesh.

Krishna Yajurveda

A group of Yajus is called as kanda. No specific information is available aboutthe exact number of kandas. Six main kandas are known as Prajapatya,SowmyaAagneyaVaishwadevaSwayambhava and Varuna. Scholars opinethat they must have been named after Sages. Prajapatya Kanda includes thefirst two kandas. There are four branches of Krishna Yajurveda.

Taithriya– Many deities in Taithriya Samhita are from the Rig Veda. Rudrais a very important deity in Yajurveda than in Rig Veda and whole chapter is dedicated to him. Some say that the Krampat of this branch is byShakalya and the Padpat (पदपाठ) is by Gaalav. But some followers ofHiranyakeshi think that Padpat is by Athreya. In the seventh Kanda ofTaitriya Samhita there are stories of Sage Vasishta and King Sudhas of the solar dynasty. In some editions we can also find names of Dhritarashtra,Paanchaal and Kauntheya. Taithriya Samhita has two sub-branches one isAukya which is not available today and the other is Khandikeya. Only Sutra(an aphorismatic) literature is available for this branch which areApasthambaBhodaayanSatyashadam and Hiranyakeshi.

Maitrayani This branch is similar to Rigveda and followed in the region from Nasik, Maharashtra to Gujarat. Kath is also very similar to Rigveda and again is divided into five sub branches. IhamikaMadhyamika and Ourimika and two other names that are unknown. But experts say that these two are like appendixes. Kat branch is popular in Punjab and Kashmir regions. Kapishtalkat is a sub branch of Kat and mainly followed in Delhi and nearby regions.

Although there are many branches and sub branches, they all containdetailed descriptions and the methods of performing sacrifices and other rituals.

Shukla Yajurveda

All the rules laid down by sage, deity and meter are followed in this samhitaproperly. Prose and poetry are not mixed with each other so due to its purity it is named as Shukla Yajurveda. This samhita is also known as ‘VaajasaneyiSamhita’.

The word Vaaj means food and San means to win, so the one who performssacrifice to win food is called Vaajasaneyi. These were the ancestors ofYagnavalkya. All those who belonged to this family are known asVaajasaneyis.  There are forty chapters and three hundred and threeAnuvaaks of this samhitaThere are two branches of this samhita, Kaanvaand maadhyandin of which the latter is much popular than the other. Among forty chapters, the first eighteen are basic. Darshapurna sacrifice is explained in the first two chapters while Agnihotram and Chaturmaasya yagare described in the third. Chapters four to ten have description of Somayag, with its alterations. Chapters eleven to eighteen give information about Vediformation for sacrifice and agnichayanam.

Chapters nineteen to twenty five are known as Prathamavrithi (first edition),nineteenth to twenty first chapters have detailed description of SautramaniYag in which Sura –सुरा (Wine) is used as an oblation. Chapters twentysecond to twenty five describe Ashvamed sacrifice. Twenty sixth to Forty chapters are called Dvitiyavriti (second edition). Chapters twenty six to twenty nine have some new sacrificial mantras. Purushamedha,SarvamedhaPitrumedha and Prayajya these uncommon sacrifices are explained in chapters thirty to thirty nine. The fortieth chapter is the famousIshavasyopanishad.

According to the book Yagnavalkya Smriti, and also as stated by Kathyayanand Mahidhar, twenty six to forty chapters are Khil which means they were added later. We also find references to Vratya and Maaghad who were atheists. Some scholars think that the roots of ‘Atheist Philosophy begin here.

Society and Culture in Yajurveda

Society is formed by a variety of people, from different classes, from different economic as well as cultural backround.Yajurveda says that every man should be given the work he is interested in. That is why the Varna System was formed. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra classes are allmentioned in the thirty first chapter of Yajurveda which is known asPurushaadyay. In the Vedas, women are always mentioned with respect. Elders and ancestors were always given respect and the nineteenth chapter gives detailed description of the duties which must be performed for ancestors and deceased parents. Thus Vedic society sets an example for equality and mentions that there is no place for hostility and differences. The forty eighth mantra of the eighteenth chapter gives us the message of friendship.

In Prajapatya Kand of Krishna Yajurveda, many patriotic mantras can be foundThey state the importance of praying to Gods for the welfare of anation. The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Rudra) can be seen moreprominently in Yajurveda as compared to Rigveda, while the importance ofRigvedic deities was decreasing gradually. Moral concepts were more developed than in Rigveda. The Aryans used to worship deities for victory in battles, protection from natural calamities and long life as well as plenty of cattle. In Yajurveda, deities are also praised and prayed to acquireknowledge and prosperity. (Taithriya Samhita 4.17.3)  

In Yajurveda, Sages prayed to the deities for expiation of sins incurred. Theconcept of earning merit by performing good deeds while being punished for committing sins and its impact on human life makes its appearance in thetwentieth chapter of Vaajasaneyi Samhita. Protection and conservation of natural resources is also discussed in Yajurveda. In the eleventh chapter theimportance of water is narrated and water is revered as an auspicious power in Nature. In the twenty sixth mantra of the twenty second chapter, prayersare offered to Wind, Clouds, lightning and thunder, their praises sung and they are propitiated for the welfare of Human beings. Sages, in Yajurveda believed that our natural surroundings like river, mountains nourish our intellect while the sun plays a very important role in nurturing life on earth.The twenty first chapter discusses the different seasons and the diet which issuitable for our health according to each season. Many scientific descriptionscan also be seen in Yajurveda e.g. the moon gets light from Sun and increases or decreases every day, the Sun rotates in his fixed circle (23.10).

Agriculture has contributed a great deal throughout the history of mankind. Many mantras about agricultural work can be found in Yajurveda. In thetwelfth chapter, mantras from sixty seven to seventy describe agriculturalactivities such as ploughing, sowing, and watering crops. Just as in Rigveda,cattle was viewed as an important asset, so deities are praised for protection and increase in heads of cattle. In the eighteenth chapter many types of grains are discussed– these are rice, barley, beans, sesame seeds, wheat etc. Minerals and metals like red chalk, clay, sand, silver, iron and lead are also mentioned. The entire twenty fourth chapter gives information about birds, animals, insects etc.

Thus Yajurveda not only explains the methods for sacrifices but also guides us on various aspects of life. Sacrifice means not only performing a religious ritual but it is also thought to be a means for spreading and sharing knowledge. While guiding us on the path of karma kand it also underlines the importance of eternal values like equality, unity and brotherhood ofhuman life. Good thoughts and good deeds will lead us to success and goodfortune. This is the message of our ancient sages and this is reflected inYajurveda, which is relevant and inspiring even today.

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