YAJUR VEDA The Yajur Veda is one of four primary Saṃhitās (anthologies) of Vedas, India's most ancient textual authority. The oldest, decidedly seminal Veda, the Rig Veda—1,028 hymns composed in the final centuries before 1000 b.c.—became a source of mantras, cited with additional material in three later Vedas: Yajur, Samur, and Atharva Veda, all compiled within two or three centuries. An "inside" perspective of Vedic heritage, including those Vedic Brahmans still tasked today with memorizing and reciting Vedas as oral traditions, understands the four Saṃhitās as unitary ("the Veda"), eternal, without human or divine origin, and therefore without literary chronology as recognized by "outside" historians and linguists.
The great system of sacrifices at the heart of Vedic religion depended upon invocations of deities and ritual prescriptions of the Yajur Veda, literally "knowledge of the yajus (sacrificial formulas)," and the melodies of the Samur Veda, literally "knowledge of the saman (chant)." Together with the Rig Veda, they form a "triple Veda," following a traditional predilection for triads. A fourth Saṃhitā, the Atharva Veda, was added as an important ancient compendium of hymns regarding popular religious practices not directly related to the sacrificial calendar. Four major priests were assigned to these four Vedas, the hota, adhvaryu, udgata, and brahman, for the Rig, Yajur, Samur, and Atharva Vedas, respectively. Each has essential ritual roles, but it is the adhvaryu, reciting from the Yajur Veda, who functions as executive priest, assigning sacrificial duties and mantras to the yajamana (sacrificer-patron) and other priests. In great shrauta sacrifices, including paradigmatic soma and animal offerings, the adhvaryu may direct sixteen or seventeen priests in an arena outside the sacrificer's home. Or the adhvaryu may direct actions inside the home in new- and full-moon-day sacrifices, with the yajamana alone or with one to three other priests in the grihya (domestic) schedule patterned after that of the shrauta. In either case, portions of the Yajur Veda are incorporated into ritual handbooks for procedures.
Over the centuries, the four Vedas were orally transmitted and edited by numerous schools known as shakhas (branches). The Yajur Veda text generated the largest number of schools in two divisions: the older Krishna (Black) Yajur Veda, with four Saṃhitās (Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Kathaka, and Kapishthala-Katha); and the younger Vajasaneyi Saṃhitā, also known as the Shukla (White) Yajur Veda, with two closely related schools, Madhyamdina and Kanva. Whereas the texts of the latter were composed, and are still recited today, in verse only, those of the various Krishna Yajur Veda schools are mixed, with prose passages among metrical ones. Almost the same rites are provided by each school, although length of coverage, schedule order, and even emphasis in the subcontinent vary considerably.
The major difference between the two Yajur Vedas, Krishna (Black) and Shukla (White), concerns brāhmaṇas. Every Veda has a prose genre known as brāhmaṇa, a discourse with rules concerning particular mantras or ritual actions, along with explanations of their meanings. For example, in his schedule of memorized texts, a Vedic student born into the Taittiriya shakha first learns the Taittiriya Saṃhitā (= Krishna Yajur Veda), which includes numerous brāhmaṇa passages throughout (although he then goes on to memorize an equally lengthy text known as the Taittiriya Brāhmaṇa, followed by the briefer Taittiriya Aranyaka and Taittiriya Upanishad). On the other hand, a student born into the Madhyamdina shakha learns the metrical Shukla Yajur Veda (= Vajasaneyi Saṃhitā) without any brāhmaṇa explanations, those having been collected in a separate text known as the Shatapatha Brāhmaṇa, the next assignment for memorization.
David M. Knipe
Gonda, Jan. Vedic Literature. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1975. Best detailed overview.
Keith, Arthur B. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanisads. 2 vols. 1925. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971. Knowledgeable overview by English translator of Taittiriya Saṃhitā (Krishna Yajur Veda).
Renou, Louis. Vedic India, translated by Philip Spratt. 1947. Reprint, Delhi: Indological Book House, 1971. Concise summary by a leading authority on Vedic shakhas.