The Yajur Veda is an ancient collection of Sanskrit mantras and verses, used in Hindu worship and rituals. It is one of the four primary scriptures of Hinduism known collectively as the Vedas, alongside Rig Veda, Atharva Veda and Sama Veda. The name is derived from the Sanskrit roots, yajus, meaning “worship” or “sacrifice”’ and veda, meaning “knowledge.” Yajur Veda is sometimes translated as “Knowledge of the Sacrifice.”
The text describes the way in which religious rituals and sacred ceremonies should be performed, and it is therefore primarily intended for Hindu priests.
The mantras within Yajur Veda are used during religious rituals such as those before the yajna fire, and they are most commonly recited by the adhvaryu who preside over the physical details of a sacrifice.
Yajur Veda is the third of the four Vedas, believed to have been composed between 1200 and 900 BCE. At the heart of the Vedic tradition is a system of sacrifices, each of which depends upon invocations of specific deities.
The Yajur Veda prescribes these rituals, which are performed alongside the melodic chants of the Sama Veda.
Each of the four Vedas is assigned a specific Hindu priest; hota for Rig Veda, adhvaryu for Yajur Veda, udgata for Sama Veda and brahman for Atharva Veda.
Although each priest plays an essential role in the religious rituals, the adhvaryu functions as executive priest, reciting from the Yajur Veda to assign sacrificial duties to the yajamana (ritual patron) and other priests.
The Yajur Veda is divided into two parts – the white or “pure” Yajur Veda known as Shukla, and the black or “dark” Yajur Veda known as Krishna. The white Yajur Veda deals with prayers and specific instructions for devotional sacrifices, whereas the black Yajur Veda deals with sacrificial rituals.
The Vedas were originally transmitted by word of mouth, before being edited by various schools known as shakhas. Of all four Vedas, the Yajur Veda gathered the largest amount of schools, further dividing the Shukla and Krishna Yajur Vedas into the following samhitas (verses):
- Madhyandina Samhita
- Kanva Samhita
- Taittiriya Samhita
- Kathaka Samhita
- Kapishthala Samhita
- Maitrayani Samhita
Despite being based on the older Rig Veda, Yajur Veda differs in that it exclusively describes the technicalities of sacred rituals and ceremonies. Some of the verses are devoted entirely to ritual instruments and offerings, most of which symbolize certain aspects of Brahman (universal consciousness).