Yajurveda: The Knowledge About Worship

The Yajurveda (यजुर्वेद Yajur meaning “worship”, and Veda meaning “knowledge”) is the Veda primarily of prose mantras for worship rituals. An ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, it is a compilation of ritual-offering formulas that were said by a priest while an individual performed ritual actions such as those before the yajna fire. Yajurveda is one of the four Vedas, and one of the scriptures of Hinduism. The exact century of Yajurveda’s composition is unknown and estimated by Witzel to be between 1200 and 800 BCE, contemporaneous with Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Two of the oldest surviving manuscript copies of the Shukla Yajurveda sections have been discovered in Nepal and Western Tibet, and these are dated to the 12th century CE.

Yajurveda Etymology

Yajurveda is a compound Sanskrit word, composed of ya jus (यजुस्) and Veda (वेद). Monier-Williams translates yajus as “religious reverence, veneration, worship, sacrifice, a sacrificial prayer, formula, particularly mantras uttered in a peculiar manner at a sacrifice”. Veda means “knowledge”. Johnson states that yajus means “(mostly) prose formulae or mantras, contained in the Yajur Veda, which are muttered”.

White Yajurveda, Book 1 to Book 20
Yajurveda: The Knowledge of Worship

Michael Witzel interprets Yajurveda to mean a “knowledge text of prose mantras” used in Vedic rituals. Ralph Griffith interprets the name to mean “knowledge of sacrifice or sacrificial texts and formulas”. Carl Olson states that Yajurveda is a text of “mantras (sacred formulas) that are repeated and used in rituals”.

Yajurveda Dating

The core text of the Yajurveda falls within the classical Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit at the end of the 2nd millennium BCE – younger than the Rigveda, and roughly contemporary with the Atharvaveda, the Rigvedic Khilani, and the Sāmaveda. The scholarly consensus dates the bulk of the Yajurveda and Atharvaveda hymns to the early Indian Iron Age, after c. 1200 and before 800 BCE.

Georg Feuerstein suggests that the dates given to most of these texts are far too late.

The parts of Yajurveda

Like every Veda, the Yajurveda is divided into parts. These include Aditya Sampradaya or Shukla Yajurveda and Brahma Sampradaya or Krishna Yajurveda.

Shukla Yajurveda

Shukla Yajurveda (white Yajurveda) contains a collection of mantras required for the ‘Darshapourmasadi’ ritual etc. Talking about its branches, its main branches are the Madhyandin and the Kanav. Yajnavalkya, the son of Vajasani provided the vision behind this scripture.

Hence the codes of Yajurveda are also called Vajasaneya. The Yajurveda has a total of 40 chapters and 1975 episodes. It has 3,988 mantras. The world-famous Yajurveda has Gayatri Mantra as well as Mahamrityunjaya Mantra.

Shukla Yajur Veda Chanting | Vedic Mantras | Vol 53-54 - YouTube
Shukla Yajurveda or White Yajurveda

Krishna Yajurveda

The Krishna Yajurveda (black Yajurveda) is a mixture of mantras and Brahmanas. Presently, there are 4 Samhitas in Krishna Yajurveda, namely Taittiriya, Maitrayani, Kath, and Kapishthal Kath. The Taittriya Samhita, which is a branch of Krishna Yajurveda, is also called ‘Aapastambha Samhita’.

Of the 101 branches of the Yajurveda mentioned by Maharshi Patanjali, only 5 are available at this time, which are Vajasaneya, Taittiriya, Kath, Kapisthal, and Maitrayani. There is a lot of difference between them. Shukla Yajurveda delineates the Yajurveda Samhita on the basis of interpretive material (Brahman), while in Krishna Yajurveda, both are present.

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Krishna Yajurveda or Black Yajurveda

Yajurveda Contents


The Vajasaneyi Samhita has forty chapters or adhyayas, containing the formulas used with the following rituals:

Chapters of the White Yajurveda
Chapter No. Ritual Name Time Nature of Ritual
1-2 Darṣapūrṇamāsa (Full and new moon rituals) 2 days Offer cow milk to fire. Separate calves from the cows.
3 Agnihotraand Cāturmāsya 1 day, 4 months The former is the daily oblation of milk into the fire, and the latter is the seasonal sacrifices at the beginning of the three seasons.
4-8 Soma sacrifice Bathe in the river. Offer milk and soma to fire. Offerings to deities of thought, and speech. Prayer to Vishnu to harm no crop, guard the cattle, expel demons.
9-10 Vājapeya and Rājasūya The former is a variant of the soma sacrifice which involves a chariot race, and the latter is a variant of the soma sacrifice in which a king is consecrated.
11-18 Agnicayana 360 Formulas and rituals for building altars and hearths for Agni yajna, with the largest in the shape of an outspread eagle or falcon.
19-21 Sautrāmaṇī A ritual that deals with the overindulgence of soma, and to assure victory and success.
22-25 Aśvamedha 180 or 360 Horse sacrifice ritual conducted by kings.
26-29 Supplementary formulas for the above sacrifices
30-31 Puruṣamedha The symbolic sacrifice of Purusha (Cosmic Man). The nominal victim played the part but was released uninjured after the ceremony, according to Max Muller and others. A substitute for Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice). The ritual plays out the cosmic creation.
32-34 Sarvamedha 10 Stated to be more important than Purushamedha above. This ritual is a sacrifice for Universal Success and Prosperity. Ritual for one to be wished well, or someone leaving the home, particularly for solitude and moksha, who is offered “curd and ghee (clarified butter)”.
35 Pitriyajna Ritual funeral-related formulas for cremation. Sacrifice to the Fathers and Ancestors.
36-39 Pravargya According to Griffith, the ritual is for long life, unimpaired faculties, health, strength, prosperity, security, tranquility, and contentment. Offerings of cow milk and grains to yajna fire.
40 This chapter is not an external sacrifice ritual-related. It is Isha Upanishad, a philosophical treatise about the inner Self (Atman, Soul). Verse 40.6 states, “The man who in his Self beholds all creatures and all things that be, And in all beings sees his Self, then he doubts no longer, ponders not.

Structure of the Mantras

The various ritual mantras in the Yajurveda Samhitas are typically set in a meter, and call on Vedic deities such as the Savita (Sun), Indra, Agni, Prajapati, Rudra, and others. The Taittiriya Samhita in Book 4, for example, includes the following verses for the Agnicayana ritual recitation (abridged):

First harnessing the mind, Savita; creating thoughts and perceiving light, brought Agni from the earth.
Whose journey the other gods follow, praising the power of the god, who measured the radiant regions of the earth, he is the great god Savita.
God Savita, impel the ritual, impel for good fortune the lord of ritual !
Divine Gandharva, purifier of thought, purify our thoughts ! May the lord of speech make our words sweet ! — Taittiriya Samhita 4.1.1, Translated by Frits Staal

Satapatha Brahmana

“Brahmana of the Hundred Paths”. It is one of the largest Brahmana texts that has survived. It includes states Staal, a “veritable encyclopedia of meandering opinions on ritual and other matters”.

The Satapatha Brahmana was translated by Eggeling in the late 19th century, reprinted often, and has been well-read because of the translation. However, it has been misinterpreted and misused, states Staal, because “it contains enough material to support any theory”. Eggeling, the first translator of Satapatha Brahmana called it “flimsy symbolism rather than serious reasoning”, similar to “speculative vaporings” found in the Christian and non-Christian variety of Gnosticism.


The Yajurveda has six primary Upanishads embedded within it.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is found in the White Yajurveda. It is one of the Mukhya Upanishads, and among the largest and oldest as well (~700 BCE). It is a key scripture of Hinduism that has influenced all schools of Hindu philosophy. The text is a treatise on Ātman (Soul, Self), with passages on metaphysics, ethics, and a yearning for knowledge that influenced various Indian religions, and ancient and medieval scholars.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is among the earliest extensive discussions of the Hindu concept of dharma, karma, and moksha (liberation from sorrow, freedom, emancipation, self-realization). Paul Deussen calls it, “unique in its richness and warmth of presentation”, with profoundness that retains its full worth in modern times.

Isha Upanishad

The Isha Upanishad is found in the White Yajurveda. It is one of the shortest Upanishads, embedded as the final chapter of the Shukla Yajurveda. A key scripture of the Vedanta sub-schools of Hinduism, its name is derived from “hidden in the Lord (Self)”.

The Isha Upanishad discusses the Atman (Soul, Self) theory of Hinduism, and is referenced by both Dvaita (dualism) and Advaita (non-dualism) sub-schools of Vedanta. It is classified as a “poetic Upanishad” along with Kena, Katha, Svetasvatara, and Mandukya Upanishads.

Taittiriya Upanishad

The Taittiriya Upanishad is found in the black Yajurveda. It is the seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters of Taittiriya Aranyaka, which are also called, respectively, the Siksha Valli, the Ananda Valli, and the Bhrigu Valli.

The Taittiriya Upanishad includes verses that are partly prayers and benedictions, partly instruction on phonetics and praxis, partly advice on ethics and morals given to graduating students from ancient Vedic gurukul (schools), partly a treatise on allegory, and partly philosophical instruction.

The text offers a view of the education system in ancient India. It also includes sections on ethics and invocation for one’s personal development. 

Katha Upanishad

The Upanishad is the legendary story of a little boy, Nachiketa – the son of sage Vajasravasa, who meets Yama – the Indian deity of death. Their conversation evolves into a discussion of the nature of man, knowledge, Ātman (Soul, Self), and moksha (liberation).

The Katha Upanishad is an important ancient Sanskrit corpus of the Vedanta sub-schools. It asserts that “Atman (Soul, Self) exists”, teaches the precept “seek Self-knowledge which is Highest Bliss”, and expounds on this premise like the other primary Upanishads of Hinduism. The detailed teachings of the Katha Upanishad have been variously interpreted, as Dvaita (dualistic) and as Advaita (non-dualistic).

The Katha Upanishad found in the Yajurveda is among the most widely studied Upanishads. Philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer praised it, Edwin Arnold rendered it in verse as “The Secret of Death”, and Ralph Waldo Emerson credited Katha Upanishad for the central story at the end of his essay Immortality, as well as his poem “Brahma“.

Shvetashvatara Upanishad

The text opens with metaphysical questions about the primal cause of all existence, its origin, its end, and what role if any time, nature, necessity, chance, and the spirit had as primal causes. It then develops its answer, concluding that “the Universal Soul exists in every individual, it expresses itself in every creature, everything in the world is a projection of it, and that there is Oneness, a unity of souls in one and only Self”.

The Shvetashvatara Upanishad is notable for discussing the concept of a personal god – Ishvara and suggesting it to be a path to one’s own Highest Self. The text is also notable for its multiple mentions of Rudra and Shiva, along with other Vedic deities, and of the crystallization of Shiva as a central theme.

Maitrayaniya Upanishad

It consists of seven Prapathakas (lessons). However, several manuscripts discovered in different parts of India contain a lesser number of Prapathakas, with a Telugu-language version showing just four.

The common kernel of the Maitri Upanishad across different recensions, states Max Muller, is a reverence for the soul, that can be summarized in a few words as, “(Man) is the Self – the immortal, the fearless, the Brahman“. The Maitrayaniya Upanishad is notable for its references to theories also found in Buddhism, elements of the Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hinduism, as well as the Ashrama system.


The Yajurveda had Shrautasutras and Grhyasutras attached to it, from fifteen schools: Apastamba, Agastya, Agniveshyaka, Baudhayana, Bharadvaja, Hiranyakeshi, Kaundinya, Kusidaka, Katyayana, Lokaksita, Madhyamdina, Panca-Kathaka, Satyasadha, Sakala, Sandilya, Vaikhanasa, and Vadula. Of these nine have survived, along with portions of Kaundinya.

Yajurveda Manuscripts and translations

Most surviving manuscripts and recensions of Yajurveda’s Samhitas, Aranyakas, and Brahmanas remain untranslated into Western languages. The two reliable translations are from the British India colonial era and have been widely studied. These are AB Keith’s translation of Taittiriya Samhita of the Black Yajurveda, and Juliu Eggeling’s translation of Satapatha Brahmana of the White Yajurveda.

Ralph Griffith published an early translation of White Yajurveda Samhita. However, Frits Staal has questioned his translations and considers them “fantasies and best discarded”.

Devi Chand published a re-interpreted translation of Yajurveda in 1965, reprinted as 3rd edition in 1980, wherein the translation incorporated Dayananda Saraswati’s monotheistic interpretations of the Vedic text, and the translation liberally adds “O Lord” and “the Creator” to various verses, unlike other translators.

Ezourvedam forgery

In the 18th century, French Jesuits published Ezourvedam, claiming it to be a translation of a recension of the Yajurveda. The Ezourveda was studied by Voltaire, and later declared a forgery, representing Jesuit ideas to Indians as a Vedic school.

Glimpses of the Past - ENVISIONING SOUTH ASIA - The University of Chicago Library
Yajurveda Manuscript

Yajurveda Significance

The text is a useful source of information about agriculture, and economic and social life during the Vedic era. The verses, for example, list the types of crops considered important in ancient India,

May my rice plants and my barley, and my beans and my sesame,
and my kidney-beans and my vetches, and my pearl millet and my proso millet,
and my sorghum and my wild rice, and my wheat and my lentils,
prosper by sacrifice. — White Yajurveda 18.12


Because of the above, I am confident that you have learned in-depth about Yajurveda, etymology, dating, parts of Yajurveda, contents, manuscripts, translation, and significance, etc. Now, that you have become self-sufficient to practice and achieve the goal, hence it’s the right time to use your acquired knowledge for gaining numerous benefits for well-being.

After reading this article, how would you rate it? Would you please let me know your precious thoughts? 

Frequently asked questions

Before posting your query, kindly go through the:

What is the meaning of Yajurveda?

Michael Witzel interprets Yajurveda to mean a “knowledge text of prose mantras” used in Vedic rituals. Ralph Griffith interprets the name to mean “knowledge of sacrifice or sacrificial texts and formulas”. Carl Olson states that Yajurveda is a text of “mantras (sacred formulas) that are repeated and used in rituals”.

How many parts Yajurveda is divided?

Like every Veda, the Yajurveda is divided into parts. These include Aditya Sampradaya or Shukla Yajurveda and Brahma Sampradaya or Krishna Yajurveda.


What is the significance of Yajurveda?

The text is a useful source of information about agriculture, and economic and social life during the Vedic era. The verses, for example, list the types of crops considered important in ancient India


Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yajurveda

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