Sukla Yajurveda

By Dr. Korada Subrahmanyam


Yajurveda, which provides the complete information related to Yāgas, has got two streams – Brahmasampradāya and Ādityasampradāya. Sampradāya literally means “tradition”. The former is called Kṛṣṇayajurveda and the latter Śuklayajurveda. This information is there in Śatapathabrāhmaṇam. Adhvaryuveda is another name of Yajurveda.

Yājñavalkya, the disciple of Vaiśampāyana, was asked by his Guru (teacher) to return the Yajurveda as there was some dispute. Yājñavalkya prayed to Āditya (Sun) and got the Veda and thus Śuklayajurveda came to be known as Ādityasampradāya.

Since the Mantra, Arthavāda and Brāhmaṇa portions are available in a mixed form and as such there is some confusion to students it is called Kṛṣṇayajurveda – “Kṛṣṇa” literally means black but here it is used in secondary sense. On the other hand, in Śuklayajussaṃhitā, there are Mantras and Arthavādas (sentences of commendation and condemnation) while the Brāhmaṇam is clearly separated. Following such a clarity in the structure it is called Śuklayajurveda. “Śukla” literally means white but here the term is used in secondary sense.

Śuklayajussaṃhitā has got two versions – Mādhyandinapāṭha and Kāṇvapāṭha. The last part of Kāṇvaveda is called Vaṃśabrāhmaṇam. The following sentence is there in Vaṃśabrāhmaṇam –

आदित्यानीमानि शुक्लानि यजूंषि वाजसनेयेन याज्ञवल्क्येनाख्यायन्त

ādityānīmāni śuklāni yajūṃṣi vājasaneyena yājñavalkyenākhyāyanta

These Śuklayajus are taught by Āditya (Sun) and are preached by Yājñavalkya, son of Vājasani (fifteen sages).

Vāja means “annam” (cooked rice)[1]. “Sani” means “dānam” (donation). Vājasani is the name of a Maharṣi (great sage). His son is Vājasaneya. In the treatise “Carakavyūha”, the following fifteen Śākhas (branches) are mentioned –

Kāṇvāḥ, Mādhyandināḥ, Sāpeyāḥ, Tāpāyanīyāḥ, Kāpālāḥ, Pauṇḍravatsāḥ, Āvaṭikāḥ, Paramāvaṭikāḥ, Parāśaryāḥ, Vaidhyāḥ, Vaineyāḥ, Andheyāḥ, Gālavāḥ, Baijavāḥ, Kātyāyanīyāḥ.

The portion of Yajurveda received by Kāṇvamaharṣi (great sage Kāṇva) has become popular as Kāṇvasaṃhitā.

  1. Taittirīyaśākhā and Kāṇvaśākhā

Both these Śākhas are employed by Adhvaryu (the priest responsible for Yajurveda during Yāga) only. Nevertheless, there is difference between the Śākhas in terms of Mantrapāṭha and Prayoga (practical part).

  1. Structure of Śuklayajurveda

This Veda has got two Kāṇḍas (parts) – Karmakāṇḍa (that deals with rites) and Brahmakāṇḍa (that deals with jñānam). Saṃhitā and Śatapathabrāhmaṇam fall under Karmakāṇḍa whereas Īśāvāsyopaniṣat and Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat fall under Brahmakāṇḍa. Vājasaneyasaṃhitā has got Padapāṭha (splitting a Mantra into words).

In Kāṇvasaṃhitā there are forty Adhyāyas (chapters), three hundred and twenty eight Anuvākas and two thousand and eighty six Mantras. Kāṇvasaṃhitā is commented (Bhāṣyas) by Sāyaṇācārya (Mādhavīya) and Anantācārya (Vedārthadīpīkā) while Uvvaṭa and Mahīdhara (Vedadīpaḥ) did commentaries on Mādhyandinasaṃhitā.

  1. Vājasaneyasaṃhitā

There are forty Adhyāyas (chapters) in this Saṃhitā. Three thousand nine hundred and eighty eight Mantras are put under one thousand nine hundred and seventy five Kaṇḍikas (groups of Mantras). Half of the Saṃhitā is in prosody whereas the rest is in prose form and related to Arthavādas. Here seven hundred Mantras are taken from Ṛgveda. Adhyāyas from 1-39 deal with Karmavidhis (rites) whereas the fortieth chapter, called Īśāvāsyopaniṣat teaches Brahmajñānam. Other popular portions of this Saṃhitā are Śatarudrīyam (Adhyāya 16), Puruṣasūktam (31) and Śivasaṅkalpam (first six Mantras of Adhyāya 34).

Vājasaneyasaṃhitā starts with Karmakāṇḍa and ends up with Brahmakāṇḍa. Following the dictum “अभ्यर्हितं पूर्वम्” (abhyarhitam pūrvam; the more respected should come in first place), it is legitimate to start with Brahmakāṇḍa. But, since one, without “cittaśuddhi” (clean mind), is not eligible to go for Brahmakāṇḍa and since “cittaśuddhi” can be achieved through Karmakāṇḍa, a reverse order is followed.

  1. Dichotomy of Karmas

There are two kinds of Karmas – Prakṛtikarmas and Vikṛtikarmas. If all the Aṅgas (the subsidiary rites) are provided then it is called Prakṛti whereas in Vikṛti only the additional Aṅgas are mentioned. The rest are to be borrowed from Prakṛti. Agnihotram, Iṣṭi and Soma are Prakṛtikarmas. Each of them is provided with the complete Aṅgajātam (gamut of subsidiaries). Rather, although Agnihotram and Soma, per se, do not require anything from Iṣṭi, the subsidiaries therein require certain Aṅgas from Iṣṭi. Therefore Darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi has gained importance. In this Saṃhitā there are three kinds of Mantras ( Darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi) – Ādhvaryavāḥ, Yājamānāḥ and Hautārāḥ. Śuklayajurveda starts with Mantras of Darśapūrṇamāsa, such as “iṣe tvā” etc.

  1. Subject of each Adhyāya

There are Mantras related to Darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi and Piṇḍapitṛyajña in first and second Adhyāyas of Śuklayajussaṃhitā. Darśapūrṇamāseṣṭi is Ekāha, i.e. performed in one day. Agni (Fire) and Soma (Moon) are the chief deities. Milk, curd, butter and Puroḍāśam (made of rice flour or wheat flour – puraḥ = in the first place, dāśyate = being given, therefore Puroḍāśam) are Havyas (food given to Gods, the food given to forefathers is called Kavyam).

In the third Adhyāya, Agnyupasthāpana and Cāturmāsyayajña are mentioned. There are three Agnis (called Tretā), viz. Dakṣināgni, Gārhapatya and Āhavanīya. Gārhapatyāgnihotram (worship of holy fire by a married man) would commence with marriage (gṛhapati = a married man; wife automatically becomes a partner in the rites) and one should perform this worship of fire during dawn and dusk, i.e. Prātassandhya and Sāyaṃsandhya. Cāturmāsyayajñas (a rite performed for four months) are of three types – Vaiśvadevam (Marut is adhidevatā) is performed at the beginning of Vasantartu (spring). Varuṇapraghāsa (Varuṇa) is performed during Varṣartu (rainy season). Sākamedha (Rudratryambaka) is done during Śaradṛtu (October onwards).

The Mantras to be recited during the entry of Ṛtvik (priests) and Yajamāna (the person who performs the Yajña) into the Yajñaśāla (the cottage of Yajña) related to Agniṣṭoma are there in fourth Adhyāya.

Fifth Adhyāya deals with Saumikavedinirmāṇam (construction of the altar of Soma), Ātithyam (hospitality) and Yūpanirmāṇam (fixing the sacrificial post).

Yūpasaṃskāra (a rite with regards to Yūpa) and Somābhiṣavanamantras (the Mantras to be recited during the pressing of Soma creeper) are the subject matter of sixth Adhyāya.

The Dakṣiṇādānamantras to be recited during two Yajñas (Upāṃśugraha etc.) are there in the seventh Adhyāya.

In eighth Adhyāya, Ādityādigrahamantras (Mantras related to planets) of Tṛtīyasavanam (third pressing of Somalatā) are there.

Ninth Adhyāya deals with Agniṣṭoma.

In other words, from fourth to ninth Adhyāya the material is related to Agniṣṭoma. Somayajñas are important among Vaidikayajñas. Among them Agniṣṭoma, which is Ekāham (performed in a single day), is important as the other six Somayajñas, viz. Ukthya, Ṣoḍaśī, Atyagniṣtoma, Atirātra, Āptoryāma and Vājapeya are based on Agniṣṭoma, the Prakṛti for Somayajñas.

Agniṣṭoma is a Yajña related to Ṛtu (season). This is performed during Vasantartu (spring). Purchasing Somalata, bringing it in a procession to Yajñaśāla, preparing Ātithyam and Somarasa (juice of Somalata), offering to Gods and Somapānam (consumption of Somarasa) – are the main events of Agniṣṭoma. Agni and Soma are the main deities (Pradhānadevatā). Indra occupies an important place.

Tenth Adhyāya deals with Vājapeya while the eleventh one is earmarked for Rājasūya.

The Adhyāyas from twelfth to twentieth deal with Agnicayanam. During Agnicayanam, construction of Vedikā (altar) is done along with Somayāga. A Vedikā for Agni, in the form of Garuḍa (vulture) with its wings stretched, is built with ten thousand and eight hundred bricks of different specific sizes. Agni is the main deity. Right from the preparation down to the construction of Vedī, all the activities involve Mantras. Deities Rudra and Vaiśvānara occupy an important place.

In sixteenth Adhyāya there are Mantras called “Śatarudrīyam”, in which we find hundred names of Rudra, i.e. Śiva. Two important names, Īśāna and Mahādeva are not there in Śatarudrīyam. This is being considered as an Upaniṣat and origin of Śaivamatam (Śaiva cult).

In seventeenth Adhyāya there are Mantras called “Cityapariṣekam” etc. In eighteenth Adhyāya there are “Vasordhārādimantras”.

Sautrāmaṇī is described in twenty-first, twenty-second and twenty-third Adhyāyas. Sautrāmaṇī is a Prāyaścittakarma (done for penance). Some authors of Smṛtis (Dharmaśāstram – code of conduct) have recommended Sautrāmaṇī as the only rite, by which one can get rid of Mātṝṇam (debt of a mother). In this Yāga Sutrāmā (Indra – a good protector) is the Adhidevatā (presiding deity). Indra (the king of Gods) was seriously ill due to excessive intake of Somarasa, treated by Aśvinīdevatas and Sarasvatī and regained health – this incident is described in Sautrāmaṇī. Surā (a kind of drink), instead of Somarasa is offered to Devatas in this Yāga. In the twenty-first Adhyāya we come across Yājyādipreṣaṇamantras.

The popular Yāga, i.e. Aśvamedha, is dealt with in four Adhyāyas, i.e from twenty-fourth to twenty-seventh. Aśvamedha is a famous Yāga and performed by a King who wants to conquer. He, after performing the Yāga would get the titles – Ekarāṭ (the single king) and Sārvabhauma (sarvabhūmau viditaḥ = known across the earth). Aśvamedha runs for three days only, but the logistics will take one year’s time. The horse moves across the country and returns after one year, without a hitch. This is sign of the King’s victory, valour etc.

First day, there will be Agniṣṭoma, the second day there will be Aśvamedha, the main event, and on third day Atirātram will be performed. Aśvamedha ends with Avabhṛthasnānam (the holy bath taken at the end of a Yāga). The Yāga is meant for the prosperity of the King and the people.

In twenty-sixth Adhyāya there are Mantras called “Khila”.

In Adhyāyas from twenty eight to thirty three, i.e. six Adhyāyas, there are Mantras that are used in the above said Yāgas. In Adhyāya thirty three, there is Puruṣamedha (killing a person), which is considered just a technical rite. In thirty-first Adhyāya there is Puruṣasūktam (which is there in all Vedas) and is considered as an Upaniṣat because of the subject matter. Adhyāya thirty two describes Prajāpati, the Creator, in different forms.

Mantras related to “Sarvamedha” are there in thirty-third and thirty-fourth Adhyāyas. This is considered the best of all Yajñas – the Yajamāna donates his entire wealth to Ṛtviks (priests) and with this the Yajña comes to an end. The Yajamāna retires to forest, i.e. to lead Vānaprasthāśrama.

The first six Mantras of thirty-fourth Adhyāya are called Śivasaṅkalpopaniṣat. Each one of them ends up with the makuṭam (crown) “तन्मे मनः शिवसङ्कल्पमस्तु” – tanme manaḥ śivasaṅkalpamastu (therefore let my mind worship God Śiva).

In the thirty-fifth Adhyāya there are Mantras related to “Pitṛmedha” (death of father). They are used in rites performed after death. Most of these Mantras are from Ṛgveda.

Thirty-sixth Adhyāya consists of Śāntimantras (Mantras for peace).

Pravargya is a Yāga described in the next three Adhyāyas, i.e. from thirty seven to thirt nine, and is meant to provide proper body to Yajamāna to enter Svarga (heaven). A pot, made of clay, that symbolizes Sūrya (Sun) is heated to red in Yāgāgni (fire of Yāga). Then milk is boiled in that and offered to Aśvinīdevatas.

In the fortieth and last Adhyāya, “Brahmavidyā” is preached. Since the chapter starts with “ईशावाश्यमिदं सर्वम्” – īśāvāśyamidaṃ sarvam – it is called Īśāvāsyopaniṣat. Since it is a part and parcel of Saṃhitā, it is also called Saṃhitopaniṣat. And since it is in the form of Mantras, that follow Chandas (prosody) it is called Mantropaniṣat. Satyasiddhānta (the theory of truth), Jñānamārga (the path of Jñānam), Karmamārga (the path of Karma), Ātmasvarūpam (the form of Ātmā) and Jīvitagamyasthānam (the destination of life) are described in Īśāvāsyopaniṣat.

Out of the forty Adhyāyas of Śuklayajurveda, the first eighteen Adhyāyas are commented in a separate Brāhmaṇabhāga. In the rest of the twenty two Adhyāyas, there is Brāhmaṇabhāga, here and there, whereas the other five Adhyāyas are not supported by any Brāhmaṇabhāga. Moreover the last twenty two Adhyāyas are seen in Kṛṣṇayajurveda in the form of Brāhmaṇa and Āraṇyaka. Kātyāyana’s “Śuklayajurvedānukramaṇikā” records that ten Adhyāyas, i.e. twenty-sixth to thirty-fifth, are khilabhāga (not considered as the part and parcel of the main text). The Chandas in Vājasaneyasaṃhitā is fully analysed by Kātyāyana in his “Sarvānukramaṇī”.

  1. Mantradraṣtāraḥ of Śuklayajurveda

There are two hundred and twenty one Maharṣis, including some ladies, who perceived the Mantras of Śuklayajurveda.

  1. Prajāpati

One thousand four hundred and one Mantrakaṇḍikas are perceived by Prajāpati and therefore became popular as “Amitarṣi” (a sage who perceived many Mantras).

  1. Dadhyaṅga

One hundred and three Mantrakaṇḍikas are named after Dadhyaṅga, the son of Atharva. He learnt “Madhuvidyā” from Indra.

  • Yājñavalkya

Śuklayajussaṃhitā was propagated by Yājñavalkya and he perceived eighty one Mantrakaṇḍikas. He is the son of Devarāta, who is also called Vājasani and Brahmarāta. Yājñavalkya learnt Ṛgveda from Baṣkula, disciple of Paila; Sāmaveda from Jaimini and Atharvaveda from Mahāmuni. He was to return Yajurveda to his Guru, Vaiśampāyana. Later, he did Tapas and pleased Sūrya (Sun), who in turn taught him Śuklayajurveda. So the name Vājasaneyasaṃhitā. Yājñavalkya was the contemporary of Rājarṣi Janaka and was highly respected by him.

  1. Vivasvān

Son of Aditi and Kaśyapa, he is the Draṣṭā (perceiver) of twenty eight Mantrakaṇḍikas. Saṃjñā, daughter of Viśvakarma, is his wife and Vaivasvatamanu is his son. Sūryavaṃśa (the clan of Sun) starts with this Manu. Yama and Yamī (Ṛgveda) are also the children of Vivasvān. This sage is counted as one of the twenty eight Prajāpatis.

There are many other Mantradraṣṭāraḥ who are attached to this Saṃhitā. There are some ladies who perceived Mantras popular in Veda as Brahmavādinyaḥ – Uśanā (13.52), Gaurīvīti (33.28, 64), Cailakī (3.9), Jayā (18.71), Prādurākṣi (26.6), Bharadvājaputrī (34.32), Medhā (33.92, daughter of Dharaṇī and Dakṣa), Ramyākṣi (26.45), Lopāmudrā (17.11, wife of Agastya), Laugākṣi (26.2), Haima (19.10) etc. are some of the Brahmavādinis.


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  1. Devatas in Śuklayajurveda

While thirty three Devatas are there in Ṛgveda, here in Śuklayajurveda there are thirty four, i.e. Prajāpati is added.

  1. Īśvara

The entire universe is an abode of Īśvara (īśāvāśyamidaṃ sarvam, 40.1), he only is called by different names – Agni, Indra, Varuṇa, Mitra, Rudra etc. Yajña is all and the same is another form of Īśvara. Following different virtues of Īśvara different names have emerged – Īśvara is Agni as he is the cause of longevity; Indra, as he gives strength; Mitra, as he protects the good people; Varuṇa, as he punishes the wicked; Bṛhaspati, as he gives Ojas (Ojas, according to Āyurveda, is the cause of Balam, strength; “ojaḥkṣaya” literally means “decay of Ojas”, i.e. AIDS), Savitā as he provides good sight, Brahma as he provides wealth (37.12). Īśvara only is called by the names Prajāpati, Parameṣṭhī and Hiraṇyagarbha. There are eight “Ātmasvarūpas” (in the form of different souls) that are instrumental in the creation of the universe (Īśvara is called Aṣṭamūrti – one who has got eight different forms) – Agni (fire), Pṛthivī (earth), Vāyu (air), Antarikṣam (space), Āditya (Sun), Dyuloka (heaven), Jalam (water) and Varuṇa (26.1).

  1. Agni (Fire)

Dyuloka (heaven) is the father and Pṛthivī (earth) is the mother of Agni (3.6). Agni is born due to churning, in the form of electricity from rain-streams, friction of stones and that of herbs (11.27). Atharvaṇamaharṣi was the first to produce Agni through Manthanam (churning) of two specific dry sticks (11.32). He is considered as a form of all Gods (12.23). In the form of Jaṭharāgni (digestive fire) he digests the food consumed by beings and thus a favourite god of beings, guest of people and the face of Devatas (7.24). Many mantras of Śuklayajurvedasaṃhitā are assigned to Agni.

  • Prajāpati

He entered all beings as Antaryāmī (embedded) (8.36). Prajāpati only is capable of Sṛṣṭi (creation) and Saṃhāra (destruction) (10.20). In the Brahmāṇḍa (universe), which is in the form of Hiraṇyapuruṣa, Prajāpati is there in the form of Garbha (womb) and as such called Hiraṇyagarbha (13.4). Prajāpati spread out Pṛthivī (earth) on ocean wates. That is how Bhūmi (earth) got the name “Pṛthivī” (literally “the one that spread” – prathanāt pṛthivī).

  1. Viṣṇu

Viṣṇu is the Adhiṣṭhātā (supreme ruler) of Yajña. He is Yajña personified (6.4, 5.15). Those, who follow the combine of Karma and Jñāna, would visit his Paramapadam (the supreme abode) that is Brahmalakṣaṇam (in the form of Brahma) (34.44).

  1. Indra

He is described as the Pradhānadevatā (chief deity) (7.15). Indra rains boons, provides strength, good company, good intellect and wealth (8.15). He killed Vṛtrāsura (a demon) and would kill thieves etc., who create trouble to people, by taking different forms (33.26). Ahivadha, Śāmbaravadha and Gomocanam are his great Mahākāryas (great deeds) (33.63).

  1. Rudra

Each and every atom in the universe is described as Rudra’s form. He is inferred to in plural number and singular number also (3.58). The sixteenth chapter of Śuklayajurveda is completely allotted to Rudra – in different forms he is the lord of the entire universe. He controls the wicked people of the world and for that he also became wicked (11-15). Also called Tryambaka (3.60).

There are other deities in Śuklayajussaṃhitā – Soma, Mitrāvaruṇau, Vāyu, Aditi, Bṛhaspati, Sinīvālī etc.

  1. Stratification of Society

In 14.9, the place of different people of the society is described. There are five castes in the society – Brāhmaṇa (priestly class), Kṣatriya (warring class), Vaiśya (businessmen), Śūdra (serving class) and Atiśūdra (Niṣāda etc. who are involved in different activities).

  1. Four Āśramas

Brahmacaryam (celibacy), Gārhasthyam (house-hold / married life), Vānaprastham (living in forest after having grandchildren), Saṃnyāsa (renouncing the mundane comforts and trying for Mokṣa).

After completing Upanayanam (eight years or so), the boy is sent to Gurukulam (Guru’s premises) for education (7.36, 38).

Having completed his education, having undergone the rite of Snātakavratam (taking permission of Guru to go for marriage), by the advice of elders, the Brahmacārī would get married to a suitable girl (14.13, 17, 27). Having children is the main purpose of marriage. Different stages of the foetus during the eight months of pregnancy, i.e. Kalala, Budbuda, Piṇḍa, Kaṭhina etc. are also described (8.30). Ladies breastfeed their children (8.51).

Dharmavartana (following Dharma) is the theme of Vānaprasthāśrama. Having completed their responsibilities the parents at an advanced age retire to forests to lead an Ādhyātmika (spiritual) life (14.10).

People of all above three Āśramas have Śikhā (tuft) on their heads. The final Āśrama is Saṃnyāsa, wherein one will have a clean shaven head (16.59) and make others to Satyāsatyavivecanam (discussing which is real and which is unreal in the universe) (14.10) and conduct people towards detachment (Ch. 40).

  1. Customs

Virgins pray to Śiva for a good and comfortable married life: “By your grace I shall get married, leave the parents’ house, without divorcing my husband would live comfortably in his house only”

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पतिवेदनम्। उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनादितो मुक्षीय मामुतः ॥ ३.६॰ ॥

tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ pativedanam.

urvārukamiva bandhanādito mukṣīya māmutaḥ ॥ 3.60 ॥

There is also a prayer to Śiva for easy death and Mokṣa: “I should escape from Apamṛtyu (sudden or accidental death) and die a natural death just like a ripe cucumber parts from the creeper without anybody’s effort. Also I should not fall from the path of Svarga (heaven) or Mokṣa –

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्। उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात् ॥ ३.६॰ ॥

tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭivardhanam.

urvārukamiva bandhanānmṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt ॥ 3.60 ॥




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Āpastambaparibhāṣāsūtra, Ed. by A. Mahādeva Śāstri, Government Branch Press, Mysore, 1893.

Taittirīya-Kṛṣṇayajurvedīya-Āraṇyakopaniṣad, Corporation Press, Mysore, 1980.

Rāmāyaṇa, with three commentaries: Tilaka, Śiromaṇi and Bhūṣaṇa. Edited by K. Srinivasa Sastri, Gujarati Press, Bombay,

[1] annam vai vājaḥ – Veda