Shukla Yajur Veda

1. Overview of Shukla Yajur Veda

We have mentioned earlier that Yajur Veda Samhitā has two major recensions, the Krişhņa Yajur Veda (KYV) and the Shukla Yajur Veda (SYV). KYV is the older one.

Traditionally the SYV is called Shukla (pure or unmixed) because it is not mixed up with the brāhmaņa passages as in the KYV.

SYV in its mādhyandina vājasaneyi (VS) version has about 2000 mantrās divided into 40 chapters or adhyāyās, the last adhyāya being the famous Īshāvāsya Upanishad. Note that about 1000 mantrās (about one half) is in KYV TS also.

There is one major noticeable difference in the texts. In SYV, each chapter does not have a separate title.

However in KYV (TS), it is not the case. Recall that KYV has 7 Kāņdās, each divided into several prapāţhakās which are further divided into anuvāka. There are 651 anuvākās, some of which are brāhmaņa passages. In KYV (TS), each anuvāka is assigned with a title based on its ritualistic interpretation or its use in the rite. The title may have very little to do with the meaning of the text of the anuvāka. We will discuss this matter later. Our contention is that KYV is called Krişhņa or mixed because of its complete identification with rituals, especially with animal sacrifices.

Two ancient Purāņa books, Vişhņu Purāņa and Srimad Bhāgavatam, relate the legend of the origination of the Shukla Yajur Veda; the relevant verses are quoted in [V2]. The text of SYV was revealed to the seer Yājňavalkya (Y). We give here a paraphrase of the legend. Y was a student of the famous teacher of Yajur Veda by name Vaishampāyana (V) who was attached to rituals and to animal sacrifices. There was a disagreement between the teacher V and the student Y; consequently Y was asked to return the knowledge obtained and leave the place. Y did so. Later he carried out intense spiritual practices and prayed to the spiritual Sun to reveal the Yajur Veda which was ayātāyāmam, i.e., not polluted and not insipid. He was revealed the Shukla Yajur Veda which was ayātāyāmam.

When Y left V, he literally spat out or quickly recited in a hurry the Vedic knowledge he had learnt from V; “the disciples of V took the form of tittiri birds and picked up the relevant verses.” Clearly the sentence in quotes is symbolic. Recall the deeper meaning of tittiri as our inner being which aspires to knowledge and overcomes the psychological foes. Thus the sentence states that the inner beings of the disciples recorded in their minds the verses relevant for them. The collection of the verses obtained by the disciples is the Taittirīya Samhitā of the Krişhņa Yajur Veda.

The main objection of Y against the knowledge received from V was that this knowledge completely identified the sacred yajus mantra text with the outward rituals. A mantra has several interpretations, one of which is the outward rite. But insistence that yajus meant only outer yajna was not acceptable to Y.

2. Aditi or Eternal Order

Aditi in the Veda represents the concept of wholeness (pūrņatva). Here she is represented as the Queen of the Eternal Order. Recall that in RV (1.89.10), she is described as “All that is born and what is to be born”.

The Mighty Mother of those whose sway is just,

Queen of Eternal Order (ŗta), we call for help,

Aditi, the great Ruler, undecaying,

Far-expanding, good Protectress, gracious Guide. SYV (21.5)

3. Arithmetic and Numbers

In all the four Veda Samhitās there are several hymns dealing with numbers. The decimal system for positive integers had become popular even in those days.

Rigveda Samhita

The names for the numbers one to nine found in Rigveda are eka, dve, tri, chatur, pancha, shat, sapta, asta, nava. The names for ten, twenty,……, ninety occur in RV (2.18.5-6). The intermediate numbers have appropriate names. For instance ninety-four is termed four plus ninety. Nineteen is expressed one less than twenty etc. RV (3.9.9) has number 3339 spelled as three thousand, three hundred and thirty nine. Rigveda has more than a hundred references to numbers.

Yajurveda Samhita

The Shukla Yajurveda (17.2) [Chapter 17, mantra 2] mentions numbers in ascending powers of ten, including ten thousand, ayuta; hundred thousand, niyuta; million, payuta; ten million, arbuda; hundred million, nyarbuda; billion, samudra; ten billion, madhya; hundred billion, anta; thousand billion, parardha. Similar list in Krişhņa Yajurveda (4.4.11).

It is not out of place to remark that the highest number known ancient greeks is ten thousand.

We give below the listing of the ten anuvākās in Book or kānda 7, prapāţhaka 2 i.e., (7.2) in Krişhņa Yajurveda.

(7.2.11): numbers in sequence

(7.2.12): odd (or uneven) numbers

(7.2.13): even numbers

(7.2.14): numbers 3,5,etc.,

(7.2.15): numbers 4,8,…etc.,

(7.2.16): numbers 5,10,…etc.,

(7.2.17): numbers 10,20,…etc.,

(7.2.18): numbers 20,40,…etc.,

(7.2.19): numbers 50,100,…etc.,

(7.2.20): numbers 100,1000,…upto ten raised to the power of eleven.

Atharva Veda Samhita

The hymns (6.25.1, 6.25.2 and 6.25.3) and (7.4.1) specially emphasise the common relationship between one and ten, three and thirty, five and fifty, nine and ninety, clearly indicating that these persons had a good grasp of the basics of decimal system for positive integers.

4. Blessings on all Aspects

In this chapter SYV (39) the sage invokes blessings on all aspects of nature, divinities and life, not excluding death and sorrow.

Blessed (svāha) be the effort (āyāsa), blessed the strenuous effort (prayāsa),

blessed be the collective endeavour (samyāsa)

blessed the individual endeavour (viyāsa)

blessed be the enterprise (svāhodyāsa)

A blessing on grief (shuche), a blessing on grieving (shochali);

blessing on sorrowing, a blessing on sorrow (shoka).

A blessing for the yama

a blessing for the Ender (antaka)

a blessing for death……

a blessing on the heaven and earth.

5. Children of Immortality

Verse 5 given below states that all of us are the children of immortality and not sinners. This verse is repeated in Upanishads like Shvetāshvatara.

The verse is also in RV (10.13.1).

“I yoke with my homage your ancient inspiration,

may the praise-songs come, as on the prince’s pathway.

Listen, all ye sons of immortality,

you who inherit the celestial religions.” SYV (11.5)

6. Division of Society according to ability or vocation, Varņa

The verse 22 in this hymn deals with the division of people into groups based on different vocations like rulers, rājanya, scholars and advisers brāhmaņa, the expert with the arrow etc; The division is based on the principle varņa, which is derived from vrn, to describe. The division of society, popularly called as caste, was based on varņa, i.e., according to their occupation, and not according to the color as certain orientalists have thought. Many of the brāhmins of south India are of a very dark complexion. RV (1.113.6) and RV (8.35.16-18) specifically deals with the four-fold division.

The verse 18.48 quoted prays on behalf of all the four groups for their enlightenment.

By your light, (ruchā), give Light or Knowledge to us Brahmins;

give Light to the kings;

give Light to the Vaishya and Light to the Shūdra;

give me also the Light or Knowledge. SYV (18.48)

Rucham: Light or Knowledge.

May brāhmaņās, possessing the lustre of spiritual knowledge be born,

and may there be born in this State

the man capable of ruling the people (rājanya),

the hero, expert with the arrow, an excellent marksman, and a great warrior;

And may there be cows giving plentiful milk,

the good draught-bull, and the swift horse.

May there be the woman at home with husband and children.

May there be born to the worshipper

heroic youths with the will to victory, the best

of chariot-fighters, fit to shine in assemblies.

May parjanya shower rains according to our needs;

may our trees, bearing fruit, ripen,

may our exertion and rest prosper. (22.22)

7. Isha Upanishad

The last chapter (40th chapter) of the SYV is same as the Īshāvāsya Upanishad, the first Upanishad in the traditional list. The presence of the Upanishad in it shows its philosophical and spiritual importance, even though some exegetes love to label the Yajurveda Samhitā as ritualistic.

One of its verses, the seventeenth, gives the famous epigram:

‘I am he’ i.e., the essence of an individual on earth (I) and the supreme person (he) are identical. This is the pure monistic or non dualistic statement, amplified in many Upanishads.

It is the only Upanishad that gives an excellent synthesis of works, knowledge and enjoyment. It has only 18 mantrās. We quote here only the first:

“All this is for the habitation by the Lord in all the individual universe of movement in the universal motion;

By that (attachment) renounced, you should enjoy; hanker not after any man’s possession.”


8. Knowledge for all including Shudra

Yajurveda Samhita specifically states in the second verse (26.2) that the sage should speak the secret knowledge to all the persons, regardless of their status, profession or familiarity. The blissful Word should be taught to the shūdra (labouring class) also; In this verse shūdra takes precedence over the artisans (vaishyās). Again this verse calls upon the knowledge to be given even to the stranger chāraņāya and to our own members svāya.

So that I may speak the blissful Word to the masses of the people,

to the brāhmaņa and the rajanya (kşhatriya),

to the shūdra and the vaishya,

to our own men and to the stranger.

Dear may I be to the devās and to the giver of the sacred gifts here.

May this my wish prosper; may that be mine. SYV (26.2)

9. Pardon

This chapter has a prayer for the atonement of sins, committed knowingly and committed unawares including those ‘against myself’. This specific verse is SYV (8.13).

“Of the sin against devās, thou art atonement;

of the sin against men, thou art atonement;

of the sin against the Fathers, thou art atonement;

of the sin against myself, thou art atonement;

of every kind of sin, thou art atonement.”

“The sin that I have committed knowingly,

and that I have committed unawares,

of all the sins thou art atonement.” SYV (8.13)

10. Path of Unity

Verse SYV (20.25) is a classic prayer for the complimentary of the spiritual and the powers of ruling associated with our physical world.

Where spiritual and ruling powers (or warrior forces) move together in unity,

that world I will know as fully conscious (prajna), where devās with Agni dwell.

SYV (20.25)

prajna: The power of divine consciousness which permeates the ideal world. It is the power of consciousness which cognizes all things as objects.

In verse 26, there is also the mention of seven assemblies and the eighth which unites all. The seven assemblies are the seven cosmic planes or levels

11. Power of Yajňa

Note yajňa is not a mere ritual. It is a symbol of intense spiritual practice, both at an individual level and also at the collective level. At the end, the sage declares ‘ we have become immortal’. The verse SYV (9.21) is given below.

May life prosper by sacrifice.

May life-breath prosper by sacrifice.

May the eye prosper by sacrifice.

May the ear prosper by sacrifice.

May the back prosper by sacrifice.

May sacrifice prosper by sacrifice.

We have become the children of the Lord of life (Prajāpati).


we have attained heaven, we have become immortal. SYV (9.21)

12. Steps in Spiritual Progress

Verse SYV (19.30) gives a procedure to attain the Truth beginning with self-dedication, vrata. Vrata is often translated as austerities like fasting. Correct translation is, ‘law of workings’. Every one has to act according to his inner law, the law of workings. Here it is rendered as (self-dedication).

“By self-dedication (vrata) one becomes consecrated or initiated (dīkşha);

by consecration one obtains grace (dakşhiņa),

by grace, faith and

by faith, Truth is obtained.” SYV (19.30)

vrata: law of workings

13. The Supreme Puruşha

The famous hymn SYV (31) gives a symbolic account of the manifestation of the universe as a release of the powers in the Supreme. The Sanskrit word for creation is sŗj, i.e., the power inherent in a potential way is released.

The hymn here has twenty-two verses, of which sixteen are also in the Rigveda (10.90.).

The translation given here is that of the famous verse SYV (31.18) (not in Rig Veda) where the sage declares:

I have known this mighty puruşha, who is

refulgent as the sun beyond darkness;

by knowing him alone one transcends death,

there is no other way to go.

14. The transcendent ‘That’

The transcendent ‘That’


The chapter 32 has 16 verses. Sages of the Veda realized that the Supreme Power cannot be described by the epithets involving genders like he, she etc.

Hence they used the epithet That, tat.

The verse SYV (32.1) states:

Agni is That,…

……Brahman is That,..

…Waters are That….

Verses like these point to the high spiritual and philosophical attainments of the sages.

The third verse states:

‘There is nothing to compare with That’ SYV (32.3)

na tasya pratimā asti

According to Swami Dayananda of Arya Samāj, this verse implies that the persons of vedic age were against the worship of the Gods using mūrti or icon. Viewed in the context of the first verse, this claim is tenuous, at best. The image or mūrti icon is a symbol of the supreme power and this symbol is used in the Veda many times. Recall the famous purusha hymn in [RV 10.90] or in chap. 31 where the Supreme Person is symbolized by a being of innumerable heads.

Agni is That, Aditya is That,

Vāyu is That, Chandramas is That,

the bright One is That, Brahman is That,

Waters are That, Prajāpati is That. YVS (32.1)


All winkings of the eye arose

out of the radiant Purusha.

None has comprehended him

above, across or in the midst. YVS (32.2)


There is none to compare with him.

There is no parallel to him,

whose glory, verily, is great.

Hiraņyagarbha etc. ‘May he not destroy us’ etc.

‘No one other than thee’ etc. YVS (32.3)


He is the deity who pervades all the regions,

born at first, he is also within the womb.

Verily, he who is born and is to be born,

meets his offspring facing him on all sides. YVS (32.4)


Before him there was nothing whatever born,

who pervaded the entire world of created things;

Lord of life, he rejoiced in his off-spring;

Possessed of sixteen parts, he unites the three lights. YVS (32.5)


He through whom the heaven is strong and the earth firm,

who has steadied the light and the sky’s vault,

and measured out the sphere of clouds in the mid-air.

Who is the Deity we shall worship with our offerings? YVS (32.6)


When the mighty waters etc. He who in his might etc. YVS (32.7)


Vena beholds That Being, hidden in mystery,

in whom all find one single home;

In That all this unites; from That all issues forth;

He, omnipresent, is warp and woof in created things. YVS (32.8)


Let the Gandharva who knows the Eternal

speak of that station which is parted yet wrapped in mystery.

Three steps of That are in mystery hidden;

he who knows them shall be the father’s father. YVS (32.9)


He is our Kin, our Father, our Creator,

he knows all ordinances and all beings,

in whom Devās, attaining life eternal,

have arisen to the loftiest station. YVS (32.10)


Having encompassed all creatures, encompassed all worlds,

encompassed all the regions and directions,

and approached the First-born of Eternal Order,

he with the Self entered into the Self. YVS (32.11)


And going swiftly round the heaven and earth,

around the worlds, around the quarters, around the sky,

and lengthening out the wide-spread thread of Order,

he saw That, he became That, he was That. YVS (32.12)


The wonderful Lord of the Assembly,

dear to Indra, lovable, who

bestows wisdom, has been approached by me. Hail! YVS (32.13)


The talent that Devās and Fathers esteem,

with that talent, Agni, endow me today. YVS (32.14)


May Varuņa give me talent,

may Agni and Prajāpati give it;

May Indra and Vāyu grant me talent,

and Dhātr grant it to me. Hail! YVS (32.15)


Let both the spiritual and the political man

possess the lustre that I seek.

May the Devās give me the noblest lustre.

To thee, that lustre, Hail! YVS (32.16)

15. Will of the Divine or Shivasankalpa

Will of the Divine or Shivasankalpa


The first six verses of SYV (34.1) – SYV (34.6) constitute this subhymn. All the 6 verses end with the refrain.

tan me manaĥ shivasankalpam astu.

On that – the auspicious-will of the divine—may my mind dwell.

The poet declares in the sixth verse that this is that which carefully guides all persons and also abides in the heart. By becoming conscious of the divinity within, we can intuitively perform actions effectively in the outer world.

The Divine Essence that goes far away,

from the waking, and likewise from the sleeping,

and that one far-travelling Light of lights,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.1)


That by which wise men, skilful in rituals,

and steady in assemblies, perform their tasks,

that peerless Spirit that lies in all creatures,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.2)


That which is deep knowledge, intellect, memory,

that which is the deathless Flame in living beings,

without which nothing whatever is done,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.3)


That immortal Essence by which all

the past and present world is comprehended,

by which the ritual spreads with the seven priests,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.4)


That in which the Rik, the Sāman, the Yajus are held firm,

like spokes in the nave of a chariot-wheel,

in which all thoughts of living beings lie interwoven,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.5)


That which guides men like a good charioteer

who controls fleet-footed horses with the reins,

that which abides in the heart, most swift and active,

On that-the auspicious-will of the divine-may my mind dwell. (34.6)