The Vedas are the oldest known human documents in terms of religion, philosophy and literature. The term ‘Veda’ signifies the sacred knowledge and wisdom. These so valuable monuments of Indian sacred lore and learning were composed in the dim hoary past and show the path of ultimate release from human bondage through righteousness, self-knowledge and surrender to the Universal Soul. As such their teachings cut across all the imaginable boundaries of caste, creed, country, climate and age. In their appeal and application they are universal and belong to all the ages and to the entire humanity. They are four; Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda, but they are spoken as ‘Trayi’, the triple vidya or the threefold knowledge because they deal with jnan, bhakti and karma, and are in verse, songs and prose. The Rigveda underlines the path of jnan or knowledge, the Yajurveda that of karma or action, and Samaveda the path of bhakti or devotion and total surrender. Atharvaveda represents a synthesis of these three. They are invariably referred to as the “Triple Eternal Vedas” (trayam brahma sanatanam), probably because the Atharvaveda, the last one, is relatively of quite a late origin. These four together form the foundation of Indian religious, philosophical and cultural systems of India. Indian civilization and culture has survived the ravages of time and successive alien invasions all these centuries only because it is based on the firm rock-foundation of the wisdom of the Vedas. In order to possess a proper understanding and an insight into Indian culture, thought and wisdom, it is essential that one has a good grounding in the Vedas, the supreme authority and knowledge of the people now called the Hindus.
Yajurveda is a collection of sacred mantras or texts to be recited at the time of ritual sacrifice. At such a sacrifice Brahman, the main priest, would sit on the northern side of the altar, on the right side would sit the udgatr, on the left would sit hotar, and on the right side the adhvaryu. Brahman would recite the Atharvaveda, hotar the Rigveda, udgatr the Samveda, and adhvaryu would recite the mantras from Yajurveda while pouring oblations into the sacrificial fire. Thus Yajurveda is a kind of sacrificial prayer-book for the adhvaryu priest, composed in sacred hymns in verse of different mantras and also in prose. These hymns are essentially ritualistic but embody the loftiest sentiments that man can ever feel for his god or goddess. The recitation of these mantras is supposed to have a deep spiritual impact on the aspirant. Thus Yajurveda is a book of karamkanda.
The Yajurveda is characterized by its division into two collection of texts. The first is the Taittiriya -samhita, also called ‘Krishna’ or Black Yajurveda. The second is Vajasaneyi-samhita, also known as ‘Shukla’ or White Yajurveda. In the former, the Samhita and Brahmana portions are confused and so it is called the ‘Black’. The latter contains only the mantras and its Brahmana portion is collected separately in the Satpatha Brahmana. As is well known each of the four Vedas consists of the Samhita and Brahmana. The Samhitas or collections contain original texts of the Vedas, comprising collection of hymns, prayers, incantations, ritualistic formulas and litanies. The Brahmanas from the commentary and interpretation of the Samhitas or the original texts. The Brahmanas are again divided into Brahmanas proper, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The Aranyakas or forest texts are called so because they were composed and studied in the forests. They contain the meditation and contemplation of the forest hermits and ascetics on God. The Upanishads or the Vedanta, attached to the Aranyakas, contain the secret doctrine and much of the oldest Indian thought and wisdom. The terms ‘Upanishad’ literally means “setting at rest ignorance by revealing the knowledge of the supreme spirit”. They reform the fountain-head of Vedanta and Samkhya philosophies.