Culture, Religion

The four Vedas – Yajurveda


The word “Yajus” is derived from the Sanskrit root “Yaj” which means “prayer” or “worship”. The word “Yajna” is also derived from this very root. We saw in the earlier post (click here) on the Rig Veda that the word “Rig” is derived from “Rik” which means a hymn or shloka.

The Yajur Veda systematizes the hymns of the Rig Veda (Riks) into a practical and practicable form – yajnas and procedures of worship and prayer. In summary, that which is chanted in Rig Veda is performed via Yajur Veda.

The two main branches of the Yajur Veda (there are many, as we have seen in an earlier post Click to read) are Shukla Yajur Veda and Krishna Yajur Veda (Shukla = White and Krishna = Black). The Shukla Yajur Veda Samhita is also known as the Vajasaneyi Samhita.

“Vaajasani” is one of the names of the “Sun-god”. There is an interesting story connected to this name and how it came about. When Veda Vyasa finished compiling and collating the Vedas into four, Yajur Veda had only one branch/version – he taught this Yajur Veda to Sage Vaisampayana who in turn taught it to Sage Yajnavalkya. There was a falling out between Teacher and pupil and Sage Vaisampayana ordered that Yajnavalkya must return all the knowledge (of the Yajurveda) back to him, essentially robbing Yajnavalkya of the right to propagate the knowledge of the Yajur Veda to others.

Sage Yajnavalkya not one to take things lying down meditated on the Supreme deity embodied as the Sun (Surya) god and came up with his own version of the Yajur Veda which came to be know as the Shukla Yajur Veda or the Vajasaneyi Samhita. Since Yajnavalkya’s Yajur Veda came to be known as Shukla Yajur Veda, Vaisampayana’s came to be known as Krishna Yajur Veda.

The Yajur Veda provides procedural and explanatory details of the Vedic Karmas and rituals including Somayaga, Darsha Poornamasas, Vaajapeya, Rajasuya, and Ashwamedha.

Most importantly the Sri Rudram in vogue today is the one present in the Yajur Veda. Although a few suktas from the Rudram are present in the Rig and Saama Veda as well, the Sri Rudram in vogue today and that which is chanted, only refers to the one in the Yajur Veda.

It is because of this that the great Saivite saint Appayya Dikshitar lamented that he should have been born in the Yajur Veda instead of the Saama Veda.

Similarly the Purusha Sukta present in the Rig Veda is also present in the Yajur Veda with minor differences between the two versions. However, when the Purusha Sukta is mentioned, it refers only to the version in the Yajur Veda.

Yajur Veda also holds a special significance for the followers of the Advaita philosophy (non-dualism). As per Sanatana Dharma, any Siddhanta (philosophy), should contain:

  1. A Sutra (Aphorism, definition)
  2. A Bhaashya (Commentary)
  3. A Vaartika (Explanatory notes, clearer and expanded elucidation of the sutra and the Bhaashya)

Sureshwaraacharya, a direct disciple of Adi Sankaracharya wrote the Vaartika  i.e. explanatory notes on the Bhaashya i.e. commentary written by Sankara on two of the Upanishads pertaining to the Krishna Yajurveda – The Taitrriya Upanishad and the Brihadaranyaaka Upanishad.

This is the reason the Yajur Veda holds a special place in the minds of Advaitins

Culture, History, Religion

The Vedas, Vedangas, Upangas, and Upavedas – An introduction (The Vedas-2)

In the previous post on the Vedas we looked at how the vedas were “Apourusheyam” (Read here) i.e not the revelations of one prophet or messiah but rather timeless truths that have no single authorship and that the Vedas are the fundamental books of Sanatana Dharma – all other books and commentaries like the Bhagavad Gita etc. are merely commentaries or at best derivatives of the vedas. In this post we look at the 18 sub-divisions of the Veda (Referred to as the Vidya Sthanas).

It is often the practice to call all of these under one name – “Dharma Shastras” because they are repositories of both Vidya (Knowledge) and Dharma (Codes of right conduct). In the chart below I have made an attempt to depict the Vedas and their subdivisions in a single chart:

Veda-vidyastahnasIn discussing the Vedas, one often talks of the Veda-Purusha or Veda-Maata – i.e. the personification of the Vedas in terms of the human body. In Sanatana Dharma the use of the body to explain dharmic and scientific concepts is an established practice – Thus you have the “Vastu-Purusha” for example. The Temples of Sanatana Dharma are also symbolic expressions of the human body with the consecrated deity representing the Atman or Soul (being a part of and derived from the Universal Paramatman/Consciousness).

The table below shows the six (6) vedangas of the Vedas and their purpose/purport:

Vedangas Represented by/as Purport
Shiksha Nose The life-breath of the Vedas
Vyakarana Mouth Sound (Grammar)
Chandas Feet Metric Composition Refers to the
Nirutta Ears Vedic Dictionary. Presents the true meaning of each word.
Jyotisha Eyes Astronomy and Astrology.
Kalpa Hands Action. Induce one to action

More about the Vedas and the Vedangas in the subsequent posts

Religion, Spirituality

Krishna tames the 7 bulls (3)

The Paramacharya of Kanchi Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi while discussing the differences amongst the Vedas, Vedantas (Upanishads), and Puranas called the Puranas “Bootha-Kannadi” a Tamizh word for “Magnifying Glass” His point being that while the Vedas to a certain extent are ritualistic the Upanishads (also called Vedantas because they occur at the “anta” or end of the Vedas) are metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical and therefore may appeal to only a few sections of the society and to that extent they may be considered elitist. The Puranas on the other hand teach these very same spiritual and philosophical truths through myths, allegories, and stories – the heroes and villains here are larger than life, the demons and Asuras are huge, pot-bellied, with bulbous noses, and of gargantuan proportions. The heroes are mythical, handsome, pristine in character, and no matter what the difficulties always emerge victorious in the end. However, the underlying truths and morals these stories teach are closely related to and/or are similar to that expounded in the Vedas and Vedantas.

While in the Mahabharata, Krishna is portrayed more as a human being with shades of grey along with occasional hints at his divinity, in the Bhagavata he is elevated to the status of the supreme indwelling divinity, the supreme personality of Godhead – it is this dichotomy in characterization that has led to the clash of ideologies between the Rational-Secularists who can’t accept the Krishna of Mahabharata as divine versus the Bhakta (devotee) for whom the supreme personality of Krishna floats like an untainted leaf above the murky waters of the universe…

In all of this, the take home message is this: It all depends on what path you want to take to approach the divinity within – If it is Karma or the path of action, then it is the Vedas. If it is Jnana or the path of the discriminating-intellect and Spirituality then it is Vedanta (Upanishads). If it is Bhakti or devotion then it is the Bhagavata/Puranas. A combination of any of these or all of these is also par for the course.

In this particular story, Krishna travels to the city of Kosala to ask Raja Nagnajit to give his daughter Satya* (also known as Nagnajiti) to him in marriage. Raja Nagnajit however lays a condition that whoever wants to marry his daughter Satya must first tame 7 unruly bulls – these bulls were wild, nasty, uncontrollable beasts that had gored and badly wounded or killed many a brave kshatriya warrior. Krishna agrees without a moment’s hesitation, girds his loins and jumps into the arena. He easily tames the bulls, passes a rope through each of their noses and literally leads them by their noses around the arena and ties them to a large post in the middle of the arena and wins Satya’s hand.

Let’s now see if we can draw some allegorical lesson and/or moral from this story:

Seven (7) is a magic number in religion and spirituality across all religions/sects. In Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, the number 7 is almost ubiquitous (found almost everywhere) – the 7 worlds or planes of existence (Bhu to Satya that appears before the Gayathri Mantra and during Sankalpa), 7 chakras, 7 notes of music, Saptha-padhi (7 steps in marriage), 7 Maha-Nadhis (rivers) and so on. Although several lessons can be drawn from this story, I prefer the following interpretation:

The 7 unruly bulls are symbolic of:

  1. The 5 sense organs / Pancha Jnanendriyas (Shotra = Ears; Chakshu = Eyes; Grahna = Nose; Jihva = Tongue; Tvak = Skin)
  2. The 5 sense perceptions (The corresponding sensory centers in the brain that perceive what the above 5 sense organs gather during their interactions)
  3. The 5 organs of action / Pancha Karmendriyas (Paada = Feet/Legs; Pani = Hands; Payu = Anus/Rectum; Upastha = Genitals; Vak = Mouth/Speech)
  4. Avidya (Ignorance)
  5. Kama-Krodha (Desire-Anger)
  6. Karma (Fruits of action / Expectation)
  7. Vaasanas (Tendencies / Habits)

Control and sublimation of all of the above leads to the revelation of
TRUTH (SATYA) – the ultimate reality

Note: In the South Indian Azhwar (Alwar) tradition, Satya becomes Nappinnai.

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