There is an interesting story about the origin of Yajur Veda and the way knowledge was transmitted, preserved and nurtured in ancient India.

According to the Vishnu Purana, after the Vedas had been classified and compiled by Sage Vyasa, he taught the same to his disciples. As was the custom at the time, the students were expected to set up their own schools to take the knowledge forward. Sage Vyasa had taught the Yajur Veda to his disciple, Vaishampayana, who we all know as the one who narrated the Mahabharata to Janmajeya, the great-grandson of Arjuna.

The story goes that Vaishampayana, having spent his time with his guru, set up his own school. He had his own disciples who were all devoted to him. It so happened that Vaishampayana found himself in a quandary as he accidentally killed his nephew. He asked his disciples to repent for the sin on his behalf. But, one his favourite disciples, Yagnavalkya refused to do so. The guru was angered at his refusal and asked for his knowledge back, Yagnavalkya duly vomited out the entire Yajur Veda.

The vomit was black in colour and Vaishampayana’s version of the Yajur Veda is referred to as the Krishna Yajur Veda or the dark Yajur Veda. The other disciples are supposed to have turned into ‘tittiris’ or partridges and ate up the Yajur Veda that he threw up, and their branch of the Vedic knowledge was referred to Taittariya Samhita.

Another version says that Vaishampayana asked his students to atone for him, not because he had killed his nephew, but because he had to miss a ceremony where all the sages had to gather at the Mount Meru. The day coincided with Sage Vaishampayana’s father’s death anniversary, which called for some rituals. To avoid the sin of missing his father’s death rituals, the sage decided that he would give the meeting at Mount Meru a miss. Later when he was asked to accept the punishment, he asked his disciples to atone for him, which Yagnavalkya refused to do.

However, Yagnavalkya was very disappointed by his Guru’s behaviour and so he approached Lord Surya to regain his lost knowledge. Surya appeared to him and re-taught him the Veda, which was called the Shukla Yajur Veda of the white Yajur Veda as the Sun god was fair. This version is different from the Krishna Yajur Veda, as it has portions that Surya taught only Yagnavalkya, and thus it was missing from the version of Vaishampayana.  It is said that Lord Surya taught the Veda in the form of a vaja, or a horse and that is why this Yajur Veda is also known as the Vajasaneyaka and the Brahmins who study this version are often referred to as the Vajis, or horses.

An interesting difference is that the Krishna Yajur Veda has Mantras from the Samhita intermixed with the Brahmanas while the Shukla Yajur Veda has a clear separation of the both, as Surya is supposed to have taught them separately to Yagnavalkya. Samhita’s are a collection of hymns and mantras, while the Brahmana’s are the ritualistic instructions which were for the priest who would conduct the worship of the gods addressed in the hymns.

Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel

Source: Hindu Mythology, W.J. Wilkins

Location: Pan-India

Image details: Google Images