Second of the three-part series.
By Dr. Suresh Kurl
In my first of the three part series, I discussed the Vedas in general and the Rig Veda, in particular. Here, in the second part, I intend to talk about the Vedic language, Vedic philosophy and the Yajur Veda in particular.
The Vedic Language:
The language of the Vedas is ancient Sanskrit, which is much closer to Avesta; the language of the ancient Zoroastrian sacred scriptures. In a nutshell, the ancient Vedic Sanskrit is no where near the modern literary Sanskrit, taught in schools in modern India.
As the Vedas were shrutis (revealed), their teachers (acharyas) had developed repetitive techniques (jata-path methods) to not only memorise the hymns, but also to ensure version of the text was shuddha (correct) The closest example I can offer the readers is from the Sama Veda’s seven notes –
sa, re, ga. ma, pa, dha, ni.
The music students practice these notes in several complex (jata) forms. Such as —
(i) re- ga; re-ga-ma; gr- ma- pa-; ma- pa- dha-; pa- dha- ni-; dha- ni- sa;–
(ii) sa- ni- dha; ni- dha-pa; dha- pa- ma; pa- ma- ga; ma- ga- re; ga- re- sa.
People believe that in the beginning of His creation the Vedas were created and revealed by God He is the one, who established our moral and spiritual standards. The Vedas define Him to be infinite and supreme; that everything on this planet is created by Him, as He alone can create, sustain and dissolve his creation. Furthermore, whatever God creates is finite. Therefore, this universe including this world is finite also. The Vedas emphasises on three categories for a successful living: knowledge, action and worship. That said, in the second part of this series, I will attempt to describe the Yajur Veda.
What is Yajur Veda?
Chronologically speaking, Yajur Veda is the second of the four Vedas. The Yajur Veda was compiled a century or two after the Rig Veda and consists of 2006 verses, written in prose, which are frequently identical with the mantras of the Rig Veda. Etymologically, the root of the word, Yajur is “Yaj.” It means to adore, honour or worship. The mantras of the Yajur Veda are called Yajus.
The Yajur Veda is an encyclopaedia of Vedic ritualistic worship, also known as, karma-kanda. It is a collection of sacrificial mantras used on the days of the new and full moon during spring season especially at the occasion of the Ashvamedha Yajna, when the ancient kings used to perform a horse sacrifice to test, prove and claim their sovereignty over other kingdoms.
In order to perform an Ashvamedha Yajna a king, accompanied by his warriors, would release a white or grey horse to wander for a period of one year. Any rival king could dispute the king’s authority by capturing the horse and challenging the accompanying warriors, sent with the horse to protect it.
After one year, if no rival had managed to capture or kill the horse, the animal would be brought back to the king’s capital, where it would be then ceremonially sacrificed to please gods, and then the king would be declared as an undisputed sovereign of the territory the horse roamed around.
The kings, who engaged in performing these sacrifices spent large sums of wealth on gifts to the Brahmanas, the individuals, born in the highest rank of the caste system. Later on, the importance and power of this sacrifice became so high that a king, who could afford to perform one hundred of these sacrifices, was entitled to go to the Brahmaloka, the heaven. It sounds as though the Brahmaloka was on sale.
Back to the Yajur-Veda, the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, (composed 400 BC—200 AD) makes a reference to this Veda that upon the recommendation of Sage Vashishta, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya performed a fire sacrifice to please Agni Deva (the god of fire) to receive his blessings for the birth of a son. This fire sacrifice is known as Putrakameshti Yajna. It was performed by Rishi Shringa, who was known to be an expert on Yajur Vedic ceremonies.
Subsequent to this fire sacrifice, the god of fire appeared with a bowl of rice pudding which he presented to Dasharatha for his three wives to eat. The outcome was the birth of his four sons–Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna. I believe the rice pudding contained certain fertility herbs.
I call the Yajur Veda SHIVAM, something auspicious and virtuous, adding happiness to life.
The Yajur Veda is divided into two parts – the white “Yajur Veda” (shukla) and the black “Yajur Veda” (krisna). The white “Yajur Veda” deals with prayers and specific instructions for devotional sacrifices, whereas the black “Yajur Veda” deals with instructions for sacrificial rituals, meaning it is a book on the technical aspect of the ceremonies.
The Yajur Veda also contains the principles of pranayama and asana. Prana means breath, the vital energy in the body and “-ayama” means control. Such Yoga teachings are referred to as Vedic yoga. It is in my opinion the most precious contributions of the Yajur Veda, not only to the people of India, but to the people of the world, irrespective of the faith they follow.
“Muslim-majority countries Egypt and the UAE joined the world in celebrating the third International Yoga Day with a large number of people performing yogic asanas which have gained popularity in the two Arab countries over the years.” [The Times of India; June 22, 2017]
The next to follow are the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. Stay tuned.
Dr. Suresh Kurl is a South Asian Community Activist, a former university professor, retired Registrar of the BC Benefits Appeal Board (Govt. of B.C.) a former-Member of the National Parole Board (Govt. of Canada), a writer and public speaker.