Yajurveda, of Sanskrit origin, is composed of Yajus and Veda; the two words translate to ‘prose mantras dedicated to religious reverence or veneration’ and knowledge respectively. Third of the fourth canonical texts of the Hindu dharma, this liturgical collection is famous as the ‘book of rituals’. Of the ancient Vedic text, it is a compilation of ritual offering formulas or the prose mantras to be chanted or muttered repeatedly by a priest while an individual performs the ascertained ritual actions before the sacrificial fire or the Yagna.
It has been, since the Vedic times, the primary source of information about sacrifices and associated rituals, more importantly, it has served as a practical guidebook for the priest, or the Purohits, as referred to as in Hindu dharma who execute the acts of ceremonial religion.
The scholarly consensus points out the bulk of Yajur Veda dating to 1200 or 1000 BCE, which when analyzed is younger than Rig Veda, whose origin has been approximated around 1700 BCE, but is contemporaneous to the hymns of Sama deva and Arthava Veda.
However, very much like the other Vedic texts, no definite date can be ascribed to its composition, rather they are believed to be of generational descend from Vedic periods by literary oral tradition, which was then a precise and elaborate technique. Also due to the ephemeral nature of the manuscript materials; the birch barks or palm leaves, no certain time period in the history can be ascertained to the origin of Yajurveda.
Also, common to the other three Vedas and as the tales tell, humans did not compose the revered compositions of the Vedas, but that God taught the Vedic hymns to the sages, who then handed them down through generations by word of mouth. Also, the followers of the Hindu dharma regard the Vedas as apauruṣeya; meaning not of a man or impersonal and also, according to some traditions in Hindu dharma such as the Vedanta and Mimamsa schools of philosophy the Vedas are considered as Svatah Pramana (Sanskrit, meaning “self-evident means of knowledge”). Some school of thoughts even assert that the Vedas as of eternal creation, mainly in the Mimosa tradition. In the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic; the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma, the Supreme Creator. However, the Vedic hymns themselves assert that they were skillfully created by Rishis (sages), after inspired creativity.
The Yajurveda is broadly grouped into Krishna Yajurveda and Shukla Yajurveda, also referred to as the Black Yajurveda and the latter as the White. In reference to the verses of the Krishna Yajurveda being un-arranged, unclear and disparate or dissimilar, the collection is too often referred to as Black Yajurveda. In contrast, the well-arranged and imparting a particular meaning, the Shukla Yajurveda is known as the White Yajurveda.
The earliest and most ancient layer of Yajurveda, Samhita includes about 1,875 verses, that are distinct yet borrowed from and built upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda. The middle layer includes the Satapatha Brahmana, one of the largest Brahmana texts in the Vedic collection and The youngest layer of Yajurveda text includes the largest collection of primary Upanishads six in number, influential to various schools of Hindu philosophy. These include the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, just to name a few.
Sixteen recensions, or revised edition of a text, of the Shukla Yajurveda, have been said to be known, of which only two recessions have been discovered to have been survived. While the Krishna Yajurveda may have had as many as 86 recensions, of which only four have survived into the modern times. Madhyandina and Kanva, the two recensions of the Yajurveda that have survived are nearly the same in contrast to the four surviving recensions of the Shukla Yajurveda, which are very different versions compared to one another.
Yajurveda, in contemporary Hinduism, has been a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus. The text is a useful source of information about the agriculture, economic and social life during the Vedic era. The verse, translated from the Shukla Yajurveda, for example, list the types of crops considered important in ancient India.
May my rice plants and my barley, and my beans and my sesame,
and my kidney-beans and my vetches, and my pearl millet and my proso millet,
and my sorghum and my wild rice, and my wheat and my lentils,
prosper by sacrifice.
– Shukla Yajurveda 18.12.