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.
In the Shukla or White recension of Yajurveda there is a marked orderliness and the confusion between mantras and Brahmana portion has been cleared, however, the order of sacrifice in both the recensions is similar. In size the Yajurveda is about two-thirds of the Rigveda. As has already been mentioned. Yajurveda consists partly of verses, and partly of prose passages. The measured and rhythmic prose portions are called ‘Yajus’ and the Yajurveda takes its name after it. The verses found in the Rigveda-samhita mostly can also be found here. They have been dissected and rearranged with additional texts for sacrificial purposes, but its prose formulas and prayers are characteristically Yajurvedic. The Yajurveda consists of 40 books, majority of which contain the prayers and rites for the most important sacrifices. Some of these include new and full moon sacrifices, sacrifices of the seasons, the Soma-sacrifice, prayers and formulas concerning the building of sacrificial altar, Purushamedha and the great Horse-sacrifice (Ashvamedha).
Another characteristic feature of Yajurveda is that its last chapter is an Upanishad. It is the only Upanishad which forms a part of Samhita portion of a Veda. Yajurveda is basically a book of prayers and rituals but to conclude this Veda with an Upanishad (Isa) gives it a new dimension. This marks the fusion of karma (action) and jnan (knowledge). This little Upanishad comprising only 17 verses is matchless in its spirit of synthesis with which it is so richly imbued. This short but invaluable Upanishad which forms a part of the Vajasaneyi Samhita or White Yajurveda is a real jewel of religion-philosophic desireless discharge of duty and excessive ritualism and total obstinence from action is marvellous. The study of Yajurveda is significant from many points of view. In the opinion of Winternitz, it makes an interesting reading “for the student of religion, who studies it as a source not only for the Indian, but also for the general science of religion, whoever wishes it investigate the origin, the development, and significance of prayer in the history of religion – and this is one of the most interesting chapters of the history or religion – should in no case neglect to become acquainted with the prayers of Yajurveda.”
“For the understanding of the whole of the later religious and philosophical literature of the Indians, too, these Samhitas are indispensable. Without the Yajurveda we cannot understand Brahmanas, and without these we cannot understand the Upanishads.”
The Vedas are “apanrusheya” or impersonal and as such they signify that in a sense anybody who imbibes their spirit, prays with them and contemplates through them can be their author. You are their author if you read and recite them, if you assimilate their essence you can also envision them as did our ancient seers and Rishis. This renders these books of great wisdom ever living, perennial and relevant. Even their mere recitation with proper understanding is of great spiritual merit as they embody the loftiest human sentiments that one can feel for his supreme God.