Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

A - B - C - D - E - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - P - R - S - T - U - V - Y


YAJNAWALKYA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology]

A celebrated sage, to whom is attributed the White Yajurveda, the Satapatha Brahmana, the Brihad Aranyaka, and the code of law called Yajnawalkyasmriti. He lived before the grammarian Katyayana, and was probably later than Manu; at any rate, the code bearing his name is posterior to that of Manu. He was a disciple of Bashkali, and more particularly of Vaisampayana.

The Mahabharata makes him present at the Rajasuya sacrifice perfomed by Yudishthira; and according to the Satapatha Brahmana he flourished at the court of Janaka, king of Videha and father of Sita. Janaka had long contentions with the Brahmans, in which he was supported, and probably prompted, by Yajnawalkya.

This sage was a dissenter from the religious teaching and practices of his time, and is represented as contending with and silencing Brahmans at the court of his patron. A Brahman named Vidagha Sakalya was his especial adversary, but he vanquished him and cursed him, so that "his head dropped off, and his bones were stolen by robbers."

Yajnawalkya also is represented as inculcating the duty and necessity of religious retirement and meditation, so he is considered as having been the originator of the Yoga doctrine, and to have helped in preparing the world for the preaching of Buddha.

He had two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani, and he instructed the former in his philosophical doctrine. Max Muller quotes a dialogue between them from the Satapatha Brahmana (Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 22), in which the sage sets forth his views.

The White Yajurveda originated in a schism, of which Vajnawalkya was a leader, if not the author. He was the originator and compiler of this Veda, and according to some it was called Vajasaneyi Sanhita, from his surname Vajasaneya.

What share Yajnawalkya had in the production of the Satapatha Brahmana and Brihad Aranyaka is very doubtful. Some part of them may, perhaps, have sprung directly from him, and they were probably compiled under his superintendence; but it may be, as some think, that they are so called because they treat of him and embody his teaching. One portion of the Brihad Aranyaka, called the Vajnawalkiya Kanda, cannot have been his composition, for it is devoted to his glorification and honour, and was probably written after his death.

The Smriti, or code of law which bears the name of Yajnawalkya, is posterior to that of Manu, and is more precise and stringent in its provisions. Its authority is inferior only to that of Manu, and as explained and developed by the celebrated commentary Mitakshara, it is in force all over India except in Bengal proper, but even there the original text-book is received. The second century A.D. has been named as the earliest date of this work. Like Manu, it has two recensions, the Brihad and Vriddha, perhaps more. The text has been printed in Calcutta, and has been translated into German by Stenzler and into English by Roer and Montriou.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM