The Taittiriya Shakha (Sanskrit, loosely meaning 'Branch or School of the sage Tittiri'), is a shakha (i.e. 'branch', 'school', or rescension) of the Krishna (black) Yajurveda. Most prevalent in South India, it consists of the Taittiriya Samhita ('TS'), Taittiriya Brahmana ('TB'), Taittiriya Aranyaka ('TA'), and Taittiriya Pratisakhya ('TP').
The 'Taittiriya Shakha' can be loosely translated as 'Branch or School of (the sage) Tittri' or 'Branch or School of Taittiriya' or 'School of the pupils of Tittiri'.
According to the Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary, Taittiri was a pupil of Yaska (estimated 4th-5th century BCE). According to the Vishnu Purana, Yaska was in turn a pupil of Vaiśampáyana, (estimated 6th century BCE). Taittiri is also stated in the Mahabharata to have attended 'the Yaga [Vedic ritual sacrifice] conducted by Uparicaravasu'.
'Tittiri' also means 'partridge'. This meaning is worked into the account of the stated origin of the School of Tittri in the Vishnu Purana (Book 3, Chapter 5). Following a division between Brahmins at Mount Meru - including Vaiśampáyana (whose pupil, Tittiri, is attributed to the Krishna (black) Yajurveda) and Yajnavalkya (attributed to the Shukla (White) Yajurveda) - 'The other scholars of Vaiśampáyana, transforming themselves to partridges (Tittiri), picked up the texts which he [Yájnawalkya] had disgorged, and which from that circumstance were called Taittiríya'. This indicates both Yaska and Taittiri were pupils of Vaiśampáyana.
The translator, H.H. Wilson, states in his commentary to this chapter that 'the term Taittiríya is more rationally accounted for in the Anukramańí or index of the black Yajush [Krishna YajurVeda]. It is there said that Vaiśampáyana taught it to Yaska, who taught it to Tittiri, who also became a teacher; whence the term Taittiríya, for a grammatical rule explains it to mean, 'The Taittiríyas are those who read what was said or repeated by Tittiri'.'
Yaska, attributed as the teacher of Taittiri, is also attributed as the author of the Nirukta, a study of etymology concerned with correct interpretation of Sanskrit words in the Vedas. This is significant as the Nirukta references and quotes extensively from the Taittiriya texts (e.g. as listed in Appendix 1 of the Nirukta).
According to B.R. Modak, the scholar Sayana (died 1387 CE), notable for his commentaries on Vedic literature including the Taittirīya texts, was a member of the Taittiriya Shakha. According to G.R. Garg, Apastamba (450–350 BCE), notable for his Shrautasutras, was also a member.
The 'Śrauta Sútras' (or Shrautasutras) of Apastamba (450–350 BCE), Bodhayana (500–200 BCE), and Vaikhanasa.(300–100 BCE) are theological texts concerned with procedures and ceremonies of Vedic ritual practice. All are attached to the Taittiriya Samhita.
There are other commentaries written by Sanskrit scholars and philosophers on the works of the Taittiriya Shakha. Most notably, according to B.R. Modak, Sayana wrote commentaries on the Taittirīya texts (and others). According to N. Sharva, the Taittirīya Brāhmaṇa was also commented upon by Bhava Swāmī (circa 700 CE or earlier); Kauśika Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara Miśra (preceding and referred to by Sayana in the Nirukta and by Devarāja Yajvā in the Nighantu); and Rāmānḍara / Rāmāgnichitta.
R. Dalal states that 'The Yajur Veda consists of passages in verse and prose, arranged for the performance of yajnas (sacrifices)... The two main versions of the Yajur are known as the Shukla (or "white") Yajur Veda and the Krishna (or 'Black') Yajur Veda... of the black Yajur Veda, five shakhas are known: the Taittiriya (Apastamba), Kapishthala (Hiranyakesi), Katha, Kathaka (school of the Kaṭhas), and Maitrayani (Kalapa), with four closely related recensions, known as the Kathaka Samhita, the Kapishthala-Katha Samhita, Maitrayani Samhita, and the Taittiriya Samhita'.
The Taittiriya Samhita ('TS') consists of seven kandas (or 'books') of hymns, mantras, prayers, and three Anukramanis (indexes). In translations such as that by A.B. Keith, this Samhita is presented as the Krishna (black) Yajurveda. M. Winternitz adds that the Samhita also includes Brahmana passages (i.e. instructions and explanations of sacrificial ceremonies). The chapters (prapāṭhakas) for each of the books (kandas) of the Taittiriya Samhita are as follows:
D.M. Harness states that 'The Vedic Nakshatras [stars] arose from a spiritual perception of the cosmos. Nakshatras are the mansions of the Gods or cosmic powers and of the Rishis or sages. They can also project negative or anti-divine forces, just as certain planets like Saturn have well known malefic effects. The term Nakshatra refers to a means (tra) of worship (naksha) or approach... The Nakshatras dispense the fruits of karma... For this reason Vedic rituals and meditations to the present day follow the timing of the Nakshatras... [which] are of prime [importance] in muhurta or electional astrology for determining favorable times for actions, particularly sacramental or sacred actions like marriage'.
Varaha, the boar avatar of Vishnu (listed in the Dashavatara, or ten primary incarnation of Vishnu) is primarily associated with the Puranic legend of lifting the Earth out of the cosmic ocean. A.A. Macdonell and R. Janmajit both state that the origin and development of the boar avatar is found in the Taittiriya Samhita, albeit initially as a form of Prajapati:
This was in the beginning the waters, the ocean. In it Prajapati becoming the wind moved. He saw her, and becoming a boar he seized her. Her, becoming Viçvakarma, he wiped. She extended, she became the earth, and hence the earth is called the earth (lit. 'the extended'). In her Prajapati made effort. He produced the gods, Vasus, Rudras, and Adityas.
Another extract attributed to the early development of the Varaha avatar by Macdonell is:
Now a boar, stealer of the good, keeps the wealth of the Asuras which is to be won beyond the seven hills. Him smite, if thou art he who smites in the stronghold. He [Indra] plucked out a bunch of Darbha grass, pierced the seven hills, and smote him. He said, 'Thou art called he who brings from the stronghold; bring him.' So the sacrifice bore off the sacrifice for them; in that they won the wealth of the Asuras which was to be won (védyam), that alone is the reason why the Vedi is so called. The Asuras indeed at first owned the earth, the gods had so much as one seated can espy.
When the completion of yajna does not happen in a year (samvatsara) then everything is not stable. Then one has to seek the grace of Vishnu (Vamana) by performing a special rite on the ekadashi day. Yajna means Vishnu (worshipping Vishnu). They perform yajna only for stabilising. They depend on Indra and Agni. Indra and Agni give the abode for Gods (devas). Devas only seek shelter in them and only depend on them.
The Taittirīya Brāhmaņa ('TB') is considered by academics to be an appendix or extension of the Taittirīya Samhita. The first two books (ashṭakas) largely consist of hymns and mantras to the Vedic-era Devas, as well as mythology, astronomy, and astrology (i.e. the Nakshatras); the third book contains commentaries and instructions on Vedic sacrificial rites such as the Purushamedha, Kaukili-Sutramani, Ashvamedha, and Agnicayana. Recorded around 300-400 BCE, it was prevalent in southern India in areas such in Andhra Pradesh, south and east of Narmada (Gujarat), and areas on the banks of the Godavari river down to the sea.
A.B Keith states that 'at a comparatively early period the formulae [i.e. mantras from the Samhitas of the YajurVeda] were accompanied by explanations, called Brahmanas, texts pertaining to the Brahman or sacred lore, in which the different acts of the ritual were given symbolical interpretations, the words of the texts commented on, and stories told to illustrate the sacrificial performance... a mass of old material, partly formulae, partly Brahmana, which had not been incorporated in the Taittiriya Samhita was collected together in the Taittiriya Brahmana, which in part contains matter more recent than the Samhita, but in part has matter as old as, at any rate, the later portions of that text'.
The Taittiriya Aranyaka ('TA') is primarily a theological text consisting of ten chapters (prapāṭhakas). J. Dowson states that 'Aranyaka' means 'belonging to the forest' as this type of text is intended to 'expound the mystical sense of the [sacrificial] ceremonies, discuss the nature of God [etc.]. They are attached to the Brahmanas, and [are] intended for study in the forest by brahmanas who have retired from the distractions of the world'. As illustrated below, the Taittiriya Aranyaka contains a Brahmana text of its own, the Pravargya Brahmana, as well as two Upanishads, the Taittiriya Upanishad (a Muktika or primary Upanishad) and the Mahanarayana Upanishad (a minor Vaishnava Upanishad).
R. Mitra states that the Taittiriya Aranyaka is 'by far the largest of the Aranyakas. It extends altogether to ten prapāṭhakas or 'Great Lessons', i.e. books or chapters, of which the last four are Upanishads, and the first six, are Aranyaka strictly so-called'. The 10 chapters (prapāṭhakas) of the Taittiriya Aranyaka, including numbers of anuvakas (sections) for each, are as follows:
The Mahanarayana Upanishad is classified as a Vaishnava Upanishad. In addition to this, the Taittiriya Aranyaka is also considered significant by academics in the development of the avatars (or incarnations) and their associated legends of the RigVedic god Vishnu, the supreme being in Vaishnavism.
A. Daniélou states that a hundred-armed black boar lifts the earth out of the waters in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (TA 10.1.8). J. Eggeling in note 451:1 to the Shatapatha Brahmana (relating to the Shukla or White Yajurveda) incorrectly states it was 'a black boar with a thousand arms'. The Journal Of The Indian Society Of Oriental Art (volume 13) states 'in the ‘Taittiriya Aranyaka’, the earth is said to have been raised by a black boar with a hundred arms (‘varahena krsnena satabahuna uddhrta’). It is an easily understandable step to the making of the boar an incarnation of Visnu himself, a step which is finally taken in the epics and the Puranas'. This legend is also contained in the Mahanarayana Upanishad (prapāṭhaka 10 of the Taittiriya Aranyaka):
bhūmirdhenurdharaṇī lokadhāriṇī uddhṛtāsi varāheṇa kṛṣṇena śatabāhunā
The earth [Bhumi] is the giver of happiness like the milk cow, the sustainer of life and support for all living beings. (Represented as such the earth is addressed:) Thou wert raised up by Kṛṣṇa in His incarnation of the boar having hundred hands.
As 'Krishna' also means 'black', the verse can also be interpreted as 'black boar' or 'raised up by the black boar', as stated by Daniélou and Eggeling. However, the translation given above clearly shows how Krishna is linked with Varaha.
N. Aiyangar states that the following verse from the Taittiriya Aranyaka (prapāṭhaka 1.23-25) 'is narrated in connection with the ritual called Arunaketuka-kayana, in which the tortoise ['Kurma'] is placed below the uttara-vedi [altar]. In it Prajapati or his juice the Tortoise is called Arunaketu (one who had red rays)':
The waters, this (universe), were salilam (chaotic liquid) only. Prajapati alone came into being on a lotus leaf. Within his mind, desire (Kama) around as 'Let me bring forth this (universe).' Therefore what man gets at by mind that he utters by word and that he does by deed... He (Prajapati desired to bring forth the universe) performed tapas (austere religious contemplation). Having performed tapas, he shook his body. From his flesh sprang forth Aruna-Ketus, (red rays as) the Vatarasana Rishis, from his nakhas, nails, the Vaikhanasas, from his valas, hair, the Valakhilyas, and his rasa, juice, (became) a bhutam (a strange being, viz.,) a tortoise moving in the middle of the water. He [Prajapati] addressed him thus 'you have come into being from my skin and flesh.' 'No,' he replied, 'I have been here even from before (purvan eva asam).' This is the reason of the Purusha-hood of Purusha. He (the tortoise) sprang forth, becoming the Purusha of a thousand heads, thousand eyes, thousand feet. He (Prajapati) told him, 'you have been from before and so you the Before make this (idam purvah kurushva).'... From the waters indeed was this (universe) born. All this is Brahman Svayambhu (Self-Born).
The Vātaraśanāḥ Rishis (or Munis) created are also mentioned in RigVeda 10.136, where Shiva drank water/poison, linking to the legend of Kurma and the churning of the Ocean of Milk, referred to as the Samudra manthan. Prajapati then encounters a tortoise (Kurma/Arunaketu) that existed even before he, the creator of the universe, came into being.
The Taittiriya Pratisakhya ('TP') is concerned with phonetics, i.e. the correct pronunciation of words.