Was the Śukla Yajurveda unknown to Veda-Vyāsa?
C. V. Vaidya, who tries to stay as close to tradition as possible, in History of Sanskrit Literature, says that the Śukla Yajurveda was compiled a generation or two after Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa had already compiled the 3 Vedas i.e., Ṛgveda, Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda and Sāmaveda. And because Atharvaveda was also compiled much later, he believes Vyāsa only taught those 3 Vedas and the Bhārata to his disciples:
The Indian tradition, therefore, namely that Krishṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa made the Vedic compilations before the Śatapatha, the oldest Brāhmaṇa, was composed in about 3000 B. C., may be accepted as reliable. We can not further hold that the Ṛigveda in its compiled form was before the authors of the Yaju's formulae or Sāman verses. For these two were also collected into Saṃhitās by Vyāsa at the same time from the floating material then existing. These two Vedas, no doubt, contain many verses from the Ṛigveda almost everywhere; but it is not necessary to suppose that they take them from the compiled Ṛigveda. They could do so from hymns as they then separately existed among the Indo-Aryans. There are a few variations in the verses quoted but these are probably due to quotation from memory or to necessity. Ṛigvedic verses are quoted in the Brāhmaṇas and the Sūtras also. But these were quoted after the Ṛigveda was compiled into a fixed form, as the Brāhmaṇas and Sūtras date later than the compilations for reasons mentioned later on; and the variations in such quotations were often consciously made for purposes of ritual, as held by Dr. Macdonell himself.
While accepting the tradition of the compilation of the Vedas by Vyāsa we may, however, reject that part of it which credits him with compiling the Atharva text also, for we have seen that originally there were three Vedas only, the Atharva Veda being put together later. We may also reject the idea suggested later (especially in Viṣṇu Purāṇa) that Vyāsa taught the four Vedas to four different pupils, viz. Ṛigveda to Paila, Yajurveda to Vaiśampāyana, Sāmaveda to Jaimini and Atharvaveda to Sumantu. He taught the three Vedas and Bhārata composed by himself to each of his four pupils and to fifth his son Śuka. In ancient times all Brahmins learnt all the three Vedas and division of labour by Brahmins sticking to particular Vedas arose after the Brāhmaṇa period at least. It is hence that we find the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa of the Śukla Yajurveda mentioning the Ṛigveda with respect and treating the change of even one word in a Ṛigvedic verse as a thing not to be thought of, indeed as blasphemous. The Śukla Yajurveda arose after Vyāsa had compiled the Ṛigveda, the Krishṇa Yajurveda and the Sāmaveda, as its very tradition (which will be given later on) indicates. The Brāhmaṇa literature of the other Vedas grew up later following the example of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, and when the volume of the literature of each Veda thus became vast and when ritual sanctioned by the different Vedas also differed, Brahmins divided themselves into distinct classes which acknowledged allegiance to particular Vedas only, a fact proved by these different classes of Brahmins being descended from the same Ṛishis and having the same gotra and pravara, as also by the fact that the Ṛishis of the different Vedas are also the same.
The Śukla or White Yajurveda, as stated before, is, by the very legend of its origin, a later form of the Yajurveda. The legend as given in the Mahābhārata (Śānti Parva, Chap. 360) shortly runs thus:–
Vaiśampāyana, the teacher of Yājñavalkya once got angry with him for disparaging his co-students and asked him to leave his school, after returning the Veda taught to him. Yājñavalkya immediately vomited the Veda the mantras of which burned like hot embers. The other pupils of Vaiśampāyana, assuming the form of the Tittiri bird (which is supposed to be able to eat live coals), ate up the Veda which thenceforth became known as the Taittirīya recension. Yājñavalkya being now without any Veda propitiated the Son who gave him fifteen new Yajush mantras. He then started a new school of his own, formulating the White Yajurveda Saṃhitā and composing a separate Brāhmaṇa called Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. The new Saṃhitā is called the Vājasaneyi recension because Yājñavalkya learnt the new mantras from the Sun, riding the horses of his chariot.
This legend is on the face of it imaginary, being a name legend as Dr. Bühler aptly called such legends. It is clearly based on the names Taittirīya and Vājasaneyi. We may, however, believe that Yājñavalkya, being dissatisfied with the Yajurveda as taught to ham by Vaiśampāyana, founded a new school of his own, reforming the Black [Kṛṣṇa] Yajurveda Saṃhitā by separating the prose Brāhmaṇa portion of it and composing a few new mantras of his own, so that his Saṃhitā might fitly be called a new one. The new Saṃhitā is based on the Ṛigveda model, however, consisting as it does of verses only. It begins with the verse 'Ishe tvorjetvā' the beginning verse of the old Yajurveda; but even in this verse Yājñavalkya has made certain alterations. He composed a separate Brāhmaṇa for his new Veda viz. the Śatapatha, explanatory of the mantras in his Saṃhitā and thus set the way to the followers of the other Vedas for composing explanatory Brāhmaṇas for their Vedas. The White [Śukla] Yajurveda Saṃhitā is thus the compilation not of Vyāsa, but of his pupil's pupil and is of the same date as its Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa i.e., about 3000 B.C., a hundred years later than the date of the compilation of the other three Vedas. The Mahābhārata story further relates that at a sacrifice performed by Janaka, Yājñavalkya succeeded in establishing the right of the White Yajurveda to one half of the Dakshinā allotted to Yajurveda, after great contention with his maternal uncle Vaiśampāyana, the champion of the Black [Kṛṣṇa] Yajurveda.
K. M. Shembavnekar in The Veda-Vyāsa Myth, however, rejects the idea of Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana, the original author of Mahābhārata, having anything to do with Vedas and its division into three or four parts:
If Vedic evidence is to be believed, Vyāsa had nothing to do with the four Vedas. And, fortunately, that evidence is neither meagre nor indecisive. The references to the three Vedas in the various Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas and Upaniṣads are so numerous, clear and unmistakable, that the statement in the Epic [Mahābhārata]–too often repeated in the Purāṇas–viz. that there was but one Veda in the beginning, and that Vyāsa divided it into four, appears as quite ridiculous, if not worse.
There is not the slightest evidence in any of the above-mentioned works of high and indisputable antiquity to show that there was only one Veda in the beginning. That that one Veda was Yajurveda is a nefarious addition made to the Epic legend by the writer, (or interpolator) of the Viṣṇu-Purāṇa, who undoubtedly must have been an adherent of that school and whose bigoted zeal tries to elevate that Veda over the other Vedas, especially over the Ṛgveda.
Evidently, therefore, the three Vedas existed long before the Epic period. Indeed, the Śatapatha, as C. V. Vaidya points out, refers to the Ṛgveda-Saṃhitā as we possess it now, thus proving the great antiquity of that Veda. Nor is there the slightest hint in any of the Vedic works to prove anything like a division of the Vedas. Then there is, again, the most glaring contradiction in the Epic [Mahābhārata] itself, where its author is credited with that glorious work. First it is stated that he studied the Vedas (mark the plural); and then next comes the amazing statement that he divided the original Veda (observe the singular) into four!
Again, if Vyāsa had had any connection with the Vedas, he would have been surely included among the venerable Ācāryas or gurus to whom Tarpaṇa (water-libation) is due in the Brahmayajña. But his name is conspicuous by its absence, though those of his supposed pupils are mentioned in the Gṛhya-sūtra of Āśvalāyana: (sumantu.jaimini.vaiśampāyana.paila.sūtra.bhāṣya.bhārata.mahā.bhārata.dharma.ācāryā). If, as the Epic says, Vyāsa had been the Guru of Sumantu and others, his name would have certainly occurred in the list, and that too before those of his pupils. Instead, we find a vague reference to the author or authors of the Bhārata and Mahābhārata. Certainly Āśvalāyana, like all ancient writers of India, knew what belongs to the dignity of the Guru, and therefore, the omission of Vyāsa's name from the above list is quite significant. It is worthy of note, too, that personages like Śākala, Bāṣkala and others are individually mentioned with due honour, and thus justice is done to all those who had any connection with the Śākhās of the Ṛgveda. The Caranavyūha ascribed to Śaunaka, though not a very ancient work, knows nothing of the Epic legend, and consequently Vyāsa's name is nowhere to be found in it.
It would appear as though the above Sūtra of Āśvalāyana was taken by the inventors of the Epic legend as a basis for the idea of the four-fold division of the original Veda, clearly to make the four Ācāryas whose names are jointly mentioned it as the four pupils of the mythical Vyāsa.
The evidence of the grammarians is highly authentic and reliable, in as much they were concerned with the designations which had come into vogue in their time, and were not interested in the invention of names, like the mythologists...Again, it is evident from Sūtra IV, 3, 102 (tittiri-varatantu-khaṇḍika-ukhāc chaṇ) that Tittiri was the name of an Ācārya or founder of a school, and that, in consequence, followers derived the title Taittirīya. This little piece of evidence exposes the hollowness of the Purāṇic legend founded on name and inserted in the Viṣṇu and other Purāṇas. It is, highly significant that Pāṇini does not mention Vyāsa as a pravaktā of any or all Veda-śākhās.
On the people responsible for this myth/legend, the author concludes by saying:
Vyāsa, the author of the grand Epic [Mahābhārata] and the Gītā, naturally came to be covered with a glory which may justly be called divine. But perfectly divine it could not be unless the sage-author were associated with the holy Vedas. In all probability, it was with this aim in view that the school of Sūta and Romaharṣaṇa–the founders of the Veda-Vyāsa myth–invented the legend about the division of the original Veda into four books, properly designated and diligently assigned to his four disciples, by the venerable guru, "Vyāsa." That they aimed at making him the fountain of all knowledge–past, present and future–is evident from the several claims which are so eloquently put forth on his behalf in the Epic and outside it: 'yadihāsti tadanyatra yannehāsti na kutracit', 'vyāsocchiṣṭaṃ jagatsarvaṃ', 'aṣṭadaśapuraṇānāṃ kartā satyavatīsutaḥ', etc. But the Veda is eternal, and a rigid adherence to it is enjoined by the ancient sages who look upon it as the only sovereign source of all 'dharma' i.e., Law and Knowledge.
The originators of the Veda-Vyāsa myth, therefore, could not be content with making him only the author of a 'Fifth Veda' [Mahābhārata] but fathered upon him even a higher distinction, viz., the title to the division of the original one Veda into four, and the distribution of the different Śākhās among his disciples.
In doing so, however they completely perverted the earlier and genuine Vedic tradition as has been already shown above. Secondly, their bold attempt in creating this myth detracts, in a considerable degree, from the antiquity of the whole Vedic literature. And thirdly, and lastly, the statement is a source of clear self-contradictions and glaring anachronisms.