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Talks on Sanatan Philosophy



  • Yajna

Yajna is a ritual of sacrifice also it means “worship, prayer, praise; offering, oblation, sacrifice” derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the devas or to attain certain wishes. An essential element is the sacrificial fire – the divine Agni – into which oblations are poured, as everything that is offered into the fire reaches the devas. A Vedic (shrauta) yagya is typically performed by an adhvaryu priest, with a number of additional priests such as the hotar, udgatar playing a major role, next to their dozen helpers, by reciting or singing Vedic verses. Usually, there will be one or three fires in the centre of the offering ground and items are offered into the fire. Among the items offered as oblations in the yagya include large quantities of ghee, milk, grains, cakes, or soma. The duration of a yagya depends on the type; some can last a few minutes, hours or days and some even last for years, with priests continuously offering to the devas accompanied with sacred verses. Some yagyas are performed privately, others with a large number of people in attendance. Post-Vedic yagyas, where milk products, fruits, flowers, cloth and money are offered, are called “yagya”[1], homa or havana. A typical Hindu marriage is a yagya, because Agni MUST be the witness of all marriages. Brahmins and certain other castes receive a yagyopavita “sacred cord” at their upanayana rite of passage. The yagyopavita symbolizes the right of the individual to study the Vedas and to carry out yagyas or homas. There are 400 yagyas described in the Vedas. Of these, 21 are theoretically compulsory for the Twice-Born (Dvijas: Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas). They are also called nityakarmas. The rest of the yagyas are optional, which are performed kamyakarma (for particular wishes and benefits). The Aupasana is not part of the above list, but is also compulsory. Out of the 21 nityakarmas, only the Agnihotra and the Aupasana are to be performed twice daily, at dawn and dusk. The remaining ones have certain allotted frequencies over the course of the year. The more complicated the yagya, the less frequently it is performed. The most complex ones need to be performed only once in a lifetime. The first seven yagyas are called paakayagyas “cooked sacrifice”, the second seven haviryagyas “oblation, burnt offering”, and the third seven are called somayagyas “Soma sacrifice”. yagyas such as Putrakameshti (for begetting sons), Ashvamedha (to rule), Rajasuya (royal consecration) etc. are among the 400 which are not compulsory. This is the basic simple fire sacrifice that is to be performed at home twice daily. The Aupasana agni is lit at the time of the groom’s wedding from his father’s fire. The aupasana can be performed by all four varnas. It is also compulsory. However, it is not part of the 21 compulsory fire sacrifices, and is to be performed in addition to those. Hindu tradition has the Pancha Mahayagyas (“Five Great Yajnas”, Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.10). These sacrifices are to be performed daily by all “householders” (married couples) daily to best of one’s ability: Devayagya– worship of the devas through the twilight prayers (sandhya), aupasana, and agnihotra Pitryagya– offering libations to ones ancestors or Pitrs Bhutayagya– offering food (“bali”) to animals Manushyayagya– charitable offerings of food to fellow humans Brahmayagya– recitation of a section of one’s Veda (“brahman”) in rotation


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