Friday, October 12, 2012

What are Vedic yajnas? (Guest post by R. Ramanathan)


I am pleased to post a series of articles on Vedic yajnas written by a regular reader of my blogs, Mr Ramanathan Ramakrishnan. He is what we may call 'an insider" into the Vedic system – one who has learnt the Vedas and continues to learn.  He has taken part in Soma yajnas and had tasted the Soma juice – the much mystified juice by modern researchers. I am happy that he has come forward to present the meaning and scope of yajnas in simple terms for everyone to understand. This series, I am sure adds to our understanding of Sanatana Dharma.


Though he is working in the IT sector, he has not lost the passion and dedication for Vedic learning. About himself in his own words:-


"Currently doing adhyayana of the Taittriya Yajur veda along with some of the angas like shisksha, vyakarana, praatishakya under Swamin  Ramanuja parankushachar director of the Indian heritage group CDAC Bangalore.  Interested in  shrauta yajnas and trying to learn them and I am a beginner. Though I started learning the vedas in Madurai at the  age of 10, but could not continue it because of the usual pressures of school, board exams etc and also the social stigmas associated with it. Though now I understand it is all rubbish

Insights: I feel we miss out a lot by not doing adhyayanam at the proper age and I feel sad at how this great system has been spoiled by western indologists and last not the least by us also in great measure.


Also as acknowledgments I would like to say that anything useful or good however insignificant in this article are due to the blessings of all my great Vedic teachers who taught me from the day I started till now. Any wrong fact or anything badly written is entirely is due to my deficient understanding, shortcomings and inefficiency."




A detailed discussion of the vedic Yajna




Yajna is a concept unique to the vedas alone. It has been discussed exhaustively in its manifold forms in all the 4 vedas. In fact the Purusha Sukta in the Taittriya Aranyaka(3.12.1) states that even creation is/was (As per Panini ashtadhyayi, Vedic statements are tense agnostic) done through Yajna.

यत्पुरुषेण विषा देवा ज्ञमतन्वत न्तो स्यासीदाज्यम् ग्रीष्म ध्मश्शरद्धविः ।सप्तास्यासन्परिधयः त्रिस्सप्त मिधःकृताः देवा यद्यज्ञन्तन्वानाः अबध्नन्पुरुषं शुम् ।तं ज्ञं र्हिषिप्रौक्षन्न् पुरुषं जातमग्रतः(TA 3.12.3)

"With the Havish of the Purusha they performed the Yajna. The spring became the ghee for the sacrifice, summer became the Idma(samidh) and the sharad season became the cooked oblation. They (devas) used 21 samidhs and did the sacrifice. They tied the "purusha"pashu to the yupa. Then they sprinkled it (purusha pashu) with water to purify it for the sacrifice. The purusha was born first."

ऋचस्सामानि जज्ञिरे छन्दासि जज्ञिरेतस्मात् ।यजुस्तस्मादजायत 3.12.4
"The Riks and samans were created from yajna. The metrical hymns and the yajus too came out of the sacrifice done with the purusha".

Here we see that even the gods performed the Yajna to do the sthoola shristi of the world. There are countless other incidents that are narrated like, the sacrificer through the nine day Satra can establish the worlds in him (Taittriya samhita 7.2.3) and so on.

So it is obvious that how important the Yajnas where considered in the Vedas.

General types of Yajnas and the type discussed in this article.

Yajnas can be done physically (external) or mentally (internal). Usually most of the Samhita and brahmana portions of the vedas discuss about the former type. The Aranyakas usually deal with the later type. This is just the general rule and it may differ. In the Taittriya shaka there is a discussion regarding the manasika type of Yajnas in the Kataka prashnas and the aranyaka also. It should be noted that, though manasika yajnas are good for chitta shudhi for an individual, the physical variety is also equally important because the Devas rely on the humans for oblations and thus when satisfied, they bless the world with rain and beneficial conditions. Thus these kinds of yajnas are for the general support of dharma and world welfare.

The mental yajna is enjoined mostly for a Vanaprasthin as he alone will have attained the requisite mental maturity for the same. The physical yajnas can be performed on entry into the Grihasta ashrama as performance of Yajnas require a dharma patni. In fact one of the reasons why Dvija men married many wives in the past was that in the event of death of the eldest wife the Agni kaaryas could continue un-hindered. Married vanaprasthins can also perform them, but there would be some changes in the mode of performance.  


This article deals with mainly the physical external Yajna as that would be relevant for most of us.

Types of physical yajnas.

1.      Paaka Yajnas

When a Brahmacharin enters grihastashrama through marriage, the first fire he has to maintain is the Smarta agni, which is lit during marriage in the ritual of Agni anusandhana. This is the basic Agni on which he has to perform what is called a series of Yajnas called Paaka Yajnas. The first of them is the Aupasana(Offering rice grains and samidh), that has to be performed daily in the morning(sunrise) and the evening(sunset) till death without allowing the fire to extinguish. In this karma, the role of the Patni is significant.  Before offering the oblations the Yajamana asks the permission of his wife and offers the oblations after she has agreed. Also whenever due to any emergency the Yajamana cannot perform it, then the patni can do it without mantras for 7 times (roughly 3 days).  If for some reason the fire is extinguished the Agni anusandhana has to be re-done again.

The next in the series of Paaka yajnas is the Darsha and purnamasa sthalipaaka. This consists of offering Charu(Boiled rice in a clay or bronze pot) and ghee to the devas during full and new moon. The next one is called Sarpa Bali. This is done during Shravana purnamasya(August) where bali is given for snakes using cooked rice and flowers of the Palasa tree. The next one is Agrayana sthalipaaka which is again similar to the Darsha and purnamasa sthalipaaka but done during purnima in sharad rithu(October time frame) with the freshly harvested rice grains. Then there is the Ishana Bali where offerings are offered to the devata Ishana. Also there is the Ashtaka shraddha, which as the name implies is done for the pitrus. The list is by no means exhaustive here. The householder has to perform this as a cycle at the appropriate seasons without fail.

One point to note is that Paaka yajnas are not described in detail in the vedas though there is a mention of them. The Taittriya samhita states that Manu himself was the seer of these Paaka yajnas. The details for their performance can be found in the Grihya sutras of the Kalpa(Examples are Apasthamba, Bodhayana etc). Also these yajnas can be done by the Yajaman and the Patni and no priest is required.


2.      Havir Yajnas

These Yajnas are the first kind of Shrauta sacrifices. Shruti is another name for the Vedas. So a shrauta sacrifice means the ones that are described in detail by the Vedas. After marriage and after establishing himself in the Smaarta Agni, to start performing these Yajnas, the householder has to perform the Agni-aadhana(Lighting of the fires). This is the first Havir yajna. The source of the fire is the smaarta agni. Three fires are established at the end of this yajna.

·         Garhapatya: The household fire. Daily agnihotra done in this.

·         Ahavaniya: The fire were offering for devas in yajnas are done

·         Dakshinagni: The fire where offering given for pitrus.

After this the yajamana starts the performance of the Agnihotra in the Garhapatya fire, till death. This involves offering of milk freshly milked from a cow, generally during sunrise and sunset. The vedas command one to do the Agnihotra till death.  If milk is not available the Vedas have given substitutes for the same. This has been discussed in detail in the Janaka & Yajnavalkya samvaada in the Shukla yajur Veda. Also in the Taittriya brahmana if one is not able to perform the Agnihotra for some reason, alternate prayashchitas like pouring ghee over a goat's ear etc have been mentioned.  The Garhpatya fire should not be extinguished. If it gets extinguished for some reason .The fire has to be re-lit with the Punar-aaadhana.

Like with Paaka yajnas there are a series of Havir Yajnas to be performed at each season. For example there are the Darsha & Purnamasa ishtis performed at full and new moons. Here purodasha(A rice cake) is offered to the devas. This is followed by the Chaturmaasya(four monthly), The Agrayana ishti, The pashu bandha. This is the first havir Yajna where an animal offering is given. Then there is the sautramani, which is again the offering of Sura for Indra.

In these havir Yajnas ritwiks(priests)  are needed, and these are slightly complex than paaka yajnas. For example for the Darsha purnamasa ishtis a Hota(One who recites the Rig veda) is needed. Other priests well versed with other veda may be needed as the case may be.


3.      Soma Yajnas

These are the most complex of the Yajnas described in the Shruti. All the 3 fires are used in these yajnas. The main feature of these yajnas is the offering of the soma juice 3 times a day. The number of days that soma is offered, vary based on the sacrifice. Also this Yajna requires 4 groups of 4 priests = 16 priests. Each group is responsible for each Veda. The hota group is responsible for chanting the rig veda to calls the gods to the sacrifice ("Hu" means call and thus hota). The Adhvaryu group is the one that offers the oblations reciting the Yajuses and also the overall coordination of sacrifice. That is why sometimes a sacrificial session is sometimes called an adhvaram. The udgata group is responsible for the saman singing in a sacrifice and the Brahma group is responsible for the overall welfare of the sacrifice- performance of Prayashchita wherever and whenever needed if a defect in performance arises.

Generally there are seven soma sacrifices they are Agnistoma, Atyagnistoma, Aptoryama, Atirātra ,uktya,  shodasi, Vājapeya.  Agnishtoma is considered to be a prakriti soma yajna(A template based on which others are done).  Here the main feature is offering of soma 3 times a day for one day. Also one pashu(goat) is offered during the soma offering, for the devas Agni and soma. The soma is a leafless plant whose stalks are immersed in water and pressed with stone to extract the soma juice and then strained and poured into various vessels made of wood. Each vessel is intended for one deva or a group of devas. For example, the Aindra-vayava cup is for Indra and vayu. This is then offered to the devas. This is accompanied by the singing of the Stotras(Samans) and recitations of shashtras(Riks). Then the soma is offered as oblation into fire.  Then the priests partake a little of this from various vessels. 

Please note, that soma is not intoxicating as misunderstood by many. This misunderstanding is because of the havoc created by western Indologists. The author has attended a couple of these yajnas and in one of them took a spoonful of soma.  A feeling of well-being and alertness of the senses was felt by the author. No intoxicating feeling was felt. It is Sura that is intoxicating and it is the drinking of Sura that has been strictly forbidden by Manu.

A person who performs regularly without fail the agnihotra, the havir and the soma yajnas are specially called Ahitaagnis.

The other yajnas following the agnishtoma, differ based on the stotras(Samans) and shashtras(Riks) and the number of days the soma is offered and the number of animals and purodasha offered.  The Vajapeya is the highest soma yajna. The performer of the Vajapeya has to be led into the country by the king himself and anna abhishekam has to be performed by the king for the performer of Vajapeya. Then the person who has performed this is given the title Vajapeyaji.

 Generally based on number of days performed, soma sacrifices are split into 1. Ekaha(one day) 2. Ahina(2-12 days) and 3. Satra(12 days till one year).  The agnishtoma is an example of a 1 day sacrifice. The Vajapaya is an example for Ahina and the Gavamayana is an example for a satra. Specifically it is a samvatsara satra meaning it lasts for one year. The entire 7th kanda of the Taittriya samhita deals with satra type sacrifices.

In Kaliyuga the performance of both havir and soma yajnas is very very rare. Also the Diksha (initiation) for such sacrifices are very very tough. Some of them require that the yajamana should not bath and shave for prolonged periods before the sacrifice. Even some require that he should not brush his teeth also. The yajamana is required to wear a deer skin and insert a deer horn into waist.  From the time of his dhiksha till the time the soma is offered he is permitted to take one glass of milk 2 times a day, at the end of what is called the upasada ishti.  Also he has to keep his both fists closed and keep both fists together all day. He has to stay in a small hut. For the Gavamayana yajna all of this extends till one year.

One more misconception is that in these yajnas a lot of meat is consumed. This is not so. The priests (except the udgata group) eat a very little piece of (size of a chick pea as per the kalpa sutra) what's left after homa.  Also the vedas say that only a person who can confidently provide for his family for 3 years without difficulty can take this up. More over the dakshinas specified in this yajnas are very very high and unthinkable for an ordinary person .So in those days Brahmins wanting to perform them went to the king for help.

Also the priests officiating in these kind of Yajnas, should know all 3 vedas by heart, have a high level of proficiency in Grammar, Prosody, knowledge of vedic meters, astronomy (To determine time for the ritual), geometry (Example is the area calculations used in the Yajna vedi construction, found in the Apastamba shulba sutras), good knowledge of music, last not but least a strong powerful voice and a prodigious memory.


Other kinds of sacrifices/homams

There are other kinds of sacrifices that do not come strictly under above soma yajnas though one of the rituals involved are offering of soma. Many varna specific yajnas come under this category, for example, the Brihaspati Sava for Brahmins alone, the Ashvamedha and Rajasuya for a king and the Vyshyasthomam for the Vyshya.  The Ashwamedha is of particular interest here and will be discussed in depth in the next article. It involves 3 fires mentioned above. This can be performed by a Kshatriya alone. This sacrifice is discussed in detail in all yajur vedic samhitas and brahmanas.

There are minor homas like the kushmanda, that is a prayaschita homa, that is discussed in the Taittriya  Brahmana. Also there is a section called the Ekagni kanda in the Taittriya shaka. This deals with all homas performed with one agni alone. This deals with mantras pertaining to Marriage, upanayana, griha shanti, choula etc.


Achara is very important in performance of these yajnas and must be very strictly adhered to. The rules of the dharma shastra should be obeyed to the letter. Also important are the rules of aahara(food). Also the dvijas should regularly perform their nitya & naimitikka karmas without fail. Daksha says that "A non-performer of sandhyavandanam is unfit for any other karma".

Without all these the performance of these yajnas is likened to giving offerings intended for Agni over burnt ashes.

It requires strict discipline and high amounts of technical know-how to perform shrauta sacrifices. This surely will end up in chitta shudhi for the eligible performer and he will be elevated to a higher level spiritually. He then would be able to take up manasika yajnas.  Examples for such people are Rishabha deva and Jada bharata in the Bhagavata purana. They performed all sacrifices as householders and reached the highest stage of realization.



Anonymous said...

very good article..

Krishna Fgo said...

I found your article very helpful in clearing my confusion.
Thank you very much...

krupala Nune said...

I would like to know more about Vajapeya Yagna, and the way it reduces the pollution in the nature. Any help in this would be really great.