Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pithru yajna – Yajna is to restore equilibrium!

Oblations to departed souls is known as Pithru Yajna – sacrifice for pithrus!

We know the general meaning of yajna,

which is usually done

in the name of some god, for some purpose.

But why oblations to pithrus is considered as a yajna?

Why should it be considered as a sacrifice?

To understand this

we must know what happens in a sacrifice or yajna

or in other words, what happens when one does yajna.

Bhagawad Gita (BG) is a rich source to know about yajna.

From the BG we get three definitions of Yajna.

All these three can be found in chapters 3 & 4 , starting from 3-10 to 4-32

Definition 1: Yajna is worshiping the divine, for, the root word ‘yaj’ in Sanskrit means worship.

Definition 2: Yajna is something which arises from Karma ( Karma samudbhavaha – 3-14) and it is karma-jaan vidhi (4-32)

Definition 3: Yajna is that by doing which, the doer attains liberation ( vimokshayasE – 4-32)

The basic idea from these three definitions which we can derive from BG is that

Yajna is a divine act which arises as a result of an action of the doer

and it ultimately leads one to liberation.

What is yajna ?

There are essentially four components in a yagna.

This is spelt by Lord Himself in verse 4-24 (BG)

There is something called arpanam, which is an instrument to offer with.

Then there is oblation, which is the havis offered into the yagna.

Then there is the very important fire which takes up the offerings .

And finally there is a fruit or the result of yajna.

In this verse, the Lord says that the act of doing arpanam is Brahman,

the one who is in the process of offering is Brahman.

The havis or rice offered is Brahman.

The agni is Brahman. The result attained also is Brahman.

Outwardly this would look very simple to read

but it is about a complex process happening in Nature.

To elaborate this, let me arrange the inputs that lord Himself has given

in the order to get the import better.

Idea / input 1: As per 3-10 ‘pra-savishyatvam’ happens to the people who do yajna,

this means they grow and prosper.

Input 2: How it happens is explained in 3-11 –

This happens by mutual support – ‘parasparam bhaavayanta:’

ie., the one who receives the offering and the one who gives, benefit mutually.

Input 3: Not only that , the receiver of offerings will satisfy the wishes of the giver as per 3-12

Input 4: This is how yajna becomes Kaamadhenu 3-10

(giving whatever one wishes or desires)

Input 5: The one who eats the remnants of this yajna prospers as he is released from sins whereas the one who does not offer at all will be a thief.

From all these, the following clues emerge.

Every act involves ‘giving’ be it to the gods or anyone.

(the relevant portion from Chandogya given at the end of this mail)

This giving always ends with ‘nama’–shabdam.

In His upadesa to Narada, Bhagavan says (MB - Shanti parvam)

that a mere ‘namaskaaram’ is enough to enable the person get all that he wants.

The ‘ na mama’ in nama: means ‘not mine’.

When something is offered with ‘na mama’ clause,

that means that definitely belongs to the other.

Such an offering will definitely go to the other provided the giver ‘understands’

and whole heartedly accepts that he is giving.

The sankalpa for homas end with nama: and na mama.

That is, all the materials that are going to be offered into the Homa kunda

are His (the devatha for whom the homa is being done)

When materials such as rice are offered in the fire of yajna

or sesame seeds and water in the pithru yajna

the moment of offering is accompanied with ‘na’mama’

( this is not mine, implying that it is theirs – to whom it is offered)

Thus ‘giving’ is the core part of any yajna.

The pithrus are offered with the note - ‘namas tarpayaami’.

Thus there is complete renunciation of that which is offered,

which in other words mean sacrifice,

which otherwise means worshiping the receiver by giving something.

When the offering is done exclusively for the sake of the receiver, sins cease.

When Arjuna offered his services in Kurukshetra in the spirit of yajna or sacrifice

for the sake of receiver, dharma.

So he did not incur sin.

The same act done by Dhuryodhana in kurukshetra was for ‘aham’, for him self

and so it could not absolve him of any sin.

It is on this basis, sacrifice of animals was justified by the Chandogya Upanishad.

(This is not ordained for Kaliyuga)

In the concluding passage we find these words, "Anyatra tirthebhyah".

It means ahimsa must be practised except with regard to Vedic rites.

It is because the offering has been made not for oneself

but for the receiver of the offering of the yajna

who is none other than the Brahman through the devas

entrusted with finite responsibilities.


What happens in a yajna ?

The clue for this is available in verse 3-14 (BG)

which explains the cyclical connection

between bhoothani (life) , yajna , rain, food and ending in bhoothani itself.

I take up this verse as the core verse to explain what happens in a sacrifice.

When actions are done for the sake of sustaining life,

that is, not for one’s own selfish benefits,

the natural happenings such as evaporation forming into cloud go on in an orderly way.

Perhaps this might include not polluting the atmosphere by man-made things

for gratification of self interest or not doing any act that goes against

sustenance of other life forms.

When this happens cloud formation and rain formation are also orderly,

not heavy, nor deficient.

In those days there used to be 3 spells in a month which will continue month after month. (Sangam literature in Tamil speaks of this nature).

There were no excess or dry spells.

It was because the actions by mankind were of unselfish goals

and what was done was to sustain nature.

So the result of doing anything as ‘na mama’ leads to the proper functioning

of the natural forces around us.

This is the paraspara or the mutual benefit between man and nature.

Needless to say every aspect of nature is an ati devata or the deva or the Lord

that Aitareya upanishad speaks about.

On receiving moisture, the rain gives back to the earth what it has received.

This offering to the earth is again offered to the plant life,

which in turn offers it as food.

This comes back to the life forms as their nourishment.

Keeping in mind the different aspects discussed so far,

we find that when a man does a karma in the spirit of yajna or sacrifice,

the deva such as rain deva is benefited,

who in turn becomes potent enough to give back more to man kind.

Now read the verses 3-11 and 12 and relate the above.

In this way, it can be said that

The earth is the homa kunda,

The sun is the agni

And the waters of ocean is the offering in the agni (since sun heats up the waters).

The offerings go to the Deva, the clouds (Indra, Varuna, Mithra combine)

Who in turn pour the rains to the land,

For the benefit of earth here.

The water runs off into oceans and

the oceans receive much of the benefits of clouds

In the form of rains.

This is the yajna done by the earth.

(Recall and relate this to the words of Krishna in BG 3-10

that He created the universe from Brahma-deva onwards with yajna!)

Similarly in the agnihotra mentioned in an earlier post,

ghee and rice are offered in agni which are taken up by vaayu deva

because scientifically more than hundred types of oxides are released due to this act.

These oxides nourish the vaayu deva who then becomes highly potent

when we inhale him (air /vaayu)

or even otherwise by himself, the vaayu deva keeps the surrounding layer of air

potent enough to withstand poisonous and radio active substances.

This is the idea behind ‘ you nourish the devas and they in turn nourish you’ .

Taking this to the verses 3-10 in BG,

we find that right from the beginning of creation something is offered into something

which results into something else

which in turn becomes the basis of some other thing,

good for propagation and sustenance of Life.

The collision of sub atomic particles in the Homa kunda of hydrogen gas mass,

might perhaps be the first yajna initiated by Brahma deva.

From then onwards at every step,

we find yajna or sacrifice continuing, thereby sustaining creation.

Even in the very heart of supernova from which our solar system was born,

it received offerings by hydrogen onwards to many other elements

( one giving rise to the other) till the iron core was born.

This iron core given back as a result of the homa in the supernova is

what stands as the core of earth (Anantha, the snake holding the earth)

and the magnetic aura giving it a shield,

capable of withstanding many a hazardous radiation from outer space.

It is by this principle of one sustaining the other,

the worlds do not get destroyed after each kalpa- pralaya.

Science is still not sure how the universe will be after billions of years.

But Vedic knowledge says that continuous re-alignment will happen

after each manvanthra- pralaya and kalpa-pralaya

and will continue to exist for trillions of years till Brahma completes

another 50 years of his age (at the end of Para).

The kind of one offering something to the other ,

as outlined earlier, given to Brahma by the Lord at the very beginning of Creation,

maintains the equilibrium in created universes –

whatever be the new system that is emerged as a result can continue to sustain life.

From this external world to the internal world of man ,

our scriptures teach us how to do the sacrifice at every level.

While it is about doing every karma with ‘na mama’ spirit,

there is a particular type of sacrifice which is crucial for sustenance for mankind itself.

It is the supreme of all yajnas, the Pancha maha yajna.

This has been given prime importance by Bhagavan Himself (in BG).

One of the names worshipped by the sage Narada in his sthuthi on Narayana

before receiving the upadesa on Pancharathra, is ‘Pancha yajna:’ –

the one who is Himself the 5 yajnas.

Pithru yajna is one among the 5 maha yajnas.

(Not going into details of them,

in the assumption that readers must have already been aware of them.

Also can be read in the 4 part series on ‘Athithi bhojanam’ in provided in the link section in this page. )

These are the Yajnas that are not only about getting some tangible results

but also for sustaining the link of mankind itself

and attaining the ultimate equilibrium so that mankind can continue its sojourn.

The ultimate creation is Man.

His lineage, his knowledge must live on.

And this can happen only by Pancha maha yajna.

This has to be done as nithya karma (daily routine).

In every day life,

A person is expected to do

(1)Brahma yajna by means of worship of god by offering something (food)

(2) deva-rishi yajna by means of reciting some portions from scriptures or slokas (because the rishis have given to mankind the knowledge through their works such as Upanishads.)

(3) pithru yajna by means of thinking about ancestors

(4) Bhootha yajna by means of offering water to plants or food to some animals (such as a dog or cow)

(5) Manushya yajna by means of giving food to a visitor. In today’s world athithis are rare. So it is better to offer food to some one who is in need or hungry.

What is recommended by scriptures is that

pithru yajna and deva yajna must be done before sun rise,

when a person is taking his bath in a ritualistic way.

As and when he is taking bath he is supposed to offer oblations

to Deva-rishis and pithrus.

They are done as Deva-rishi tarpanam and pithru tarpanam.

The water offered to devas and pithrus with mantras reaches them

(or even the mental offering or thinking of them in gratitude helps)

and comes back to us in a cyclical way as knowledge and ayush.

Because without knowledge, man kind can not get salvation.

And without long and disease –free life,

one can not dream of acquiring knowledge.

When one has a healthy long life and knowledge too,

His future generations also will flourish in a similar way.

The continuity will be maintained.

How this cycle works with reference to pithru tarpanam

will be discussed in another post.


But in the present context, there is something else connected to this that we must know.

Living in the midst of theologies and practices of different religions,

we find many people getting influenced or attracted by the concept ‘service’-

so popular in other religions.

This concept also has been picked up by Hindus.

But Sanatana dharma does not recognize service to others.


It says - help others in the spirit of duty.

Duty is a far superior word than service.

When we serve someone, our hand goes up

and the receiver has to stretch his hand below in humility.

But when the same is done as a duty,

the pride of the receiver is never put under stress.

The doer gives because it does him good

and the receiver takes because by so-doing he is helping the giver

receive some benefits (the rationale behind charity or dhaana in sanatana dharma is this).

The self-respect of the receiver is not hurt in this scenario.

So giving is done as a duty and Taittriya upanishad (chapter 1)

lays rules for how to give.

All karmas or actions are sacrifices

and all sacrifices include the component of giving as na mama.

The giver has to give with complete detachment to the thing given and without motives.

(Though yajnas are done with motives, the spirit of na mama is maintained,

the motiveless yajna is the supreme of all yajnas,

which gives Moksham – Release from the cycle of Birth.

(the essence of ‘sarva dharmaan partyajya …–

sacrificing or giving up even the results of actions)

That is why at the end of any action, even recital of slokas or worship,

It is customary to say the sloka,

‘kaayena vaacha manasindiryaivaa bhuddyaathmanaava

prakruthE swabhaawath/

karOmi yathsat sakalam parasamai narayanaya iti samarpayaami’

kaayena – by body,

vuvaacha – words

manas – mind

indriyaiva – senses

buddhi – thoughts

athman – the I in us

all these are of prakruthi swabhava -

have sprung out of or made of matter.

Therefore let whatever I am doing,

I am offering it to Narayana

(the one in whom everything exists and who exists in everything).

Thus when everything done by us is done in the spirit of offering

which is nothing but yajna,

also known as worship,

the burden of responsibility becomes His (God’s or Narayana’s).

We will not be responsible for the results – be it good or bad.

When we are not responsible, we don’t get any sin or goodness out of it.

Our paapa –punya accrual will be nil.

That is how sins cease to occur to us.

And since we have offered everything to Him –

who rightly owns all these things,

we would not become a ‘thief’ (BG)

This happens at every of action in our life.

We take continuously some benefits from

the earth, air, water, fire and ether.

And from our ancestors too from 3 to many generations behind us,

-from parents, grand parents and great grand parents.

What have taken from them,

Should we not give them back?

If we don’t give them back,

How can this cycle of offering going to them

and coming back to us as a benefit can happen?

Without giving back, how can we get something from them?

If we don’t give back for what we have received,

how can we give to our children, what we have received from them?

This is the essence of pithu yajna or pithru tarpanam.

- A cycle in equilibrium by which we live well,

- Our children will live well,

- if we take care that we are no longer indebted to our fathers.

More in the next post.


Chandogya upanishad - Part 5-

Chapter IV — The Five Fires (I)


"Yonder world is the sacrificial fire, O Gautama, the sun the fuel, the rays the smoke, daytime the flame, the moon the embers and the stars the sparks.


"In this fire the gods offer faith as libation. Out of that offering King Moon is born."

Chapter V — The Five Fires (II)


"Parjanya (the god of rain), O Gautama, is the fire, the air the fuel, the cloud the smoke, lightning the flame, the thunderbolt the embers and thunderings the sparks.


"In this fire the gods offer King Moon as libation. Out of that offering rain is born."

Chapter VI— The Five Fires (III)


"The earth, O Gautama, is the fire, the year the fuel, the akasa the smoke, the night the flame, the quarters the embers and the intermediate quarters the sparks.


"In this fire the gods offer rain as libation. Out of that offering food is born."

Chapter VII— The Five Fires (IV)


O Gautama, is the fire, speech is the fuel, the prana the smoke, the tongue the flame, the eye the embers and the ear the sparks.


"In this fire the gods offer food as libation. Out of that offering semen produced."

Chapter VIII — The Five Fires (V)


"Woman, O Gautama, is the fire, her sexual organ is the fuel, what invites is the smoke, the vulva is the flame, what is done inside is the embers, the pleasures are the sparks.


"In this fire the gods offer semen as libation. Out of that offering the foetus is formed."

Chapter IX — Birth and Death


"Thus in the fifth libation water comes to be called man. The foetus enclosed in the membrane, having lain inside for ten or nine months, or more or less, is born.


"Having been born, he lives whatever the length of his life may be. When he is dead, they carry him to the fire of the funeral pyre whence he came, whence he arose."


(There are many levels / types of sacrifices such as these

described in Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad translations.)

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