I am happy to post another article by Mr R. Ramanathan on the Vedic Homas. In this article he is bringing to our notice a Vedic ceremony called Vaishwadeva which integrates the pancha maha yajnas. One among them is Athithi bhojanam or feeding an athithi every day before taking food. It is amazing to know that there are people in this age too, who are sincerely following these customs and rituals. This article also shows that a Brahmin who sincerely follows his varna and asrama dharma cannot be expected to harm others. We had such Brahmins among us until a century ago.
My 4 part article on Athithi bhojanam can be read here:
The Vaishwadeva ceremony
The following article is just a summary of what I saw and learnt at the feet of a great Vedic scholar, Brahmashri Radhakrishnan living in the village of Mahadanapuram between Karur and Trichy. He has been maintaining the aupasana fire for almost 35 years without discontinuity. Also he has performed all the paaka yajnas prescribed in the shastras which itself is a feat in this Kaliyuga. Also he was doing Sahasra gayathri japa (repeating the gayathri mantra a 1000 times) for 30 years in the early morning on the banks of the cauvery without fail, walking for about 6-7kms one way daily. Also he is the only Vedic scholar whom I know who performs the Vaishwadeva ceremony (to be performed 2 times a day). Even people who have performed soma sacrifices don't do this. He is an acknowledged Paaka Yajna expert in the entire Karur district. About a year ago, when the present acharya of Shringeri Sri Sri Jagadguru Bharathi Teerthi Maha Swamigal, visited the village he felicitated Brahmashree Radhakrishnan. This article does not give any technical details of the ceremony but the philosophy and concept behind it.
I was at Mahadanapuram to witness the performance of a spectacular paaka yajna called the Ishaana Bali (my father also took part in the performance) for 3 days. Even though I have been going to Mahadanapuram for around 6-8 months now, it was only now that I took interest in the Vaishwadeva ceremony after the blog owner Mrs Jayashree madam suggested to me to write an article on this subject. So I observed the performance very closely and asked him to give me a discourse on the subject. The following is the summary of what he told me.
The Vaishwadeva is supposed to be performed in the aupasana fire. But anything cooked in the aupasana fire can be eaten only by the sacrificer and his wife, who mainatain the fire. So the shastras say that it can be performed in the loukika agni (wordly fire, not got from any special kindling ceremony) so that the remnants of the offerings can be eaten by anybody irrespective of caste. The life a brahmin householder, if lived as per the mandates of the shastras is really equal to if not greater than that of a sanyasi. He gets to eat his first meal only after 3pm after all his dependents/guests have eaten. He has to perform the pancha mahayagnas daily. They are Deva (offering to gods), Pitru(offering to manes), Bootha(Offering to beings like insects birds etc), Manushya(Feeding an uninvited guest) & Brahma yajnas(Offering to the Vedas and Veda Murthy called Brahmanaspathy). The Vaishwadeva ceremony encompasses all these 5 yajnas into one. Shree Krishna in the Geetha , says that food, if cooked and eaten only for one's own self and family, results in grave sin for the eater. So food must be cooked offered to the world via the Vaishwadeva ceremony and later the householder is asked to have the remnants. These remnants are technically called "Vighaasam"(This point has been added by me and was not part of the original discourse). A householder surviving on Vighaasam alone is considered to be the greatest tapasvi among householders as per the Mahabharata.
Also when cooking food, violence because of pounding, heating cutting etc, can result in killing of very small beings hidden in plant matter, grains etc. So this ceremony also offers prayashchita for this too. If food is eaten without performance of this ceremony, by a householder, it is considered to be a sin and among that it includes the sin of murder too. After rice is cooked in a Vengala paanai (Brass pot) on a coal fire (In tamizh it is called kumitti adupu), it is offered to each of the beings mentioned previously. One important point to be noted here. There is even an offering for Adharma too using the mantra "Adharmaya Svahaa" as for dharma. Also there is an offering for Kaama to with "Kamaya svahaa". Then comes the offerings for various gods, beasts, ghosts, yakshas, raakshasas, Asuras etc. Note the difference between the broader universal view of Vaidhika sanatana dharma and the narrow Abrahmistic world view (Heathens, Kafirs will not be saved etc). After this these offerings are collected and offered to beasts like rats and crows with the "Kaa kaa" sound. Sadly this alone is being done in most Hindu households now.
After this, the performer is required to go to the outskirts of his village and invite an unknown wayfarer for food irrespective of caste. Note that an Athiti means an uninvited guest and not one's own relations or neighbors. After entertaining the guest then the householder has his own food. As of now this rule is not followed rigorously because there are no travelling wayfarers on foot today. This practice was followed even before 100 years ago. No doubt that in ancient times that there was no need for hotels or food prepared commercially because of householders who sincerely followed this ritual. It is because of this ritual that India has become famous for its hospitality.
An example of the importance attached to the entertainment of uninvited guests, is seen in the Katopanishad. When Nachiketas goes to the abode of Yama and reaches his house. He stays at yama's door without food and water for 3 days. When Yama comes back and sees Nachiketas at his house unattended to, he is shocked and feels guilty. It was in order to propitiate him and as a prayashchita for his negligence, Yama offered 3 boons out of which one was Nachiketas' famous question on the eternal self. So the Katopanishad starts of on this concept of Athiti pooja and its importance as far as a householder is concerned.
The Vaishwadeva mantras are to be found in the Mahanarayana Upanishad of the Taittriya Aranyaka. Anybody who has studied the Upanishad may remember the mantras I wrote above.