In Hindu dharma, any rituals or practices performed in front of the holy fire is Yajna (Yagna or Yagya). Yagya or Yagna or Yajna derived from the Sanskrit word “Yag,” meaning worship, pray, offer and honor. However, the English translation of it means sacrifice, offering, and devotion. Procedures of Yajna look similar to Havan or Homa, but these are two different Hindu rituals.
Since ancient times, performing yagna has been a Vedic tradition, which has also been scripted in Vedic literature like Brahmanas and Yajurveda. Vedic Yajnas follow strict rules and regulations to carry out this sacred ceremony by offering oblations into the sanctified fire and chanting mantras, prayers and pouring libations into the Agni (fire).
During the Vedic period, Yajnas were the medium to connect and honor the gods and goddesses. As the holy fire (Agni), the fire god acts as the messenger who delivers these sacred offerings to the other deities. In Returns, gods present boons and blessings to the person who performs it.
Types of Yajnas
Based on Kalpa Sutras – text based on Hindu Vedic rituals listed out following Yajnas:
- Paka Yajnas: This yajna deals with offering cooked foods into fire performed at a specific time of the year. It includes astaka, sravani, sthalipaka and agrahayani.
- Soma Yajnas: Performed to please the Hindu celestial gods for the welfare of individuals, families, and humankind. During the ritual, soma plant (king of all medicinal herbs) drinks are offered as oblations to gods. Agnistoma, uktya, Shodashi, and Vajapeya, fall under soma yajnas.
- Havir Yajnas: Involves the offering of uncooked foods as oblations, including cow milk, barley, ghee, and other vegetable oils. Havir yajnas are Agniyadhana, Agrayana, Caturmasya, Sautramani, and Agnihotra.
- Vedavratas: Done to mark the progress of Vedic students in achieving Vedic knowledge. There are four vedavratas which are Mahanamni vrata, Maha vrata, Upanishad Vrata and Godana vrata.
- Pancha Maha Yajnas: It is a yajna performed daily by every household. It has further five types which are as follows;
- Brahma Yajna: Performed through reading the Vedas and sharing the Vedic knowledge with others.
- Deva Yagna: Offering all the deities uncooked foods like ghee, cow milk, grains, and soma.
- Pitri Yagna: It involves the offering of pinda to the ancestors of the family tree.
- Bhuta Yagna: Includes food offering to the animals, birds, and living beings from spiritual worlds.
- Manushya Yagna: Helping and Feeding the guest (athiti), poor people, hungry people, and providing shelter to the homeless falls under Manushya Yajna.
How Vedic Yajna is Performed
Every yajna is done by a top Vedic pandit or priest followed by inferior pandits and their assistants/students who continuously recite the Vedic mantras throughout the rituals. Altogether, four Vedic priests representing four Vedas perform the Homam: the Hotri, Adhvaryu, Udgata, and Brahma.
The Hota or Hotri recites the three parts from the Rigveda (introductory, accompanying, and blessing). The Adhvaryu (the priest of Yajurveda) is the head priest’s helpers who prepare and decorate the ground, altar, and even pour oblations. Similarly, like the Hotri, the Udgata or Udgatri chants the religious hymns from the Samaveda and the Brahma, the main priest who controls and performs the entire ceremony.
Various sacred ingredients like cow milk clarified butter (ghee), flowers, herbs, grains, cakes, and soma offered as oblation into the Agni (fire). Based on the types of yagna, the period varies from minutes to days, months, and even a year to complete. Some of the Yajna are done in isolated places, whereas others are performed in front of crowds like Hindu weddings.
Importance of Yajna
- Vedic Yagya connects an individual with the almighty gods.
- It is a means to please and honors all the deities for their goodness to humanity.
- The sound releasing from the chants and the mantras are mentally and spiritually very Relaxing.
- Yajna purifies the mind, body, soul, and atmosphere.
- Clear out all the negativity from one’s life.
- The atmosphere around the yagna site becomes fresh and healthy as medicinal herbs smoke kill all the disease germs.
- Smokes coming out of the Agni Kund act as a disinfectant and antibiotics.
- It offers blessings and boons from deities.
- To have a peaceful and happy afterlife.
- Yajna reduces anger and hatred and infuses one with love, calmness, and generosity.
- To reduce all the sufferings and clear out all the sins.
Preparation for Yajna
- It starts with cleaning and purifying Yajna sites.
- Construction and Decoration of Mandap with flowers, fruits, vegetables, and more.
- Placing the square-shaped Agni Kund or Vedi at the center of the mandap embellished with symbolic designs.
- Required around 6-7 kg blocks of wood for one Agni Kund.
- Pure cow ghee for Ajahuti and Vasordhara oblation, also for arati at the end.
- Based on the number of Agni Kund and people participating, the quantity of samagri is brought.
- Arranged volunteers for assistance to run the entire ceremony smoothly.
Discipline for Yajna
- Yajna Participants should sit upright with their legs cross.
- Participants should use three fingers (middle, third, and thumb) to throw samagri into the Agni Kund in the right amount.
- One should give oblations with great respect and devotion.
- Everyone should offer Samagri at the same time after hearing the “svaha” word.
- Everybody must sing and chant the Vedic hymns and mantras harmoniously.
- Every member sitting around the Agni Kund must wear a religious yellow scarf over the shoulder.
- Use only the backside of the Sruva (spoon) to pour ghee as oblations.
- No unnecessary gossiping and conversations.
- Every man must wear dhotis throughout the yajna.
- Only pure and clean people who had baths and cleaned their legs can enter the yagna site.
Therefore, yagna is a significant event in the life cycle of Hindu religious people. It provides them with the opportunity to respect the deities, thank them for everything, and ask for an apology for any sins committed throughout their lives.