Agnihotra (अग्निहोत्रम्)

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Agnihotra (Samskrit : अग्निहोत्रम्) is first of the Shrauta yajnas (sacrifice), which involves offering of cow's milk in to the sacred fire (Agni) performed daily at sunrise and sunset, as a nityakarma. The procedure to perform Yajnas including Agnihotra is described in Brahmanas and Aranyakas of Veda (also called as Shrutis), thus they are called as Shrauta Yajnas.

However, the term 'Agnihotra' is lately also used to refer to the fire altars set up during Grhyakarmas like those required during samskaras.[1]It needs to be emphasized that the term Agnihotra technically refers to the Shrauta yajna that is performed as a nityakarma (daily basis) as well as a Kamyakarma.

Sanatana Dharma is founded on the principle that the primary responsibility of perpetually maintaining Agni at home is vested with a grihastha. In the present days, very rarely, grihasthas are maintaining Agni at homes nor are conducting regular Agnihotra rituals as prescribed by sastras.

Agni, however, is invoked in every occasion (auspicious and inauspicious) as an integral part of dharmic lifestyle, starting from shrauta yajnas, in nityakarma, for conducting rituals in temples, in special homas during housewarming and grahashanti, upanayana and other samskara celebrations, at weddings (where the bride and groom circle the sacred fire seven times) and lastly for अन्त्येष्टिः ॥ Anteysti (cremation).

परिचयः|| Introduction

The Agnihotra yaga may be of two types - Nitya and Aichika (Kamya) differing mainly in their purpose and their ahutis. Aupasana (in Smartagni) and Agnihotra (in Shrautagni) are the two Agnikaryas (fire rituals) in the Nityakarmas to be performed everyday apart from the others like Sandhyavandanam, Vaisvedeva, and Panchamahayajnas.

Agnihotra is the model or Prakriti of Homa sacrifices. After establishment of the Shrauta agni in the home with Agnyadhana ceremony a sapatnika yajamani can perform agnihotra yaga daily. A yajamani performs a daily morning and evening offering of ahuti of milk, curd, purodasa, in the Aahavaniya fire for the deities Surya and Agni. This yaga is considered as nityakarma for the three classes of people - Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas in the vedic age.[2] In Satapatha Brahmana, it is mentioned that this yaga must be performed by the householder till his death with some exceptions. The main ahuti is milk and for that the yajamana should maintain a cow called as "Agnihotra gabhihi".

The agnihotra ceremony is started with establishment of Agni by a process called Agnyadhana conducted for the first time in the evening, with the kindling of Aahvaniya and Dakshinagni from Garhapatyagni. The milk warmed up in the garhapatya agni in a prescribed utensil, is offered as ahuti in Agni using the wooden ladles while chanting the appropriate mantras.

This yaga cannot be performed by a bachelor or a widower, however exceptions are also present. If for any reason the fires cannot be tended to and they extinguish then they are re-established with stringent Punaradhana ceremony.[3][4]

An oversimplified version of the procedures involved in conducting Agnihotram are summarized as

  • The Shrautaagni is established by the process of Agnyadhana in the house of a yajamana.
  • A sapatinika yajamana performs homa daily at sunrise and at sunset by offering milk in Agni after first performing other nityakarmas such as sandhyavandana and achamana.
  • The mantras to be chanted are prescribed in the respective Shrauta sutras based on the Veda and Shakas followed by the yajamani's lineage. (For example, Rig vedins follow Asvalayana Shrauta sutras).
  • Samidhas, Yajna vedis and patras (utensils such as sruk) are to be maintained and protected sacredly by the yajamani and his family.

श्रौतयज्ञाः ॥ Shrauta Yajnas

Shrauta Yajnas are 14 in number. They are divided into two main groups of seven each : Haviryajnas and Somayajnas[3][5].

हविर्यज्ञाः॥ Haviryajnas

Agnihotra, is a term specifically applicable to the first and important vaidika yajnas classified among the seven Shrauta karmas - Haviryajnas (हविर्यज्ञाः) where an offering of havis is made into the agni (also called as homas). It is performed as a daily worship to Agni (Nityaagnihotram) and also with an intent to fulfill any specific desire (Kamyagnihotram)[6][7].

श्रौतसुत्राणि॥Shrauta Sutras

Kalpas are one among the Shad Vedangas. Shrautasutras classified as one among the Kalpas deal with the rules for the execution of the Shrauta yajnas (sacrifices) which are nityakarmas or last for many days. All the four Vedas have their Shrautasutras.[3]

Vedas Shrautasutras
Rig Veda Asvalayana, Sankhyayana
Krishna Yajurveda : Taittriya Baudhayana, Bharadvaja, Apastamba, Hiranyakeshi, Vaikhanasa, Vadula, Kathaka
Krishna Yajurveda : Maitrayani Manava and Varaha
Shukla Yajurveda Katyanana
Samaveda Arsheyakalpa, Kshudrasutra, Jaiminiya, Latyayana and Drahyayana
Atharvaveda Vaitana

Besides these above mentioned Shrautasutras, there are many others but their texts are not available at present.

अग्न्याधानम् ॥ Agnyadhana

Agnyadhana also called as अग्न्याधेय ॥ Agnyadheya is technically the process by which the Agni or sacred fire is newly established in the kundas along with the chanting of mantras as prescribed by Shrauta sutras. It is belongs to the 'isthi' class of yajnas, which means 'a yajna performed by a yajamana and his wife with the help of four priests. Agnyadheya occupies two days, the first day called Upavastha being taken up by the preliminary matters and the second with the main rites. Agnyadheya means the placing of burning coals for the generation of the garhapatya and other fires at a particular time and place by a particular person to the accompaniment of certain mantras.

विशिष्टकाले

Agnyadheya comprehends the several acts from the bringing of the aranis (two wooden logs) to the offering of purnahuti. When this last takes place the person who engages in the rites attains the position of an Ahitagni (one who consecrated the sacred vedic fires). [8]

The mantras and the procedural aspects are generally similar across all vedic Shrauta sutras, with a few variations. It is classified as the first of the Haviryajnas according to Gautama Dharmasutras. However, this topic is dealt here as a prerequisite to the Agnihotra yajna. The requisite materials and procedures of Agnyadhana according to different texts may be referred to as given below.

  • Kanvasatapatha Brahmana (Ekapat Kanda)[9]
  • Madhyandina Satapatha Brahmana (Ekapat Kanda)[10]
  • Katyayana Shrauta Sutras (Adhyaya 4)[11]
  • Asvalayana Shrauta Sutras (Adhyaya 2)[12]
  • Apastamba Shrauta Sutras (Prasna 5)[13]
  • Taittriya Brahmana (Kanda 1)[14]

Brief summary of various aspects of Agnyadhana are as given below

संभराः ॥ Sambharas

He who is to perform the installation of the sacred Agnis gathers the requisite materials. He collects water, gold, salts, earth (from a mole hill), pebbles. Each of these have their significance which is explained therein. The place where the fires are to be installed are cleaned and sprinkled with water. Water is verily food, as where water is present it flourishes with food. Gold makes the fire grow with splendour, for gold is indeed the seed of fire. Salt is considered the essence of Dyava and Prithvi, and when offered it makes the fire prosper with their essence. Where there is saltish ground they declare it fit for cattle. The earth collected from a mole hill enriches the fire with the essence of the earth. The earth is made firm and steady by the fixing of pebbles just as one would spread out a hide with pins. In this manner, the yajamana keeps away his inimical rivals by making this ground firm and steady and by installing the fires on it.[9]

तस्मादपः सम्भरति - २.१.१.[४] hence he procures water

तस्माद्धिरण्यं सम्भरति - २.१.१.[५] hence he procures gold

तद्द्यावापृथिव्यो रसेन समर्धयति तस्मादूषान्त्सम्भरति - २.१.१.[६] it makes this (fire) prosper with the essence of these two - dyava and prthivi

तस्मादाखुकरीषं सम्भरति - २.१.१.[७] hence he secures the mole-hill.[10]

नक्षत्राणि ॥ Nakshatras

This ceremony is to be performed when chandra (moon) is situated in certain nakshatras. Krittika, Rohini, Mrgasira, Phalguni (2 stars Purva and Uttara), Vishakha and Hasta, Chitta stars are preferred according to different Shrauta sutras.[3]

कृत्तिकासु रोहिण्यां मृगशिरसि फल्गुनीषु विशाखयोरुत्तरयोः प्रोष्ठपदयोः ॥ १० (Asva. Srau. Sutr. 2.1.10)[12]

kr̥ttikāsu rōhiṇyāṁ mr̥gaśirasi phalgunīṣu viśākhayōruttarayōḥ prōṣṭhapadayōḥ ॥ 10 (Asva. Srau. Sutr. 2.1.10)

कृत्तिकासु ब्राह्मण आदधीत मुख्यो ब्रह्मवर्चसी भवति ॥ ३ गृहांस्तस्याग्निर्दाहुको भवति ॥ ४ (Apas. Srau. Sutr. 5.3.3)[13]

kr̥ttikāsu brāhmaṇa ādadhīta mukhyō brahmavarcasī bhavati ॥ 3 gr̥hāṁstasyāgnirdāhukō bhavati ॥ 4 (Apas. Srau. Sutr. 5.3.3 and 4)

Kanvasatapatha brahmana (Ekapatkanda Adhyaya 1 Brahmana 2)[9] instructs that the installation of Agni under the constellation of Krittika is preferred as Krittika is verily the star of Agni.

कृत्तिकास्वग्नी आदधीत । एत्याहुरेतध्द वा अग्नेर्नक्षत्रं...

Establishing Agni in different stars gives different benefits to the yajamana. Setting of fires in

  • Krittika and Rohini - one attains progeny and cattle
  • Mrigasira - one attains excellence in wealth and community
  • Phalgunis - one attains superiority
  • Hasta - one attains material things
  • Chitra - one overpowers his enemies and rivals (hence preferred for Kshatriyas).

ऋतु ॥ Seasons

The people of different sections are advised to establish fire in different seasons, however, they may establish in any season as performing homa is more important than waiting for the appropriate time because a person may die at any time and instead of waiting for right time it is better to establish the fires.[3][9]

वसन्तो ग्रीष्मो वर्षाः । ते देवा ऋतवः शरद्धेमन्तः शिशिरस्ते पितरो य

Meaning : Vasanta (Spring) Grishma (Summer) and Varsha (Rain or Monsoons) - these are the seasons of devatas. Sharad (Autumn), Hemanta (Prewinter) and Shishira (Winter) are the seasons for pitrus (forefathers).

Setting up the Agnis when Sun travels through the northern region (in the seasons of the devatas) is preferred over the time when he goes to southern region (in the seasons of the pitrus). According to Satapatha Brahmana and Asvalayana Shrautasutras, Agnyadhana is to be performed by[9]

  • ब्राह्मणो वसन्त आदधीत - Brahmanas in Vasanta or Spring to be bestowed by ब्रह्मवर्चस् (lustre)
  • क्षत्रियो ग्रीष्म आदधीत - Kshatriya  in Grishma or Summer to obtain क्षत्रं श्रिया यश (splendor, glory and fame)
  • वर्षास्वादधीत विड्ढि - Vaishya in Varshakala or Rainy season to attain बहुर्हैव प्रजया पशुभिर्भवति (abundance of progeny and cattle)

उपवस्था ॥ Upavastha

On the Upavastha day (one day before the actual Agnyadhana), the yajamana prepares himself by taking the purificatory bath, achamana (sipping of water), and Punyahavachana. He then takes his seat along with his wife on the darbha grass and pronounces his will to set up the sacred agnis, formally announces his rtviks and honours them by offering Madhuparka (mixture of curds, honey and ghee). He fasts through the day and remains awake the whole night tending to the fire by adding samidhas.[2]

रात्रिं जागरणधारणे ११ शकलैर्वा १२ (Katy. Srau. Sutr. 4.8.11 and 12)[11]

अग्निमन्थन ॥ Agni Manthana

When the sun rises, the rite of Agnyadhana is initiated. In the morning the Adhvaryu heats the two arani sticks and hands them over to the yajamana invoking the prescribed mantras. Agni manthana is the process by which the fire is generated by the manthana (literally churning) or friction of two sami sticks. Rig veda mentions the process of kindling of fire from Arani (fire sticks) made from Sami and Asvattha trees. This is also called Agni Samaaropa[1].

The stick on top called the Uttara-arani is called Pururavas (Indra) and the lower arani called as Aadhara-arani is called Urvasi (Apsara). The rope used for manthana is called rasanaa. The process of generating fire is also described in various Shrauta sutra texts apart from Taittriya Brahmana in the पौरोडाशिक काण्ड under अग्न्याधानम् prapathaka [14].

शमीगर्भादग्निं मन्थति । एषा वा अग्नेर्यज्ञिया तनूः । (Tait. Brah. 1.1.9.1)

śamīgarbhādagniṁ manthati । ēṣā vā agnēryajñiyā tanūḥ । (Tait. Brah. 1.1.9.1)

Meaning : From the hearth of sami (sticks) Agni is churned. This is the yajna body of Agni.[3]

अग्न्याधानम् ॥ Agnyadhana

While chanting the mantras, Adhvaryu establishes the Garhapatya Agni on the dried cow dung cakes and places some darbha around it. (Apas. Srau. Sutr. 5.12.2).[13] According to Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana[9]

स भूर्भुव इत्येतैस्त्रिभिरक्षरैर्गार्हपत्यमादधाति द्वे परिशिनष्ट्ययातयामतायै... (Kanv. Sata. Brah. 1.1.4.14)

Summary : He (yajamana) installs the Garhapatya with the (uttering) these three syllables Bhurbhuvah.

He lights some samidhas from the Garhapatya Agni and formally sets up the Aahvaniya Agni (Apas. Srau. Sutr. 5.13.7). The Dakshinagni is established by taking the fire from the house of the richest person of the village or it may be produced by manthan. This is followed by Purnahuti and yajamana distributes dakshina to the priests according to his economic conditions. [2]

Thus the process starts with the collection of Arani and ends with Purnahuti.

यो अश्वत्थः शमीगर्भ आरुरोह त्वेसचा । तं त्वाहरामि ब्रह्मणा यज्ञियैः केतुभिः सहेति पूर्णाहुत्यन्तमग्न्याधेयं १७ (Asva. Srau. Sutr. 2.1.17)[12]

After purnahuti of Agnayadhana the yajamana can be considered as an Ahitagni and he should abide by all the rules of a ahitagni yajamana. [3]

पुनराधान ॥ Purnaradhana

In the event forbidden materials come into contact with Agni, the Pavitra samidhas or the homa kunda, there would be agni nasha or destruction of agni called "Agnyopaghaata". In such case, Punaradhana also called as पुनराधेय ॥Punaraadheya or revival of Agni is to be performed with sterner measures.[1]

Taittriya Samhita outlines the पुनराधानविधानम् Punaradhanavidhanam [15] which is similar to Agnyadhana process with a few modifications. The description of Punaradhana is also found along with the Agnyadhana procedure in a few sources like

  • Taittriya Samhita (1.5.1)[15]
  • Apastamba Shrauta Sutras (5.26 to 28)[13]

According to Katyayana Shrauta Sutras [11] पुनराधेयम् is described as follows

पुनराधेयमाधानाऽप्रतिज्ञातस्य १ राज्ययशस्कामस्य वा २ त्रिरात्रावरमग्नीनुत्सृज्य ३ सद्यो वा ४ पुनर्वस्वोः ५ वर्षासु मध्यन्दिने वा ६ कुशैराधानम् ७ व्रीह्यपूपमर्कपलाशयोः पक्वं गार्हपत्यस्थाने निदधात्येवमाहमनीयस्य यावं सद्यश्चेत् ८... (Katy. Srau. Sutr. 4.11)

Summary : The re-establishment of Agni takes place in Punarvasu nakshatra of the rainy season during mid-day. Kushagrass is to be placed (in Agni). Ahuti made by cooking Vreehi (a type of grain) along with other items is to be placed in Garhapatya agni, yava grains to be offered in Aahvaniya.[2]  

Offerings of astakapala purodasa to Agni, ekadasakapala purodasa to Agni and Vishnu and panchakapala purodasa to Agni and Soma are offered in addition to the other ahutis.[2]  

Either the karta or his wife should be present near the Agnihotram at the time of sunrise and sunset. If both of them leave the house and cross the boundaries of the village or city without tending to the Agni and they become extinguished then on their return Agni Punaraadhana (Agni Sparsa) has to be done. Thus travel for karta at the time of homa or during the Parvadinas (Amavasya, Poornima tithis) is forbidden and Punaraadhana of Agni is a must.[1]

During the time when Asoucham occurs in the family - Rajodosha (menses time for wife), Sutakam (when there is a death or birth in the family) re-instatement of Agni by Punaraadhana process has to be done[1]. Many prayaschitta vidhis are to be performed if the Agni in the homa kunda is spent, lost due to travel, or destroyed. If for 12 days at a stretch homa is not performed (Homa lopa due to any reason) then prescribed Prayaschittas are to be performed by doing samidha samskaara (purification of homa dravyas) and additional Aahutis. This observance of prayaschitta varies according to different sutras. For example : Hiranyakeshi Sutras prescribe prayaschitta after homa lopa for 12 days, Aapasthamba Sutras advise prayaschitta after homa lopa for 3 days.

श्रौताग्निः॥ Shrautagni

Shrautagni is meant for the Shrauta karmas (shrauta yajnas such as Haviryajnas and Somayajnas). It involves the use of three fires burning in three mounds hence called Tretagni.

  • From the Aupasanagni, by the procedure of Agnyadhanam, shrautaagni (Garhapatyagni) is kindled at the time of the vivaha samskara and maintained throughout life by the grihastha.
  • Of the three sacred fires (tretagni), "garhapatya" belongs to the master of the household. It must be kept burning in the garhapatya mound which is circular in shape. The procedure to set up these Agnis is given in Agnyadhana.
  • The section in the Apastamba-sutra dealing with rites performed in it is called "Tretagni-kanda" for those following Yajurveda.
  • Most of the shrauta rituals are done in the Aahvaniya agni, Garhapatya agni is used to heat the ghee and prepare cooked ahutis. After the ritual is complete, Aahvaniya agni and dakshinagni are joined back into the Garhapatya agni or allowed to extinguish in some cases.
  • One who worships the Shrauta and Grhyagnis, is called an "Ahitagni".
  • One who worships all these three Agnis is called a "Tretagni" or "Srautin".[4][16]

Ramayana mentions about the worship of agnis and performance of yajnas as follows.

नानाहिताग्निर्नायज्वा विप्रो नाप्यसहस्रदः ।... (Rama. Bala. 6.12)[17]

In the city of Ayodhya there was none who did not kindle the agnis. There was none who did not perform yajnas nor donate in thousands.

अग्निहोत्रम् ॥ Agnihotram

Agnihotra is the model or Prakrti of Homa yagas. After the Shrautagni is established at home by Agnyadhana, it is to be maintained and protected by the yajamani till his death. He is required to follow the prescribed observances and vratas as laid down in Shrauta sutras. It is performed as a sacred duty and not for any particular reward.

कर्ता ॥ Karta

The कर्ता ॥ Karta for Agnihotra should be सपत्नीक ॥ sapatinika (have a wife) yajamanani who lights the Aupasana agni and Shrautagni for the first time during his wedding.

  • He (or his wife) should perform this homa daily in the morning with milk, obtained separately from the cow reared for this purpose (agnihotra gaabhi).
  • If the karta goes on a pilgrimage along with his wife, he can carry the garhapatya fire with him or can ceremonially extinguish it and perform punaradhana (re-establishing the fire) on his return.  
  • Wife, son,brother, brother-in-law, son-in-law, pupil or a priest can perform Agnihotram on behalf of the karta in case of emergencies.[3]  
  • When he dies, the various wooden implements used by him for Agnihotra should be kept on various parts of his body as prescribed and then his body is cremated using the garhapatya agni.[6]  
  • According to Taittriya Brahmana[18] (3.3.3.1) one who does not have a patni or wife cannot perform yajnas.

    अयज्ञो वा एषः । योऽपत्नीकः । (Tait. Brah 3.3.3.1)

  • Agnihotra cannot be performed by a widower, however on remarriage a widower becomes eligible to perform nitya agnihotra[3]. When separated from his wife and he chooses not to remarry, he can imagine or instill his wife's idol for the process.
  • According to Satapatha Brahmana

    एतद्वै जरामर्यं सत्रं यदग्निहोत्रं जरया वा ह्येवास्मान्मुच्यते मृत्युना वा (Sata. Brah. 12.4.1.1)[19]

    ētadvai jarāmaryaṁ satraṁ yadagnihōtraṁ jarayā vā hyēvāsmānmucyatē mr̥tyunā vā (Sata. Brah. 12.4.1.1)

    Summary: this agnihotram is 'jaraamarya satra' because he can get relief from this only if he dies or becomes old.

हविस् ॥ Havis/Havishya

Milk is the main dravya or Havis offered as ahuti to Agni and Surya devatas in the Aahvaniya agni with the chanting of "Svaaha" using the ladle named sruk.

पयसा नित्यहोमः १ payasā nityahōmaḥ 1 (Asva. Srau. Sutr 2.3.2)[12]

The performer of Agnihotra is obliged to rear a cow primarily for providing milk as havis to devatas. The milk for ahuti is to be heated in garhapatya agni and the vessel which must be an earthen pot with a straight brim is called agnihotra-sthali and the ladle is called agnihotrahavaṇi.[3]

देवता ॥ Devatas

According to Sankhyayana Shrautasutra (2.9)[20]

अग्निर्ज्योतिर्ज्योतिरग्निः स्वाहेति सायम् १ सूर्यो ज्योतिर्ज्योतिः सूर्यः स्वाहेति प्रातः २

As given above the offering in Agni with svahakara is made in the evening and offering to Surya is made in morning.

The first ahuti of Agnihotra is called Purvahuti. The mantra "bhurbhuvah" is recited at the time of the first ahuti. This homa is done for Agni devata forms - Agni Pavamana, Pavaka and Suchi, with ahuti's offered to Agni with a Svahakaara. The second ahuti of Agnihotra is called Uttarahuti. Prajapati devata is prayed to silently at both times.[3]

समिधा ॥ Samidha

Once the fire is kindled by Arani, it is maintained by the addition of smaller pieces of wood called Samidhas into the Agni. These pieces of wood are collected with bark and are 10 to 12 inches long. This process is called "Pratyavaroha"[1].Agni samaaropa and pratyavaroha are to be executed by the karta himself and not by others except by his wife who might perform the Pratyavaroha part.

The trees from which samidhas are obtained include : palaasa, asvattha (peepul), nygrodha (banyan tree), sami, aamra (mango), khadira, durva, darbha (kusa grass), bilva (bael) Apaamarga.[1]

यज्ञकुण्डम् ॥ Kunda

Kunda or वेदि ॥ Vedi (altar) also called as हवित्री ॥ Havitri[7] is another important aspect of yajnas and yagas including those for nitya agnihotra in homes. They are of different sizes and shapes depending on the type of fire and yaga being performed.

  • Garhapatya agni is maintained in a circular kunda
  • Aahvaniya agni is kept in a square kunda
  • Dakshinagni is kept in a semi circular kunda.

For domestic purposes in the present days movable copper kundaas are also used, while some prepare altars with sand and a few bricks.

ऋत्विक् ॥ Ritvik

The nitya agnihotram is performed by the yajaman or karta only, he is the priest for it. When he is unable to perform the nityakarma wife, son, others or in the last case an Adhvaryu may be designated for conducting it.[3]. Other Haviryajnas involve the four rtviks and the yajamana.

काम्यकर्म ॥ Kamyakarma

Although performing agnihotra is a regular activity, it is also performed to attain some special desires called as Kamya Agnihotra. Agnihotra is also performed to fulfill desires such as to achieve heavenly position, a long life of people or cattle, for abundant food grains, brahmavarchas and for physical strength.[2]

यवागूरोदनो दधि समिग्रामकामान्नाद्यकामेन्द्रियकाम-तेजस्कामानां २ (Asva. Srau. Sutr 2.3.2)[12]

yavāgūrōdanō dadhi samigrāmakāmānnādyakāmēndriyakāma-tējaskāmānāṁ 2 (Asva. Srau. Sutr 2.3.2)

Meaning : Yavaagu (gruel of Yavagu rice) is offered for acquiring leadership over villages, and curd is offered for attaining strength (health).[21] In Kamya Agnihotra, special ahutis are made and offered specific for the objects desired, at different times, in different burning stages of the established fire.

धूमायन्त्याम् ग्राम कामस्य जुहुयात् । ज्वलन्त्याम् ब्रह्म वर्चस कामस्य । अङ्गारेषु पशु कामस्य । (Kaus. Brah. 2.2)[22]

Ahutis are made in smoke for those desiring villages (leadership). Those aspiring for brahmavarchas (divine lustre) should offer ahutis in flames (of Agnihotra) and those desiring cattle wealth should offer ahutis when ambers are shining.[2]

 Agnihotram in Samskaras

Agnihotra as Shrauta Yajna is different from the setting up of homas and fire altars during samskaras. In the present day Agnihotra is used loosely for homas and grhyakarmas. This topic is covered here to explain the difference between Shrautakarmas and Grhyakarmas.

Setting up of fire is an important component during naimittika karmas such as those of the Shodasa Samskaaras. Almost all the activities of these samskaraas involve the use of grhyagni where different homas are performed on each occasion which are given in detail in Grhya sutras of different shakaas. However, a few agnikaryas are mentioned here as follows. These homas are primarily performed with the Aupasana Agni mainly by the grihastha, except a few where a purohita conducts them.

Pumsavanam and Seemantonnayanam

Pumsavana homa (Apas.Grhy. Sutr[23]. 6.14.3), Ajyabhaga homa and Jayaati homa are performed.

Jaatakarma

The father takes a sachela snanam (bathing with all clothes on him) as soon as he hears about the birth of the child. During Abhimarshanam outlined in Apastamba grhya sutras (Apas. Sutr. 6.15. 1 to 13)[23] (Taittriya Samhita also gives these mantras), Agnihotra is lit and Raksha homam is conducted in the fire called Sootakagni. Mustard seeds(sashapa) and rice flakes (phaleekarana) are offered as aahuti by the father.

जातं वात्सप्रेणाभिमृश्योत्तरेण यजुषोपस्थ आधायोत्तराभ्यामाभिमन्त्रणं मूर्धन्यवघ्राणं दक्षिणे कर्णे जापः १ (Aapa. Sutr. 6.15.1)

सर्षपान्फलीकरणमिश्रानञ्जलिनोत्तरैस्त्रिस्त्रिप्रतिस्वाहाकारं हुत्वा संशास्ति प्रविष्टे प्रविष्ट एव तूष्णीमग्नावावपतेति ६ (Aapa. Sutr. 6.15.6)

This homa is performed to protect the child from evil forces and other doshas.

Naamakarana

Shaankhyayana Grihya sutras (1.25.1 to 26) mention the installation of Sutakagni as the child is born and into it aahuti is made during Naamakarana.

Choulam and Choodakarana

Though in the present days, many of these karmas are simplified and been done away with, the Grhya sutras lay emphasis on cutting of hair and piercing of the child's ears. Shaankhyayana Grhya sutras (1.28), Aapastamba Grhya Sutras (1.16), Gobila Grhya Sutras (2.9) detail the procedure while Taittriya Brahmana mantras are chanted from Ekagnikandam (2.1).[24]

Vivaha samskara is one of the most important ones of the Shodasa Samskaras. It is during vivaha that a grhastha is initiated into the setting up of fires to be continued till the death of the yajamana.

Paanigrahanam

Agnihotra is initiated at the time of Paanigrahanam during marriage as given in Apasthamba Grhya Sutras[23] (2.4.9 and 10)

अथैनामुत्तरया दक्षिणे हस्ते गृहीत्वाग्निमभ्यानीयापरेणाग्निमुदगग्रं कटमास्तीर्य तस्मिन्नुपविशत उत्तरो वरः ९ (Aapa. Grhy. 2.4.9)
अग्नेरुपसमाधानाद्याज्यभागान्तेऽथैनामादितो द्वाभ्यामभिमन्त्रयेत १० (Aapa. Grhy. 2.4.10)

Meaning : The agnihotram is established, the vara or groom holds the hand of the bride and brings her near Agni. They sit in north south direction. He offers aajya into the fire.

Saptapadi

Saptapadi is where the bride and groom take seven sacred steps around the witnessing Agni which has been started during the events.(Aapa. Grhy. Sutr. 2.4.15)[23]

Antyeshti

It is the last event where the dead body is offered onto the fire with chanting of mantras. (Rig. Veda. 10.16.1)[25]

अग्निहोत्रस्य वैशिष्टम् ॥ Importance of Agnihotra

Importance of conducting the Agnihotra is emphasized in all the vedic texts. Rig vedic mantras extol the greatness of Agni extensively, with Agni suktams describing the various roles of Agni.

Atharvaveda (Kanda 19 ) describes that Agnihotra performed in the morning and evening keeps the mind fresh, enthusiastic and happy till evening, while the Agnihotra performed in the evening keeps the mind fresh till morning. Saumanas which is cheerfulness of the mind will not be possible unless one is relieved of both physical and mental anxieties and stress.[21]

सायंसायं गृहपतिर्नो अग्निः प्रातःप्रातः सौमनसस्य दाता । वसोर्वसोर्वसुदान एधि वयं त्वेन्धानास्तन्वं पुषेम ॥३॥ (Atha. Veda. 19.55.3)[26]

प्रातःप्रातर्गृहपतिर्नो अग्निः सायंसायं सौमनसस्य दाता । वसोर्वसोर्वसुदान एधीन्धानास्त्वा शतंहिमा ऋधेम ॥४॥ (Atha. Veda. 19.55.4)

Summary : May Garhapatyagni bestow upon us a superior mind every morning and evening. Hey Agni, grant us growth by giving us good wealth. By offering havisya which increases your lustre let us also gain physical strength[27]. Shatapata Brahmana also stresses the importance of time and the two ahutis of cow-milk to Agni.

स यत्सायमस्तमिते द्वेऽआहुती जुहोति । तदेताभ्यां पूर्वाभ्यां पद्भ्यामेतस्मिन्मृत्यौ प्रतितिष्ठत्त्यथ यत्प्रातरनुदिते द्वेऽआहुती जुहोति तदेताभ्यामपराभ्यां पद्भ्यामेतस्मिन्मृत्यौ प्रतितिष्ठति सऽएनमेषऽउद्यन्नेवाऽऽदायोदेति तदेतं मृत्युमतिमुच्यते.. २.३.३.[९] (Shat. Brah. 2.3.3.9)[28]

Summary: The person giving two offerings in the evening at sunset and in the morning at sunrise - exactly when the sun is rising- is set free from the fear of death (Chapter 5 of Reference[21]).

Shatapatha Brahmana (SB 3.1.3.18) tells us that Agnihotra should be performed by the performer knowing that he will gain the strength and victories gained by Agni who conquered the earth, Vayu, the air and Surya, the sky, with whom he shares the world; and the same text further tells us that the Agnihotra, doubtless, is the Sun.

Chandogya Upanishad (5th Adhyaya 24th Khanda) clearly lays down the significance of Agnihotra[29]

तद्यथेषीकातूलमग्नौ प्रोतं प्रदूयेतैव्ँ हास्य सर्वे पाप्मानः प्रदूयन्ते य एतदेवं विद्वानग्निहोत्रं जुहोति ॥३॥

Meaning : Just as the Ishika reed would burn, when thrown into the fire, so also would the evils of one knowing this (knowledge) offers the Agnihotra.

यथेह क्षुधिता बाला मातरं पर्युपासते । एव्ँ सर्वाणि भूतान्यग्निहोत्रमुपासत इत्यग्निहोत्रमुपासत इति ॥५॥

Meaning : Just as the hungry children wait for the mother, so also all beings wait for the Agnihotra, indeed!

Here the philosophy of Vaisvanara and the importance of Agnihotra have been proclaimed in Chandogya Upanishad.

Mahanarayanopanishad (Anuvaka 79 Mantras 9 and 10)

अग्नयो वै त्रयी विद्या देवयानः पन्था गार्हपत्य ऋक् पृथिवी रथन्तरमन्वाहार्यपचनः यजुरन्तरिक्षं वामदेव्यमाहवनीयः साम सुवर्गो लोको बृहत्तस्मादग्नीन् परमं वदन्ति ॥ ९॥

Meaning : The great sacrificial fires are indeed the threefold knowledge (त्रयी विद्या) and path leading to realm of the devatas (देवयानः)....

अग्निहोत्रँ सायं प्रातर्गृहाणां निष्कृतिः स्विष्टँ सुहुतं यज्ञक्रतूनां प्रायणँ सुवर्गस्य लोकस्य ज्योतिस्तस्मादग्निहोत्रँ परमं वदन्ति ॥१०॥

Meaning : The performance of Agnihotra at dawn and sunset is an expiation sins incidental to housekeeping. It is a good yaga and homa and a commencement of all yajnas and kratus. It is a beacon to the heavenly worlds. Thus they say Agnihotra is the supreme means of liberation.[30]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Essence of Dharmasindhu - Homa Prakriyas by Sri. V. D. N. Rao as given in Kamakoti.org
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Mehra, Baldev Singh. Ph. D. Thesis Title : A critical and comparative study of the vaitana srauta sutra with special reference to the srauta sacrifices Maharshi Dayanand University
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Purkayastha, Dipanjona (2014) Ph. D Thesis from Assam University : A Study of the Asvalayana srauta sutra with reference to the principal sacrifices
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  5. Introduction to Rituals (Vedic Heritage Portal)
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  8. Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1941) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law) Volume 2, Part 2. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
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  22. Kaushitaki Brahmana (Adhyaya 2)
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Aapastamba Grhya Sutras
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  25. http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Antyesti#cite_note-1
  26. Atharva Veda (Kanda 19 Sukta 55)
  27. Sharma, Shriram (2002) Atharvaveda Samhita, Part 2. Haridwar: Brahmavarchas
  28. Shatapatha Brahmana (Kanda 2 Adhyaya 3)
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  30. Swami Vimalananda (1968) Mahanarayanopanishad. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math