Kinds of Yajnas (यज्ञभेदाः)

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Yajnas have been classified (Samskrit: यज्ञभेदाः) based on their origin of the mantras used, time of performance whether daily or occasionally, their importance as primary or secondary models, whether physical or mental kinds and based on the trigunas among many others factors such as the dravyas, ahutis used. In fact the kinds of yajnas are varied based on the elements that go into the performance of a yajna.

परिचयः॥ Introduction

Yajnas are activities that gave direction to the course of life of a man in ancient Bharat. They influenced the numerous spheres of life and each aspect developed distinct set of yajnas. Thus to attain general or specific results or phalita there developed yajna karmas designed for people of different varnas and ashramas. The Kalpasutra charana texts give us a deep insight into the vidhis and procedures to perform Yajnas even though yajnas existed even in the the Rigvedic period.

The ancient texts themselves have mentioned yajnas have been classified into groups and such a system is called Yajnasamstha.

Classification of Yajnas

Based on Origin

Yajnas are classified into two based on where their procedures have originated, viz.,[1]

  1. Shrauta Yajnas (श्रौतयज्ञाः) based on their Vaidika (Shruti) origin of the mantras ((from samhita and brahmanas) that are used in these yajnas.
  2. Smarta Yajnas or Grhya Yajnas (पाकयज्ञाः) based on Kalpasutras, Smritis, Puranas, and even Tantras.

Based on Time of Performance

Yajnas classified above as Shrauta and Smarta are again divided into three types based on the time when they are performed.[2]

  • नित्यकर्म ॥ Nitya karmas (Daily)

Nitya karmas are those which are performed daily at prescribed timings. Shastras prescribe that these yajnas are obligatory for dvija grhasthas and do not involve usage of extensive dravyas or time. Apastamba Shrautasutras start with

अथातो दर्शपूर्णमासौ व्याख्यास्यामः १ (Apas. Shrau. Sutr. 1.1.1)

In his commentary for Apastamba Shrautasutras, Dhurtasvami discusses the various yajnas and their classification. The Phalita or fruits of performing these Nityayajnas are not given (अफला) but it is important to understand that not performing them accrues Papam (प्रत्यवाय । malefic effects).

सोमान्तानि तु नित्यानि । (Dhurtsvami Comm. for Apas. Shrau. Sutr. 1.1.1)[3]

Yajnas namely Agnihotra to Somayajnas (Agnihotra, Darsapurnamasa, Chaturmasya, and Somayaga) are nitya in nature. Mahabharata in the Shantiparva mentions that the Darsapurnamasa, Agnihotra and Chaturmasya yajnas are followed by wise persons, for in them are embodied the Sanatana Dharmas.[4]

दर्शं च पौर्णमासं च अग्निहोत्रं च धीमतः। चातुर्मास्यानि चैवासंस्तेषु धर्मः सनातनः॥ (Maha. Shan. Parv. 12. 269. 20)

  • नैमित्तिककर्म ॥ Naimittika karmas (Occasional)

They include activities on particular occasions when houses are burnt down, or in case of earthquakes or heavy rains.

  • काम्यकर्म ॥ Kamya karmas (Special Intent)

These are activities performed to attain some special intent - Gramaprapti (increasing control over villages or lands), Pashuprapti (increasing cattle property), Dhanaprapti (for wealth), Yashaprapti (for fame) and others such as begetting children (Putrakamesthi) or victory over other kings (Rajasuya).

Kamya karmas are of three types.[2]

  1. Kamyakarmas with independent vidhis. Example, वैश्वदेवीं सांग्रहणीं निर्वपेद् ग्रामकामः (Tait. Samh. For gaining control over places (villages) an ishi has been prescribed.
  2. A nityakarma with a slight difference makes it kamyakarma. Example, दध्नेन्द्रियकामस्य। (Tait. Brah. Nitya Agnihotra which is performed as a nityakarma with milk, becomes a kamyakarma when performed with curd by a person who desires the senses.
  3. A nityakarma performed as is with a special intent makes it a kamyakarma. Example, वसन्ते वसन्ते ज्योतिषा यजेत । (Mimamsa Bhashya 3.3.19) here वसन्ते वसन्ते is used twice indicating that it is a nityakarma. स्वर्गकामो ज्योतिष्टोमेन यजेत । एककामः सर्वकामो वा। युगपत् कामयेताहारपृथक्त्वे वा। (Apas. Shrau. Sutr. 10.2.1)[5] One who desires svarga (heaven) should perform the Jyotishtoma.

In situations where nitya and kamyakarma yajnas are similar, like the ones mentioned above, the important difference between both the karmas lies primarily in the way the procedures are performed. In Kamya karmas it is necessary to perform all parts of the yajna activities (सर्वाङ्गपूर्ण अनुष्ठानम्) to obtain the intended results, whereas not all angas of the yajna are ordained when performed as a nityakarma.

Naimittika and Kamya yajnas are not obligatory and depend on the shraddha, interest and financial circumstances of the Yajamana.

Based on Gunas

Yajnas are classified based on gunas as mentioned in the Bhagavadgita (17.11-13). Of them the Satvika yajnas are given a high regard.[1]

अफलाकाङ्क्षिभिर्यज्ञो विधिदृष्टो य इज्यते । यष्टव्यमेवेति मनः समाधाय स सात्त्विकः ॥१७- ११॥ (Bhag. Gita. 17.11)

अभिसंधाय तु फलं दम्भार्थमपि चैव यत् । इज्यते भरतश्रेष्ठ तं यज्ञं विद्धि राजसम् ॥१७- १२॥ (Bhag. Gita. 17.12)

विधिहीनमसृष्टान्नं मन्त्रहीनमदक्षिणम् । श्रद्धाविरहितं यज्ञं तामसं परिचक्षते ॥१७- १३॥ (Bhag. Gita. 17.13)

  1. Satvika Yajna (सात्विकयज्ञः) is when the yajna is performed without expectation of any return (निष्कामभावः)
  2. Rajasika Yajna (राजसिकयज्ञः) is when the yajna is performed with a desire in mind (सकामभावः)
  3. Tamasika Yajna (तामसिकयज्ञः) is when a yajna is performed against the prescribed ways given in the shastras (विधिहीनम्)

Based on Importance

  • Another classification of Yajna or yaga based on principal and subsidiary actions of Yajna include
  1. Pradhana (प्रधानम् । Principal)
  2. Anga (अङ्गम् । Subsidiary)

A ‘Yaga’ is made up of several rituals which has its own principal part (Pradhana). Those that form subsidiary or supplement to this are called ‘Angas’. Some of the rituals may be common to several ‘Yagas’.[6]

Based on Procedural Aspects

There are many versions about the Prakriti and Vikriti classification of yajnas among the scholarly community.

  • Vedic yajnas/yagas are divided into two[7] or three[2]
  1. Prakritiyaga (Model)
  2. Vikritiyaga (Modified)
  3. Prakrti-Vikriti (Combination)

Vikritiyagas derive their procedures from the respective Prakritiyagas. Here we are not going into details about the Prakriti-Vikriti combination[2] of yajnas owing to the indepth discussions that are required.

प्रकृतियागम् ॥ Prakritiyagas

Sayana's Upakramanika for his Kanva-Samhita-bhashya defines Prakriti yagas as describing all the essential features of a yaga in its entirety, viz., all the angas of the yajna (like darshapurna masa). They are sources of all the details borrowed by the Vikriti yagas for their completion. They do not contain the statements such as "do the same (procedure) in Vikriti as would in the Prakriti". Hence without knowing the Prakriti yajnas Vikriti yajnas cannot be understood.

According to Mimamsa-nyaya prakasha,[2] the above explanation is given by the statements : यत्र समग्राङ्गोपदेशः सा प्रकृतिः। यतो विकृतिरङ्गानि गृह्णाति सा प्रकृतिः।

In the Asvalaayana Shrautasutra, there are a number yajnas but five among them are regarded as Prakritiyagas[7]. In the present days Prakriti yajnas mentioned in the Vedas are rarely conducted.[6]

  1. होमः ॥ Homa : Agnihotra is the Prakriti (model) of all Homas
  2. इष्टिः ॥ Isthti : Darsapurnamaasa yaga is the Prakriti (model) of all Isthis (also for all Haviryajnas)
  3. पशुयागम् ॥ Pasu : Nirudha Pasubandha is the Prakriti (model) of Pasuyaga
  4. सोमयागम् ॥ Soma : Agnistoma is the Prakriti (model) of all the Somayagas.
  5. सत्रयागम् ॥ Sattra : Gavaamayana is the Prakriti (model) of all Satrayagas.

विकृतियागम् ॥ Vikritiyagas

In the Vikriti yajnas, contain the special angas (visesha-angas) are mentioned, leaving the other details and they refer back to Prakriti yajnas for the additional details for the completion of the yajna on the principle of extended application (atidesa). The subsidiary rituals follow their respective principal yajnas in the performance of different yajnas.[8]


Agnistoma, for instance, is the primary or model for all Soma-yajnas. It is an "ekaha" (lasting for one day). In this yajna, the Udgatr and his three priests sing in all twelve "Stotras" (the Saman chants); after each Stotra singing, the Hotr and his three associates recite the Rks. The oblations are offered three times: morning (pratas-savana) with chanting of pavamana-stotra, noon (madhyandina-savana) with chanting of some stotras, and evening (tritiya-savana) when the Agnistoma-sama is chanted. This last Sama gives the Yajna its name. A total of twelve stotras will be changed during the three savanas. This is the Prakriti Yaga with all angas.

If, in addition, to the above twelve stotras, three Ukta-Stotras are chanted the yajna becomes a Vikriti Yajna called "Ukthya". To Ukthya adding another stotra-mantra makes it another Vikriti yajna known as "Shodasi" (i.e., having a total of sixteen stotras). Shodasi supplemented with an additional twelve stotras, forms the Ati-ratra yajna, where the rituals are continued throughout the night.

With Agnistoma as the Prakriti yajna, we have Ukthya, Atyagnistoma, Shodashi, Vajapeya, Atiratra and Aptoryama as alternate Vikriti forms. Among them Atyagnistoma, Vajapeya, and Aptoryama have not been performed for a long time. Some other well-known vikriti yagas include Asvamedha, Rajasuya, Paudarika, Mahavrata, Sarvatomukha, Brhaspati-sava, Abhijit and Angirasa.[8]

Based on Ashrama

Yajnas are also classified based on the ashrama of the yajamana. Most famous of these are those performed by the ruling class or rajanyas or kshatriyas. They are Asvamedha, Rajasuya, Sarva-medha, Purusha-medha which are Kamya yajnas performed with specific intent to achieve a result. Vajapeya is permitted for both Brahmanas and Kshatriyas.[8]

Based on Karma (Activities)

While as part of vaidika karmakanda, yajnas are broadly classified as Shrauta Samstha and Smarta samstha based on the source of mantras recited, Bhagavadgita (4.28), mentions a classification of five kinds of yajnas, based on the laukika karmas (physical and mental) that we do for the welfare of an individual or the society at large.[2]

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे । स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतयः संशितव्रताः ॥४-२८॥ (Bhag. Gita. 4.28)[9]

  1. द्रव्ययज्ञः ॥ Dravyayajna
  2. तपोयज्ञः ॥ Tapoyajna
  3. योगयज्ञः ॥ Yogayajna
  4. स्वाध्याययज्ञः ॥ Svadhyayayajna
  5. ज्ञानयज्ञः ॥ Jnanayajna

Thus the classification is highly varied based on the authorships of various texts as well as the elements of yajna.

यज्ञसंस्थाः ॥ System of Yajnas

The Shrauta and Grhyasutras typically give us an insight into the yajnas of the ancient times, performed as a part of karmakanda. They involve well laid down vidhis and prayaschittas (expiatory actions) in case of deviations from those vidhis. They comprised groups of seven Yajnas mostly to be performed by a grhastha starting from the time of marriage.

According to this system of classification of yajnas, they are divided into groups of seven yajnas technically termed as Samsta (यज्ञसंस्थाः). Shankayana Grhyasutra clearly lay down this system

पाकसंस्था हविःसंस्थाः सोमसंस्थास्तथापराः एकविँशतिरित्येता यज्ञसंस्थाः प्रकीर्तिताः १५ १ (Shan. Ghry. Sutr. 1.1.15)[10]

Meaning: Pakasamstha, Havi-samstha, and the other being Soma-samstha together are said to constitute the 21 kinds of yajnas under Yajnasamstha.

These include the seven Pakayajnas (पाकयज्ञाः), seven Haviryajnas (हविर्यज्ञाः) and seven Somayajnas (सोमर्यज्ञाः). The Grhyasutras explain the procedures of conducting Pakayajnas in the grhyagni (ekagni), the Shrautasutras lay down the vidhis to conduct both the Haviryajnas and Somayajnas in the shrautagni (tretagni).[11]

They differ by the dravyas that are offered in the agni. In Pakayajnas the havya dravyas offered are food items normally consumed by people, such as, Vrihi (grains), Tila (sesame), Godhuma (wheat), milk, ghee, and curds. These havya dravyas are cooked into preparations such as Purodasa and Charu and offered. In the Somayajnas, the dravya offered primarily consists of Soma or a plant (Putika) in its place. In the Pashubandha yajnas, the chief offering consists of animals such as goat, horse etc.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pt. Shriveniram Sharma Gauda (2018) Yajna Mimamsa. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Vidyabhavan
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Yudhisthir Mimamsak (1987) Shrauta Yajna Mimamsa. Samskrit and Hindi. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Bhavan
  3. Vd. So. Narasimhachar, (1944) The Srauta Sutra of Apastamba with the Bhashya of Dhurtaswami and Vrtti of Ramagnichit. (Prashnas 1-5) Mysore: Oriental Library Publications (Page 5)
  4. Pt. Ramnarayan Dutt Pandey, Mahabharat, Part 5, Shanti Parv. Gorakhpur: Gita Press (Page 5119)
  5. Apastamba Shrauta Sutras (Prashna 10)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Radhakrishna Bhat, N. Vedic Ritual Tradition of Karnataka, Vedic Heritage Portal.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Purkayastha, Dipanjona (2014) Ph. D Thesis from Assam University : A Study of the Asvalayana srauta sutra with reference to the principal yajnas
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao's : Principles of Yajna Vidhi
  9. Shrimad Bhagavadgita (Adhyaya 4.28) from Gitasupersite with various commentaries for slokas.
  10. Shankhayana Grhyasutras (Full Text)
  11. Gopal, Ram. (1959) India of Vedic Kalpasutras. Delhi : National Publishing House