Yajna (यज्ञः)

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Yajna (Samskrit : यज्ञः) or Vedic ritual is one of the distinguishing features of vaidika and laukika karmas. It occupies a very important place in Bharatiya samskriti, literature and the way dharmic lifestyle evolved over ages. In the present days the importance of Yajnas is discussed and the practice is revived by many people all over the world. The benefits of performing yajnas may be multitude.

Evolution of Yajnas

Our knowledge of vedic rituals is derived with a varying degree of accuracy from the three sources : the Samhitas, the Brahmanas, and Shrauta and Grhya Sutras.

Samhitas and Brahmanas

The earliest reference to vedic rituals is found in the Rigveda Samhita. While names such as yupa, idhma, drona, darvi, juhu of different things of Yajnas find a mention in Rigveda, a large number of mantras do not have any role in procedures of Yajnas. Similarly, Atharvaveda samhita, which contains popular spells, has no practical use in shrauta karmas. But the case of Yajurveda and Samaveda samhitas is quite different. One can clearly see the ritualistic orientation in the very arrangement of these samhitas. The Yajurveda samhita preserved in two shakas - shukla and krishna, reveal their usage in ceremonial purpose, with mantras borrowed from Rigveda samhita. In their application to the rituals these mantras underwent a significant change, where the system of accentuation of the Rigveda mantras is lost in entirety and "ekashruti" or monotone was adopted. The Samaveda samhita is also a liturgical collection, a copy of Rigveda samhita. The Samaveda samhita has been assigned to Udgatr priests who chant the stotras set to a melody chiefly during Somayaga. They have no other role in yajna apart from chanting the stotras. While the Adhvaryu priests have discarded the accents, Udgatr priests adopt a peculiar fashion of recitation with repetitions and interpolations.

Over a long period the transformation of the Yajnas continued with the change in society itself. The main purpose of the Brahmana texts was to describe the procedures for Yajnas in detail, set the rules for the performance, and provide a rationale for their conduct, however they are not clearly organized making it difficult to follow them.[1]

Shrauta Sutras

To remedy this a systematic and business-like code was called for, and this led to the composition of Shrautasutras. The sutras presuppose the Samhitas and Brahmanas but unlike them, they give a succinct systemic account of the Yajnas. Thus, Sutras assumed greater importance over a period of time as they formed the bridge between Brahmanas and the changing society. The Shrautasutra is a functional manual of the priests and it follows faithfully its own Brahmana. As a manual it has taken only those terms of the Brahmana which are essential in the operation of a Yajna.[1]

Grhya Sutras

The Grhya yajnas (domestic rites) are as old as the Shrauta yajnas and they have a common origin. The Shrauta yajnas were known by revelation (Shruti) in contrast to the domestic rites which was derived from memory (Smriti). In manner and form the Grhyasutras depend on and presuppose their respective Shrauta sutras, thus indirectly related to the Brahmanas. The Grhyasutras are less rigid than the Shrautasutras and contain less technical terms. Like the Shrauta karmas the grhyakarmas also underwent many stages of transformation. Many of the Rigveda mantras used in domestic ceremonies have become symbolic with no bearing on the ceremonies. The mantras which accompany the wedding and funeral ritesare found in the 10 Mandala of Rigveda, which many scholars believe to have a late origin. On the other hand, Atharvaveda samhita is one of the main sources of mantras for many domestic rites.[1]

Yajnas in Recent Years

Apart from the Rig Vedic instances of yajnas, we can see that the fundamental conceptions of Yajna (sacrifice) are also seen in Indo-European antiquities though the traces are rather faint. But it is quite clear that the yajnas had been much developed in the Indo-Iranian period. There are numerous words indicative of yajnas both in the vedic language and in the ancient Parsi religious books. For example, words like atharvan, ahuti, uktha, barbis, mantra, yajna, soma, savana, stoma, hotr, do also occur in the ancient Parsi religious scriptures.[2]

Though shrauta yajnas are now very rarely performed (except a few simple ones like the Darshapurnamasa and Chaturmasya) they were in great prevalence several centuries before the Christian Era. Centuries before that even after the advent and spread of Buddhism we learn from the inscriptions and literary traditions that rajas and chakravartis often performed the ancient solemn vedic yajnas and glorified in having done so. Many such inscriptions and literary works speak about their prevalence in much later years, a few examples include the following

  • Harivamsha (3.2.39-40), Malavikagnimitra (Act 5), Sunga Inscription from Ayodhya (E.I. vol. 20 at p.79) speak of Rajasuya yajna.
  • Stone inscriptions from the Guptas period state that Samudragupta performed Asvamedha yajna.
  • The Pikira grant of Simahavarman (E. I. vol. 8 at p.162) describes the Pallavas as the performers of many Asvamedhas. Other inscriptions refers to performance of Agnistoma, Vajapeya and Asvamedha.
  • We find that Maharajas while making grants often expressed that the object of the grants was to enable the brahmana donees to offer bali and charu and to perform Agnihotra. (Example : Sarasvni plates of Buddharaja, A.D. 609-10, and Damodarpur plates, A.D. 443-44 and 447-48)

During the centuries of muslim domination no help from royalty could be expected and so the institution of Vedic Yajnas languished. In the last hundreds of years or so, solemn shrauta yajnas have been performed only rarely. But since many of the grhya ceremonies as set forth in the Grhya sutras, which closely imitate the shrauta yajnas, formed the first and foremost manifestation of the sentiments of faith and worship in Bharatavarsha.[2]

A deep study of yajnas (shrauta and smartha) is quite essential for the proper understanding of the vedic literature, the development and stratification of the different portions of that literature, and for the influence that the literature exerted on the varnas and the caste-system, on the splitting up of the brahmanas themselves among several sub-castes and on the institution of gotras and pravaras.

Early European scholars generally paid scant attention for an in depth study of Yajnas and endeavoured to understand the meaning of Vedas principally by reference to grammar, comparative philology and the comparison of several passages containing the same word or words. Chronology given by them was based mostly on subjective consideration and prompted by the great prejudice felt by the European scholars generally against admitting any great antiquity for the Vedas. It is beyond the scope of this work to enter into any discussion about the dates of various sections of the Vedic Literature.[2]

Thus we see that the history of performing kratus, yajnas and yagas is quite ancient and their process is described in the Samhitas. Yajnas, yagas, istis, and homas were performed for individual benefit as well as community welfare. While some yajnas were performed by people of all varnas, some were specific to one section of the society. For example the Rajasuya or Aswamedha yagam were prescribed only for Kshatriyas. Elaborately conducted yagas such as Soma yagas are not performed these days, while Varuna yagam and Kareeresti for propitiating Varuna devata to obtain good rains is performed at regular intervals as temple events for community benefit.[3]

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

Yajna is a word which represents many symbolic associations of man and devatas, the creation and denotes a rite (mandatory ritual), a praise, a form of worship, an offering or oblation (of substance), an intent, a resolve, an instrument (to achieve purushardhas), an act. It is a word which does not have an exact equivalent english word for it.

  • Yajna is derived from the root यज् । Yaj used in the meaning देवपूजासङ्गतिकरणदानेषु (Ashtadhyayi Dhatupatha 1.1157). It includes देवपूजा (worship of deities) सङ्गतिकरण (unity) and दानम् (charity or giving away). Jaimini Purvamimamsa Sutras state the following about Yaj dhatu in the meaning to worship.

    यजति चोदनाद्रव्यदेवताक्रियं समुदाये कृतार्थत्वात् -४,२.२७ (Purv. Mima. 4.2.27)[4]

    Yajna is a ceremony in which offerings or oblations are dedicated to a devata by relinquishing one's right over it by saying, this is for the deity and not for me.[1]
  • Apastamba Paribhasha Sutras and the Commentary by Kapardisvamin about Yajnas is as follows:

    यज्ञं व्याख्यास्यामः। (Apas. Pari. 1.1)[5]

    स तु यज्ञो देवतोद्देशेन द्रव्यत्यागत्मकः याग इति क्रियाविशेषः । स हि निश्श्रेयसाय चोदितः। (Comm. for 1.1 by Kapardisvamin)[5]

Defining Yajna, the commentary gives the explanation of the Sutra 1.1, as follows:

Yajna, is a special act of offering by which one surrenders dravya (द्रव्य । substance) as offering for devatas, while reciting mantras. It has originated for Nihshreyasa (निश्श्रेयस्) i.e., for the spiritual freedom of all beings.

  • Katyayana Shrauta Sutras states the following to define Yajna:

यज्ञं व्याख्यास्यामः १ द्रव्यं देवता त्यागः २ (Katy. Shra. 1.2.2)[6]

Yajna is composed of three elements द्रव्यं । Dravya (oblatory materials), देवता । Devata (a deity) and त्यागः। Tyaga (giving away of the materials).[1]

  • Nighantu lists the fifteen synonyms of Yajna for the term ‘Yajna’ in general sense though there are many features which differ among themselves.

यज्ञः । Yajna, वेनः। Vena, अध्वरः। Adhvara, मेधः। Medha, विदथः। Vidatha, नार्यः। Narya, सवनम्। Savana, होत्रा। Hotra, इष्टिः। Ishti, देवताता । Devatata, मखः। Makha, विष्णुः। Vishnu, इन्दुः। Indu, प्रजापतिः। Prajapati, घर्मः। Dharma इति [यज्ञस्य पञ्चदश यज्ञनामानि] । १७ ।(Nigh. Shas. 3.17)[7]

Yajnas in Rig Veda

We find that even in the remotest ages when the mantras of the Rig Veda were composed and compiled, the main features of Yajnas have been evolved. To mention a few instances[2]

  1. Existence of three fires (Tretagni) appears in Rigveda (2.36.4) where Agni is asked to sit down in three places.
  2. Rigveda (1.15.4 and 5.11.2) states that men kindle Agni in three places.
  3. The Garhapatya fire is expressly named in Rigveda (1.15.12)
  4. The three savanas (i.e. pressings of Soma in the morning, mid-day, and evening) are mentioned in Rigveda (3.28.1 mentions pratah-sava, 3.28.4 mentions madhyandina savana and 3.28.5 mentions tritiya savana).
  5. That the yajna gives food to Agni three times on all days; is given in Rig veda mantras 3.52.5-6, 4.12.1 and 4.33.11.
  6. It may affirmed that the sixteen priests required in Soma yajnas were probably known to the composers of Rigveda mantras. The names of the sixteen priests is given in Asvalayana Shrauta sutras (4.1.6) and Apastamba Shrauta Sutras (10.1.9). Rigveda (1.162.5) also mentions a few namely Hotr, Adhvaryu, Agnimindha, Gravagarbha, Samsta (prasahstr or mitravaruna) etc.
  7. Rigveda (2.43.2) mentions Udgata.
  8. The word purohita occurs very frequently in Rigveda (1.1.1, 3.2.8 etc).
  9. The yupa (the post to which the yajnapasu is tied) is mentioned in Rigveda (1.162.6). Rigveda (3.8) is full of praise for yupa.
  10. The instruments used in yajnas such as darvi (Rig. Veda. 5.6.9) sruk (Rig. Veda. 4.12.1 and 6.11.5) juhu (Rig. Veda 10.21.3) are mentioned in numerous places.
  11. Yajnas were the first dharmas according to Rigveda (10.90.16).
  12. The 12 grahas (cups) of Soma are referred to in Rigveda (10.114.5)
  13. The wooden vessal called chamasa used for drinking Soma is spoken of in many instances (Rig. Veda. 1.20.6, 1.110.3, 1.161.1 and 8.82.7)
  14. The words prayaja and anuyaja occur in Rig veda (10.51.8-9).

Thus, ample evidence of performance of yajnas is found from Rigvedic period.[2]

Yajna Related Definitions

The word Yajna is closely related to other acts of offering havis or oblations into the sacred fire and in a few instances are not specifically related to Vedic rites. Since the term Yajna is used in a general sense interchangeably, for clarity a few words important definitions are presented here.

यज्ञः Yajna

As discussed previously, Yajna, broadly is a special act of offering dravya to devatas into the fire along with the recitation of prescribed mantras. Example : Panchamahayajnas are nityakarmas, to be performed daily by grhastas. Mantras recited here are prescribed in Shrauta Sutras and Grhyasutras, for example, Haviryajna procedures are described in Brahmanas and Vedanga Kalpa.

यागम् ॥ Yagam

Defining Yaga in a commentary to Shrimad Bhagavadgita sloka (4.24), Sri Madhusudhan Saraswati explains the concept of Yaga and Homa as :

देवतोद्देशेन हि द्रव्यत्यागो यागः। स एव त्यज्यमानद्रव्यस्याग्नौ प्रक्षेपाद्धोम इत्युच्यते। [8]

dēvatōddēśēna hi dravyatyāgō yāgaḥ। sa ēva tyajyamānadravyasyāgnau prakṣēpāddhōma ityucyatē।

Meaning: Setting apart some oblatory materials to offer to the deities is Yaga and the act of pouring or throwing or offering the material into the fire is Homa.

We see that while the concept is simple, the names of activities came to be known as Yagam, Yajna, Homam all synonymously used.

Yagas involve elaborate ceremonial activities on a large scale (building of Agnichayana), extending from more than 12 days to a number of years, involving various offerings made into the fire, requiring not only the four Rtviks (Adhvaryu, Hotr, Udgata and Brahma) but others up to 16 in number for complicated yagas (Somayaga). The mantras used here are prescribed in the Vedanga Kalpas as Shrauta sutras. Example : Somayaga, Sattrayaga, Rajasuya yaga.

होमः ॥ Homam or Havan

It is the act of offering or pouring an oblatory material (havis) into the fire. The oblatory material is clarified butter, when no other material is mentioned, offered into the ahvaniya fire with a juhu (special laddle used to drop the butter into the fire). (Katy. Shra. 1.8.38, 44-45)[1] Yaga means abandonment of dravya intending it for a deity; Homa means the offering of a dravya in the fire intending it for a deity.[2]

Homam is generally a small scale 'yaga' performed at home or lately conducted as a small community event, unlike the Yaga which requires a large public place where attendance of a large group of persons is expected.

It is classified into two.

तिष्ठद्धोमा वषट्कारप्रदाना याज्यापुरोनुवाक्यावन्तो यजतयः ६ (Katy. Shra. 1.2.6)[6]

यजति ॥ Yajati : Yajati is the technical name of those rites in which dravya-tyaga is performed in a standing position with the utterance of वषट्कार (and वौषट्) । Vashatkara (and vaushat) followed by "yajya and puro anuvakya".[1]

उपविष्टहोमा स्वाहाकारप्रदाना जुहोतयः ७ (Katy. Shra. 1.2.7)[6]

जुहोति ॥ Juhoti : Juhoti is the technical name of those rites in which dravya-tyaga is performed in a sitting position with the utterance of स्वाहाकार । Svahakara.[1]

इष्टिः ॥ Ishti

It involves the oblations of havis, offered by the Adhvaryu, in a standing position to the south of the altar accompanied by utterance of वषट्कार । Vashatkara followed by "yajyaanuvakya".(Katy. Shra. 1.2.6) [1]

सवषट्कारासु तिष्ठन्दक्षिणत उदङ्प्राङ् वषट्कृते १८ (Katy. Shra. 1.9.18)[6]

This class of rites, of which Darsa (one of the Haviryajnas) is the model (Prakrti) requiring four priests, is distinctly different from Homa class of rites, helped and sponsored by the yajamana and his wife.[1]

दर्शपूर्णमासयोश्चत्वार ऋत्विजोऽध्वर्युर्ब्रह्मा होताग्नीध्र इति (Baud. Shra.2.3)[9]

Meaning : In the Darsapurnamasa yajnas (Full moon and New moon sacrifices) there are four ritviks- Adhvaryu, Brahman, Hotr and Agnidhra.

Classsification of Yajnas

Yajnas have been classified in different modes. We present here the different classifications of Yajnas based on their origin, time of performance, derivatives and importance.

  • Yajnas are classified into two based on where their procedures have originated, viz.,
  1. Shrauta Yajnas (श्रौतयज्ञाः) based on their Vedic (Shruti) origin.
  2. Smarta Yajnas based on Smritis and Dharmashastras.
  • Yajnas are classified into three types based on the time when they are performed, namely
  1. Nitya (Daily): is that action which is performed daily. They also include other periodic activities such as Amavasya tarpanam, pitr tarpanam.
  2. Naimittika (Occasional): is attended to on particular occasion like child birth, weddings etc.
  3. Kamya (Optional) : is that which is performed to attain some special purpose such as begetting children (Putrakamesthi) or establishing victory over other kings (Rajasuya).
  • Another classification of Yajna or yaga based on principal and subsidiary actions of Yajna include
  1. Pradhana (Principal)
  2. Anga (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’.[3]

  • Vedic yajnas/yagas are divided into two[10]
  1. Prakritiyaga (Model)
  2. Vikritiyaga (Modified)

Vikritiyagas derive their procedures from the respective Prakritiyagas.

प्रकृतियागम् ॥ Prakritiyagas

In the Asvalaayana Shrautasutra based on the Rig Veda, there are a number yajnas but five among them are regarded as Prakritiyagas[10]. In the present days Prakriti yajnas mentioned in the Vedas are rarely conducted.[3]

  1. होमः ॥ Homa : Agnihotra is the Prakriti (model) of all Homas
  2. इष्टिः ॥ Isthti : Darsapurnamaasa yaga is the Prakriti (model) of all Isthis
  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

The subsidiary rituals follow their respective principal sacrifices in the performance of different sacrifices. Vikriti Yaganas like Chandika Homa, Veda Samhita Svahakara Yagas, Rudra Yagas are being performed in temples.[3]

In the context the kindling of fire, the Agnihotram mentioned as nitya karma has been discussed here and only a brief mention of Agnihotram as a part of vedic ritual during different occasions has been made.

Essential Elements of a Yajna

Vaidika yajnas have a few essential elements to conduct them. Broadly the following fundamental materials and people are required. A brief description of the requirements of all Yajnas are given below.

यजमान: ॥ Yajamana

It is prescribed by sastras that all the dvijas (the ‘twice-born,’ the men of the first three varṇas) are eligible to kindle the fires and perform the yajnas and samskaras. A brahmachari is initiated into performing Agnihotram during Upanayana with prescribed procedures and is taught the relevant mantras to conduct the agnihotram. Such an initiated brahmachari is limited to perform the samidadhanam (nityakarma of offering samidhas in the fire morning and evening).[11]

However, the Karta (कर्ता । performer) of Shrauta yajnas should be sapatinika yajamana (सपत्नीक यजमानि। A person who has a wife). Smarta yajnas such as Pakayajnas are also to be performed after marriage.

  • According to Taittriya Brahmana[12] ( one who does not have a patni or wife cannot perform yajnas.

    अयज्ञो वा एषः । योऽपत्नीकः । (Tait. Brah

  • If the yajamāna (performer of the yajna) goes on a pilgrimage along with his wife, he can carry the garhapatya fire with him or can ceremonially put it out and perform punarādhāna (re-establishing the fire) on his return.  
  • 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 with the gārhapatya fire.[13]  
  • Wife, son, pupil or a priest can perform nityakarmas such as Agnihotram, Aupasana, Samskaras etc on behalf of the yajamani in case of emergencies. Agnihotra cannot be performed by a widower, however on remarriage a widower becomes eligible to perform all yajnas[10].    
  • When the yajamana is separated from his wife and he chooses not to remarry, he can instill his wife's idol for the process of the yaga. Example : Aswamedha yaga performed by Sri Ramachandra in Ayodhya while his consort Sitadevi was in Valmiki Maharshi's ashram following the sastras laid down exceptions to some situations.(Ramayana reference needed)    

 ऋत्विक् ॥ Priest

The nitya agnihotram is performed by the karta only (given in Grhyasutras), he is the priest for it. When he is unable to perform the nityakarma wife, son or others may be designated for conducting it.

To perform all Shrauta yagas, presence of four priests is important. The चातुर्होत्र || chaaturhotra are

Hota : He is the invoker of all devatas, by reciting mantras he invites them to participate in the yagam. Hotaa is the main and oldest priest among others.

Adhvaryu : He is the executor of the yagam. He along with the yajamani play an active role in preparing the yajnavedi, collecting dravyas, cooking havis like purodasa, actual delivery of the aahutis into the fire.

Udgaata : He recites and sings the saamans. The presence of Udgaata and his assistant priests is absolute requirement in Somayagas.

Brahma : He is the protector and supervisor of the yagam. He is termed as the guardian of the yagam.

In case of Agnihotra yagam (as a part of Agnihotram yagam) it is performed by the yajamani or his son, brother, son-in-law on behalf of the the yajamani. Only in the absence of all these persons आध्वर्यु Adhvaryu is the only person who should perform the Agnihotram[10]

हवित्री - यज्ञकुण्डम् वेदि वा ॥ Kunda/Vedi

Temples (and in some homes of aahitagni's) have the brick structures for the conduct of yajna. Temples also have designated yagashalas with many vedis.

Pradhana vedi, Uttara vedi are used to set up altars. Mahavedis are used when there is a requirement of wide spaces. Pasuvedis are used in Pasuyagas. A large vedi, in the shape of Syena (eagle) is used for Somayaga[10].

Sulva sutras are the texts that describe the dimensions and geometric measurements, materials for constructing the yaga-kunda. The yaga-kunda for the three agnis are

  1. Gaarhapatya agni - It is placed to the west of the place and kindled in circular shaped kunda.
  2. Aahvaniya agni - It is placed to the east of the place, in a rectangular shaped kunda.
  3. Dakshinaagni - It is placed to the south of the place, in a semi-circular (ardhachandra) shaped kunda.

Square and triangle shaped vedi's are also used. One yagashala may contain many kundas for simultaneous performance of yajnas.

समिधा ॥ Samidha

Agnaadheya ceremony starts with the collection of arani (the samidha wood) and ends in purnaahuti (offering at the end of ceremony). 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"[14].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.

सम्भाराः ॥ Sambharas

Dravyas are poured or placed into the agnihotram using special ladles and vessals made of wood are used. A few are as follows

  • स्रुक्पात्र ॥ Sruk : It is a long ladle, called variously based on the length and is made of wood. The shape of this implement is specific - it has a bowl or depression on top of it to contain the liquid, a beak shaped curved spout to pour out the liquid and a crowtail shaped tail portion or handle for holding. It represent the female principle or Prakriti.
  • स्रुवा ॥ Sruva : Sruva is a smaller less elaborate ladle to pour liquids. It is smaller than Sruk having a small bowl or depression (diameter about the size of the thumb).
  • The most common ladles used in yajnas for pouring ajya or ghee into the agnihotram are sruk and sruva.
  • प्रोक्षणी ॥ Prokshani : It is a vessel that has a bowl or depression shaped like a lotus bud or leaf with a spout and . It is deep enough to hold water used for prokshana or purification of articles or dravyas. This water is purified by the placing of darbha blades.
  • स्थाली ॥ Sthaali : Various kinds of clay bowls. These bowls are used to hold milk, ajya aagrayana etc.
  • स्फ्य ॥ Sphya : It is a wooden sword for cutting the darbha-grass to the required size, for marking lines in yagashala for construction of kunda, for stirring boiled dravyas like purodasa, removing the upper layer of mud and digging the earth.
  • शम्या ॥ Shamyaa : A wooden peg or small stick or staff having a rounded edge and looks like a mace. It is a measuring device used along with Sphya. 

हविस् ॥ Havis

It is defined as any oblatory material (dravya) that is poured as an oblation into the fire, example - barley, rice or similar things and includes the things prepared with them such as purodasa, and charu.

व्रीहीन्यवान्वा हविषि १ (Katy. Shra. 1.9.1)[6]

Milk is mentioned as Havis in Bharadvaja Shrautasutra (1.1.2). Clarified butter, limbs of animal are also offered as havis in some yajnas (Pasubandha). There are 5 types of havis namely:

अथेमे पञ्च हविराकारा औषधं पयः पशुः सोम आज्यमिति । (Baud. Shra. 24.1)[15]

  1. औषधं ॥ Aushada (grains)
  2. पयः ॥ Payas (milk)
  3. पशुः ॥ Pashu (animal)
  4. सोम ॥ Soma (Soma)
  5. आज्यम् ॥ Ajyam (clarified butter)

Different types dravayas are which changes according to the yagas, the fires being worshipped and purpose of the yaga. The dravyas or materials being offered in agnihotram are of the following kinds

  1. Vegetable source : Soma juice, tila (sesame),
  2. Uncooked Animal source : Payaha (Milk) and milk products like dadhi (curds), ajyam (ghee), navanita (butter). Vaapa (animal fat), honey and wine.
  3. Cooked Animals/Pasu Offerings : Body parts of Goat, Cow, Sheep and Horse.
  4. Cooked : Purodasa (made of powdered rice), Odana (cooked rice), Laajah (baked rice), yavaagu (rice gruel)

Based on the type of yagas the important havis are

  • For Agnihotram : Milk
  • For Isthi : Purodasa
  • For Pasu : Pasu sacrifice (goat). Aswamedha yaga - horse.
  • For Soma yagas : Soma juice

Cooking of the havis may be done on either garhapatya or ahvaniya according to one's sutra.

 अग्निः ॥ Agni in Yajnas

Agni to be tended by a grihastha (nityakarma) is of two types. Sri. Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamiji summarizes the following essentials about Smarta and Shrautagnis.[16]

"The aupasana fire (lighted at the time of marriage from that of the groom's father) is divided into two in a ceremony called "agniyadhana". One part is called "grhyagni" or "smartagni": it is meant for rites to be performed at home. The second part is srautagni and meant for srauta rites. These two sacred fires must be preserved throughout."

 स्मार्ताग्निः॥ Smartagni

Smartagni (Grhyagni) is also called औपासनाग्निः ॥ Aupasanagni since the daily rite of औपासना ॥ Aupasana is performed in it. This is the fire contained in one "kunda" and so it is called "ekagni". The section in the Apastamba-sutras dealing with rites performed in it is called "Ekagni-kanda"(according to Yajurveda Brahmanas). Thus, this is the Agni used for performing the नित्यकर्म ॥ nityakarmas where a grihastha makes daily offerings of ghee or milk in Agni while reciting the prescribed mantras (given in Grhyasutra texts).[17]

श्रौताग्निः॥ Shrautagni or Tretagni

Shrautagni is meant for the Shrautakarmas (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 also called as the Garhapatyagni is kindled and maintained by the grihastha at the time of the vivaha samskara. One of the three sacred fires (tretagni), called "garhapatya" belongs to the master of the household. It must be kept burning in the garhapatya mound which is circular in shape. The section in the Apastamba-sutra dealing with rites performed in it is called "Tretagni-kanda". One who worships all these three Agnis is called a "Tretagni" or "Shrautin".[16][11]

One who worships the Shrauta and Grhyagnis, is called an "Ahitagni". Aupasana (in Smartagni) and Agnihotra (in Shrautagni) are the two Nityakarmas to be performed on a daily basis. All yajnas are performed in these fires.

आहिताग्निः ॥ Aahitagni

Aahitagni is the sapatinika yajamani who has established the fires by performing the Agnyadhana ceremony. He who worships Ekagni (Grhyagni) as well as the Tretagni (one of the Tretagni called Garhapatya) is known as Aahitagni.[11] One who worships all the three Agnis (Tretagni) is called a "Shrautin".

  • The grihastha who never performed any Haviryajna and never studied Vedas, and whose father or forefathers never performed yaga are not eligible to perform some yagas/yajnas. Example : Somayaga[10].
  • Eligibility for a grihastha to perform other yagas or yajnas will be obtained once he regularly performs Aupaasana at his house on a daily basis and after he learns the relevant vaidika procedures to conduct them [10][17]. For example: Agnisthoma is the first of the 5 Jyotisthomas or Somayaga. Performance of haviryajna and some isthis is a prerequisite for conducting a Somayaga.

The tradition of ‘Aahitagnis’ and ‘Shrauta priests’ continues in South India and they perform Vedic rituals as and when possible. These priests inherited the tradition of Vedic ritual practices from their ancestors and perform Vedic rituals even today.[3]

श्रौतयज्ञाः ॥ Shrauta Yajnas

Shrauta Yajnas are performed in the shrauta-agnis which consist of three fires called as Tretagni (Garhapatya, Ahvaniya and Dakshinagni). Different sutras mention different shrauta yajnas.

Shabdakalpadruma[18] the following Shrauta Yajnas are summarized as given in the table below.

तत्र श्रौताग्निकृत्य- हविर्यज्ञाः सप्त । यथा । आग्न्याधानं तदेवाग्निहोत्रम् १ दर्शपौर्णमासौ २ पिण्डपितृ-यज्ञः ३ आग्रयणम् ४ चातुर्म्मास्यः ५ निरूढ-पशुबन्धः ६ सौत्रामणिः ७ ।

श्रौताग्निसप्तसंस्थाः । यथा । सोमयागः स एवाग्निष्टोमः १ अत्यग्निष्टोमः २ उक्थ्यः ३ षोडशी ४ वाजपेयः ५ स द्बिविधः संस्था कुरुश्च । अतिरात्रः ६ अप्तूर्य्यामः ७ ।

Meaning : Shrauta Yajnas are 14 in number. They are divided into two main groups : Haviryajnas and Somayajnas[10][19].

Shrauta Yajnas
Haviryajnas Somayajnas
अग्निहोत्रम् ॥ Agnihotra अग्निष्टोम ॥ Agnistoma
दर्शपूर्णमासेष्टिः ॥ Darsapurnamasa अत्यग्निष्टोम ॥ Atyagnistoma
आग्रयणम् ॥ Agrayana उक्थ्य ॥ Ukthya
पिण्डपितृयज्ञ ॥ Pindapitryajna षोडशी ॥ Sodashi
चातुर्मास्य ॥ Chaturmasya वाजपेय ॥ Vajapeya
निरूढपशुबन्ध ॥ Nirudha Pashubandha अतिरात्र ॥ Atiratra
सौत्रामणी ॥ Sautramani आप्तोर्याम ॥ Aptoryam

The most common of these yajnas is the Agnihotra, where daily havis of milk is given in the three fires, every morning and evening. Apart from Agnihotra, Darsapurnamasa (performed on New and Full Moon days) and Chaturmasya (performed at the beginning of three seasons) are also important and conducted in a few places in the present days.

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 great yajnas (sacrifices) which last for many days. All the four Vedas have their Shrautasutras.[10]

Vedas Shrautasutras
Rig Veda Avalayana, 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.

Smartha Karmas

Smaarta karmas are based on the procedures directly given in Smritis. Smritis include the Dharmasastras, though are based on the Srutis (vedas) are modified versions.

Smritis are 18 in number. Upa-smritis are also 18 in number. All aspects of the worldly existence are covered extensively in Smritis, in sutra format on topics including varna-ashrama dharmas, all aspects of relationship between man and woman, rajadharmas, how to conduct daily activities such as eating, cleaning, bathing etc, pujas, yajnas and yagas, different aspects related to shraddha karmas.[17]

Texts of Asvalaayana, Aapasthamba, Baudhayana include both Shrauta and Smaarta karmas procedures to conduct yajnas.    

All rites in which the aupasana fire is used and pertain to an individual and his family are "Grhyakarmas". They are related exclusively to the family and are not very elaborate. Even so they are conducive to the good of the world outside also. Grhyasutras deal with such rites. They belong to the Smritis and so are called "Smarta-karmas". The seven Pakayajnas also belong to this category.[16]

The list of seven Pakayajnas according to Apastamba Grhyasutras as elucidated in the commentary of Haradatta, include

तत्र च सप्त पाकयज्ञसंस्थाः - औपासनहोमो, वैश्वदेवं, पार्वण, मष्टका, मासिश्राद्धं, सर्पबलिं, रीशानबलिरिति ।[20]

  • औपासनहोमः ॥ Aupasanahoma
  • वैश्वदेवः ॥ Vaishvadeva
  • पार्वण ॥ Parvana
  • अष्टका ॥ Ashtaka
  • मासिश्राद्धम् ॥ Masishraddha
  • सर्पबलिः॥ Sarpabali
  • इशानबलिः ॥ Ishanabali

पञ्चमहायज्ञाः || Panchamahayajnas

Of the nityakarmas the Panchamahayajnas are very important to be performed by the Grhastha everyday. The Panchamahayajnas (पञ्चमहायज्ञाः) are described in many Grhyasutras. According to Asvalayana Grhyasutras

अथातः पञ्चयज्ञाः १

देवयज्ञो भूतयज्ञः पितृयज्ञो ब्रह्मयज्ञो मनुष्ययज्ञ इति २

तद्यदग्नौ जुहोति स देवयज्ञो यद्बलिङ्करोति स भूतयज्ञो यत्पितृभ्यो ददाति स पितृयज्ञो यत्स्वाध्यायमधीयते स ब्रह्मयज्ञो यन्मनुष्येभ्यो ददाति स मनुष्ययज्ञ इति ३

तानेतान्यज्ञानहरहः कुर्वीत ४ १ (Asva. Grhy. Sutr. 3.1.1 to 4)[21]

Meaning : Now the Panchayajnas. The yajna for devatas, yajna for (other living) beings, yajna for forefathers, yajna for Brahma, yajna for human beings.

Here when offerings are made in Agni, this yajna is for the devatas. That which is offered as bali, is the yajna for other beings. That (pindas) which is given for forefathers, is the pitru yajna. That study (of the vedas) is the brahma yajna, and that which given to men, is the manushya yajna. These five yajnas are to be performed everyday.

After the Pratah Homa (according to Hirayakeshi sutras) or after the Madhyaanika Sandhya (according to Asvalaayana sutras) or after the Vaisvedeva, Brahma yajna has to be performed. It includes the study of vedas, itihasas and puranas and slight variations in the timings are seen according to the shakaas followed[14].

Vaisvedeva is performed as part of pratahhoma (morning) and the evening agnikaryam according to Asvalaayana and Taittriya shakaas. Cooked rice (Anna) is offered in Agni and other deities as part of the Vaisvedeva. Similarly in the Agnihotra homam of Shrauta yagas also odanam or cooked rice is offered as havis to different deities[14].

Yajnas and Symbolism

Invocation of Agni in a vedi (altar) and offering of aahutis is performed in yajnas. However, we see that while in Samhitas and Brahmanas yajnas involved a ritualistic process, they are mentioned as mental processes as one gradually progresses to Upanishads. Vaidika yajnas are also categorized into external and internal rituals, depending upon how they are performed.

External rituals are physical, in which visible dravyas such as milk and ghee are offered to devatas.

Internal rituals are mental or spiritual, in which the mind and the senses are withdrawn and engaged in contemplative or meditative practices, which culminated in self-absorption. In the internal rituals, the sacrificial model is internalized or visualized by mind by a process called Parikalpana. The mind and the body become the field or the sacrificial pit, breath becomes fire, whatever that is offered to the body such as food or pleasure becomes the offering. As man moves above in the series of ashramas from grihasta to vaanaprastha, the elaborateness of the yagas also decrease.

Aranyakas deal with a form of meditative yajnas wherein water is offered in place of milk as a substitute for it.

Upanishads deal with yagas as mental processes and fire symbolises jnana.

All activities in the limitless expansion of the universe are said to have generated from a grand eternal यज्ञ || Yajna.

Atharva Veda (9.15.14) describes Yajna as:

अयम् यज्न विस्ह्वस्य भुवनस्य नभेएहि || ayam yajna vishvasya bhuvanasya nabheehiâ ||

Meaning : Yajna as the fundamental process of manifestation of nature.

Importance of Yajnas

In physical terms, Yajna (होम | homam, हवन | havan or अग्निहोत्र | agnihotra) is a process of herbal sacrifices in holy fire aimed at the finest utilization of the subtle properties of sacrificed matter with the help of the thermal energy of fire and the sound energy of the mantras. Modern scientific research has also shown significant therapeutic applications of Yajna and also affirmed its potential in purification of environment. 

Literally speaking, Yajna means - selfless sacrifice for noble purposes. Sacrificing ego, selfishness and material attachments and adopting rational thinking, humane compassion and dedicated creativity for the welfare of all - is indeed the best Yajna which should be performed by all human beings. The philosophy of Yajna teaches a way of living in the society in harmony, a living style to promote and protect higher humane values in the society - which is indeed the basis of the ideal human culture.

Vedic yajnas (other names include yajna, yagn, yajnas) are performed to create positive effects and avoid unwanted effects in the different areas of life of individuals and nations and to have the best possible nature support. Many people use the yajna or yajna words instead of yajna, the meaning of it is the same. We use the vedic word because yajnas are based on the knowledge of the ancient saints of vedic tradition. Vedic yajnas are done by specially trained वैदिक पण्डित || vedic pandits (pundits), who are the experts of vedic ceremonies, performances, and who live their lives' according to the rules of vedic tradition. Yajnas are performed through the recitation of sound or vedic mantras to reach certain result. This is vedic music, vedic vibration. It is possible to use them as prevention but it is also possible to use them for promoting the different areas of life. The benefits of the yajna reigning are the vedic health, wealth, harmony and evolution. Head pandit is the expert of ज्योतिष || jyotish (astrologer), that vedic science which can be used to predict the life events of the individuals and which can be the well-grounded base of suggesting the necessary yajna services for a balanced life.


Ritual versus knowledge is a much debated topic. Shankara in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras states that the rightful observance of the agnihotra and other rites are meant for those desirous of attaining Heaven and other enjoyments, and the understanding of the rightful doctrine of the Soul is meant for those desirous of emancipation. Reference needed


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Sen, Chitrabhanu. (1978) A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals. Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras. Delhi : Concept Publishing Company
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1941) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law) Volume 2, Part 2. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Radhakrishna Bhat, N. Vedic Ritual Tradition of Karnataka, Vedic Heritage Portal.
  4. Purvamimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (Adhyaya 4)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sastri, Mahadeva. A. (1893) The Apastamba Paribhasha Sutra (With the commentaries of Kapardisvamin and Haradattacharya). Mysore : The Government Branch Press.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Katyayana Shrauta Sutras (Adhyaya 1)
  7. Nighantu Shastram (Adhyaya 3)
  8. Shrimad Bhagavadgita (Adhyaya 4) from Gitasupersite with various commentaries for slokas.
  9. Kashikar, C. G. (2003) Baudhayana Srautasutra, Volume One. Delhi : Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 Purkayastha, Dipanjona (2014) Ph. D Thesis from Assam University : A Study of the Asvalayana srauta sutra with reference to the principal sacrifices
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Kannan, P. R. Balabodha Sangraha - 3 (Topic Efficacies of Agni Upasana) Kanchi Kaamkoti Peetham
  12. Taittriya Brahmana Kanda 3 (
  13. http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Agnihotra#cite_note-1
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Essence of Dharmasindhu - Homa Prakriyas by Sri. V. D. N. Rao as given in Kamakoti.org
  15. Kashikar, C. G. (2003) Baudhayana Srautasutra, Volume Four. Delhi : Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Swamiji, (2000) Hindu Dharma (Collection of Swamiji's Speeches between 1907 to 1994)Mumbai : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Venkateswara Rao. Potturi (2010) Paaramaathika Padakosam Hyderabad: Msko Books
  18. Shabdakalpadruma (See Haviryajnas under Yaga)
  19. Introduction to Rituals (Vedic Heritage Portal)
  20. Apastamba Grhyasutras with commentary by Haradatta (Anukula Vritti)
  21. Asvalaayana Grhya Sutras