Panchamahayajnas (पञ्चमहायज्ञाः)

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Panchamahayajnas (Samskrit : पञ्चमहायज्ञाः) or the five great sacrifices is a very important part of the daily functions of a householder consisting of a set of five-fold duties. The performance of these five yajnas is conducive to the spiritual evolution or growth of a man. An individual in Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः) observes these mahayajnas on a daily basis and gradually learns that he is not a separate entity, isolated creature or isolated unit, but is a part of a great whole.

परिचयः || Introduction

Dharma shastras proclaim that samskaras are a series of sacrifices and ceremonies indicating the passage of various stages of the human life and to signify entry to a particular ashrama. All human beings, especially the Dvija (द्विजः । twice born - called so after upanayana) and Grhasthas (गृहस्थ-s) are required to perform a number of sacrifices with oblations for devatas, ancestors and guardians in accordance with the vedic mantras laid down for a righteous living. Scholars differ in their opinion about the number of samskaras being forty and a few saying 25 and 16.

संस्काराः || Samskaras

Forty Samskaras (संस्काराः) have been prescribed by Gautama Smriti[1], as a part of purificatory activities, for not just the physical body but the Jivatma also and for removal of papas (पाप | sins) accrued in different ways. They are,

  • संस्काराः || Samskaras (10 of the षोडश-संस्काराः ॥ Shodasa samskaras)
  • वेदव्रताः || Vedavratas (4)
  • पञ्चमहायज्ञाः || Panchamahayajnas (5)
  • पाकयज्ञाः || Pakayajnas (7)
  • हविर्यज्ञाः || Haviryajnas (7)
  • सोमयज्ञाः || Somayajnas (7)

Panchamahayajnas are performed by a person in the Grhastha ashrama. As a student, he obtains knowledge by studying the sacred scriptures given by great Rishis and since he lives in a group or society, he is helped and associated with fellow-beings like friends and relatives. The main goal of students of Brahmacharya ashrama is to absorb all the knowledge, during which time he is supported by the persons already in Grhastha ashrama for food, clothing and shelter and needs of everyday life. The great seers and pitrus (पितृ | ancestors) have to be remembered with gratitude for their contribution to his spiritual development.[2]

Once a Brahmachari crosses this ashrama, his duties become multifold as he enters the Grhastha ashrama. The physical body constitutes the panchabhutas and is obtained from his parents, nourished by the milk of cows, grains, vegetables and fruits. The Devas and the Pitrus bless him in his endeavors and activities of daily life. The five sense organs, with whose help he conducts his life, are a blessing of the Devas and thus, he learns to be grateful to the Devas who gave him the ability and intellect.

Protecting sub-human beings such as cattle, dogs, ants, birds, medicinal plants and trees has been an integral system of Sanatana Dharma. The householder on whose shoulders rest the responsibility and well-being of all animate and inanimate, is thus entrusted to care for these speechless beings with due dignity towards them. Food, milk and grains are all provided by this bountiful nature and man owes gratitude to plants and trees with reverence. Thus, in the spiritual evolution of man he learns humility and compassion by providing for and protecting them. Garuda Purana details the importance of Cow not only for providing the material things required for sustenance in this world but greatly stresses the absolute requirement of a Cow, which helps cross the Vaitarini river (a river which is very difficult to cross on the way to Yamaloka), when the soul is transiting from the material world to the spiritual world[3].

Therefore, he owes a fivefold debt to Nature -

  • to his parents and ancestors (for the physical body and lineage),
  • the rishis (for the knowledge of the Vedas),
  • devas (for their blessings),
  • nature (including the animate ie. plants and animals and inanimate ie. the panchabhutas) and
  • fellow human beings (for their support in society).

He must pay back his debt by performing these five sacrifices daily. Further, numerous insects are killed by him unconsciously during walking, sweeping, grinding, cooking, etc. This sin is removed by performance of these five sacrifices.[4]

In addition to these daily rites, the householder has also to perform certain monthly ceremonies such as offering oblations to the ancestors on the new-moon day and the observance of the vow of Ekadashi (fast on the eleventh day of every lunar fortnight).  

पञ्चमहायज्ञाः || Panchamahayajnas

Panchamahayajnas have been described in different texts as follows

  • Shatapata Brahmana emphasises the grhastha dharma of performing the five yajnas in पञ्चमहायज्ञब्राह्मणम् of Adhyaya 5 of Kanda 11 thus,[5]

पञ्चैव महायज्ञाः। तान्येव महासत्त्राणि भूतयज्ञो मनुष्ययज्ञः पितृयज्ञो देवयज्ञो ब्रह्मयज्ञ इति - ११.५.६.[१]

pañcaiva mahāyajñāḥ। tānyēva mahāsattrāṇi bhūtayajñō manuṣyayajñaḥ pitr̥yajñō dēvayajñō brahmayajña iti - 11.5.6.[1]

Summary: Only five are the mahayajnas. These are the mahasatras. They are yajnas for the bhutas, all created beings; yajna for manushyas, the human beings; yajna for pitrs, the ancestors; yajna for devas, residing in different aspects of creation; yajna for Brahman, the font of all knowledge.[6]

  • Manusmrti gives the definitions and essence of Panchamahayajnas in the 3rd Chapter (shlokas 67 to 83).[7]

पञ्च सूना गृहस्थस्य चुल्ली पेषण्युपस्करः । कण्डनी चोदकुम्भश्च बध्यते यास्तु वाहयन् || ३.६८ (Manu Smri. 3.68)[7]

pañca sūnā gṛhasthasya cullī peṣaṇyupaskaraḥ । kaṇḍanī codakumbhaśca badhyate yāstu vāhayan || ३.६८ (Manu Smri. 3.68)

Meaning : For a grhastha (householder), five apparatus namely a sifter, a grinding stone, a broom, a mortar and a water-pot are unavoidable. It is believed that when these instruments are used for daily activities, a householder incurs sin (पापम्) - attributable to killing of numerous small beings such as ants, insects and such minute organisms unconsciously.

अध्यापनं ब्रह्मयज्ञः पितृयज्ञस्तु तर्पणम् । होमो दैवो बलिर्भौती नृयज्ञोऽतिथिपूजनम् ॥ ३-७० (Manu. Smri. 3.70)

adhyāpanaṃ brahmayajñaḥ pitṛyajñastu tarpaṇam । homo daivo balirbhautī nṛyajño'tithipūjanam ॥ 3-70 (Manu. Smri. 3.70)

  • Garuda Purana (Adhyaya 115 according to Shabdakalpadruma and Vachaspatya[8]) (1.213.144)[9] cites the above Manusmriti shloka (3.70) for Panchamahayajnas.

Meaning : Teaching of Vedas is called Brahmayajna, (offering of) Tarpana is called Pitryajna, performance of Homa is Devayajna, offering of oblations is Bhutayajna, and the hospitality to guests is Nryajna.[10]

  • Panchamahayajnas have been described in Grhyasutras. Given in Ashvalayana Grhyasutras as below

अथातः पञ्चयज्ञाः | १ देवयज्ञो भूतयज्ञः पितृयज्ञो ब्रह्मयज्ञो मनुष्ययज्ञ इति | २[11]

athātaḥ pañcayajñāḥ | 1 devayajño bhūtayajñaḥ pitṛyajño brahmayajño manuṣyayajña iti | 2

तद्यदग्नौ जुहोति स देवयज्ञो यद्बलिङ्करोति स भूतयज्ञो यत्पितृभ्यो ददाति स पितृयज्ञो यत्स्वाध्यायमधीयते स ब्रह्मयज्ञो यन्मनुष्येभ्यो ददाति स मनुष्ययज्ञ इति | ३ तानेतान्यज्ञानहरहः कुर्वीत | ४ (Asva. Grhy. Sutr. 3.1.1 to 4)[11]

tadyadagnau juhoti sa devayajño yadbaliṅkaroti sa bhūtayajño yatpitṛbhyo dadāti sa pitṛyajño yatsvādhyāyamadhīyate sa brahmayajño yanmanuṣyebhyo dadāti sa manuṣyayajña iti | 3 tānetānyajñānaharahaḥ kurvīta | 4 (Asva. Grhy. Sutr. 3.1.1 to 4)

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 gives to men, is the manushya yajna. These five yajnas are to be performed everyday.

As given in Taittriya Aranyaka

  • The ancient rishis have prescribed these Panchamahayagnas in Taittriya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 2 and Anuvaka 10[12] given along with Sayanacharya's bhashya) [13] for removal of the sins accrued by the grhastha.

तद्विधिप्रसङ्गेन पञ्चमहायज्ञान्विधत्ते |

tadvidhiprasaṅgena pañcamahāyajñānvidhatte |

Meaning : The procedure to perform panchamahayajnas is now given

पञ्च वा एते महायज्ञा: सतति प्रतायन्ते सतति संतिष्ठन्ते | देवयज्ञ: पितृयज्ञो भूतयज्ञो मनुष्ययज्ञो ब्रह्मयज्ञो इति-, इति ||[13]

pañca vā ete mahāyajñā: saṃtati pratāyante satati saṃtiṣṭhante | devayajña: pitṛyajño bhūtayajño manuṣyayajño brahmayajño iti-, iti ||

Meaning : Five of these mahayajnas are observed and completed day after day, on a daily basis. They are Devayajna, Pitruyajna, Bhutayajna, Manushyayajna and Brahmayajna.

देवयज्ञः || Deva Yajna 

तत्र देवयज्ञस्य लक्षणमाह - यदग्नौ जुहोत्यपि समिधं तद्देवयज्ञ: संतिष्ठते - इति ||

पुरोडाशादिहविर्मुख्यं तदलाभे समिधमप्यग्नौ देवानुद्दिशञ्जुहोतीति यत्सोऽयं देवयज्ञः || (Saya. Bhas.)[13]

tatra devayajñasya lakṣaṇamāha - yadagnau juhotyapi samidhaṃ taddevayajña: saṃtiṣṭhate - iti ||

puroḍāśādihavirmukhyaṃ tadalābhe samidhamapyagnau devānuddiśañjuhotīti yatso'yaṃ devayajñaḥ || (Saya. Bhas.)

Meaning : The characteristics of Devayajna are now said - Wherein the samidha (समिधः | sacrificial material ) is offered into Agni, that completes Devayajna. According to Sayanacharya (सायणाचार्यः), Purodasha (पुरोडाशः | a special kind of havis made of cooked rice) is to be offered primarily as a ahuti (आहूतिः). However, when that is unavailable, samidha is offered for Devatas and such a practice is called Devayajna.

Deva Yajna, is when ahutis are offered to the celestial beings in the form of milk, ghee, herbs, and camphor offered into the Agnihotra (अग्निहोत्रम् | sacrificial fire). Havis are the offerings for Devatas made with the utterance of Svaha (स्वाहा) at the end of the mantra. Homa or Havan promotes rains which give good crops and harvest.

पितृयज्ञः || Pitru Yajna 

पितृयज्ञस्य लक्षणमाह - यत्पितृभ्यः स्वधा करोत्यप्यपस्तत्पितृयज्ञः संतिष्ठते-,इति ।

तत्र पिण्डदानासंभवे जलमात्रमपि पितृभ्यः स्वधाऽस्त्विति स्वधाशब्देन यद्ददाति सोऽयं पितृयज्ञः ---|| (Saya. Bhas)[13]

pitṛyajñasya lakṣaṇamāha - yatpitṛbhyaḥ svadhā karotyapyapastatpitṛyajñaḥ saṃtiṣṭhate-,iti ।

tatra piṇḍadānāsaṃbhave jalamātramapi pitṛbhyaḥ svadhā'stviti svadhāśabdena yaddadāti so'yaṃ pitṛyajñaḥ ---|| (Saya. Bhas)

According to Sayanacharya, Pitru Yajna, is where Pindapradana (पिण्डप्रदानम् | offering of pindas made of rice) is made into fire with the chanting of svadha (स्वधा), but when that is not possible, even water offered to Pitrus with svadhakara (स्वधाकारः) i.e using the mantras with svadha in the end or offering anything into the fire with svadha constitutes the Pirtuyajna.

Generally tarpana (तर्पणम् | offering of water and pinda or offering of rice) is made to the ancestors with the utterance of Svadha. Offering of Tila (तिलः | sesame) to pitrudevatas is also practiced.

भूतयज्ञ: || Bhuta Yajna 

भूतयज्ञस्य लक्षणमाह - यद्भूतेभ्यो बलिँ् हरति तद्भूतयज्ञ: संतिष्ठते -, इति ||[13]

bhūtayajñasya lakṣaṇamāha - yadbhatebhyo balim̐ harati tadbhūtayajña: saṃtiṣṭhate -, iti ||

Meaning: Characteristics of Bhutayajna is now said - that bali offered to Bhutas (other life forms); that completes the bhutayajna.

वैश्वदेवानुष्ठानादूर्ध्वं बहिर्देशे वायसादिभ्यो भूतेभ्यो यद्बलिप्रदानं सोऽयं भूतयज्ञ: || (Saya. Bhas)[13]

vaiśvadevānuṣṭhānādūrdhvaṃ bahirdeśe vāyasādibhyo bhūtebhyo yadbalipradānaṃ so'yaṃ bhūtayajña: ||

Vaishvedeva (वैश्वदेवः) is the offering of food to Agni, without which food cannot be cooked. Bhuta Yajna involves feeding of animals, especially cows, ants and birds like crows that are present in the outside environment (not domesticated) and the ritual is called Balipradana (बलिप्रदानम्).

Every temple in the past had Bali peetha (बलिपीठम्) on which the food (after Vaishvedeva offering) is placed for feeding the hungry animals and birds.

मनुष्ययज्ञ: || Manushya Yajna 

मनुष्ययज्ञस्य लक्षणमाह - यद्ब्राह्मणेभ्योऽन्नं ददाति तन्मनुष्ययज्ञ: संतिष्ठते -, इति ||[13]

manuṣyayajñasya lakṣaṇamāha - yadbrāṃhmaṇebhyo'nnaṃ dadāti tanmanuṣyayajña: saṃtiṣṭhate -, iti ||

Meaning : Characteristics of the Manushyayajna is now said - when anna (अन्नम् | food) is given to Brahmanas, that completes the Manushyayajna.

This is the fourth yajna and includes providing hospitality, food and water to hungry, uninvited atithi (अतिथिः | guest). अतिथि देवोभव | Atithi devobhava is the humane concept wherein any person irrespective of their birth, age and gender are offered essential items such as food and clothing without accepting anything in return.

ब्रह्मयज्ञ: || Brahma Yajna 

ब्रह्मयज्ञस्य लक्षणमाह - यत्स्वाध्यायमधीयीतैकामप्यृचं यजु: सामं वा तद्ब्रह्मयज्ञ: संतिष्ठते - , इति ||

स्वस्यासाधारणत्वेन पितृपितामहादिपरम्परया प्राप्ता वेदशाखा स्वाध्यायः | तत्र विद्यमानमृगादीनामन्यतममेकमपि वाक्यमधीयीतेति यत्सोऽयं ब्रह्मयज्ञः--- || (Saya. Bhas)[13]

brahmayajñasya lakṣaṇamāha - yatsvādhyāyamadhīyītaikāmapyṛcaṃ yaju: sāmaṃ vā tadbrahmayajña: saṃtiṃṣṭhate - , iti ||

svasyāsādhāraṇatvena pitṛpitāmahādiparamparayā prāptā vedaśākhā svādhyāyaḥ | tatra vidyamānamṛgādīnāmanyatamamekamapi vākyamadhīyīteti yatso'yaṃ brahmayajñaḥ--- || (Saya. Bhas)

Meaning : The characteristics of Brahmayajna are now said - when svadhyaya (स्वाध्यायः | regular study) of at least one of the Rig, Yajus or Sama veda is performed, that completes the Brahmayajna.

According to Sayanacharya, svadhyaya is that where the vedashakha (वेदशाखा) is conventionally handed down according to tradition by the forefathers (such as father and grandfather) to a person. A study of at least one word in such traditionally handed down veda is said to be Brahmayajna.

This sacrifice is dedicated to the Vedas and their seers (Rishis) in the form of regular study (svadhyaya) of the sacred vedas and the teaching of it to deserving students (अध्यापनम् । adhyapana).

These five functions are imperatives on every householder and they are rightly regarded as Mahayajnas (great sacrifices). These are the dharmas of a person in Grhastha ashrama.

Even if at times one is incapable of doing Manushya yajna, one must perform the Brahma and Deva yajnas . The offerings given to gods in the sacrificial fire goes to Surya and he sends rains to the earth which enable the plants to grow. Thus, food is obtained and Vedas say this is the cause for the living beings to increase. A share of food is given to them as a token of one's remembrance of them. The quantity that is offered is not important; it is the mental state of expressing gratitude and feeling that is associated with it that is of consequence in conducting these yajnas. Just as how all animals and objects depend on the life-breath for living, Brahmachari, Vanaprastha (वानप्रस्थः) and Sanyasi are dependent on the Grhastha for sustenance. Therefore, the Grhastha ashrama is the best of all ashramas according to Manusmriti (chap 3).

संवादः || Discussion

Video Courtesy : Setu Foundation, Benguluru

These, in ordinary religious parlance, are called the Panchamahayajnas, or the five great sacrifices which a householder, especially in India, has to perform. These sacrifices mean the way in which one recognizes one’s own self in the variety of creation that he sees before him, by means of sympathy, consideration and feeling for others[14]. That is the first step that one takes before moving on to the difficult task of complete identification with the Atma (आत्मन् । Inner Being) of all things.

The sympathy and compassion that one psychologically exercises in respect of others is the first step. The identity with others is a more difficult thing to feel and maintain that bhavana (feeling). To feel for others is easier than to become others though that is the ideal. So, the Upanishad tells us, try to feel for others first and manifest this feeling in your actions before you totally become, or aspire to become one with them.


  1. Kannan. P. R. Translation of Article : Initial Samskaras from Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham
  2. A Short History of Religious and Philosophic Thought In India By Swami Krishnananda. Divine Life Society
  3. The Process of Spiritual Practice (Chap 4) By Swami Krishnananda
  4. Mani, Vettam. (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass.
  5. Shatapatha Brahmana (Kanda 11 Adhyaya 5)
  6. Bajaj, Jitendra and Mandayam, Srinivas. (1996) Annam Bahu Kurvita. Madras: Centre for Policy Studies Madras
  7. 7.0 7.1 Manusmriti (Third Adhyaya)
  8. Vachaspatyam (See Under Yajna)
  9. Garuda Purana (Acharakanda Adhyaya 213)
  10. Shastri, J. L (1979) The Garuda Purana, Part 2 Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Asvalaayana Grhya Sutras
  12. Taittriya Aranyaka (Prapathaka 2 Anuvaka 10)
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Taittriya Aranyaka (2.10) with Sayanabhashyam in Pages 144 to 146
  14. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad by Swami Krishnananda (Discourse-12)