Yagya, a prayer by the sacred fire
History, components, types, spiritual meaning
What is yagya
The word "yagya" (yajna) can already be found in the early Vedic literature of the second millennium BC. In the Rigveda and Yajurveda yagya means "worshiping, devotion to something, prayer and praise, form of offering".
In post-Vedic literature, this concept meant any form of ritual, worshiping or ceremony, expressing devotion with actual or symbolic offerings.
In the most commonly used meaning, yagya is a variety of traditional rituals of Hinduism, performed in front of a sacred fire by one person or a group of people. During a ceremony of yagya, a person, with the help of the god of fire Agni, offers and passes various offerings to the deities.
In a broader sense, the word "yagya" means not only rituals of worshiping, but any action done with a sense of offering to God, a prayer, a mindful repeating of the God's name, a meditation.
History of yagya
Yagya was an ancient tradition, described in the Vedic scriptures, but the roots of this ritual go to the religious practices of even more ancient peoples who had inhabited the territory of modern India. Yagya is already mentioned in the Gandharva Veda, where the gods themselves arranged and held the ceremony. In the Rigveda yagya is a central concept.
The tradition of yagya grew out of the ritual of offering to the gods through libations into sacred fire. The chanting of mantras, hymns and sacred songs, as well as offerings put into the fire were a manifestation of hospitality for the Vedic gods. The offerings were transferred to other gods with the help of Agni, the god of fire. In response, the gods gave their gifts and blessings. Thus, it was a spiritual interchange between gods and a man.
Yagya was an important ceremonial worshiping with or without using sacrificial fire. Sometimes it was connected with social events.
Till nowadays the practice of yagya has undergone many changes and modifications.
At the time of the Upanishads, the meaning of the concept of "yagya" has evolved from a ritual offering to the gods, conducted by priests around the fires, to any personal behavior, action or knowledge, performed as an act of devotion and self-giving. This understanding comes from the most ancient Vedic Upanishads, for example, the Chandogya Upanishad (about 700 BC).
Yagya has also changed as a result of the emergence of other traditions, for example, Buddhism. Ultimately, the understanding of yagya has expanded to include not only rituals, but also internal, mental offerings. These ideas of evolution from external actions to inner knowledge were emphasized in many sutras and special texts - the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Chandogya Upanishad, the Kaushitaki Upanishad, and the Pranagihotra Upanishad.
The Vedic text of the Shatapatha Upanishad defines yagya as a refusal from something that is a value to a person, it can be an offering to God, as well as donations and gifts, offered during the preparations for yagya. The text recommends cow milk, ghee oil, grains, seeds, flowers, water, and baked goods (for example, rice breads) as such offerings or gifts.
The components of yagya
1. motivation or feelings of a person, who organizes yagya,
2. svadhaya — the study of sacred texts, mindful self-study,
3. participation in rituals,
5. blessing of the gods,
6. results of yagya.
1. Motivation, inspiring the conduction of yagya, is connected with the desire to get its results. If a person follows the recommendations of the sacred texts and is virtuous, with the help of yagya he can realize his desires. But at higher levels, a prayer by the fire itself becomes the goal.
2. The word "svadhaya" means the process of studying the corresponding Veda and Vedanga, dedicated to the fulfillment of yagya. From these texts, a person extracts knowledge of rituals, ways of carrying them out, and actions needed to achieve the desired results (be it material or spiritual ones or the liberation from rebirths).
3. Conducting yagya. In carrying out the prayer by the fire, there are various stages. It begins with the cleansing of the place and the altar. Then the items necessary for carrying out the yagya are gathered, a clergyman is invited to hold the ceremony. Then the material for prayer is prepared. It is followed by the decoration of the altar and inviting the god of fire, Agni. A prayer ends with the cleansing of the place and receiving of fruits.
The main participant of yagya is the one who organizes it — a yajamani. He conducts the rituals himself or attracts a brahmin priest. Any basic yagya requires that the yajamani is accompanied by his wife.
To perform complex rituals, an assistant is needed for a brahmin, the main figure performing yagya rituals. The duties of the first assistant are to measure the ground and to construct the future altar, as described in Yajurveda. The second assistant is a priest calling to the gods by the repetition of certain mantras. The third assistant sings the prayer hymns written in Samaveda.
4. Offerings. The Vedic rituals of yagya, held at the square altar, are called Vedi. Usually one or more lights are lit. People sit around the kundas (hearthes) and throw into the fire burning in them pieces of wood, mixed with oiled seeds and other ingredients that can burn. This offering is called samagri (or yajaka, istam).
During yagya it is customary to sacrifice, symbolically offering to the gods some ghee, dairy products, grains, pastries, fruits, flowers, clothes, money, and other objects and substances. A total of 108 various subjects will help a person to achieve different goals.
5. Deities. Yagya is impossible without the participation of gods. They accept offerings and give their blessings, and thus, the result of yagya is achieved — a fulfillment of one's desires.
If yagya is performed without specific goals, the blessing of gods is its final result. Special mantras are the main force that activates the divine energy during the ceremony of yagya. Deities are mantra-buddha, that is those who produce results if they are summoned through a prayer or a repetition of a mantra. Therefore, the results of any form of worshiping will certainly come.
The substances used in yagya as offerings can be compared to food for deities. Thanks to them, the deities gain strength and bring prosperity to a man. So, with the help of a prayer by fire, a person gives food to deities, and deities help this person. The interaction of people and gods gives prosperity to everything that exists.
Yagya is impossible without Fire, Agni. This is the central deity of yagya. The offerings are given first to Agni, who brings them to other deities. Agni personifies the unifying principle.
6. The results of yagya. There are two types of yagya, depending on the purpose for which it is carried out.
The first type. To receive material goods, a long life, wealth, good harvest, the acquisition of friends, health, righteousness and heavenly bliss. Such yagya helps a person to fulfill his aspirations, and also promotes success in his social life.
In White Yajurveda it is written (18.12):
«May my rice plants and my barley, and my beans and my sesame,
and my kidney-beans and my vetches, and my pearl millet and my proso millet,
and my sorghum and my wild rice, and my wheat and my lentils,
prosper by sacrifice.».
Yagya is also conducted to destroy the evil forces, to receive protection from them.
Satisfying one's desires, a person gradually can overcome them. Thus, he comes to the following purposes of carrying out the ceremony of yagya.
The second type. Yagya without any desires, as a sort of debt. Such worshiping helps in purifying one's past karma, but is even more effective as a promotion of good in everything around. This action without expectation of results is revealed in the concept of karma yoga, described in Bhagavad Gita. Such yagya brings the liberation from rebirth.
Types of yagya
Conducting a ceremony yagya depends on its type. Some yagyas last only a few minutes, others are held for several hours, days or even months. Some yagyas are held in a narrow circle, while others are public events.
There are yagyas, which must be performed regularly. For example, the Pancha Mahayagya (the Five Great Sacrifices). The five prayers of the Pancha Mahayagya should be done daily: offerings to deities, sages, the souls of dead, nature, and people.
Praying to deities and offering them gifts ad sacrifices, a person is freed from his debts to gods. Studying the Vedas, spreading and passing them on to succeeding generations, a person is freed from his debts to the wise. Offering gifts to the souls of the dead ancestors, continuing the race, properly nurturing their offspring, giving a good reputation to the family, a person is freed of debts to his ancestors. Showing compassion for the neighbor, meeting guests with hospitality, helping the needy, forgiving those who were wrong, doing good deeds, a person is freed of his debts to people. The offering to nature is a manifestation of compassion for all living beings. It includes abstention from violence and murder, perception of oneself as part of nature, careful treatment of it.
Other types of yagya are performed on special occasions, such as marriage rituals or initiation rites.
The term "yagya", on the one hand, means "worshiping" and, more generally, "priesthood" (Monier-Williams), at the same time it denotes a special form of offering to the gods.
Over time, various forms of yagya has developed, mixed and finally resulted as a carefully designed system. In general, we can distinguish the following forms of yagya - homa, havana, krata and yagya.
The Moniera-Williams Dictionary defines the concept of "homa" as the following: "this is the worship of divine essences and gods through the libation of ghee oil in the burning fire." In modern fire practice, not only oil is offered, but also various other substances of natural origin. Homa is an indispensable element of domestic rituals. It can be carried out even by one person, basically, by the head of the family. For homa presence of a priest is not necessary.
The term "havan" simply means "offering sacrifices with the help of fire" (Monier-Williams). Havan, basically, is carried out by a small group of people, connected by strong family ties. To conduct the ritual of havan, one can consult a family priest, but his presence is not required.
In former times, the ritual of krata was conducted to achieve a noble goal of fulfilling the desires of the whole Universum. Today this great form of yagya has disappeared. But the intention to become asatakratu - a man who spent a hundred yagyas during his life - is still regarded as desirable and very respected.
There is also a more complex and larger form of yagya, which is still carried out. When such a yagya is being held, the offerings are given in abundant quantities, usually in several sacrificial fires. Basically, it is conducted for a very large audience, for example, for people from all over the region or even the country.
Now yagyas are held as important public events. Their purpose may be, for example, protection of cultural heritage, benefit of the environment, protection of oppressed strata of society, strengthening of peace and prosperity on the planet or fighting against a disease.
Yajna as a principle of life
Living in accordance with yagya is an ancient practice. There are still people who hold regular prayers by the fire. However, over time the strict discipline, that required to conduct such a life, became unattainable, and the concept of yagyas has been transformed and expanded in several directions without losing its spirit.
One of the interpretations of the concept of "yagya" is based on its yogic origin: it is a prayer performed in a subtle body. Here yagya becomes an inner ritual, and the mantra is the way to reach out for deities.
In the practice of mantra meditation, the repetition of a mantra itself is a prayer, an offering to the gods.
The approach of Gyan yoga deals with various categories of yagya, such as a Vedic ritual, mantra yoga, Kundalini yoga, a mean of purification, preparation for the acquisition of knowledge.
The concept of karma-yoga has achieved the widest spread. In the Bhagavad Gita it is written: "The whole life is yagya. Every action, when it is made as an offering to Ishvara [God], is yagya. Worshiping, eating, contribution to the knowledge of mankind, housekeeping and taking care of your family - all this is yagya. " The accomplishment of simple actions when you take them as something higher makes them yagyas. When these actions are done not for a material purpose, but with an unselfish motive - this is the highest form of yagya. It can be said that people who live according to the principles of karma-yoga, even if they do not participate in prayers or worshipings, perform yagya.
Many ideals: justice, honor, adherence to moral principles, harmlessness, generosity, actions without attachment to the result, the performance of each action as prayers - directly follow from the principles of yagya. It is believed that following the principles of yagya in life gives you the liberation from rebirth.