by Shrila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami
Agnikona – the South-East corner.
Ahuti – the oblation offered in the sacrificial fire.
Akshata – unbroken rice grains mixed with turmeric, used in the svasti vacana.
Caru – opulent, thick sweet-rice cooked with rice, milk, ghee, raisins, cashews, sugar, etc.; used as oblations in the yajna. Before offering, plenty of warm ghee should be poured on the top.
Dakshina – the donation offered by the yajamana to the priests who perform the sacrifice.
Durva – a type of grass that is considered sacred and is praised throughout the Vedas and Puranas.
Ishanakona – the North-East corner.
Khadira – jackfruit wood.
Kusha – a sacred grass used in Vedic ceremonies. The Puranas mention that kusha is the bodily hair of Yajna-Varaha.
Kushandika – the opening rituals of a yajna.
Pradesha – a measurement of twelve fingers (approx. nine inches) measured from the tip of the small finger to the tip of the thumb of the out-stretched palm.
Prokshana – pancaratrika method of purifying objects by sprinkling with sanctified water.
Sankalpa – a vow or determination to please the Lord by the performance of a ceremony, in which the reciter promises to complete on a certain month, tithi, day, etc.
Udicya karma – the closing rites of a yajna.
Viniyoga – when uttering any Vedic mantra, as a rule one should first identify it by the rishi who preserved it, by the chandah (metre), by the Deity being invoked in the mantra, and by the present application of the mantra. The purpose of this system is to guarantee that one understands the meaning, function, heritage and correct intonation of the mantra. This use of the viniyoga is optionally chanted during a ceremony, however, it will not be recited during performance of a yajna according to the Narada Samhita.
Yajna And Its Origins
“Yajna” is the Vedic method of worshipping Vishnu by offerings of ghee, grains, spices, fruit, etc. into the sacred fire accompanied by the chanting of mantras. According to the Amar-kosha, the word “yajna” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yaja” – to worship. In the Purusha Sukta (Rig Veda 10.19.16), we read that when the demigods, after being created by the Lord, desired to worship Him through the system of yajna. By their will and contemplation, they offered the Lord Himself as the first oblation for the creation of the universe; this was the first yajna (“yat purushena havisha deva yajnam atanvata”) and from it emerged the first elements of life (“tani dharmani prathaman ya san”). Furthermore, the Puranas describe how all yajnas have their basis in the Supreme Lord; “yajna varahasya shariram yajnatam agat”, all varieties of yajnas emerged from the body of Yajna-Varaha. The Fire
Yajna involves the installation and worship of the fire-god, Agni. The first mantra of the Rig Veda addresses him as “Hota” or “the chief sacrificial priest”. It is his service to act as the mouth of Vishnu, the consuming agent, who carries the offerings to the Lord. It is thus described, that the wood of the fire is Agnideva’s ears, the smoke his nostrils, the small flames his eyes, the coals his head and the fully blazing flames his tongue. Thus, the best offering is to Agni’s tongue.
The fire for the yajna , may come from a brahmana’s house (meaning from his daily household yajna), from the lamp in the Deity-room, produced by the chanting of mantra, churned from the arani sticks or by placing camphor on a pure bell-metal plate and igniting it by the use of a magnifying glass directing light from the sun.
During the kushandika rites, for various ceremonies and samskaras, different forms of Agni are called to carry the oblations to the Lord –
Vivaha (marriage) – Yojaka Agni
Cathurthi Homa (establishing household yajna) – Shikhi Agni
Dhriti Homa (conclusion of marriage)- Dhriti Agni
Pumsavana (rites to beget a male child) – Candra Agni
Simantonnayanam (parting the wife’s hair) – Mangala Agni
Shoshyanti Homa (rites before childbirth) – Mangala Agni
Nama Karana (name-giving ceremony) – Parthiva Agni
Paushtika Karma (ceremony for the child’s health) – Balada Agni
Anna Prashana (first grains) – Suci Agni
Cuda Karana (hair cutting) – Satya Agni
Upanayanam (sacred thread)- Samudbhava Agni
Samavartana (graduation from the gurukula before marriage)- Tejah Agni
Udicya Karma (concluding rites of the yajna)- Vidhu Agni
Vastu Homa (entering or building a new residence)- Prajapati Agni
Diksha Homa (initiation)- Vaishnavagni
Nitya Homa (daily Deity worship yajna) – Vaishnavagni
The mandapa is the place where the yajna-kunda is situated and the ceremony will be performed. The mandapa should be sprinkled with pure water, cleaned with a mixture of cow-dung and water and decorated with designs on the floor, banana trees, leaves, garlands, flags and “mangala-ghatas” (auspicious pots that have been installed by mantra) in the eight directions, and the four Vedas installed in pots in the four cardinal directions.
In the mandapa a square pit is built measuring one “hasta” (the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, approx. 18 inches) with a one “mushti” (the width of the fist, approx. 3 inches) step on each side. The size of the kunda, according to convenience, may be larger depending upon the area available, the ceremony, number of guests, etc. The pit may be surrounded by one or three step walls. If a kunda cannot be constructed, one can perform the yajna on a bed of sand of the same dimensions (this is known as a “sthandila”). In the Krishna Yajur Veda Samhita it is stated:
vedish ca samamarjanoddananadibhih samskaraih samskrita bhumih
“When a yajna-kunda is built, everything becomes well established – wealth, welfare, energy, health, and spiritual knowledge.” The Wood
The wood should be cut to the size of the kunda and some should be cut to one “pradesha” length (approx. 9 inches). One should avoid using any type of second-hand wood (i.e. orange-crates and old chairs etc.), wet wood, wood from a dirty place, wood contaminated by impure items, wood eaten by worms, wood with thorns, or wood with bitter, milky or sour sap (such as nim, banyan, or pine-wood).
Normally, the oblations offered into the fire consist of ghee, barley and sesame seeds, although one can also add other ingredients such gur, dry fruit, durva-grass, camphor, lotus-seeds, etc. In some yajnas it is prescribed that one should offer caru. This is made in two ways, one can either make sweet caru which is basically the same as sweet-rice with raisins, cardamom pods etc. or one can make the caru as one makes khichari. In both cases one should add extra ghee so that the offerings burn easily in the fire.
In the final offering (Purna Ahuti) one may offer fruits, new cloth, haritaki, pan, betel nuts, flowers, navaratna, etc. The remnants from the ?urna Ahuti may be accepted as prasadam after the yajna – as this final oblation is an offering to the Lord for His satisfaction. One’s karma does not contaminate the final offering. It is understood that the spiritual master takes on the reactions of his dependents, as explained in the ‘Hari Bhakti Vilasa’ quoting the ‘Niti Shastra’ – rajanam rastrakritam papam
raja papam purohitam
bharatanam strikritam papam
shishya papam gurum vrajet
“The sins of the citizens are suffered by the king; the king’s sins by the raja-guru; the wife’s sins by the husband and the disciple’s sins by the guru.” The Priests
A yajna may involve the following four priests (ritviks) –
Hotri: The priest who invokes and worships the Lord, through the medium of the fire.
Udgatri: The priest who is in charge of chanting the mantras.
Advaryu: The priest who prepares and installs the paraphernalia, and ignites the sacred fire. He sees to the smooth running of the ceremony.
Brahma: The master of ceremonies. He sees that all the mantras are recited properly, corrects any errors that occur during the proceedings and sees to the proper stoking of the fire.
If there are only three priests, there will be the adhvaryu, udgatri and the ritvik (the hotri). If only two, the udgatri and hotri, and one, the hotri.
The implements used in the yajna are known as “yajnayudha” or “the weapons of the yajna”. The reason for this name is given in the Aitareya Brahmana (34.1) of the Rig Veda –
“At the time when the Lord created Yajna, the brahmanas and kshatriyas also came into being. Yajna began running away and the brahmanas and kshatriyas chased it armed with their own weapons. The weapons of the kshatriyas were horses, chariots, swords, bows, etc., and the weapons of the brahmanas were the utensils used in the yajna. When the kshatriyas pursued the Yajna, Yajna, being scared, ran faster and the kshatriyas returned in defeat. However, the brahmanas were successful – by showing Yajna their weapons, it recognized them as its’ own weapons, and thus consented to stay with the brahmanas.”
There are innumerable items used in different yajnas, but we will only list the ones that are of major importance:
Sphya: This is a small wooden sword which is used for making the lines during the panca-rekha-sthapana. It is also used for cutting durva-grass and for stirring the caru. Generally, the sphya is one “aratni” long (distance from elbow to tip of little finger = 24 angulas – widths of a finger = approx. 18 inches) and is sharpened before use with kusha grass.
Sruk: The sruk is a long ladle which has a bowl on top of it at one end with a beak shaped like an elephant’s lips for ghee to be poured out. It may also have a cow’s or lion’s face. The sruk may be a bahu (36 angulas – 27 inches), an aratni (24 angulas – 18 inches), or a pradesha (12 angulas – 9 inches) in length. It originally manifest from the snout of Yajna Varaha. The sruk is generally used for offering the purna-ahuti (final oblation).
Sruva: This is a spoon used for offering the main oblations of ghee during the yajna. It is an aratni in length. The depression of the bowl is the width of the first joint of the thumb and is split into two parts, representing the sun and the moon, ida (the breath through the left nostril, controlled by the moon) and pingala (the breath through the right nostril, controlled by the sun); as the sruva originally manifest from the nostrils of Yajna Varaha.
Prokshani: The prokshani is 12 angulas long (9 inches) with a depression shaped like a lotus leaf or lotus bud. This vessel holds purified water, for sprinkling on the various paraphernalia in order to purify them, and for pouring water around the fire during Kushandika. Blades of durva-grass are placed in the water for sanctification.
Upavesha: The fire is stoked by a wooden stick known as an “upavesha”, the head of which is shaped like a hand. It is of a length of 12 angulas (9 inches) or one aratni (18 inches). It is also used for moving burning wood when it falls out of place.
The yajamana is the person who sponsors and/or is the benefactor of a particular ceremony: i.e. in the case of the wedding it is the groom; in case of samskaras concerning the wife, it is the husband; and in case of those concerning the child, it is the father. In the case of a brahmana, he may perform his own ceremonies. However, if he is unable to do this, he may invite a Vaishnava brahmana to perform or guide the rites on his behalf (act as ritvik).
Dakshina or Dana
According to Vedic custom, on the completion of the ceremony, the yajamana should satisfy the priests and Vaishnavas with gifts and prasadam. It is said that without pleasing the brahmanas the ceremony has no value. As Shri Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 17.14:
And that sacrifice performed in defiance of the scriptural injunctions, in which no spiritual food is distributed, no hymns are chanted and no remunerations are made to the priests, and which is faithless – that sacrifice is of the nature of ignorance.