EXPLANATION OF YAGNA

Yagna mostly known as Havan is the central concept of Srauta the tradition that follows from the Sruti (Ved).

There are many concepts that are based on and evolved from the concept of Yagna. The word Yagna comes from the root-"yaj" which means to worship. The word Yagna means sacrifice. There are multiple synonyms of the word Yagna that convey different aspects of this broad concept. For instance it is also called “karma”, meaning action or the act of sacrifice / offering / worshiping. In the general sense it can be understood as any action done with the sense of sacrifice, like praying, remembering, meditating. In the specific sense it is the act of offering oblations to propitiate a Devata.

Yagnas can be classified in different ways. One of them is periodicity. Apart from the Panca Maha Yagnas, Aupasana and Agnihotra are performed every day. Any other Yagna is occasional – performed fortnightly, monthly, yearly or even once in a life time. Agnihotra is the homa done thrice a day. Darsa and Puranmas are done on new moon and full moon days. Parvani sraddha is done once a month. Most of the other Yagnas can be done once a year or even in a lifetime.

Another classification is the scale of the rite. The ones like Agnihotra are done in the house while the sacrifices like soma yaga or vajapeya need to be undertaken at a much bigger scale involving priests. The rites undertaken at a household level are called grah rites. The ones performed at a collective level are called srauta rites.

Here let me make it clear there in Yagna there is no animal sacrifice. Yagnas mostly involve symbolic sacrifice and never involve a literal sacrifice. The mantras in the Yagna are taken from Veds and Veds itself is a wide subject having many meaning of just one word hence, many people misunderstood the Veds and started the "Bali" system.

The samhita portion of the Ved contains the mantras used for Yagna. The Brahmana portion of the Ved deals with Karma kanda. Specifically, out of the four Veds, YajurVed is the primary Ved concerned with Yagna. It is called YajurVed because it is composed of Yajus or the mantras used for Yagna.

The Hindu tradition has the Pancha MahaYagnas (Five Great Yagnas) namely :

DevaYagna -
Consists of offering ahutis to devas.
PitruYagna -
Consists of offering libations to ancestors or pitrus.
BhutaYagna -
Consists of offering bali or foodstuffs to all creatures.
ManushyaYagna -
Consists of feeding guests.
BrahmaYagna -

Consists of chanting Veds, namely Rig Ved, Yajur Ved, Sam Ved and Atharv Ved.

One of the most central Hindu concepts is sacrifice and surrender through acts of worship, inner and outer.

Inner Worship :

Personal acts of worship or sacrifice. Life itself is a jivaYagna.

The Upanishads suggest that one can make "inner Yagnas" by offering up bits of the little self into the fires of sadhana and tapas until the greater Self shines forth.

The five daily Yagnas, pancha mahaYagna, of the householder (outlined in the Dharma Shastras) ensure offerings to rishis, ancestors, Gods, creatures and men.

Types of Inner Yagna :

  • Brahma Yagna: Also called Ved Yagna or rishi Yagna"Homage to the seers." Accomplished through studying and teaching the Veds.
  • Deva Yagna: "Homage to Gods and elementals." Recognizing the debt due to those who guide nature, and the feeding of them by offering ghee and uncooked grains into the fire. This is the homa sacrifice.
  • Pitri Yagna: "Homage to ancestors." Offering of cakes (pinda) and water to the family line and the progenitors of mankind.
  • Bhuta Yagna: "Homage to beings." Placing food-offerings, bali, on the ground, intended for animals, birds, insects, wandering outcastes and beings of the invisible worlds. "Let him gently place on the ground [food] for dogs, outcastes, svapachas, those diseased from sins, crows and insects" Manu Dharma Shastras.
  • Manushya Yagna: "Homage to men." Feeding guests and the poor, the homeless and the student. Manushya Yagna includes all acts of philanthropy, such as tithing and charity.

Outer Worship :

A form of ritual worship especially prevalent in Vedic times, in which oblations - ghee, grains, spices and exotic woods - are offered into a fire according to scriptural injunctions while special mantras are chanted.

  • The element fire, Agni, is revered as the divine messenger who carries offerings and prayers to the Gods.
  • The ancient Ved Brahmanas and the Shrauta Shastras describe various types of Yagna rites, some so elaborate as to require hundreds of priests, whose powerful chanting resounds for miles. These major Yagnas are performed in large, open-air structures called yagashala.
  • Domestic Yagnas, prescribed in the Grihya Shastras, are performed in the family compound or courtyard. Yagna requires four components, none of which may be omitted: dravya, sacrificial substances; tyaga, the spirit of sacrificing all to God; devata, the celestial beings who receive the sacrifice; and mantra, the empowering word or chant.
  • While puja (worship in temples with water, lights and flowers) has largely replaced the Yagna, this ancient rite still continues, and its specialized priestly training is carried on in schools in India.
  • Yagnas of a grand scale are performed for special occasions, beseeching the Gods for rain during drought, or for peace during bloody civil war. Even in temples, Yagna has its Agamic equivalent in the agnikaraka, the homa or havana ceremony, held in a fire pit (homakunda) in an outer mandapa of a temple as part of elaborate puja rites.