Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Agni rituals of our forefathers

In the vedic religion, Agni used to occupy the center stage  of all religious practices. The Agni is called grihapati - the lord of the house.The Agni in a family used to be eternal handed down from generation to generation.

One becomes eligible to perform the agni rituals on entering the ashrama of the householder at the time of marriage. The brahmachari and the sanyasi do not have the right to perform the agni rituals. From upnayanam to marriage the brahmachari performs a ritual called samidadhanam in the morning and evening. This is simply keeping the samith in agni chanting mantras.

At the time of marriage the agni generated for performing the vivaha homa is preserved for lifetime. This is called the aupasana agni or smarta agni.

There are two groups of rituals perfromed - the shrauta rituals as ordained in the vedas and smarta rituals as ordained in the later smritis. The smarta rituals are performed in the aupasana agni or smartagni. This agni is preserved in a circular kundam or a vessel. The smarta agni is also called ekagni because it is never divided. Everyday the husband and wife together make offerings to this agni in the morning and evening. This is called aupasanam.

The rituals to be performed in smartagni are elaborated in the grihya sutras such as Apastamba grihya sutra (Yajurveda) and Ashvalayana grihya sutra (Rigveda) . A particular lineage follows a particular grihya sutra.

The rituals performed in smarta agni are called paka yajnas and they are seven in number as given below.

1. Sthalipaka - Performed for the first time as part of the marriage ritual and continued twice a month.

2. Parvana - once a month

3.Ashtaka - once a year

4.Chaitri - once a year

5.Asvayaji - once a year

6.Shravani - four months every year, Shravana to Karthika

7.Agrahayani  - once a year in Margashirsha

In addition to the above, rituals such as shradha  are also performed in smarta agni.

The Agni for performing the shrauta rituals is called Shrautagni generated in a ritual called shrautadhana. This Agni is also preserved and is called garhapatyagni. At the time of elaborate rituals two more agnis are generated from the garhaptyagni, they are ahvavneeyagni and dakshinagni.

Ahavaneeyagni in general is used for offering ahutis to devas and dakshinagni for pitrus. The shrautagni comprising  the above three - garhapatyagni, ahavaneeyagni and dakshinagni is also called tretagni.

Both the smartagni and shrautagni(only garhapatyagni) are preserved in the household without allowing them to extinguish.

The rituals in the shrautagni are

1.Agni adhanam - the first time generation of three agnis.

2. Agni hotra - morning and evening  offerings daily.

3.Darsha purnamasa - performed on amavasya and purnima every month. These rituals are performed lifelong or for 30 years.

4. Chaturmasya - performed every four months. On the purnima of phalguna this is done as vaishvadeva, on the purnima of ashadha as varunapraghasa, on the purnima of karthika as sakamedha and on the purnima of phalguna as shunaseeriya.

5. Agrayana - Performed twice a year with freshly harvested grains.

6. Niroodha pashubandha - Performed once a year and involves animal sacrifice.

7. Sautramani - Once a year for Indra and involves  sacrifice 3 or 5 animals.

The above are called havir yajnas out of which Chaturmasya, Niroodha pasubandha and Sautramani are performed in yagasahala outside the household.

There are seven soma yagas in which soma juice is offered. They are

1.Jyotishtoma or Agnishtoma


3. Ukthyam

4. Shodashi




There are more yajnas which are very elaborate and intricate in nature.

Dvadashaha - spread over 36 days

Gavamayana -  385 days

Vajapeya - 40 days

Rajasuya - 33 months

Ashhvamedha - more than two years

Purushamedha - 40 days

Sarvamedha - 34 days

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