Daily havan or fire ceremony is one of the most important rites laid down in the vedic scriptures for householders and is part of the eternal Sanatana dharma.
Some people do not find any meaning in the performance of this sacred ceremony, and feel that it is a waste of food. This is an error because the more one gives, the more one will get. According to this universal law no one can gain anything without giving: “Give and it shall be given unto you.”
Homa or agnihotra means offering oblations into the fire; these waft on the smoke to the devas, celestial beings. This is Deva Yajna. In this way we pay off our debt for the blessings received from the devas.
In the Bhagavad Gita (3:10–13), Lord Krishna says, “In ancient times, having created mankind together with this yajna, the Lord of Creation said: ‘By this yajna, you shall propagate. Let this yajna be the fulfiller of all your desires. You shall nourish the devas, the shining ones, by this yajna, and may the devas nourish you. Thus, nourishing one another, you shall reap the highest good. For, nourished by yajna, the devas shall bestow on you the enjoyments that you desire. He is a thief who enjoys what is given by the devas without returning anything to them.’”
By performing daily worship, hatred vanishes and we develop kindness and compassion. Our hard egoistic heart is gradually softened and expands. We cultivate cosmic love and develop a broader outlook on life. The feelings of separateness, which develop due to selfishness and egoism, are gradually thinned and eradicated. We learn that we can be happy only by making others happy and serving them, by removing the suffering of others and sharing what we have.
Yajna teaches us to respect our relationship and connectedness with all beings. In truth, we have no separate, individual existence. Our being is connected with the world and with all beings, like a bead on a mala. Therefore, our whole life should become a process of sacrifice and service. Only then will we experience rapid spiritual development and be freed from the round of births and deaths.
After a bath and daily prayers, draw a square mandala on the floor with rice powder and write the symbol of Om and that of the deity in the middle. On the right side, a kalasha, a pot or copper vessel of water, is placed, filled with mango leaves, and a coconut is put on top. A prayer is offered to Lord Ganesha and then to the deity. Turmeric powder is spread over the mandala, and food offerings to the deity are placed around the pot.
The fire is lit in the havan kunda. In the beginning, ghee is offered 108 times while repeating the mantra of the deity. This is followed by the recitation of vedic mantras. If this is not possible, the mantra connected with any deity can be chanted while making offerings. Finally, a coconut filled with ghee is offered. The ceremony is concluded with arati, the waving of lights with reverence, and shanti mantras.
Yajna and havan should be performed strictly according to the rules laid down in the scriptures. The smallest deviation can have harmful effects.
The mantras recited during havan and yajna are powerful chants in adoration of the divine beings who preside over our life, welfare and faculties. They ensure health, long life and spiritual wellbeing. The havan is thus a blessing and boon.
The ancient rishis were not blind believers in rituals. There was great meaning in every ritual that they wove into daily life. Physical health, mental discipline, expansion and purification of the heart are only some of the benefits.
Whatever desire a person has when doing the havan, that desire is fulfilled. Actions with their results melt away and are reduced to nothing when actions are performed as sacrifice and in order to please the Lord.
The materials offered during the havan are great disinfectants. They purify the body. Inhaling smoke from the havan purifies the lungs. There have been cases where patients were cured of long-standing ailments. The blessed smoke of the havan purifies the entire atmosphere.
Various materials are used for worship. Many may look simple and unimportant, yet they are scientific and effective. There are many precious gems in each of these vedic customs and rituals. Their value can only be revealed when we practise them.
The vedi, the place of worship, symbolizes the body. The three parts represent the legs, the body and the head, bhu, bhuvah and swah. Water is sipped as well as sprinkled over the body. This indicates both inward and outward purification.
Darbha grass is offered to indicate that the devotee, like these blades of grass, is humble and egoless. A coconut is offered after removing its fibre and breaking it in half. This symbolizes destroying the ego, removing the fibre of desire for sense objects, and revealing the pure white spirit within. It is a symbol of total surrender.
Bells are rung while doing pooja to shut out the external sounds, to concentrate the mind, and to turn the mind inward. Lights are waved before the deity. Light represents God. The devotee prays, “O Lord, You are the effulgent light of the universe. You are the light in the sun, moon and fire. Remove the darkness in me by bestowing your divine light. May my intellect be illumined.” This is the significance of waving lights.
Incense sticks with fragrant odours are lit before the deity. The smoke spreads through the whole room and acts as a disinfectant. The all-pervading fragrance reminds us of the eternal, all-pervading Lord. It fills the universe with His living presence. The devotee prays, “O Lord, let the desires of my mind vanish like the smoke of this incense. Let them be burnt to ashes. Let me become pure and stainless. Let me spread joy and happiness to others, just as this fragrant incense wafts its sweet aroma to all.”
Burning of camphor symbolizes the melting of the individual ego. Camphor is a fragrant substance, and our essence is the fragrance of the spirit. When camphor burns, no residue remains. The camphor itself fades out after shedding its light. So too should we live, then fade out of this world in such a manner that we radiate light to all.
When sandalwood is ground into a paste, it reminds the devotee that in his daily struggles he should be as patient as the sandalwood. Sandalwood produces a fragrance that is very sweet after it is crushed and ground into a paste. So, the devotee should not complain when difficulties arise, but remain cheerful and happy and radiate sweetness and gentleness, like the sandalwood.
The base of the kalasha, with the water and mango leaves and coconut, is Vishnu, the sustainer; and its middle is Shiva, the destroyer. Its water content stands for purity and love for the divine. The green mango leaves indicate the life principle immersed in the divine. The coconut stands for the fulfilment of life – the point where the human body is changed into a temple of God. The dome shape of the coconut indicates a temple.
Five bamboo sticks represent the five great elements which make up the body: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Five banana leaves represent the five sheaths which cover the soul: the physical, vital, mental, higher intellect and bliss sheaths. Five lotas, small containers, represent the five bodily functions of the life-force: breathing, circulation, swallowing, digestion and excretion. Five clay lamps represent the five organs of action: tongue, hands, feet, organ of generation, and the anus. Five lights represent the five organs of knowledge: ear, eye, skin, tongue and nose.
The tilak is a mark of auspiciousness. It is applied on the forehead at the space between the eyebrows. It may be sandal paste, sacred ash or kumkum. Ajna chakra represents the third eye, the eye of intuition, or the spiritual eye. Lord Shiva’s devotees apply sacred ash in three horizontal lines; Lord Vishnu’s devotees apply sandal paste in three vertical lines; and worshippers of Devi apply kumkum, a red turmeric powder. Tilak refers to all of these marks. When we apply it, we should feel that, “I am one with the Supreme Being and free from all duality. May my divine eye of intuition open.”
The scriptures say that mantras chanted during yajnas are very powerful. It cannot be overemphasized that our thoughts, words and actions are vitally important in relation to the forces we attempt to invoke. They are all governed by God’s divine law.
Mantra is divinity, the divine power manifesting in the sound body. The mantra itself is the devata, deity. The aspirant should try his best to realize the unity between the mantra and divinity. Just as a flame is strengthened by wind, so the aspirant’s individual shakti is strengthened by mantra shakti. The mantra is a mass of radiant energy and is awakened from its sleep through sadhana-shakti.
Prasad is that which gives peace. During any form of worship, pooja, kirtan, havan and arati, food items such as almonds, sultanas, milk, sweets and fruits are offered to the Lord. This offering is called prasad. Devotees should share the prasad and thus receive blessings from the deities. Prasad is extremely sacred. Prasad is a great purifier. It is the manifest embodiment of shakti and divinity. Prasad energizes, invigorates and infuses devotion and should always be taken with great faith.
Vibhooti, ash, is the prasad of Lord Shiva; it is applied on the forehead. A small portion can also be eaten. Kumkum is the prasad of Sri Devi or the Divine Mother; it is applied at the eyebrow centre. Tulsi is the prasad of Lord Rama, Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna; and is to be eaten. By chanting mantras during havan and pooja, the sacred prasad is charged with mysterious powers. Divine grace descends through the prasad.
There is no yoga or yajna greater than spontaneous, pure, sattwic giving. Real yajna is to share with others whatever one possesses, one’s physical, mental or spiritual attributes. One will expand and experience oneness and unity of life if thoughts, speech and actions are purified in the fire of love.
The best form of giving is vidya daan, imparting wisdom. If you give food to a poor person, he again wants food when he becomes hungry. Wisdom removes ignorance and destroys misery and suffering forever. The second best form of giving is providing the sick with medicine. The third best form is anna daan or giving food to the hungry.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna characterizes his ‘dear ones’ as those who are engaged in working for the good of all in the form of yajna, daan and tapas – sacrifice, giving and self-control. Everyone should practise self-control. Everyone should practise giving – give, give, give, give. Everyone should transform all daily activities into one continuous sacrifice. If work is performed for the sake of common welfare and in the spirit of sacrifice, one will enjoy a bliss that surpasses all understanding and description.
Life is essentially a divine worship. Individuals are mere instruments in the fulfilment of divine law. Life is a yajna, a holy sacrifice, and the world, which is the field of righteous action, is the altar at which the individual offers himself to God.