In the Durga Suktam, Jaatavedas, interpreted physically as fire, represents the Omniscent Ishwara. He (the Divine Agni) is exhorted to lead us and protect us by taking us across all perils just as the captain takes the ship across the sea. He is also requested to save us from all wrong-doings. He is Tarasi – skilled in saving and helping in crossing over and He is requested to help us cross the ocean of Samsaara.
Yagya (yagna) is a ritual in which the performer of the Yagna invokes any particular Devata via Agni (fire) with the help of a Mantra, gives an oblation or offering to the Devata and asks for a blessing for the benefit of mankind, the environment, animals and every part of Nature on this earth and beyond. While doing so, the Yajman (or the performer of the Yagna) also hopes that good fortune befalls him too because he is through his offering, strengthening Nature and the Devatas. This is a divine ritual in Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism.
When we usually talk of a Yagya we picture a ‘havan kund’ ie. a pit where wood is burned, ‘havis’ (food for the Devata) is offered, Brahmins sitting around the ‘yagna kund’ chanting mantras, elaborate rangolis, and a couple sitting in front of the yagna offering their prayers. Yes, this is the way a ritualistic yagna is conducted… but there are other forms of yagnas in which only the fire element, the sincere prayer, the offering, the yajman and the personal Devata are there. They may not fit into the Vedic elaborate Yagna as we usually know of, but it is a yagna nevertheless.
Last year, when Modi ji asked everyone to light lamps as a thankful gesture to those who were our caregivers and our Covid heroes, many claimed that it was based on the DEVI PURAN. During the battle against Mahishasura, Katyayani (a form of Durga Devi) is believed to have lost Her energy on Ashtami day. On Sandhi Puja Muhurat She was re-energised and She killed Mahishasura. To this day, Bengalis light 108 Lamps on this Muhurat during Durga Puja. This lighting of lamps (Agni), singing verses in praise of Maa (mantras), praying for relieving the universe from all kinds of negative energies ie. Asuras (benefit of mankind and strengthening the Devatas) … all this is a form of Yagna itself, but it is done publicly without the involvement of any structured ritual or yagna-kund.
Another form of Yagna which almost everyone must have been involved in but never realised it to be so, is the burning of Holika or Kama on the day before Dhuli-vandan on Holi festival. Holika dahan or Kama Dahan is the burning of logs and old, unused stuff while invoking Shiva / Vishnu in the form of folk songs/ballads, thus destroying the tamasic feelings in one. People offer upalas (cow dung cakes), maize, corn, ghee, etc. to the fire. The ‘yajman’ and the ‘purohit’, both are the self and blessings are asked for destruction of the negative elements in nature, in the surroundings and within us.
There is also another form of Yagna which everyone who is a practising Hindu performs in their very own houses everyday. This is the lighting of the Diya or the lamp during Sandhya (dawn/dusk). Here too Agni is invoked to send our prayers to the Devatas, offerings are made (in the form of ‘prasad’) and prayers are offered to various Devis and Devatas either through mantras or through our own words. We seek to destroy the negative energies in ourselves and our house and seek to strengthen the Divine within us.
Another form of Yagna which every housewife indulges in everyday in her kitchen is the lighting up of fire (in any form) to cook food (anna). Bhuta yagna is offering of ‘anna’ to Vaishwadeva havan (ie. the form of Agni in the fire used for cooking) first and then offering the last morsels to crows, dogs and needy. The main ‘bhojana’ is first to be given to guests, old people, pregnant women, children, etc and then the householders can consume the food. The importance of this fire is so much that even when any other Yagna takes place at home, the gruhini (housewife) is called upon to bring that fire to set light the first spark in the Yagna kund. Another form of Bhuta yagna is when rangoli is drawn by using fine rice powder so that ants and other insects and small birds can consume it later.
What about children? Can they perform any Yagna? Well, you know the crackers that one bursts during Deepavali? While the lighting of the lamps and keeping it outside our homes or on window sills is to invite Mata Lakshmi and Prabhu Sri Ram to our homes, I would like to claim that the bursting of crackers is the way we invoke the memory of our Devatas through Agni and the sound of the crackers. This is how we introduce our children to Agni and Yagyas in a joyful way.
Purists may say that all of the above are not actually yagnas, but the fact remains that all of the above are actually miniature versions of the elaborate yagna rituals done to please/placate/energize our Devis and Devatas and to energize ourselves too. Those who seek to bracket Hinduism as a religion with elaborate rituals aimed at trampling upon or restricting certain ‘castes’ from reaching out to God without any medium (like a Brahmin Purohit) in between, do not know the vastness called Dharma. For every ritual which is elaborate and reaching out to the entire Brahmaand (universe), there also exists an extremely simple form (Pinde) which bestows upon the devotee and the Deity the same benefits as the elaborate one. Of course, the only condition is that there should be Shraddha (faith) and Bhakti (devotion). In fact, without the two, even elaborate rituals do not give the prescribed results.