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Beliefs and practices
In Hinduism, Yajña (Sanskrit यज्ञ yajña; also anglicized as Yagna, Yagya or Yadnya) is a ritual of sacrifice (Monier-Williams gives the meanings "worship, prayer, praise; offering, oblation, sacrifice") derived from the practice of Vedic times. It is performed to please the gods or to attain certain wishes. An essential element is the sacrificial fire - the divine Agni - into which oblations are poured, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach the gods. As the name of the service, the term Yagna is linguistically (but not functionally) cognate with Zorastrian (Ahura) Yasna. Unlike Vedic Yajna, Zoroastrian Yasna has "to do with water rather than fire" (Drower, 1944:78; Boyce, 1975:147-191)
A Vedic (shrauta) yajña is typically performed by an adhvaryu priest, with a number of additional priests such as the hotar, udgatar playing a major role, next to their dozen helpers, by reciting or singing Vedic verses. Usually, there will be one or three fires in the centre of the offering ground and items are offered into the fire. Among the items offered as oblations in the yajña include large quantities of ghee, milk, grains, cakes, or soma. The duration of a yajña depends on the type; some can last a few minutes, hours or days and some even last for years, with priests continuously offering to the gods accompanied with sacred verses. Some yajñas are performed privately, others with a large number of people in attendance.
A typical Hindu marriage is a yajña, because Agni is supposed to be the witness of all marriages. Brahmins and certain other castes receive a yajnopavita "sacred cord" at their upanayana rite of passage. The yajnopavita symbolizes the right of the individual to study the Vedas and to carry out yajñas or homas.
Temple worship is called agamic, while communication to divinity through Agni, is considered Vedic. Today's temple rites are a combination of both Vedic and Agamic rituals. The sacrificial division of Hindu scripture is the Karma-Kanda portion of the Vedas which describe or discuss most sacrifices. The Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala are among the most famous Shrauta Brahmins who maintain these ancient rituals.
Today, only a few hundred individuals know how to perform these sacrifices and even fewer are able to maintain the sacred fires continuously and perform the shrauta rituals. Only a few thousand perform the Agnihotra or basic Aupasana fire sacrifice daily .
Yajñas in the Vedas
There are 400 yajñas described in the Vedas. Of these, 21 are theoretically compulsory for the Twice-Born (Dvijas: Brahmin, Ksatriya and Vaisya). They are also called nityakarmas. The rest of the yajñas are optional, which are performed kamyakarma (for particular wishes and benefits). The Aupasana is not part of the above list, but is also compulsory .
Out of the 21 nityakarmas, only the Agnihotra and the Aupasana are to be performed twice daily, at dawn and dusk. The remaining ones have certain allotted frequencies over the course of the year. The more complicated the yajña, the less frequently it is performed. The most complex ones need to be performed only once in a lifetime. The first seven yajñas are called pākayajñas "cooked sacrifice", the second seven haviryajñas "oblation, burnt offering", and the third seven are called somayajñas "Soma sacrifice". yajñas such as Putrakameshti (for begetting sons), Ashvamedha (to rule), Rajasuya (royal consecration) etc. are among the 400 which are not compulsory.
This is the basic simple fire sacrifice that is to be performed at home twice daily. The Aupasana agni is lit at the time of the groom's wedding from his father's fire. The aupasana can be performed by all four varnas. It is also compulsory. However, it is not part of the 21 compulsory fire sacrifices, and is to be performed in addition to those.
The various sacred Agnis
The Aupasana Agni lit at the time of the grooms wedding is then divided into two in a sacrifice called Agnyadhana. One part becomes the Grhyagni the other becomes the Srautagni. These two fires are to be preserved throughout the individual's life. The son's fire is lit from the father's fire at the time of his wedding . At the time of the individuals demise, cremation is done with the fires that have been preserved during his lifetime and then the deceased individual's fires are extinguished.
The Grhyagni or Aupasanagni is used in the Paka Yajnas; such rituals are described in the Grhyasutras, such as in the Ekagni Kanda of the Apastambha Sutra. Normally this fire is located in the centre or north of the hall which accommodates the sacred fires. This fire may be circular or square .
The rituals pertaining to the three Srautagnis are described in the Shrauta Sutras. Their performers are called Srautin. Fourteen of the 21 compulsory sacrifices are performed in the Srautagnis. They are called Garhapatya, Ahavaniya and Dakshinagni and collectively called the tretagni. The Garhapatya is circular in shape and is situated in the west of the offering ground. Fire is taken from the Garhapatya and kindled in the remaining two fires. The Dakshinagni is semi-circular, situated in the south and used for certain rituals, mainly for offerings to the forefathers. The Ahavaniya is square, situated in the east, and is used as the main offering fire of most Srauta sacrifices. The last three haviryajñas and all the seven somayajñas are performed in a specially built yajñashala.
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Hindu tradition has the Pancha Mahayajnas ("Five Great Yajnas", Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.10) namely:
- Devayajna- consists of offering ahutis to devas
- Pitryajna- consists of offering libations to ancestors or pitrs
- Bhutayajna- consists of offering bali or food to all (departed) creatures
- Manushyayajna- consists of feeding guests
- Brahmayajna- consists of reciting of bráhman, i.e. the stanzas of the Vedas, namely Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda
This is form of Somayagam has been continued by the Nambudiri Brahmins in Kerala but has become extinct in other parts of India. The grand Yagam was performed for the first time since 1787, in Aluva, from 25th April till 1st May 2009.
This yajna is meant for the elevation of the yajamana to heaven, the lokas of the gods (e.g. Indraloka.this is also called agnistome yajya)
This yajna is for obtaining the world of the ancestors and Yama.
This sacrifice is addressed in the Chandogya Upanishad. It enables one to achieve Brahmaloka.
This is where people open ashrams for who are in need of them. The five types of ashrams are: dharma-shala, anna-kshetra, atithi-shala, anaathaalya, visya-pitha.
Candrayana and Caturmaasya
These are several vows for conducting life according to certain rigid rules For example, a sacrificer does not shave for four months during year (usually in the July-October time period.) Other examples are that he does not eat certain foods, or does not eat twice a day, or does not leave home (Caturmaasya.)
- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dhallapiccola
- Maha Sapta Yagam
- Introduction of Yagya
- Significance of Athi Rudra Maha Yajnam
- Agnihotra Fireritual
- Importance of Yagya from a Scientific perspective
- An institution for Yagya Studies
- Yagna Science Research Center
- Yagyopathic Research Paper
- Procedure of Yagna - By Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya
- Yagna on Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
-  Shiva temple in Moscow
-  Rituals, mantras, fire rituals, yagna, homa
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