Benefits of the Yaj
Meaning of Yaj
Brahm Yaj or Sandhya
Dev Yaj or Agnihotra (havan)
The yaj (havan) holds a place of great importance at all Vedic religious ceremonies. It is performed in all sixteen sanskars (sacraments) and at the other religious performances as well. When the havan is performed ghee and havan samagri are used as oblation. The havan samagri is made of fragrant wood, other dried vegetable matter, medicinal herbs and roots and food products such as grains, nuts, spices etc. The act of putting ghee and samagri into the fire after the chanting of mantras (sacred verses) is called Ahuti (oblation). Every oblation s made with the chanting of the word “swaha” meaning whatever uttered is true.
The havan is not a worship of the visible fire; Agni is one of the important names of God. It means all pervading, adorable and brilliant. Fire is an indicator of radiance and heat. The flame of the yaj or the lamp is a symbolic representation of the victory of light over darkness, of knowledge over ignorance and prosperity over poverty.
Benefits of the Yaj
While performing the havan we pray to God and sing verses in praise of Him. These verses have meaningful thoughts which describe the attributes and functions of God. The verses urge us to perform good deeds make our lives nobler. Through the yaj we get the opportunity of studying the Veds and other scriptures and in this way the intellect and the mind become pure.
One big benefit from the yaj is that it purifies the air and the surrounding atmosphere. Germ-destroying, health promoting and sweet-smelling ingredients are used in the oblation. They destroy the disease-carrying germs and purify the air. The warm fragrant air of the havan spreads to all the places in the home and its surroundings and thus drives out foul air.
It is in the nature of the fire to break up the ingredients of the samagri into atoms and spread them around and thus destroy the germs that spread disease. To accomplice the above, everyone must perform havan daily.
The yaj also has an effect on the seasons. In particular, it helps to regulate rainfall and temperature, thereby minimizing conditions of drought and reducing the risk of crop failure. The havan also helps in regulating the seasons. The ghee and samagri offerings burn and break up onto tiny particles. These are carried by the air in the form of vapour into the atmosphere. They rise higher until they mix with the cool air and help in the condensation of vapour to form clouds as the forerunner of rain.
The possibility of the yaj helping in the causation of rain is also given in Gita (3.14) which states: ‘From food are beings born, from rain is food produced, from yaj does rain arise’. Manusmriti (3.76) says: ‘The offerings made through the yaj break into very tiny particles and rise towards the sun and give cause to rain.’
The possibility of rain however is dependent on other factors such as the presence of moisture in the atmosphere.
Meaning of Yaj:
The word yaj is derived from the root yaj which has three meanings: 1. Prayer to God, 2. Being in the righteous company, and 3. Charity.
Whenever this triple attitude is present in any action, such an action is termed yaj. In the act of performing havan, sacred verses (mantra) are recited in prayer to God. When the havan is performed members of the family and other members of the society get together and after havan learned persons and charitable organizations are given donations. In this way all three meanings of yajna given above become part of the procedure when havan is performed.
Charity and service to fellow beings and care of animals and other creatures is also yaj although this service does not include the performance of havan.
To light the fire of the havan and offer ghee and samagri is to perform the physical yaj. The yaj takes the spiritual form when it disciplines the mind and the intellect and stimulates the inner spiritual light of atma (soul) and it destroys the evil desires such as anger, greed, jealousy, etc. with the fire of knowledge. The yaj is thus a very advanced medium of taking one towards God by enlightening the soul.
Five important religious duties (panch-mahayaj)
Every householder is to perform five important duties daily. These are five forms of religious and social obligations. They are given in the Manusmriti (ch. 4.21) as follows:
1. Brahmayaj: Prayer, meditation and study of the scriptures.
2. Devayaj: Performance of agnihotra (havan).
3. Pitriyaj: Service to mother, father arid elders.
4. Balivaishvadevyaj: Service to deprived living beings including animals.
5. Atithiyaj: Hospitality and service to the learned ones and visitors
These five yajs must be fulfilled daily. They are termed as mahayajs or great duties. By carrying out these duties, a householder makes his or her life religious and develops a sense of service towards his or her fellow beings including animals. One important significance of these yajs is that through them, the householder takes on the responsibility of providing for the needs of all living beings. Most of all, he or she must see that no one goes hungry. The essential functions of the five mahayajs are given below:
1. Brahm Yaj or Sandhya
Brahm is a name of God because He is the greatest of all beings and He creates the universe. Brahm yaj is prayer to God and contemplation of Him. We have the Sandhya for our daily prayer. Sandhya means sound meditation. When one is at Sandhya one concentrates on God while reciting Vedic Mantras in praise of His attributes and His creation.
Another meaning of Sandhya is - uniting or getting together. Through the medium of Sandhya a person becomes engrossed in communion with God.
The Sandhya is recited twice daily, in the morning at dawn when there is the blending of the darkness of the night with the light of the day, and at sunset when the light of the day makes way for the darkness of the night. These hours of the day provide ideal, natural atmosphere for concentration. The working day is begun with the thought of God and it is closed with thoughts again on Him for a peaceful and restful night.
Sandhya should be done at a clean and secluded place to help the mind to concentrate and be free from distractions. The environment should be conducive to the promotion of peace and happiness. After a bath clean clothes should be worn as bodily cleanliness psychologically lends to the purity and peace of mind. If possible, a separate room should be set aside for daily Sandhya and prayer.
Self study of religious books is also termed as Brahmyaj. Brahm also means knowledge. By right knowledge our thoughts become pure, our powers of judgment are improved and our determination for performing right actions is reinforced. Every day some time should be set aside with regularity for the study of our scriptures.
Self study in relation to Brahmyaj does not imply that several religious books must be read but it means that some study of our scriptures - Veds, Upanishads, Gita etc. must be made daily. One must select those scriptures that are appealing. Our scriptures are written by seers and sages without any selfish motive or emotional bias. They have a profound effect on the mind. Such scriptures can be read with the assistance of learned persons in any language.
2. Dev Yaj or Agnihotra (havan)
Dev yaj is also called Agnihotra or Havan.
When Havan Yaj is performed, apart from its physical radiating warmth, we as devotees also experience the radiation of inner warmth in our hearts and souls enlightening with many positive values.
Just as the brilliance of the flames emanating from the Agnihotra is a witness of its capabilities to burn the havan ingredients — samagri , ghee and samidha into ashes without keeping any of the original material for itself, and in doing so gives forth pleasant fragrance and minute particles and molecules which are taken up in the atmosphere for their redistribution far and wide for the benefits of the environment and its inhabitants, so shall we remain ever so proactive to burn all our negative values and evil desires, and emerge afresh with models of brilliant personalities to dispense generous services for the betterment of this world.
The warmth of this vedic fellowship in turn has a inspiring effect on our personalities with sub-dual and removal of jealousy, devious attitudes, selfishness and arrogance, greed and other immoral and unethical desires; and provides us the insight and determination to overcome our frustrations and to control our anger.
Our religious scriptures tell us that we should always be ready to make amends for our wrong doings and ill feelings with others and Agnihotra is one such practical step, an initial step, where we are given this opportunity to compensate for our past mistakes, insults or injuries.
The enlightments so gained leads us to be kind, benevolent, to extend our hands in comradeship and unity based on vedic principles to view our work as a sacrifice, as a dedication to the upliftment of the human community, and to instill in us to remain steadfast, with a clear conscience, in the vedic philosophy of non-attachment and renunciation.
And with the progressive depth in understanding, thought and meditation of the mantras so chanted regularly, there is an eventual emergence of a personality filled with the brilliance of intellectual wisdom, honesty and harmony.
The spirit of yaj is benevolence, renunciation, sacrifice and unity. When chanting the havan mantras we say in unison ‘idamagnaye idam na mam’. It means that all the wealth, material belongings, power and other possessions are not ours. We have possessed them with the grace of the Almighty God. We shall consider them as belonging to the Creator and use them for the benefit of everybody. This is the spirit of the Dev Yaj that should be ever present in us during the performance of yaj.
3. Pitri Yaj
The word pitar means our living parents and living elders. Service to and care of them is Pitri yaj. They bring up their children by providing them with food, clothing, shelter and education. When the children grow up it becomes their bounden duty to take care of their parents and other elderly members of the family and to respect and obey them.
In old age our parents become frail and weak. It is then that they need special attention. Our scriptures say Matri Devo Bhav: Pitri Devo Bhav meaning - mother and father are worthy of reverence. Therefore it is the duty of every householder to show respect to his or her elders and satisfy all their wants. The fulfillment of this duty is pitri yaj.
4. Balivaishvadev Yaj
The meaning of balivaishvadev is a sentient being or one that has life. One of the bounden duties of a householder is to take care of fellow beings and domesticated animals like the cow, buffalo, goat, horse, dog, cat, and birds such as the chicken, pigeon, sparrow, and parrots which are helpful to humans. Wild animals fend for themselves. Balivaishvadev yaj also implies non-killing of such animals. There is life in animals and we should be merciful towards them. Humans are the greatest of all living beings. Their greatness should be depicted in their doing good to all living beings and protecting them. Wild animals and creatures are also helpful to human beings but human beings often do not know it. For example, snakes and owls are man’s friends. They eat rats and other pests on the farm and thereby protect our food crops.
5. Atithi Yaj
An atithi is a person who visits someone unexpectedly. That is, he/she does not give notice of his/her date and time of arrival. Service and hospitality to such persons is atithi yaj. This yaj (service) is an important characteristic of the Vedic Dharm. The concept of service to mankind is embodied in this yaj. Its beauty lies in giving practical effect to the spirit of love and goodwill towards all people.
The structure of Hindu Society in ancient times was such that holy men such as sadhus, sannyasis, saints and mahatmas did not live with their families or relatives. Householders (grihasthis) took care of their needs. Similarly, the guru (teacher) and pupil lived on the food and donations of the householders. The householders were ever ready to give them hospitality with love and sincerity. They did not feel it a burden to provide them with their needs and looked forward anxiously to receiving such unexpected visitors. They fed their visitors and then had their own meals. These holy men, on the other hand, brought sanctity to the home and surroundings of their hosts by their conduct and preaching and guidance to live a life of moral uprightness.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati illustrates the meaning of an atithi in his book Satyarth Prakash. “An Atithi is a person who is virtuous and a preacher of truth, itinerates for the good of all, is a perfect scholar, is a Yogi of the highest order and happens to visit a house-holder.”
He also states that “never honour even by greeting those that revile the Veds or conduct themselves against their teachings, those that lead anti-vedic lives, tell lies, practise frauds and live like cats [Just as cats hide themselves and keep staring at rats and then in a moment pounce upon them, kill them and fill their stomachs; likewise are such people as gain their selfish ends by lying, cheating and acting in other ways like cats. They are, therefore, called cat-like] those that are obstinate, stubborn and vain, do not know anything themselves nor would they follow the advice of another, such people are not be called as an atithi.
Thus these Five Mahayajs namely, Brahm Yaj, Dev Yaj, Pitri Yaj, Balivaishvadev Yaj and Atithi Yaj change the relationship of the individual self with the entire humankind as well as the animal kingdom. These Mahayajs free the self and direct one’s activities for the well-being of all. Here a total stage by stage transformation takes place in the individual so much so that one is able to make the hopeful ideal contained in (Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam) “Humankind is one family” a reality during one’s lifetime. This is the ultimate success of the five great duties. It is indeed an extra ordinary system explained by the Vedic Scriptures for the welfare of the world. For this reason it should not be regarded as duties for the Hindus only.
Each and every individual can subscribe to this social and philosophical viewpoint prescribed by the five great duties even though one prays in his or her own language and in accordance with the principles of one’s own religion. Anybody regardless of race, religion or country can subscribe to this noble ideal of obligations and commitments, a philosophical formula that identifies, combines and disciplines humans within a society to unite all human kind in a common goal, to promote social stability and cohesiveness and to co-ordinate all activities and generate mutual trust and respect. This is indeed a religion of humankind. If all people followed these rules then the agitation and disturbance, conflicts and blaze, revolt and revolution, persecution and assault common in the world today will cease so that each and every person can live in peace, happiness, harmony and prosperity.
Adapted from ‘Dharmic Shiksha (Vedic Religious Knowledge) – Form Four’, Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, 1999.
Copyright: Arya Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji