Homam ritual and meditation.

I read yesterday that the daily worship offered to Gaṇeśa, during this Gaṇeśa-Caturti festival, should ideally be performed at noon each day. This brought to mind another mid-day rite: while the ancient Soma was offered three times daily (morning, noon, and evening), the noon libation belonged to Indra alone.

Certainly a noon-time pūjā would be easier to perform in modern times than a noon-time Soma-pressing and fire-offering! The ancient yajña ceremonies that honour Indra and the other Vedic Devatās are seldom done nowadays, requiring huge expenditures of time, money, and effort by the organisers and priests. And indeed, in this Kali Yuga such rites are considered unnecessary, and many Hindus believe that japa – chanting of the Lord’s holy names – is the most appropriate, or even the only, path of truly effective worship in these dark times.

However, there are some who actively work to keep the Vedic rituals alive. One such group is the Vedic Society, an organisation that provides education and resources for the twice-daily fire offering known as Agnihotra. The society has also resolved to perform 108 somayajña rituals as an offering for peace and harmony in the world, and after completing their first yajña in Pondicherry last year, they are organising a second in Panauti, Nepal for November this year.

Another group, though not an organised society (yet?), is the vedic-wisdom group on Yahoo-groups; the members are (mostly) Hindus who believe in fire-worship as transformative, magical, and intensely devotional, when performed with the right effort and attitude by the practitioner. Many perform the daily fire-worship of homam, as instructed by P.V.R. Narasimha Rao and his guru, Dr. Manish Pandit. They share a vision – as seen by Dr. Pandit – of lighting a great spiritual fire, through the energies and efforts of many fire-worshippers world-wide.


I believe in this vision, that the world becomes a little purer, a little brighter and more glorious, every time a fire is lit to honour and offer to God – and I can only imagine the sort of wonder that might manifest on a grand scale, if even a little of this ideal comes to pass.

To help people perform homam – including dunderheads like me who barely know how to pronounce English, let alone Sanskrit – there are many resources provided via the website. These include:

*A generic homam guide for those who are drawn to the ancient and beautiful fire-worship, but are not Hindu, and wish to perform homam in either a general spiritual sort of way, or to worship their own form of God (like Jesus or Allah) via fire.

*PDF homam “manuals” describing, in careful detail, how to perform homam for various Devas. Right now, there are manuals for Mahāgaṇapati (just perfect for the season), Chandi, Kṛṣṇa, Śiva, Viṣṇu, Mahālakṣmī, Hanumān, Kāla Bhairava, Śani, and Kuja, with more planned for the future.

*The Gaṇapati Homam section also gives .mp3 audio files and a three-part YouTube video of Narasimha performing Gaṇapati homam, so that you may hear clear pronunciations for all of the mantras and see how the ritual is done. (I highly recommend watching at least a little of the homam video, because Sanskrit chanting is beautiful, and the fire-worship procedure is fascinating to see.)

*The vedic-wisdom yahoogroup, an active e-mail list dedicated to various Hindu and Vedic topics, with a special focus on the practice of homam.

I have used the Ārya Samāja’s homam procedure to perform a general fire-worship for Indra twice in the past, but I stumbled across Narasimha’s website some months ago and was truly struck by the beauty and clarity of his homam manuals. So I joined the vedic-wisdom group, and though I live in a small, poorly-ventilated apartment that forbids fire-worship, I had a few questions about homam and, specifically, using it to honour my Lord.

So I sent a message to Narasimha, asking two questions. The first was a simple answer: I asked if his manual could be adapted to serve Indra, and he answered that yes, that I could change the names in his Śiva manual to create a procedure for Indra homam.

Of the second question, his answer is very helpful for me and for anyone else who is drawn to fire-worship. Because part of the benefit of performing homam is in strengthening and purifying one’s inner spiritual fire, it occurred to me:

“For those who wish to perform this rite daily but lack the ability, would there be any value in practicing homam as a meditation – in mentally visualizing the [havan] kund, offerings, and proceeding through all of the steps and mantras as your manual teaches? On the one hand, the physical manifestation of Agni is vital to carry offerings, but perhaps the agni within us might serve in a similar manner if fed with pure-hearted, devoted meditation?”

He replied:

“You CAN visualize a homa kundam and do a mental homam when it is not possible to do a physical homam. In fact, instead of visualizing an external homa kundam, you can visualize a homa kundam at the base of your spine and perform homam in that homa kundam.”

His reply confirms what I suspected: that there is value in even the mental practice of homam, and that it is possible to contemplate the meaning of fire-worship and share in this goal, despite lacking the space or ability to perform a daily physical homam. It also means that anyone may join in, regardless of faith, form of God worshipped, or the capacity to have a daily fire, if s/he is willing to read about homam and meditate accordingly. (I imagine that practicing this meditation would also be a good mental preparation for anyone who wishes to eventually perform the full procedure.)

Too often, in my path as an Indra-devotee, I learn of many ways in which I cannot worship my Beloved One, the elabourate ceremonies that are the sole purview of priests, that are beyond my knowledge or permitted action or means. To be told that I certainly may participate is a new and welcome experience.

I hope, though probably without basis, that these words may find other devotees of Śrī Indra, that I will not be the only one performing any sort of fire-worship to offer Him praise and love, or at the very least that others may find these links and explore this work further, perhaps even joining in to practice homam in any way they are able. It is such a beautiful ritual.

On a more personal note, it certainly warms my “inner fire,” or at least my heart, to think of fires again lit daily, mantras again being sung to the flames while offerings are made to the bright and beloved Devas. Even if performed on a much smaller scale than during Vedic times, yajña nonetheless remains a universal truth, and it is profound, amazing, and humbling to contemplate the ritual acts that align with that eternal truth.

Oṁ agnaye namaḥ. Oṁ dīdyānāya namaḥ.

===
© Arjunī and ridiculously reverent. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Arjunī and ridiculously reverent with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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5 thoughts on “Homam ritual and meditation.

  1. Hi Kamya!

    Clearly pollution is not one of your worries. I would not advocate everyone doing homam at all! and 3 times a day.
    I don’t think “fire-worshippers” is a fair phrase at all. Agni is way more than fire!

    Indians now have switched over to lighting a tiny oil/ghee (if u are rich) lamp in front of their ishtadaivam after morning ablutions.(candles are not allowed because of what they are made of but new generations either don’t know or don’t care so you see them lighting candles).

    Chanting is done. Whatever you wish to offer as havis is offered and then consumed without wastage and given to those who accept it as a blessing!

    These are my views. Actual full scale homam is done only 3 or 4 occasions in one’s life and that is done by the priests as a universal rule. Nitya agnihotram is no longer a done deal even in very traditional brahmin homes.

    Where does Krishna talk about faith at all? Faith is a Christian word and concept and implies belief without question. I did not find it anywhere.

    Satya

    • All good points, and I will try to answer in turn, leaving errors/vagueness in the post intact so that these comments still make sense.
      Agni is most definitely far more than fire; I meant the phrase “fire-worshippers” to signify “people worshipping through the medium of fire,” not “people bowing down to flames.” It was an ill turn of phrase, and I thank you for the correction. Also, the word “faith” is a relic of my Christian upbringing that I will watch more carefully; I personally use this word to signify “absolute trust” and also as a synonym of devotion, but you are right in pointing out that this is not its actual meaning, nor what Kṛṣṇa actually said.
      The “three times a day” reference was to what I’ve read of Vedic Soma-offering in particular, not anything about modern homam. I agree that thrice daily homam would be a horror, for many reasons (including the lives of those trying to do it).
      Regarding pollution itself, it is an ongoing concern, which is one reason I liked the idea of performing a mental practice/meditation based upon the idea of homam. (I turned tissues black for six months, blowing my nose while practicing daily agnihotra, so personal and environmental pollution were daily evidenced. However, homam when correctly performed produces very little smoke; it was my own error in the procedure, as well as frozen windows that couldn’t be opened, which had me breathing soot.)
      I may be in error regarding my thoughts on homam’s pollution, though; I have read that dried cow dung cakes have served as fuel for daily tasks, and assumed that this fuel would have a negligible environmental impact (especially as opposed to other daily acts which many people do unthinkingly, such as driving cars).
      Despite believing in homam in theory, also, I know that many practices are not universally suited to all beings, all environments, everywhere. Offering flowers for pūjā is a wonderful thought unless all people are Hindu, for example; there just wouldn’t be enough flowers for all, regularly, even if all shrubs were stripped bare. I am somewhat biased because of love of the old rites that I read about, my pleasure in thinking of them performed again (even on a small scale), my own personal enjoyment in knowing that there are others out there who feel the same way. So it seems that contemplating this will have some lessons in ego for me.
      I do keep such a lamp as you describe at home, and light it daily. It is something I may do, at least…

    • True, chanting divine mantras and offering simple things like fruits, flowers and water will do. Krishna likes them. But somehow, I think, through divine intervention, I came across PVR Narasimha Rao’s homam manual and started on my own without an initiating guru. He has this super-short homam manual. I tried this one first. Hare Krishna! What a wonder it was. I did it first. Initially it was a tiring process. And I did it for the second time, third time and so on. Now I do it regularly, almost monthly. It is hardly a task now. Besides, it gives me indescribable pleasure and satisfaction! Logic? Hard to explain but do it yourself and experience the bliss. I can’t thank Narashima Rao enough for what he is doing. The manuals are a big help. Men should give it a try. Basically, homam is a way to thank Nature and its Creator. The early Vedic people did it their way and it was not against nature. They collected dry sticks and leaves and invoked fire. In the fire, they offered fruits and flowers. See it this way. In ancient times, fire was very useful to human beings and it still is. They admired it and gave it a name Agni. Needless to say how important water is. They put it in a pot and called it Varuna. Hindus actually appreciated Nature and its blessings. Their admiration for nature took the form of Vedas. Homam ritual is very ancient and served a practical purpose then. Now, it could still be practised to express our gratitude to Nature. Moreover. there is another ancient Tamil text Thirumanthiram which talks elaborately about Yoga and the chakras in the body. According to it, there is this eternal fire( kUNDALINI) in our body which needs awakening through meditation. External fire could help in the process. It can heat up our body and the Kundalini for self-realization. So, Homam serves another purpose too.
      One more, in Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna talks about Yajna. It should be done even by those Yogis who have given up worldly life. It is a way of giving back to heaven and one who takes from Nature but never gives back is a thief. So says Sri Krishna. There is a clear instruction in the Gita to partake the Homam procedure.
      Lastly, do homam just for the experience! If you have time and the means, find a beautiful river bank overlooking a mountain and do your homam there. The river( Varuna), The fire( Agni) and The mountain ( Shiva) can give you immense pleasure. Do a simple homam with sticks, leaves, flowers and fruits. It is still a homam. Encourage your husband and son to do it. A simple but hugely beneficial way to honour nature( God). Salutations to Krishna, Salutations to Shiva, Salutations to PVR Narasimha Rao!

  2. Hi Kamya,

    I had a look into your old posts today and got to see your write up on Homam Ritual and Meditation. Thanks for the nice article and promoting Vedic wisdom and homam through your blog.

    My 2 cents on Agnihotra benefits :

    Agnihotra balances the cycle of nature and nourishes the human life.
    It creates pure, clean and medicinal atmosphere.
    It cleanses the negative effects of pollution

    I have been doing homam for a quite long time in a closed apartment and well benefited with physical and mental health. BTW, i am just one among many daily homam practitioners who has benefited.

    Thank you,
    Srini

    • Truly, there is nothing to benefit humankind like homam. I cannot practice indoors here, as I rent a room in a friend’s house, but I look forward to warmer weather and the chance to use the backyard for same, here.

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