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?”
“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.
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