As I wrote in the previous entry, historical offerings for Indra were placed into the fire as a sacrifice (yajña). These oblations included clarified butter (ghee), the purified elixir Soma, and several varieties of grains, both raw and cooked into cakes and porridges. The Vedic literature describes about four hundred types of yajñas, of which twenty-one were considered mandatory; as the hymned Lord of Sacrifice, Indra was invoked throughout these rituals and played a central role in some of them, like the royal rites of the Rajasuya and Sautrāmaṇi. (1) Besides the more generic preparations listed above, He also received offerings specific to Himself, including the mixture of old and new milks called Sānnāyya, the third pressing of the Soma-plant, and among animals, the ram and the bull; the mid-day Soma pressing was devoted solely to Him, as well. Yet Veda tells us that these gifts do not please Indra unless sanctified with prayers, hinting that the most essential “ingredient” is devotion.
Nowadays it’s not possible for most people to worship Indra in a historically accurate manner, as the yajña ritual is a complex undertaking and restricted in performance to trained Brāhmaṇa priests; it’s unfortunate that a modern-day lover of Vedic Indra can’t honour Him in a purely Vedic way. So, since an extensive discussion of historical offerings would have little practical utility, I’d like to talk instead about modern Hindu rituals that any worshipper may perform.
These practices, happily, include two fire ceremonies:
- Agnihotra: The agnihotra was a traditional Vedic ritual, but a much-simplified form of the rite has been popularized in recent years; it’s touted as a healing, universal practice and is currently performed by people of various faiths worldwide. The ritual is performed twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, when the agnihotri makes a small fire in a copper vessel and then offers into it rice and ghee for the Devas. As an additional resource, the Vedic Society freely distributes a program called Agnihotra for Windows, which notifies the user of agnihotra timings each day; it also includes a “tutorial mode,” which uses sound files and video to teach the practice.
- Homam (Havan): Homam is a more elaborate fire ritual, usually performed in temples; however, it is possible, with some study and practice, to do homam yourself. I’ve written before about the work of P.V.R. Narasimha Rao, who offers homam guides to interested seekers; his website gives some excellent explanations of homam and its importance. His advice, for performing a homam to Indra, was to use his manual for Śiva and change the names where appropriate. I did so accordingly and then posted the resultant file here; of course, any mistakes are mine. (2)
Both services are modernized forms of more ancient worship, yet neither are central to current Hindu practice. To glimpse the heart of modern Hinduism, I turn now to the service called pūjā. This rite is kindred in spirit, if not procedure, to the Vedic yajña, as the devotee surrenders material goods and ultimately the ego itself, in a spiritual sacrifice made before the image of God. In this rite, the worshipper beseeches the Lord’s attendance and then welcomes Him into an image, attending to Him as an honoured guest and giving signs of devotion and invitation: fragrant pastes, bright flowers, numinous offerings of smoke and flame, more practical gifts like food, drink, and decoration. These items are not placed into a fire, but placed before the icon, and the Lord asked to accept them. Once Divinity has partaken of the spiritual essence, and God and devotee have shared the communion known as darśana, then the Lord is bid farewell, and the material things remaining are taken with reverence. Pūjā follows the same basic procedure for every Deva – giving five, sixteen, or sixty-four substances, in a set order – and so any God, including Indra, may be adored and honoured with pūjā. The devotee need only acquire an image or symbol of God and then learn how to do the worship.
Because incenses, fragrances, and all sorts of foods are among the presents offered to the Deva’s presence, I wrote three posts last year about various plants, foodstuffs, and other substances traditionally associated with Indra, to help in selecting such items. Those essays are stored here:
https://maghavan.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/offerings-to-indra-part-1/ – Plant-lore: A discussion of the plants in Indra’s heavenly garden, as well as trees used for the Indra-pole (for raising a pole or flagstaff is another way of honouring Indra).
https://maghavan.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/offerings-to-indra-part-2/ – Trees, herbs, fruits, and flowers.
https://maghavan.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/offerings-to-indra-part-3/ – Grains, fluids, and mixtures.
These writings serve as a general introduction to Indra’s creatures, and to His offerings both ancient and modern. However, today’s topic also asks me to discuss UPG. I already shared some ideas along these lines last year, in the fourth post of the “Offerings” series – https://maghavan.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/offerings-to-indra-part-4/ – and so what follows will be a few more thoughts. In the past, I’ve hesitated to discuss particular personal offerings; you see, I live in a harsh climate and also lack crafting or gardening skills, so I mostly buy things for worship instead of making or gathering them. But I don’t want to suggest that devotion is dependent upon finances, and I hope that the following words will provide inspirational as well as material ideas.
Speaking of material things for a moment, though, I consider incense very good for the worship of Indra, who dwells not in sky nor earth but in the mid-air region called the antarikṣa. Rising smoke – neither fully fire nor entirely air – seems a lovely offering for Him; incense is also easy to use, calms the mind, and freshens and purifies the room. In the “offerings” posts, I suggested some herbs and blooms appropriate to Indra, by tradition. The incense fragrances I give to Him are those of woods, seas, and/or flowers. (3) I feel that sweet white flowers – particularly tuberose, gardenia, and white rose – are also beautiful gifts for Him.
I spoke in my last post of the passionate and ascetic natures of Indra. As I lean towards the former, I want to reserve for Him the decadent, unusual, and stimulating, not only goods but experiences as well. When so moved, I mentally offer to Him whims, bumps of intuition, and silly moments; Indra, to my mind, adores curiosity, indulgence, and joy, and so there’s value in offering Him laughter and foolishness, the sort that dissolves the ego in plain delight. And because Indra is the Lord of the Divine Mind and the One who Sees, it means asking Him to receive the beautiful and ridiculous sights and thoughts of daily life, as well. “Offering” also means giving Him attention and bringing Him to mind whenever possible, hence that I hang a prism in my home and thank Him when rainbows appear on the wall, and wear a mālā of vaijayantī seeds to match the one garlanding His image, to give just two examples.
Ultimately, every moment of life itself is a sacrificial offering; while I’m nowhere near the point of laying it all at His feet, I’ve at least tasted the desire to do so. Ritual worship and earthly offerings, in the meantime, help to hone that wish and clear away the inner clutter that interferes, sharpening the longing for Him. This is especially so when contemplating that the words “rite,” “ritual,” and “right” all stem from that most wonderful Source: Ṛta.
(1) This statement is a generalization; anyone wishing more specific knowledge of Vedic yajña is encouraged to explore Swami Harshananda’s Vedic Sacrifices: An Outline, a small booklet which provides an excellent, easy-to-read explanation of this complex subject.
(2) For those who are curious, I do have some small experience with all of the rituals mentioned here. In 2011, I was fortunate enough to attend a somayajña, sponsored by the Vedic Society and conducted in Panauti, Nepal. I also practiced agnihotra at home daily for about six months, until I moved into a shared house where I could no longer do the ritual indoors. In my new home, I did have access to a backyard, where I practiced homam periodically. Now I’ve moved again, to an apartment without the outdoor or indoor space for fire-ritual. But if you are able to perform these ceremonies yourself, I cannot recommend them highly enough and would be happy to answer any questions you have. And, while the physical fire brings greater benefits, both agnihotra and homam may even be done as a meditation.
(3) The specific types I offer are as follows: Fred Soll, Ceremonial Rain and Honey Amber; Pure Incense, Blue Lotus and Parijata; Alchemy Works, Faux Ambergris.
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