The agnihotr was a very important ritual performed in Vedic times. Due to thousands of years of corruption, we can only hope to scratch the surface of this historically confusing ritual. We do know that it was very important because of its personal nature: it could be performed by anyone and was not tied to being performed by a Brahmin. The following information was taken from various sources (see the bibliography) and hopes to spread some light on the deceptively simplistic agnihotr ritual.
STORY OF THE AGNIHOTR
There was a time when there was no earth. There was no sky above it and no heaven beyond that. There was no light or separation of light from the darkness. There was no day. There was no night. Man did not exist in this void. Neither did the Devas (Gods). There was only chaos, darkness and (Gods). There was only chaos, darkness and Prajapati. Prajapati became filled with desire. He sought to create, to fill the void with forms. He took to performing austerely, filling the void with himself. After some time he produced the Devourer, Agni, from his mouth. After this all of the other Gods, too, were created and they fled to the corners of the world. Only Agni remained. “The Devourer shall wish to eat,” thought Prajapati. “As nothing else is here, will he eat me?” The Devourer looked to Prajapati with his mouth wide. Prajapati stood in fear. His greatness left him. His speech left him. “Offer an oblation,” said his inner voice. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and saying “Svaha” he offered it to the Devourer. He offered his own eye, truth, and said “In Agni is the light, the light is in Agni.” This offering to Agni was the first oblation to the fire. Its name is agnihotr.
RELIGIOUS TEXTS OF THE AGNIHOTR
The agnihotr appears in the Kathakasamhita (Black Yajurveda), Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda), Taittiryabrahmana (Black Yajurveda), Aitareyabrahmana (Rgveda), Sankhaayanabrahmana (Rgveda), Satapathabrahmana (White Yajurveda), Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda), Sadvimsabrahmana (Samaveda), Gopathavrahmana (Atharvaveda), Vadhulasutraand traces of it can be and traces of it can be found within the Grhya Sutras. The agnihotr can also be found in sources which mention the pranagnihotra, an agnihotr substitute.
As we touched upon the history of the various Vedic texts in a previous issue of Oak Leaves (see the article “Why Vedism” in Oak Leaves issue 25) I shall briefly run through the source material.
The holy texts are split into two categories: sruti-tradition and smrti-tradition. The sruti sources are ones that have been “heard.” These texts were revealed by the Gods to specific Rsis (priests). The smrti sources are those that have been “memorized,” and as such have been created by man without divine assistance.
The Vedic texts fall mostly within the category of sruti and are known as Vedas and portions of the Upanisads. Veda translates literally into “knowledge.” The word veda is derived from the verb vid– which means “to know, to be aware of.” Upanisad is broken up with “sad” meaning “sit” and most likely refers to the extreme secrecy that was to be enforced with the sharing of the Upanisads by having the student sitting beside the teacher. The thinking is the word upanisad refers to “secret text.”
There are a total of four Vedas. Three of the Vedas, the Rgveda, the Yajurveda, and the Samaveda, can be dated to between 1500-1200BCE. A fourth Veda—the Atharvaveda was established slightly later, between 1200-1000BCE. Each Veda consists of its the main text, or Samhita, as well as dedicated commentary and instruction on that text, which is known as the Brahmana. The Samhitas are the actual text, or hymns, of each of the Vedas while the Brahmanas are the commentary upon the Vedas. The manas are the commentary upon the Vedas. The Brahmanas set out to explain, in detail, the going-ons of the Vedas.
The Upanisads generally date from about 800-600BCE and while they show more information on the Vedas, they also show a breaking away from traditional Vedic thought into the basic tenets of what would grow to become Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). The Upanisads are predominantly thought processes and commentary. They can be seen as a mix of smrti and sruti for the most part.
Past these texts you find yourself within the man made texts of the smrti-tradition. While this in no way demeans their value, it simply must be stated that to a Vedic these texts are man made texts that have been quite removed from their original Vedic thought process. These texts often incorrectly portray the Vedic texts for their own agendas.
Two smrti-tradition texts which are still of great use: the smrti Grhya Sutras and the Crauta Sutras. The Sutras were roughly set down between 400 and 200BCE, although this is just scholastic guess work. The Grhya Sutras deal specifically with household ritual to be performed by the householder. The Crauta Sutras depict elaborate rituals which included one or more clergy.
MYTHOLOGY OF THE AGNIHOTR
The agnihotr starts with the creation myths of Prajapati, a God who was being formed at the end of the Rgvedic period and is much spoken of in the Atharvaveda and Vajasaneyisamhita. Nowhere in the Rgveda is Prajapati given his creation myth. Rather within the Rgveda his name occurs twice as an alias for Savitar and Soma, respectively, and in addition his name occurs four more times as a God unto himself.
Within the additional Samhitas and Brahmanas there are several versions and additions to the Prajapati creation myth. These myths can be broken down to Prajapati creating Agni and then making an offering to him. Versions occur where there is a difference over whether Prajapati gave an offering freely or because he feared Agni; whether Agni erupted from Pajapati’s mouth or from his forehead; and whether Prajapati’s offering to Agni was his own blood, his own eye, the sun, or his own sweat (ghee).
The overwhelming consensus of these particular texts is that Prajapati created the Gods, with Agni being the first creation. From there he made the first offering to the fire (Agni) and thus began the first agnihotr. These particular agnihotr myths are thought to deal with the evening agnihotr as they as they focus in around Agni and Prajapati. Additional myths surround Agni, Surya and Vayu to explain the morning agnihotr but do not cover how the agnihotr came into being.
Due to Prajapti being formed in conjunction with the agnihotr at the end of the Rgvedic period it may be safe to assume that the agnihotr held a different meaning before that time. I can find no explanation for a change at this point in time in my research, but by reading through the various texts and watching as the agnihotr becomes more difficult and more restrictive I can say clergy corruption most likely played a part.
“He (Prajapati) offered truth, he offered yonder sun. For that is the symbolic meaning of the agnihotroblation. He by whom the agnihotrs thus offered becomes more illustrious day by day. Before that time night and day did not exist. They were both created together with that oblation. In that he (the priest or householder) offers in the evening, he thereby makes the sun shine away from here for his adversary. In that he offers at daybreak, he makes it shine to the west for his own benefit. The agnihotr is offered for the sake of preserving Agni. By offering in the evening he keeps Agni for the night, by offering at daybreak he keeps Agni for the day.”
There are many explanations for the agnihotr, however many however many agnihotr are later additions. The ancient Vedics became attached to the agnihotr due to the agnihotr being performed over time rather than being instituted from the beginning. We shall focus in on the very basic idea of the agnihotr being the transferring of the Sun into Agni. This is the core idea behind the agnihotr, as supported by the original telling of the first agnihotr.
The agnihotr is done twice daily with the evening is done twice daily with the evening agnihotr being the more important of the two. It is thought that by the end of the day the Sun (Surya) has grown tired and is slipping into the dangerous night. The evening agnihotr requires the Sun (Surya) to be heated and poured into Agni.
“Surya (the Sun) and Agni were in the same yoni ‡. Thereupon Surya rose upwards. He lost his seed. Agni received it with an iron receptacle. He made it stick to the iron pan. While it was burning he transferred it to the cow. It became milk. Therefore fresh milk which is still warm, sticks to the untinned iron vessel. When one performs the agnihotr with milk, then one offers yonder sun. For this is the agnihotr.”
Kathakasamhita 6,3:51.9-14 †
The morning devotional adds to the Sun’s strength by offering more milk.
As you move through the texts you find mentions of symbolic agnihotrs. However these do conflict with the strong message that the agnihotr is to be performed twice daily. One such example can be found within the Sankhaayanabrahmana (2,8):
“This fire offers itself in the rising sun. Yonder sun when it sets, offers itself in the fire at night. The night offers itself in the day, the day in the night. The exhalation offers itself in the inhalation, the inhalation in the exhalation.” †
The above passage continues with an explanation that the very act of breathing within the symbolism can be used as a substitute of the agnihotr. This does not appear to be agnihotr a common practice and seems to be more of a thought process.
In the earliest mentions it is stated that the agnihotr is performed in the early morning just before sunrise and in the evening. If one does not complete the agnihotr in the evening, his morning agnihotr does not matter. It is not until later that a deep discussion on exactly when the agnihotrs are to be performed occurs. As with most things surrounding the agnihotr there is no clear cut answer, thus we put the agnihotr at just before sunrise and just after sunset.
As we have now covered the texts of the agnihotr, its myths, the timing and why we perform it we are left with two questions: what do you use to complete an agnihotr and how do you do it?
The agnihotr, in its most basic form, is a pouring of milk into the fire. This involves just one fire, or three depending on your class, along with a sthali, a havani and an agnihotri (the cow). A sthali is an earthen pot containing milk which is an earthen pot containing milk which has been made by an Aryan (Vedic), but not a Sudra (non Vedic), and that has not been made with a potter’s wheel. By not being made on a wheel it is said the sthali becomes sacred to only the Gods. The havani is a spoon (or ladle) made of vikankata wood and has a handle which is one arm’s length.
There is also the kindling-stick, or samidh. This stick is made of palasa wood and is said to be equal to Soma. Only one stick is used and it represents Prajapati in certain myths within the Brahamanas. The other wood used to create the fire is for the fire only. The kindling stick is used as the means to transport the offering to heaven.
PERFORMING THE AGNIHOTR
The agnihotr is performed in the following order:
- Milk the cow
- Tend the fire
- Warm the milk
- Pour (or do not pour) the water
- Remove the milk from the fire
- Offering milk to the Householder Fire
- Offering of milk to the Offertorial Fire
An important issue to discuss is the fasting that is often done with Vedic rituals. There is no fast performed for the agnihotr, unlike in other Vedic rituals. Instead it is said that because the agnihotr is a never ending ritual there is no fast; however, there is mention that to remain pure when one has sex they should be like the animals: quiet with no talking. It is thought when you have sex in silence you become more pure.
The first step of the agnihotr is to milk the cow. As with all the steps in the agnihotr you will find many variations and you will find many variations and extreme detail as to how every action must be completed.
The cow, known as the agnihotri, is milked by a helper of is milked by a helper of agnihotri the priest. This helper is to let the calf go towards the cow from the southern side so he may win the favour of the Fathers. He makes the cow turn eastward to win the favour of the Gods. Then he turns the cow to the north to begin milking.
He milks the two front teats if the man he is milking for is the eldest son or prosperous, the back two teats are milked if the man he is milking for is the youngest son or wishes to be prosperous. Another source claims you should milk all four teats as they represent four sacrifices. The milk is to be milked into the sthali. Extreme care is to be taken so that no milk is spilled in this process.
The next step surrounds the kindling of the fires. A moment must be spent to explain the Vedic fire system before we continue. The generic ancient Vedic ritual layout consists of the Householder’s Fire (gaarhapatya), a seat for the Yajamana’s wife (the Yajamana being the person for who the ritual was being the person for who the ritual was being done), the Southern Fire (daksi-naagni), a seat for the Hotr Yajamana, the position of the Brahmin, the vedi, the Offertorial Fire ( the Offertorial Fire (vedi aahavaniiya), and the position of the Udgatr.
The Householder’s Fire is to the west. It is a reflection of the fire that is kept burning in the home at all times. It is often lit with the flames from the Domestic Fire of the Yajamana. Failing that it would be lit from the Brahmin’s own Domestic Fire, the Assembly Fire or from scratch as practicality dictates.
The Southern Fire is to the south and it is the fire of Yama, King of the Dead, and the Fathers. The Offertorial Fire is to the east and is the fire of the Gods. It is to this fire that offerings are made to go directly to the Gods. This specific fire is layer upon layer of bricks with specific meanings and is formed into the shape of a bird or on a structure in the shape of a bird.
The vedi is between the Offertorial Fire and the Householder’s Fire. This is shaped as the body of a woman and is the area where all of the ritual tools and offerings are placed. The fires of importance in an agnihotr are the gaarhapatya, the Householder’s Fire, and the aahavaniiya, the Offertorial Fire.
Fire is taken from the Householder’s Fire and placed to the Offertorial Fire. This is to be done at the end of the day. Thus he takes out the negativity of the day and secures the good actions of the day.
The individual is to approach the Offertorial Fire from the east and then he goes around it by passing between the space of it and the Householder’s Fire. Then he sits to the south of the Offertorial Fire.
There is also one mention of water being poured in the evening. Water is poured around all three fires, three times. While doing so the sacrificer says “I pour truth round thee, order.” † In the morning he does the same but says: “I pour order round thee, truth.” † The milk is then put on the Householder’s Fire to be cooked. The milk which is to be offered is to be cooked perfectly; not over boiling or being lukewarm. It is cooked over coals taken from the garhapatya fire.
The actual milking of the cow is a maze in and of itself. The cow should be milked by a Brahmin or a Sudra or a man who milks cows. They are to approach the cow from the southern side to win favor of the Fathers. Then the cow is forced eastward to gain the favour of the Gods. The cow is then turned north. The teats should never touch during the milking. The front teats should be milked for the man who is an eldest son or prosperous. The back teats should be milked if the man is the youngest son or wishes to become prosperous.
If there is no milk available there were optional offerings which could be used. These included ghee (clarified butter) (clarified butter) or rice-gruel (rice is said to be the seed of the bull and the bull is the Sun, thus the rice is the Sun in the manner milk is the Sun). If the fire cannot be made on time the ear of a female goat is offered (the goat is sacred to Agni); if a goat cannot be found the offering is made to the right hand of a Brahmin; if a Brahmin cannot be found the oblation should be made on kusagrass; if kusa grass cannot be found it should be offered into water.
The pot with the milk is not to be put in the middle of the Householder’s Fire as this would condemn the sacrificer’s wife to death. He is to push coals to the north of the fire and put the pot on them to protect his wife (the fire is seen as Rudra and the pot the wife).
One source, the Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda), states that when the coals are pushed out the sacrificer is to say: “Ye are the prosperity bringers. Danger coming from abroad has been pushed away.” †
The milk is put on the coals and it is said: “Thou art put on Vaisvanara’s fire. May Agni not burn thy lustre. For truth, thee.” †
Ghee is to be sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by is to be sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by kusa grass being burned, held over the milk and used to warm the milk.
The same source above states that while the milk is being passed over by the kusa the following is to be said: “Light the following is to be said: “Light together with light.” †
Then the grass, on fire, is to be carried around the pot three times as this rids the offering of the Rakshsa. This is done while saying: “Excluded is the race of the demons, excluded are the powers of adversity.” †
The next step involves the pouring of water onto the milk. Once again we find ourselves with conflicting sources. On one hand water is never to be poured into the milk, else the glow of the milk is extinguished. To remove this obstacle, when the milking was performed some milk is to be left in the pail and water mixed with it. Then this mixture is poured onto the heated milk. However, as the milking pail is the pot this opens a puzzle of whether there two of the sthali (agnihotr pot)?
The other option is to pour water or no water at all. One pours water if they desire cattle. One does not pour on water if they desire splendour.
The next step is to remove the pot from the fire and ladle out the milk while standing. The milk pot should be removed from the fire very carefully. If it is taken off eastward the husband dies first, if to the west the wife dies first. Thus the pot should be removed to the north, ensuring old age together.
Another version is that if the pot is removed to the east the sacrificer will be met with grief. If the pot is taken off at the south the offering goes to the Fathers which is not favourable to the Gods. If it goes to the west grief befalls the sacrificer’s wife. Thus the pot should be removed to the north.
The milk pot is to be set down near the fire as a means of worshipping the fire. The pot should not be laid to the south or behind the fire. It should be put at the west or north of the Householder’s Fire while saying “Give me cattle.” † The pot should not be placed by a fire which it is not intended to be offered to.
The way the milk is poured out into the Householder Fire is also complicated. One pours with a full ladle until each offering becomes smaller and smaller so his sons, according to their age, become prosperous. There is also the choice of offering a small amount first and then having the offering increase in size until a full ladle is the last offering. This leads to more food and the youngest son being the most prosperous.
There is the possibility of ladling out equal offerings so all the sons are treated equally. There is also a passage from the Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda) which states a man who goes from ladling a larger offering to a smaller offering becomes inferior. Thus the man is to do smaller offerings that grow in size until the last offering is a full ladle.
Another version states that two ladles are used. These are purified by being heated and one ladle contains the milk and the other ghee. The ghee is poured out under the milk is poured out under the milk oblation. This is ladled out four times to obtain cattle (cattle having four legs). There is also mention of an agnihtrasthali which holds four ladles that is separate from the milk pot.
There is a version which states the first ladle represents the Full and New Moon sacrifices. The second ladle represents the four monthly sacrifices. The third ladle represents istis and pasubandhas. The fourth represents the tryambaka, the vajapeya and the asvamedha sacrifices.
An additional version says one should remove the milk pot to the north and place it down three times. The coals are then poked on the south side while saying: “Homage to the Gods.” † The coals are carefully pushed back and then he ladles out four times and then/or an optional five times.
Yet another version, from the Jaiminiyabrahmana (Samaveda 1,39) says:
“Then he takes off the milk and puts it down while saying: ‘Established heaven, establish the world between heaven and earth, establish the earth, establish offspring and cattle for me, the sacrificer.’ He pushes back the coals and says: ‘You bring welfare, danger coming from foreign people has pushed you back.’ Then he takes the dipping spoon and the offering spoon and purifies them by heating them over the fire while saying: ‘Burnt is the race of the Rakshasa, burnt are the powers of adversity.’ Then he rubs the offering spoon in the evening while saying: ‘Together with the Gods coming in the evening’ and in the morning he says: ‘Together with the Gods in the morning.’ ‘Thee, the golden one, made of gold, ‘I rub’, ‘Thou art the channel which conveys the oblations.’ It becomes the channel for conveying oblations. Then he says: ‘I shall ladle out.’ He should speak: ‘Yes, I shall send myself to heaven.'” †
It is stated that the ladle being warm upsets Agni. As such the sacrificer should place the spoon in his hand or on his arm to cool it and make Agni happy.
The milk pot is then moved to be on the east of the Offertorial Fire. This is accompanied by saying either “Give me life; give me glory; give me offspring,” † or “Give me life,” † or “Give me glory.” † The kindling-stick is also laid down here and accompanied by: “The kindling-stick is indeed a man. He is kindled by food. Make me go to heaven by the energy of the food/oblation. Make my agnihotr go there where is the favourite domain of the Gods and the seers.” †
The Satapathabrahmana (White Yajurveda) points out that the milk and kindling-stick should not be placed down until after the first offering.
Now we come to the offering within the Offertorial Fire, which ends the ritual. The fire to which the offering is to be made must be of a particular design, meaning its appearance is to be exact.
The fire is broken into several stages in the Taittiryabrahmana (Black Yajurveda). The first stage represents Vasus and is the very beginning, when the flames first smoke the fire is Rudra; when the flame seizes fuel for the first time it is the Adityas; when the fire flames on all sides it is all of the Gods, and when the flame is low and red it is Indra.
A gold coloured flame is sacred to Brhaspati, red is sacred to Varuna, neither gold or red is sacred to Mitra, and when the flame is engulfed in smoke it is sacred to all of the Gods. It is when the fire flickers that it is the mouth of Agni and the offering is to be made.
The morning offering should be made with the right foot in front. The evening offering is made with the right foot behind. The offering must be made on the kindling-stick. To do otherwise is to offer directly to Death.
The offering itself is tricky because the second offering should not be poured directly onto the first. To do so triggers a flaw in the ritual and thus Death. To avoid this it is said that the first oblation is poured onto one section of the kindling-stick and that the second is poured by “jumping over” the first offering. There is also mention of both offerings being in a single line, although the practicality of this would require more than one officiant or a special offering ladle.
“Earth, air, heaven” † should be said before offering.
The actions of the agnihotr differ depending on the source and the time of day. First let us look at the morning agnihotr and then the evening.
In the morning the offering is made while saying: “Surya is the light, the light is Surya.” †
In the evening the offering is made while saying: “In Agni be light, light in Agni.” † Or one can say: “Agni is the light, the light is Agni.” †
There are further variations for the morning and evening, but these are the most repeated.
At the completion of these offerings, additional actions may be performed that honour additional Gods. These offerings are made to Surya, Rudra, Indra, the Angirases, and even the Rakshasa to name a few. As we are dealing with just the agnihotr and not any acceptable additions we shall spend no further time here.
QUESTIONS IN REGARD TO THE AGNIHOTR
The Vedas also deal with questions that arose from the performing of the agnihotr. Once again there are not definite answers and some answers contain more detail than others.
If there is no lit fire from which to take fire from, the fire can be created from scratch as the need dictates.
It is stated that every man is to perform the agnihotr. Yet Yet agnihotr Brahmins can be found having other can be found having other Brahmins perform it for them. This is a difficulty because the agnihotr has only has only one officiant, as the one symbolizes Prajapati in the originalagnihotr.
A wonderful passage which points to others performing the agnihotr for you can be found in the Sadvimsabrahmana (4,1,13-14):
“One oblation performed by a pupil is better than a hundred oblations performed by others. One oblation performed by a son is better than a hundred oblations performed by pupils. One oblation performed by oneself is better than a hundred oblations performed by a son. For he should offer himself, he should milk himself, he should attend on the agnihotr himself.” †
In addition we have the problem that a man is to perform the Householder rituals when he is wed and a householder. So if he is not wed should he also not complete the agnihotr? The Vedas state that a man should perform the agnihotr regardless, otherwise he is a barbarian (a barbarian being a man who does not offer to men, the Fathers or the Gods).
The agnihotr is never to be performed for the is never to be performed for the Ksatriya (king & warrior class). It is thought that the practices of the Ksatriya make them impure. Instead to perform the agnihotr the Ksatriya family is to invite in a Brahmin and feed him, thus symbolically performing the agnihotr.
Another version states the Ksatriya may perform an may perform an agnihotr on New and Full moons and that the missing agnihotrs may be replaced by the Ksatriya reciting mantras every day or his family feeding a Brahmin. The Brahmin eats the food and thus a symbolic agnihotr is performed. This is because the Brahmin is the only person who can eat left over oblations and he is acting as the fire when he is fed.
A contradiction in actions, the Kathakasamhita (Black Yajurveda) and Maitrayaisamhita (Black Yajurveda) both state that the agnihotr is to be performed in silence while the milk is ladled out. While earlier certain phrases are found to be said during the ladling out of the milk.
Having covered the ancient agnihotr as much as we dare for these materials, we now step into the modern agnihotr. In order to create a modern agnihotr we have to dissect the ancient agnihotr and compare it with our modern world.
I would like to take a moment to talk briefly about the Hindu agnihotr, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Vedic agnihotrother than sharing the same name and involving a fire. The Hindu agnihotr fits within the Hindu cosmology and belief system. The Vedic agnihotr fits within the fits within the Vedic cosmology and belief system. If you are completing a Hindu agnihotr you are not doing the original ritual and, contrary to propaganda, you are not doing a ritual that is the oldest ritual (the Hindu version, since Hinduism started about 200 BCE, is about 2200 years old).
The Vedic agnihotr is about honouring the gods and asking for blessings. The Hindu agnihotr, depending on your sources, is about purifying/healing the air and the earth or healing the self (and contrary to some sources, the agnihotr is not a yajna ritual). The tools used and the words said are entirely ritual). The tools used and the words said are entirely different and reflect the two belief systems respectively. The Vedic agnihotr is about the Gods. The Hindu is about the Gods. The Hindu agnihotr is about is about the inner self.
The differences are not a matter of doing things correctly or incorrectly (although completing rituals in an exact manner was very important to the Vedics). It is about honouring the Gods in a manner which pleases them. And as the Hindu religion has spent a millennia attempting to wipe out the Vedic Gods and the Hindu version is a tad too egocentric for my tastes, I prefer to complete the Vedic agnihotr.
The ancient agnihotr had two fires which it dealt with: the Offertorial Fire and the Householder’s Fire. It can be safely assumed that outside of a temple a modern person is not going to have a constantly burning Offertorial Fire. A constant Householder’s Fire can be arranged, but would take extreme caution. With today’s family, pets and work load it is often not safe to have a constant fire burning.
So what is one to do in regards to the fire? To be honest, this would vary from family to family. In our own family we have a candle that was lit during our Vedic wedding ceremony (in ancient times the Householder’s Fire was one lit during the wedding ceremony and then kept lit at the home). We are also blessed with a gas stove.
In our situation we light our Householder Fire (the candle) and transfer the fire to the gas stove, thus making it a functioning Householder’s Fire. In addition there is a small bowl with coals for the fire to be moved to for the offerings. The Offertorial Fire is a second small bowl which contains coals that is lit as needed.
The ancient agnihotr had several tools which were peculiar had several tools which were peculiar to it. You had the cow, the ladle (or spoon) and the pot. Obviously not many people will have access to a cow so bottled milk will have to do. In addition not everyone has access to a ladle which has a handle an arm’s length, nor do they have the skills or access to a clay pot made by hand (not on a potter’s wheel) that can be used on a fire.
The ladle can be improvised and be a wooden spoon. However, the pottery simply cannot be made on a potters wheel. To do so makes it no longer sacred for the Gods. We used a clay pot made by my own hands that was fired in a kiln.
You also have the kindling-stick, possible ghee, water and rice gruel. For kindling-sticks we use sandalwood, ghee we we get at the local Indian market or make ourselves, for water we purchase bottled Ganges water although we do not use it in the agnihotrand we never bother with the rice. One of the most important items to have is a compass, so you know which direction is which! We also use a small refrigerator which holds all ritual related food products to avoid any contamination.
The next steps are to complete offerings into the Householder’s Fire, move the offerings to the Offertorial Fire and then make the oblations to the Offertorial Fire. These things can easily be used as is for modern practitioners. The key is to choose which actions and phrases speak to you and aid in your connection with the Gods.
The agnihotr is a ritual which I complete each day. If I am unable to perform it as I do not have access to certain items (due to travel) I do a modified version. This particular ritual was created for use by one individual and one that was required to be done indoors. This ritual assumes that you are standing and have the available tools and fires raised. It can easily be adapted for a seated ritual.
This ritual is done using a configuration of two small round tables with all items needed upon them. On one table the Offertorial Fire goes in the north and the Householder’s Fire goes to the east. On the second table the milk, sthali, sthali ghee, water, water ladle, milk ladle and kusa grass are laid out. You will also need oven mitts, a manner to light the Householder Fire, a small rake to push the coals, means for fires to exist and the containers to safely hold them (I line small bowls with dirt and place just a few coals in them). Most importantly, you will need a fire extinguisher. Do not ever do a ritual which uses fire without one.
You will notice that I have stripped away the asking for blessings from the Gods. The removal of asking for blessings was a personal choice because this ritual is done every day and I use it to honour the Gods and not ask for things. You will also notice that Vedic rituals contain more actions than words. This ritual style may take some adjusting to if you are used to chanting mantras, or having a great deal of speech in your rituals.
One walks toward the fire containers from the south and stops just shy of them and states: “Agni is the light, the light is Agni” if it is in the evening or “Surya is the light, the light is Surya.” if it is in the morning. The Householder Fire is then lit and from this fire the Offertorial Fire is lit.
With a steady hand, the milk is transferred into the sthali. The sthali is then raised and held just slightly above the head is then raised and held just slightly above the head while facing the north. A short bowing of the head is made to recognize the Fathers. Turning to the east the process of raising the sthali and bowing the head is repeated, but this and bowing the head is repeated, but this time it is done to recognize the Gods.
The sthali is then carefully held in one hand as you ladle is then carefully held in one hand as you ladle water out and pour it around the Householder’s Fire three times while reciting “I pour truth around you, Rta” if it is in the evening or “I pour Rta around you, truth.” if it is in the morning. You then pour water around ther Offertorial Fire three times while reciting “I pour truth around you, Rta” if it is in the evening or “I pour Rta around you, truth” if it is in the morning. You then place the ladle down.
Then you push the coals of the Householder’s Fire to the north of the fire while saying: “You are the bringers of prosperity. Danger coming from abroad has now been pushed away.”
The sthali is then put onto the Householder’s Fire so that is then put onto the Householder’s Fire so that the milk may be cooked while saying: “You are now put on Vaisvanara’s fire. May Agni not burn your luster.” (You must keep a constant eye on the milk for it is to be cooked perfectly; it should not be luke warm and it should not boil).
Ghee is then sprinkled on the milk. This is followed by gathering some kusa grass and letting it be burned just enough so that a soft red glow is still upon it. Then you pass the kusa grass over the milk while saying: “Light together with grass over the milk while saying: “Light together with light.”
The grass is then passed around the outside of the sthali three times while saying: “Excluded are the race of adversaries. Excluded are the powers of adversity.”
The sthali is then removed from the fire (please be careful to is then removed from the fire (please be careful to not be burned) and it must be removed to the north. The sthali is then placed to the west of the Householder’s Fire. is then placed to the west of the Householder’s Fire. A second ladle (different from that which you poured water from) is now used to pour four full ladlefuls of milk into the Householder’s Fire.
Offerings are then ladled into the Offertorial Fire while saying: “Earth, Air, Heaven” before each offering. Additional offerings may be made to other Gods if one desires. Offerings are made until the sthali is empty.
When there are no more offerings one says: “Agni is the light, the light is Agni” if it is in the evening or “Surya is the light, the light is Surya.” if it is in the morning. The fires are then put out with great care and then the rituals tools are cleaned and put away.
†Translations from Daily Evening and Morning Offering agnihotr According to the Brahmanas by H. W. Bodewitz. Publisher: Brill Academic Pub. Published Date: 08/01/1997. ISBN: 9004045325
‡Yoni did not mean womb. It meant “lair” or “abode”.
- Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads by A.B. Keith
- Religion of the Veda by Hermann Oldenberg
- Upanisads translated by Patrick Olivelle
- Vedic Ritual The Non-Solemn Rites by J. Gonda
- The Religion of the Rigveda by H.D. Griswold
- A Dictionary of the Vedic Rituals Based on the Srauta and Grhya Sutras by Chitrabhanu Sen
- Rig Veda translated by Ralph T. Griffith
- The Veda of the Black Yajus School Entitled Taittiriya Sanhita. 2 Volumes. Translated by A.B. Keith
- Rigveda Brahmanas Translated by A.B. Keith
- Yajurveda Samhita Translated by Ralph T. Griffith
- Samaveda Translated by Ralph T. Griffith
- Atharvaveda Translated by Ralph T. Griffith
- Rice and Barley Offerings in the Veda by J. Gonda
- Atharvavedatranslated by W. D. Whitney
- Aum Hindutvam Daily Religious Rites of the Hindus by Swami Vedananda
- Cooking the World by Charles Malamoud
- Taittiriya Upanisad Translated by S. M. Prasad
- Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas by Uma Vesci
- Daily Evening and Morning Offering agnihotr According to the Brahmanas by H. W. Bodewitz
- Vedic Sacrifices by Swami Harshananda
- The Jaiminigrhyasutra Belonging To The Samaveda Translated by W. Caland
- The Grihya-sutras – Rules of Vedic Domestic Ceremonies Translated by Hermann Oldenberg and Max Muller.
“Agnihotr.” submitted by NarabaliAgnayi on 15 May, 2019