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Havan Yajna

The most ancient form of Hindu prayer is known as the Havan Yajna. It is a religious ceremony in which a sacred fire is lit and Sanskrit mantras are recited. Some scholars wrongly think that it is worship of fire, which it is not. It is based on the principle of sacrificing for the sake of others. These are the main purposes of Havan Yajna:

  • Lighting a fire and offering wood, ghee and herbs is a symbolic act of giving and teaches one not to be selfish.
  • Recitation of prayers in a group teaches one to live happily by sharing with others.
  • It represents the protection of the environment we all have to live in.

 

A step-by-step explanation of Hava

  • Sipping of water (Achman)

Great importance is attached to water in Hindu religious traditions. It is one of the five physical elements. Without water there cannot be any life. Water is considered as a gift given to humanity by God. At the start of a Yajna, water is sipped three times: first for the water received from the sky (rain), second for underground water (wells) and third for surface water (lakes and rivers). This signifies that God gives shelter from above and provides the ground (base) to stand on.

  • Prayer for physical health (Ang Saparsh)

These mantras recognize the five senses and the parts of the body, which are needed to carry out work. Different parts of the body are touched with water to pray for physical health and strength.

  • Communion prayer (Ishwar Upasana)

God’s powers and qualities are remembered in these mantras. Eight mantras selected from the Vedas are recited; they state that God created everything and that he controls everything through the physical laws he made. For example, reference is made to the planets and the earth staying in orbit owing to the force called ‘gravity’. Scientists have discovered the law of gravity, but they have not found out who made this law. The Vedas say that there are eternal laws, which were used by God to create the universe.

  • Benedictory prayer (Swasti Vachan)

These mantras mention various branches of science, which can be of benefit to mankind. These Vedic prayers refer to the combination of different materials to make new materials (chemistry) and the making of machines (technology) and pray that they should be of benefit to society. The importance of weather and the rain cycle is described. It is also prayed that scientists, rulers (kings), soldiers, and all intelligent people should do good for others. Finally, the mantras mention the twenty-one things which make up this world: the five physical elements (fire, air, earth, water and space) which have the qualities of light (heat), sound, smell, taste and touch sensed by the five senses through the five parts of the body (eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin) which contains the soul.

  • Prayer for peace (Shanti Prakarna)

In these mantras the prayer is for the forces of nature to be peaceful. For example, in the first mantra it is prayed that the presence of electricity in the air (lightening) should not harm; this is called ‘Indra Varuna’ in the mantra. Another prayer is for the chemicals in plants to be peaceful i.e. they should work as medicine, not poison. Even psychology is mentioned: prayer is made for people to have sound and balanced minds in order to live in harmony. Finally, in the last mantra God is requested to grant fearlessness and bravery so that humans can fight bad influences and stay on the side of good.

  • Lighting the fire (Agnya Dhan)

As the sacred fire is lit, the prayer reminds us that we cannot live without consuming and wasting the things offered by nature. In this mantra the role of nature is acknowledged for giving things to sustain all life.

  • Placing the firewood (Samidha Dhan)

By placing the wood, the fire is started. It signifies that work has to be done to achieve one’s goal. Without work one cannot meet one’s objectives.

  • Offering of ghee (Ghrit Ahuti)

The main thought behind this offering is that just as fuel (ghee) is needed to keep the fire going, so God is needed to keep us alive and working. The offerings are made with the words that the fuel is for fire, not for ourselves. It also conveys the message that one should work for God, not for oneself.

  • Sprinkling of water (Jal Sinchan)

Water is sprinkled around the sacred fire and prayers are made for obtaining unbeatable strength, tolerance and intelligence. The importance of strength with tolerance and intelligence with a sweet tongue is the message given by this ritual.

  • Special prayers for both morning and evening

These mantras teach selflessness. Offerings are made to the air, sun and fire. These are gifts from God without which no one can live. Worshippers are reminded not to misuse and plunder the resources of nature.

  • Offering without selfishness (Ajyahuti)

Several offerings to the fire are made with the words “It is not for me” (Id na mum). Here Hindus pray for protection from anger, and ask for more light and less darkness. This also means more knowledge and less ignorance, more happiness and less misery for everyone.

  • Final offering (Poornahuti)

The final mantra says, “God is perfect. God is infinite.” The Vedas say that God is infinite and perfect because he will never run out of energy. The prayer is for everything to be perfect and complete.

Hindus believe that there is a scientific basis for Havan Yajna. The aromatic oils and herbs offered to the sacred fire burn to create chemical substances such as ketones and aldehydes, which produce disinfectants like Formaldehyde. It is a kind of fumigation process, which cleanses the air of harmful germs. Many Hindus perform Havan Yajna at their homes for purification.

Making offerings with chants like “It is not for me” is believed to be a kind of psychological training in performing a selfless act. It serves as a reminder of obligations towards God, nature and fellow human beings. Havan Yajna is performed at all Hindu weddings and sacraments (Samskara). Yajna emphasizes feelings of mutual obligation and reminds those who have forgotten about them.

Extract taken from ‘Explaining Hindu Dharma. A guide for Teachers’ edited by Dr. Naval K. Prinja (Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK)

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