“O Maithili, I shall restore you today to Shri Rama, who is staying on Mount Prasravana, like the fire-god bringing offerings placed in fire to Indra.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.21)
aham prasravaṇasthāya rāghavāya adya maithili |
prāpayiṣyāmi śakrāya havyam hutam iva analaḥ ||
Get the place ready first. Even if it’s a cold January day, listen to the advice. Keep the windows and doors open. Proper ventilation is required. It’s going to get hot and smoky. Make sure there are enough grains for every person in attendance. Too much is the better option, since you don’t want to run out.
Secure the area underneath. You don’t want the carpet to get burned. You don’t want the flooring ruined. It’s not every day that you set up a fire in the living room. Consult a qualified priest, who can recite the Sanskrit mantras properly. Be prepared to sit on the floor for a long time and do whatever is asked of you.
It is only natural for some of the not-so-willing participants to be a little skeptical of the whole ordeal. This usually consists of the children of the parents holding the yajna in the home. This is a sacrifice, intended for a specific purpose. Instead of going to church, it is bringing the time-honored practices of religion to the home.
This is Vedic in nature. That is to say the authority for the rituals is based on the oldest spiritual tradition in the world. To the less informed the name is Hinduism, but that is more of a cultural term, a way to identify something that is complex and difficult to understand. A more appropriate identification is “Vedic culture.” It is the way of living descending from the Vedas, which have many branches of knowledge. Hence there are variations to the rituals adhered to, the gods worshiped, and the associated objectives of life.
Common to the many sects is the concept of yajna. Set up a fire, bring oblations, and place them at the appropriate moments, chanting a specific word each time. The children may not understand what is going on. To them it seems silly. What is the fire going to do for them? How is throwing grains going to prove meaningful? Why not apply paurusham, human effort? Hasn’t man progressed beyond the stage of believing in myths and legends?
In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, we get an idea of the background happenings to a yajna. There is more than meets the eye. Fire is considered a material element controlled by an intelligent being. Hence the name Agni, which refers to the fire-god. Vedic literature says that the fire-god accepts the oblations poured into the fire, but does not enjoy them himself.
Rather, he serves as a conduit. He brings the offerings to the various gods. Indra is the chief of the devas, and so he receives a share, as well. The process is without issue; there is no concern over disruption in the transport. Since time immemorial the asuras, who are the enemies of the devas, have tried to stop yajna altogether. They understand that once the proper procedure is followed, the good guys gain in strength.
Shri Hanuman references this process to assure a princess that the transport across the vast ocean will go just as smoothly. Hanuman proposed to place Sita on his back and return her to Shri Rama, who is staying on a mountain. The exit from Lanka will surely be dangerous. The Rakshasas inhabiting the island will resist. Sita is their property, they think, since their leader stole her away from Rama in secret. Hanuman is ready to act like the fire-god and be an integral component in the culture of dharma.
The sentiment is greatly appreciated, but Sita prefers to wait for Rama to arrive and rescue her Himself. He is her husband, after all. In the same way, despite the many yajnas prescribed for meeting different interests, the satisfaction of God the person is the most important. In this dark age of Kali, the most potent yajna is known as sankirtana, which is the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The expert priest teaching the practice and bringing potency to it is the spiritual master, who is a representative of Rama following in the same mood as Hanuman. That is to say they are ready to go to any lengths to please God, even if danger is involved. With sankirtana-yajna conducted under proper guidance, empowered through the representative, Bhagavan Himself hears the sacred sounds, bringing to the devotee continued devotion, for lifetime after lifetime.
Svaha and other mantras to sing,
In background fire-god to bring.
Oblations to the demigods so,
Purpose to the procedures know.
Hanuman in same way proposing,
For Sita’s growing distress disposing.
Sankirtana the yajna for this day,
Yoga link from holy names to say.