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Yagna – Superstition or Science?

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A few years back, I had been to Varanasi on an official trip. After the day’s work, I was back at airport, where I struck a conversation with a middle aged German lady. She told me that she had come to India to invite one of the pandits in Varanasi to her home town in Germany, to organise a Yagna for them. I looked at her incredulously. She told me that there is a big market for Yagnas in Europe. I could not believe my ears. She smiled and said politely, “Indians have forgotten the science behind Yagna.” She was wrong. I hadn’t forgotten. I just didn’t know that there was a science behind Yagna.

Over time, I have tried to understand this multi-faceted way of life, originally called Sanatana Dharma, now conveniently but inaccurately called Hinduism. What I share with you below is just my understanding, however incomplete it may be.

The most commonly used translation of Yagna is Sacrifice. Devdutt Pattanaik, an eminent mythologist, speaker and author, says that Yagna was in fact conceptualized, not as a mere Sacrifice, but as an Exchange. As such, it consisted of two parts – A Sacrifice or an Offering, made in return for an Expectation.

The initiator of the Yagna was called a Yajamana. He initiated a Yagna because he had a material desire that he wanted to fulfill – a son to continue his lineage, or wealth for his treasury, or rains for his kingdom, or victory in a war, and so on and so forth. In order to fulfill his desire, he was willing to make an offering (donations of cows, wealth, etc.), represented by SvahaThis of me, I offer to you.

The fulfiller of his desires was a Devata – an Energy Form, representing the material aspiration of the Yajamana. The Devata fulfilled the desire saying TathastuSo be it!

So, a Yagna was a mechanism of invoking a Devata to fulfil a particular desire. It was a “give and receive” mechanism, a practical, material process, as against the misunderstood “noble” concept of simply a sacrifice.

This process of invoking the Devata was highly technical, and required an expert who knew its technology. This expert was called a Rishi, who was a Brahmana (one who is in communion with the Brahman). Ancient Indian Rishis were scientists, who knew the science and technology behind invoking different energy bodies (Devatas) representing different material desires.

But did Devatas exist? Are they these so-called energy forms, or are they just figments of mythology? How do we get a grip on this idea?

To understand this, let’s see what modern science has to say. I take modern science’s reference, not because it is more advanced or more accurate, but simply because it is contemporary and so, we relate to it better. Let’s see what its foremost scientist, Albert Einstein, had to say.

The crux of Einstein’s entire life is a small formula, probably the most well-known formula in the world, E = mc². Through it, Einstein states that:

  • Matter is nothing but energy.
  • Different types of matter resonate with different energy levels.

Now, compare this with what the Sankhya Yoga, one of the six schools of Indian philosophy, expounded by Kapila Maharshi, says.

  • Consciousness (Purusha or Shiva) manifests as Energy (Prakriti or Shakti).
  • Energy manifests as various forms of matter – from the very subtle (Shoonya), to the subtle (Sukshma), to the gross forms of matter (Sthula).
  • So, Energy is condensed Consciousness. Matter is condensed Energy.
  • Through a set of processes, it into possible to change matter into energy, or energy into matter, or tap into higher or lower energy levels, and change the forms of matter.

So, it is possible to invoke an energy form that will bring rain to a land. Required frequencies have to be tapped. It is possible to invoke a male child in a barren womb. Those particular frequencies have to be tapped. This Yagna was called Putrakameshthi Yagna. It is possible to invoke wealth. A different frequency, and hence a corresponding energy form needs to be tapped. This energy form can be given a name (for example, Kubera) and can be considered a deity (worthy of worship), but in essence, I understand a Devata as an energy form, corresponding to the frequency of the material, physical aspect.

So, there can be a water god (Varuna), or a fire god (Agni) or a wind god (Vayu), or a tree god, or an elephant god (Ganesha) or a goddess for wealth (Laxmi), or for knowledge (Saraswati), or for any of the 33 million gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. They may just have been various energy forms corresponding to various frequencies on the material plane.

Next, how can one invoke these deities (Devatas or Devis)? The setup of the Yagnashala itself is applied science, i.e. highly advanced technology. Take for instance the Havan Kund, also called Yagna Vedi.

The Havan Kund works on a simple scientific principle that geometry (shape, direction, size, location) influences the flow of energy. This is the same principle on which Vaastu Shastra is based. So the shape of the Yagna Vedi varies with the type of energy to be invoked.

S.N Yagna Vedi Purpose
1 Yoni Kund For childbirth
2 Semilunar Kund For clearance of family issues
3 Triangular Kund For victory
4 Octagon Kund For health
5 Round Kund For public well-being
6 Hexagon Kund For victory over enemies
7 Square Kund For overall good
8 Padma Kund For protection against magical powers

A fun fact – the word Pyramid means fire in the middle. It was an ancient geometrical tool to create a particular energy field within itself.

The second aspect of invoking the Devata is the use of Mantras. Basically, Mantras are sounds. Sound is in fact energy. If a particular sound is uttered, a vibration is created. This vibration has a particular frequency. So different syllables generate different frequencies.

A Mantra is a combination of different syllables in a particular order, which when uttered aloud, repeatedly, creates a particular energy field. There are Mantras for various material and spiritual aspirations – for health, for wealth, for relations, for mental peace, for spiritual growth, so on and so forth.

Another fun fact – the most powerful Mantra in the universe is a simple syllable – OM, also pronounced as AUM, a variation of which is seen in every religion – Amen in Christianity and Amin in Islam.

Another aspect of the science of Yagna is the use of Fire – Agni. Fire is one of the five primordial elements – Agni (Fire), Vayu (Air), Apah (Water), Akash (Space) and Prithvi (Earth). The discovery of Fire by man is a pivotal moment in his evolutionary journey, primarily because it marks man’s evolution of consciousness. Reminds me of the movie Jungle Book, by Disney, where Mowgli is captured by a bunch a monkeys because the monkey king wants to know how man-made fire.

More importantly, fire is energy – heat energy. It also signifies purity. It burns away impurities and leaves a pure residue.

I read somewhere that there are 1008 types of Yagnas in the Vedas. I wonder why the only narrative of Yagna I heard as a kid growing up was that it involved animal sacrifice. I wonder why I have always considered Yagna to be a superstition. And I wonder how Germans heard another narrative and decided to import its technology from India.


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