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Homa - Havan: Brief description about the Ritual of Fire

Sitting before the Kunda
A havan or homa is similar to a puja in the sense that both are common modes of Hindu worship and both are symbolic forms of communication. The words havan and homa each derive from the Sanskrit root hu, meaning to offer, to present and to eat. Generally, the word havan is heard in North India and homa is used in South India, but in either case, the meanings are identical. I will use the word havan, but I could just as easily use the word homa.

A havan is a religious ceremony performed in temples and in homes that involves worship through the use of a sacred fire. The use of fire as a means of worship is the most ancient of all rites, going back to the earliest Vedic times. This fire ritual is described in elaborate detail in the Brahmanas. From the earliest of Vedic times and even to present day, fire (Agni) was viewed as the chief of the Gods. In fact, the first verse of the Rig Veda is addressed to Agni, the fire God. "I praise Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice... ."

Metal Kunda
Metal KundaIn ancient times the fire sacrifice was an elaborate ceremony that could involve the sacrifice of horses, cows and goats, as well as gold, gems and other precious items into the fire. Today, a havan is a simplified ritual that rarely involves animal sacrifice or the placing of precious items into the fire. Instead, rice or a kind of popery is commonly substituted for these items, but still the basic meaning of the ritual remains. This may sound odd or glib, but an easy way to think of the havan is as a symbolic "postal system." The fire container is the postbox, fire is the postman, the items placed into the fire are the message and mantra is the means of address. Generally, wood and clarified butter (ghee) are used as the fuel. The fire container, which may be brick or metal, is called a kunda, and when made of brick it is built to specific dimensions and shapes according to the purposes of the ceremony. For home use, generally a small metal havan kunda is used instead of a brick one because of its ease of setup and portability. In a formal situation, a brick kunda will be used. Kundas have different shapes: square, rectangular, round and triangular, but in most cases the square kunda is used.

Havan Setup in Brick Kunda
A havan ceremony involves a priest and a host(s) and guests sitting before the kunda while mantras are recited and various items such as ghee, rice, herbs, foodstuffs, and other items are placed into the fire. Through the mantras, fire, is asked to take the prayers and consumed offerings (hence the meaning of hu "to eat") to the intended Divinity. For example, if one wanted to perform a havan for increased health, one could direct the offerings to the sun Deity, Surya. If one wanted rain, one might direct their prayers and offerings to the rain Deity, Indra. If one wanted to increase luck and general prosperity one could direct Agni to take the offerings to Ganesha and Lakshmi, two Divinities in charge of luck and fortune. In this way, during a havan many Deities may be propitiated with a specific focus on just one or two, depending on the purpose.

Puja and havan can also be combined. In fact, this is most common. For example, a ceremony could begin with puja to a sacred image of Ganesha and then a puja using a copper pot, coconut and leaves to Varuna and then go on to include a havan directed towards Vishnu, Shiva and Durga Devi. In common speech the complete ceremony would be called a puja, but in fact there are many pujas and many havans all combined into one.

Although a consecrated fire is the central element of every homa ritual, the procedure and items offered to the fire vary by what occasions the ceremony, or by the benefit expected from the ritual. Procedures invariably involve -

  • The kindling and consecration of the sacrificial fire;
  • The invocation of one or more divinities; and the making of offerings (whether real or visualized) to them with The fire as via media, amid the recitation of prescribed prayers and mantras.

The consecrated fire forms the focus of devotions; it is often maintained on specific types of dung, wood, dried coconut (copra) and/or other combustibles. The fire-altar (vedi or homa/havan kunda) is generally made of brick or stone or a copper vessel, and is almost always built specifically for the occasion, being dismantled immediately afterwards. This fire-altar is invariably built in square shape. While very large vedis are occasionally built for major public homas, the usual altar may be as small as 1 x 1 foot square and rarely exceeds 3 x 3 feet square. Again, whereas major altars at public events may include a hollowing of the earth to create a relatively deep pit, usual altars involve no such excavation and indeed rise only inches above the ground.

In all events, the arrangement is centered in the middle of a space, which may be either outdoors or indoors. The principal people performing the ceremony and the priests who instruct them through the rituals seat themselves around the altar, while family, friends and other devotees form a larger ring around that center. The length and procedure of a homa depends on the purpose to which it is performed; many different types of homas exist, and the following list is only illustrative.

Some common Homas
Homa rituals have been performed by Vedic priests for several millennia. The following is an illustrative list of a few such homa rituals:

Aayushya homa
to ward off evil influences present in a child's life immediately following its birth, thereby ensuring longevity
Mrutyunjaya homa
for ward off life threatening situations like accidents and
ensure longetivity of life
Dhanavantri homa
for good health
Durga homa
to cancel negative energies; for self-confidence
Chandi homa
For Victory in all endeavors
Gayatri homa
to facilitate positive thinking and subsequently performing good karma
Kritya Pariharana
to counter the effects of black magic
Ganapati homa
to overcome obstacles
Lakshmi Kuberahoma
for wealth and material prosperity
Thila homahomam performed for warding of the evil effects of departed

soul.It is performed only once in life time preferably at Rameswaram/ Thrupullani( sethu karai)
to celebrate auspicious events; to attain Moksha
Mahadevi homa
for the stimulation of a marriage and for marital felicity among those already married
to appease the Nine planets and limit the evil influences in one's horoscope
for the naming of a child
for success in an undertaking
SanthanaGopala homa
for blessings for a Child
Rudra homa
Getting rid of all negative influences
Vastu homa
a house-warming; to encourage good Vastu (energy in buildings)
Vidya homa
to benefit students; to facilitate learning
Vishwa Shanthihoma
for universal peace and harmony, as also harmony between the self and the universe
Viraja Homa
purification rites performed as part of the formal ceremonies by which a person takes the vows of renunciation (Sannyas), thereby becoming a Sanyasi (monk)

The purification rites of the Viraja homa ritual also apply to the formal ceremonies by which a Hindu monk takes up the vows of renunciation (Sannyas), thereby becoming a Sanyasi. The procedure is a part of the full Sannyas Diksha monastic initiation ceremony. After the Homa, the monk receives the ochre robes the characteristic dress of Hindu monks, from his teacher (guru).

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