The Meaning of Yajna

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

In Rikhia, Paramahamsaji told us a story about a god, a demon and a human being. These three went to their creator, Brahma, for instructions on how to live a happy life. While they were on their way to Brahma, the clouds rumbled and a roll of thunder came out of nowhere. The three said, "We have heard the message of the creator and now there is no need to go to him."

What was it that they heard in the roll of the thunder clouds? The gods heard the word damadvam, which to them meant restraint of the senses and mind. Sometimes the gods behave like millionaires. They live in a five star hotel called heaven where every facility and comfort exists. They are into night clubs, music, dances, pleasure and enjoyment. So for them the message from the creator was restraint of the senses and mind.

The demon's representative also heard a word, which was dayadvam. The nature of demons is cruel, destructive and negative, they represent all the bad qualities of life. So the message meant be compassionate to other creatures, to be kind to other beings, to be considerate to other life forms. Compassion was the message for the demons.

The human being also heard a word in the roll of thunder, which was danadvam. Human beings by nature are creatures who accumulate things. Accumulation of wealth, property and knick-knacks which help to boost one's ego, prestige and self-esteem is very much human nature. So the message that the humans received was danadvam, which means not to accumulate or possess but to give away.

Different forms of yajna

This giving away later on became yajna. Yajna means to offer and this offering happens at many levels. In anna yajna there is offering of grains and food. In dana yajna there is offering of material wealth. The sadhana, the austerities you perform to transform and uplift yourself, in which you offer all your negative qualities to the fire and become pure, is known as tapah yajna.

In this way, yajnas took on different forms indicating a process by which human beings could purify themselves and also ensure purity in the environment, purity of speech, thought and action, and the ability to understand the link that exists between an individual and nature, between nature and the cosmos. So the seed of yajna was sown when human beings heard the divine message: "Give, offer, do not accumulate."

In the course of time, yajnas became part of the tantric and vedic traditions. On culmination of a sadhana, yajna is performed in order to share the attainments and the spiritual and material prosperity that has been gained. Yajnas were also used to propitiate the natural forces and cosmic energies, the natural luminous beings which govern the elements, different celestial events and the different expressions in life. Through mantra and yantra, yajna awakens the power contained within the natural forces and makes them beneficent and auspicious for the development and growth of life on earth as well as in heaven and hell.

There are other forms of yajna which individuals from different strata of society could also perform in order to establish their authority in society. The kings used to perform a yajna known as Ashwamedha yajna. When they had to declare themselves as emperors, they would send out a horse followed by the army. That horse would travel freely around the world. The rulers of whichever country it was passing through either had to seize the horse and challenge the authority of the king who had sent it, by having a war, or accept the horse and become subordinate to the king. So, yajnas had many different forms and components, and happened in different ways.

Chandi yajna

However, I am talking more specifically of the yajna which aims at uniting the individual mind with the cosmic mind. The tantras and the Vedas adopted this method of yajna. During the Sat Chandi Yajna at Rikhia, Paramahamsaji mentioned that it is taken straight from the tantras. The aim of tantra has been to purify oneself without negation of life's situations, without negation of the weaknesses which we have inherited. Tantric yajnas invoke energy, shakti. If you have a dirty pot you take a hose pipe and clean the pot with the water coming through the pipe. Similarly, the tantric yajnas represent the flow of water in the pipe. We are the dirty pots and it is the force of the water that cleans the pot.

The Sat Chandi Yajna represents one of the highest forms of tantric ritual. Chandi is the aggressive aspect of the Mother. Chandi comes into existence when all human and divine efforts have failed. There is a limit to human effort and there is a limit to divine effort. The story of Chandi is described in the book Durgasaptashati, which describes the glories of the Cosmic Mother. The story begins with a war between the gods and the demons. The gods gave the demons a solid thrashing and the demons were expelled from heaven. The entire balance of the universe was disturbed. Instead of peace and harmony, chaos and struggle were the order of the day. In a state of absolute demoralization, the gods went and told their woes to the trinity, represented by Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer.

While the three gods were listening to the sufferings of the devas they became angry and a form, a shape, appeared from their anger. That was the Chandi, who is also known as Durga. Durga was born from the luminosity of each deva and she represents the synthesis of all the cosmic powers. The story describes how she entered the fray and was able to vanquish all the demons who were harassing the devas. In Hindu mythology, Durga is seen to be the final manifestation of the universal power who appears to establish peace, dharma, justice, and to remove people's suffering and woe. That is the mythological background.

In Shakta tantra, the part of tantra that worships the Devi, the Chandi Yajna is considered to be a very important form of worship. Not every pandit can perform this kind of ritual. The acharyas who perform the Chandi Yajna are experts in the tantric and vedic laws. The entire procedure of the yajna is the recreation of the cosmic abode of Durga, Chandi, the cosmic energy. The yajnashala (the place where the yajna is performed) has sixteen pillars. In each pillar a deva is invoked and the devas become the guardians.

In different corners of the yajnashala there are representations of different deities. The nine planets and the deities of the nine planets, the navagrahas, are worshipped. Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, is worshipped. The matrikas, the minor forces or energies of the Mother, are worshipped. The sixty-four yoginis, the sixty four aspects of the Mother are worshipped. In this way, through the chanting of mantras the pandits invoke different energies in different forms in different areas of the yajnashala. Once they are in their proper place, the Cosmic Mother is invoked and the yajna begins.


A yajna must have a purpose, a sankalpa, which defines its aim. As the host of the yajna, Paramahamsaji gave the sankalpa of 'peace, prosperity, plenty and spiritual upliftment', which was not confined to one person or one community but to the entire world. On the first day the sankalpa was taken, the acharyas conducting the arati prayed for the fulfilment of the sankalpa. On the second day, the rural community of Rikhia county was represented and they prayed for the fulfilment of the sankalpa. On the third day, the nation was represented by different families from the north and south, east and west of India. On the fourth day, the world was represented by people of different nationalities. On the final day, all the energies that had been invoked were released.

So the yajnashala was like a body; it became a living being, a living entity. On the first day the prana, the life force, was infused. On the last day that life force was released and what remained was only an empty shell, like a dead body. You will not notice the results of the yajna now, but in three months, six months, maybe in one year's time, you will see that your life has turned around and it has become much better, happier, more blissful. It is something you will experience and notice as time goes by.

Since the pandits are constantly chanting, do they have more opportunity for spiritual evolution?

The acharyas chant the mantras with a sankalpa, for a reason and a purpose. All their energies and efforts are directed to the fulfilment of that purpose, not for their personal gain. They become the medium, humanity is the winner.

The tantric and vedic traditions are very clear on the subject of sankalpa. During the yajna many people would come to me asking if they could offer an amulet, some water, a flower or some tikka to the pooja place. I would say no, because when a yajna is being conducted it is for a special reason. If somebody imposes their own reasons on the event, nobody is a winner. Rather everybody is a loser because the main focus is taken away. When people asked me if they could pray for somebody who is ill, suffering from cancer, or HIV+, I would tell them to pray in their minds, not in the yajnashala. Personal wishes or desires are not to be mixed with the purpose of the yajna

This principle also applies to the acharyas who chant the mantras. They also feel transformed while they are chanting, but they are not praying for the fulfilment of their wishes, they are praying for the fulfilment of the sankalpa. So they also derive the same spiritual benefit from the yajna as everybody else.

Ganga Darshan, 6 December 2000