WHAT ARETHE PANCHA MAHAYAJNAS IN HINDUISM ?
There are five great daily sacrifices that are to be performed by every householder. They are: (i) Brahma Yajna, called also Veda Yajna, sacrifice to Brahman or the Vedas or the sages; (ii) Deva Yajna, sacrifice to the celestials; (iii) Pitri Yajna, sacrifice to the manes; (iv) Bhuta Yajna, sacrifice to all the creatures; and (v) Manushya Yajna, sacrifice to men.
The performance of these five Yajnas is conducive to the spiritual evolution or growth of a man. He gradually learns that he is not a sepai^ate entity or isolated creature or isolated unit, but is a part of a great whole. He obtains knowledge by studying the sacred scriptures written by great Rishis. He gets help from his friends, relatives and fellow-beings. He parents gave his physical body. His body is nourished by the milk of cows, grains, vegetables and fruits. The five elements help him. He cannot live without oxygen and water. The Devas and the Pitris bless him. Therefore, he owes a fivefold debt to Nature. He must pay back his debt by performing these five sacrifices daily. Further, numerous insects are killed by him unconsciously during walking, sweeping, grinding, cooking, etc. This sin is removed by performance of these sacrifices.
THE FIVE YAJNAS
The Rishis, the Devas, the Pitris, the Bhutas and the guests expect help from the householders. Hence, they should perform these five sacrifices daily. Teaching and study of scriptures is Brahma Yajna; Tarpana or offering of water to the ancestors, and Sraaddha, form Pitri Yajna: Homa or oblations into the fire is Deva Yajna; Bali or offering of food to all creatures is Bhuta Yajna; and hospitality to guests is Manushya Yajna or Atithi Yajna.
Brahma Yajna or Rishi Yajna
Every man should study daily the sacred scriptures. He should share the knowledge with others. This is Brahma Yajna or Rishi Yajna. By so doing, he pays the debt to Rishis.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: "Having, in ancient times, emanated mankind together with sacrifice, the Lord of Creation said, 'By this shall ye propagate; be this to you the fulfiller of desires. With this, nourish ye the shining ones; and may the shining ones nourish ye. Thus nourishing one another, ye shall reap the highest good. For, nourished by sacrifice, the shining ones shall bestow on you the enjoyments you desire. A thief verily is he who enjoyeth what is given by them without returning them anything. The righteous, who eat the remains of the sacrifice, are freed from all sins; but the unpious who cook for their own sake, they verily eat sin," (Ch. IH- 10, 1 1 , 12, 13). Manu says: "Let a man ever engage in the study of the Vedas and in the rites of the Devas; engaging in the rites of the Vedas, he supports the movable and the immovable kingdoms." These sacrifices turn the wheel of life in accordance with the divine will and thus help the evolution of man and the worlds.
Offering libations, etc., to the forefathers, regularly, is Pitri Yajna.
Distribution of food to cows, dogs, birds, fish, etc., is Bhuta Yajna.
Feeding the poor is Manushya Yajna. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, comforting the distressed, etc., are all forms of Manushya Yajna. Any kind of service to the suffering humanity is Manushya Yajna. Feeding a guest is Manushya Yajna.
BENEFITS OF THE PANCHA MAHAYAJNAS
By daily doing such acts of kindness and sympathy, man develops mercy. Hatred vanishes. His hard egoistic heart is gradually softened. He cultivates cosmic love. His heart expands. He has a wider outlook on life. He tries to feel his oneness with all beings. His old feeling of separateness on account of selfishness and egoism is gradually thinned and eventually eradicated. He learns that he can be happy only by making others happy, by serving others, by helping others, by removing the sufferings of others and by sharing what he has with others. The five great daily sacrifices teach man his relations with his superiors, his equals and his inferiors.
Man has no separate individual existence. He is connected with the world. He is like a bead in the rosaiy. His whole life must be a life of sacrifice and duties. Then only he will have rapid evolution. Then only he will realise the supreme bliss of the Eternal. Then only he will free himself from the round of births and deaths and attain immortality.
SRAADDHA AND TARPANA
Sraaddha is the name of the ceremonies performed by relatives to help the Jiva who has cast off his physical body in death. A Jiva who has cast off his physical sheath is called a Preta. The part of the Sraaddha performed to help him at this stage is called the Preta Kriya.
HOW SRAADDHA AND TARPANA BENEFIT THE DEPARTED SOULS
Gifts to deserving Brahmanas for the benefit of the Pitris, in the proper time and place and with faith, are known as Sraaddha. Sraaddha gives satisfaction to the Pitris. By the offering of the sixteen Sraaddhas, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitris. The son should perform the Sapindikarana rites for his father. Performance of Sraaddha and Tarpana relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka.
Those who go to hell are extremely oppressed by hunger and thirst. Performance of Sraaddha and offerings of rice and oblations to them, relieve their sufferings. Hence, performance of Sraaddha is indispensable. Those who dwell in heaven also get satisfaction, strength and nourishment.
THE ADVANTAGES OF CREMATION
Cremation is the best way of destroying a dead body. This is highly beneficial for the departed soul. If the body is not burnt; the Jiva is linked to the earth. The soul hovers round or hangs about the dead body on account of Moha or attachment to the physical body. Its journey to the celestial regions is interfered with. The vibrations set up by the recitation of Mantras and the offerings and oblations of water, bring solace and comfort to the departed soul. The Sapindikarana ceremony helps the Jiva to pass from the Preta Loka to the Pitri Loka. He is then enrolled among the Pitris or the ancestors. The son walks three times round the dead body of his father before fire is set to the pyre and sprinkles water once, reciting the Mantra: "Go away. Withdraw and depart from here." The bones are collected on the next day and thrown into a river. Those who can afford take them to Benares or Haridwar and throw them into the Ganga. It is believed that the soul whose mortal remains are consigned to the sacred Ganga attains to the higher regions of spiritual light and splendour and, in the end, salvation.
THE TWO CLASSES OF PITRIS
Immediately after death, the Jiva obtains the Ativahika body which is made up of fire, air and ether. Later on, it may have a Yatana Deha for suffering the tortures of hell if it had done great sins on the earth-plane, or a celestial body for enjoying the pleasures of heaven if it had done virtuous actions while living in the world. In the Yatana Deha, the air-element preponderates; while, in the celestial body, the element of fire is dominant. It takes one year for the Jiva to reach the Pitri Loka.
There are two classes of Pitris, viz., the celestial Pitris who are the lords of the Pitri Loka, and the human Pitris who go there after death. Brahma is the paternal grandfather of all. Kasyapa and the other Prajapatis are also Pitris, as they are the original progenitors. Pitri Loka or the Abode of the Pitris is also called by the name Bhuvar Loka.
The word Pitris primarily means the immediate ancestors, viz., father, mother, etc. Sraaddha proper is performed for three generations of Pitris, or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather. Two Brahmins are fed first. Seven generations can mutually influence one another by the giving and receiving of food.
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