pañcamahāyajñas

(‘five great sacrifices’)

Though the Hindu scriptures have eulogised saṁnyāsa (the life of a monk, a man of total renunciation and dedication to God) they have also boldly declared that the gṛhastha is the pivot of the whole society since the members of all the other three āśramas depend upon him for their sustenance.

The life of a householder is itself a yajña or a sacrifice, for the good of the whole society. As if to remind him of this, he has been ordained to perform everyday, five yajñas. These are collectively called ‘pañcamahāyajñas’. They are: devayajña, pitṛyajña, ṛṣiyajña, nṛyajña and bhūta-yajña.

Devayajña or sacrifice to gods like Sūrya, Prajāpati and Indra, is the usual daily sacrifice offered in a consecrated fire. Since they give us rain, crops and prosperity they have to be satiated through these oblations.

Pitṛyajña or sacrifice to the manes (the forefathers) consists in offering rice balls (called piṇḍa) and water (arghya). By this offering they are satisfied and bless their descendants who are performing this sacrifice.

Ṛṣiyajña (also called brahmayajña, ‘brahma’ meaning the Vedas) is sacrifice to the ṛṣis or the sages. Since they have transmitted the knowledge of the Vedas to mankind, it is the householder’s duty to recite the Vedas and also teach them to his children and disciples. This itself is the yajña by which they are pleased.

Nṛyajña and bhūtayajña are actually feeding hungry human beings that may visit the house as also the domestic and other animals.

By performing these five daily sacrifices, the householder is actually repaying his debts to the divine beings and the society, from whom he has received help and sustenance. They also help him in offsetting the sin he commits (unknowingly and unwillingly) while using the five implements in his house like the pestle and mortar, domestic fire, grinding stone etc., wherein violence is perpetrated on life through the killing of ants, worms and so on.