Every gṛhastha or householder was expected to perform five yajñas or sacrifices everyday. They were called ‘pañcamahāyajñas’. They had nothing to do with the śrauta or the Vedic sacrifices wherein oblations had to be poured into the duly consecrated Vedic fires, but were of the nature of performing certain obligatory duties.
Brahmayajña is one of them. Here, Brahma means the Vedas and brahmayajña means recitation of the Vedic texts as prescribed by the dharmaśāstras.
In the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (11.5.6. 3-8) there is an interesting comparison of the various limbs and functions of the body involved in reciting the Vedas, with the implements used in a sacrifice. For instance, the various spoons and ladles like juhū, upabhṛt and dhruvā are symboli-cally represented by the speech, the mind and the eyes. The conclusion of the Vedic chanting in the brahmayajña is avabhṛtha-snāna or the ceremonial bath at the end of a sacrifice.
Brahmayajña may be performed either in a quiet place outside the village or in one’s own house. The usual practice is to do it during the sandhyā or at noon. After sitting on the seat and performing ācamana (ceremonial sipping of water) certain prescribed Vedic texts are to be chanted. Generally, it is one’s own branch of the Veda studied in the gurukula. Other works mentioned for svādhyāya (self-study) during brahmayajña are: the four Vedas, the Brāhmaṇas, the Kalpas, the itihāsas and purāṇas.
The contents of the brahmayajña varies from one śākhā (branch of the Vedas) to another. However, the Gāyatrī-mantra, the Puruṣasūkta and the śānti-mantra ‘Oṁ namo brahmaṇe....’ seem to find a place in almost all these traditions.
Now-a-days, brahmayajña is rarely performed. However, during the lunar month of Śrāvaṇa (July-August) it is performed once by most brāhmaṇas, especially in South India. A set formula has been adopted which includes the Gāyatrī-mantra, the Ṛgveda (1.1.1-9), the first sentences of Aitareya Āraṇyaka, the Kṛṣṇa and Śukla Yajurvedas, the Sāmaveda, the Atharvaveda as also the first sentences of the six Vedāṅgas. This is followed by the śāntimantra ‘Oṁ namo brahmaṇe’ and a tarpaṇa (water libation).
See also PAÑCA-MAHĀ-YAJÑAS.