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Homa or Homam is a Sanskrit word, which refers to any kind of "ritual in offerings" that is made into a consecrated fireplace. It can also be referred to as Homam/ havan. Homas are an important religious practice in Hinduism, where they are a part of most of the ceremonies, in all creeds and castes.
During a Homa, various rituals are performed successively in order to trigger various positive energies and also to develop the right sensation during the Homa. Some of these rituals are common and must be practiced before any fire ritual. After these rituals are executed, the main Homa would instigate; wherein the rituals differ depending on which deity you want to invoke.
The common rituals for all Homas are described below.
Why Fire Rituals?
Homas is an ancient form of sacrament, stemming from the "Vedic Science". A Homa can help you get well, have good relationships, find a partner, have children and it may even remove bad karma or negative aspects in a horoscope or with Vastu...
An essential part of the fire ritual is the spiritual connection the devotee crafts with the divine. Most often that contact is made possible through an external object: a facet of nature, a figurine, a vessel, a painting of God and so on.
The Almighty is then invited to the vortex by chanting mantras. There are a lot of standard procedures in a fire ritual and they are designed to invoke the devotional aspect of the devotee - of worship and devoutness. It is essential that one spotlessly cleans all the Pooja items: the lamps, the idol, the fruits offered as Prasad, and make the necessary arrangements.
Steps to Perform a Homa:
1. Pavitra Dharanam
At the start of the Homa, the performer as well as the other people who are participating in the Homa, pray for the cleansing of their heart and soul and seek divine blessings of their ancestors and other divine beings.
Having prayed thus, they wear a ring made of Darbha grass,on the ring finger of their right hand, which is known to repel negative energies.
Specially made vessels called Panchapatras are set aside filled with water. (Note: during a Homa, iron or steel vessels are not to be used because of their low spiritual energies. Silver, copper, or a mixture of 5 metals is best preferred.) Water is taken with the left hand with a special copper spoon called "udraneeya" on to the cavity of the right palm and sipped three times chanting the names of Lord Vishnu. This practice is to purify one's body and mind and is then followed by "siromarjanam" wherein the performers of the ritual take water in the udraneeya and sprinkle water on their own heads with their right thumb. The mantra chanted here means, "Whatever be the state of my body; sacred or unsacred, by the very chanting of the divine names, I sanctify this body of mine in order to obtain auspicious energies."
One must make sure the Achamanam must be performed facing the east or the north and never facing the west or the south.
The following twelve names of the Lord should be uttered, touching each limb of the body with a particular finger (the priests will specify upon the finger to be used). This signifies that all the senses are dedicated to the service of God. When the senses are made introspective instead of going outwards to the external objects, the natural bliss of the soul will be manifested. The names to be chanted are:
Kesava/ Narayana/ Madhava/ Govinda/ Vishnu/ Madhusoodhana/ Trivikrama / Vamana / Sridhara / Hrishikesa Padmanabha/ Damodara
3. Ganapati Prarthana/ Mahaganapathy Pooja
In the Hindu scriptures, the elephant headed God, Ganesha is always worshipped in the beginning of any ritual, and for his blessings to ensure that the whole procedure would move smoothly unhindered by any external obstacles at any stage. Lord Ganesha is invoked into a conical figure made by mixing turmeric powder and water. Turmeric is considered very propitious and auspicious; and is therefore used to represent Lord Ganesha. Thereafter, a method of worship involving sixteen steps is performed to please Lord Ganesha. This is called "Shodashopachara" Pooja. All these steps are symbolical representations of the various forms of expressing reverence like offering the deity a golden throne to be seated, washing his feet, washing his hands, offering him water to drink, ceremonial bathing with sacred waters, offering new clothes, anointing him with sandal paste and other perfumes, adorning of jewels, worshipping with flowers, offering of fragrant incense, lighting the lamp, offering food, fruits and sweet drinks, chanting his praises, offering Aarthi and finally prostrating to him and seeking his blessings.
Prayer to be chanted while praying to Lord Ganesha:
"Suklam Baradharam Vishnum Sashivarnam Chaturbhujam Prasanna vadanam Dhyayet Sarva Vighnoposhantaye"
4. Kalasha (Sacred Pot) Pooja
This is a very important step towards the Homa, for it is here that we invoke the main deity of the Homa. If it is a Subramanya Homa, Lord Muruga is invoked; and in a Kala Bhairava Homa, Lord Kala Bhairava is invoked. The deity is invoked, energized and adored in the Kalasha, which is a sacred copper pot filled with water. A coconut is placed over the Kalasha surrounded by 5 or 7 mango leaves. This Kalasha is further decorated with flowers and a cloth is swathed over it. It is then placed facing the North- Eastern corner of the Homa or the sacrificial pit.
The significance of Kalasha is that it absorbs all the positive energies generated during the Homa. The divine water (with immense healing powers) in the Kalasha is then sprinkled upon and distributed to the participants at the conclusion of the Homa.
5. Sankalpa, declaration of intent
The Sankalpa is the most important part in a Homa. The entire ritual is carried along with the strong will and wish of the participants. Each Homa is performed for a definite purpose; and it is this purpose that the performer and participants clearly hold within their minds as they take Sankalpa.
It is at this time that the participants of the sacred Fire Ritual get to pray for their wishes like "God, grant me with power, knowledge and riches", "Let the Almighty bless me with a good married life and a well matching spouse", and so on...
6. Avahanam/ welcoming the Deity
Avahanam is that stage of the Homa; wherein the Lord is formally and ritualistically invited to the premises of the Homa. Mantras are chanted to invite that particular Deity with immense dedication and godliness.
7. Agni Pratishtapanam and Dhyanam
Here, the sacrificial pit is sanctified by chanting mantras, even before the Fire God Agni is invoked. Sticks from selected trees are only used for Homas. Mostly, the sticks (Samidh) of the Pipal tree are used.
Amidst mantra chanting, the performer gently blows the red-hot Samidh and the fire mounts up. Thereafter, ghee (clarified butter) is offered and the participants meditate upon Lord Agni. The success of a Homa very much depends upon how the participants relate to the fire god Agni, because he serves as the medium between this mortal world and the other mystical worlds.
It is at this stage that the main deity; may it be Lord Siva, Vishnu, Muruga, Ganapathy, Hanuman or so are meditated upon. The priests will make sure that the Homa is being performed abiding to the ancient scripts and conventions. Flowers are offered at each invocation of a new mantra; usually signifying the glorification of the Lord's attributes!
8. Namaskaram/ obeisance
The denial of one's ego and surrender is part of the ritual as the devotee does a full Namaskaram (prostrating in front of the Homa pit).
9. Naivedyam/ Offering Food
Towards the end of the Homa, Naivedyam is offered to the Lord. Usually it includes a Payasam (kheer), cooked rice, and other savories prepared for the holy function.
This is symbolically offered to the Lord first and only after this part of the ceremony do people consume the food.
10. Aarthi, Offering of Lights
The aarthi is the final part of a Pooja where in a camphor is lit and waved to the idol of the deity to the accompaniment of the brass bell. After it waved in the direction of the idols, all the members of the family take turns to almost touch the flame with deep reverence.
The Homa is concluded with a Purnahuti, Aarthi and offering the Thamboolam to Lord Agni. While the priests continue with the last of the mantras, the fire in the pit calms down and turns into a gentle flame.
12. Visarjana, dismissal-farewell.
Just as we so ritualistically and formally invited the God to the premises; we thank him for blessing us and also bid him on his farewell back to his abodes.
Thereby, we conclude to say that a Homa is an act of complete surrender and reverence to the Lord in which people may opt to pray for their welfare or for the world's as well.
Below mentioned are the extra steps which might/ might not be performed in a Homa. One must also note that the steps in a homa can vary depending upon the purpose or the deity invoked.
Pradakshinam consists of circling around the deity and the Fire trench used for worship. The performers and participants go round the Fire pit three times in the clockwise direction and prostrate in front of the Homa pit.
2.Abhishekam/ Bathing God's idol
An "Abhishekam" is conducted by priests, and is a holy ritual ablution amidst the chanting of mantras. Usually, offerings such as milk, yogurt, ghee, honey, Sesame oil, rosewater, sandalwood paste are poured, among other offerings depending on the type of Abhishekam being performed.
3. Dhoopam/ Incense Offering
A rich stream of scented smoke that is lit for the duration of the Pooja is offered to the deity of the homa. It is said that the fragrance induces or compels the mind of the devotee towards the holiness of the Homa.
4.Deepam / Offering Lamp
A well decorated lamp lit on its five sides with five wicks is offered to the Deity of the Homa.
5.Archana, chanting holy names
Similar to pooja is archana. Archana and pooja are the same spiritual offerings except that archanas are performed at temples and during Homas. A devotee will make offerings like fruits, flowers, coconut, beetle leaves etc. The devotee will then receive the food offerings back in the form of prasad or blessings from the Deity.