Ghanapathy Homam Jan 2012
Shree Ghanapathy Temple, Wimbledon,London
What is Homam
Homam is a fire ritual. It is also known as homa or havan or yajna (yagya) or yajana. In homam, divine presence is invoked into fire using specific procedures. Then materials are offered into fire, along with sacred chants (mantras). The offerings are supposed to reach gods. It is interesting to note that fire ritual is an ancient practice and several religions taught worshipping gods in fire.
Hinduism teaches that gods come into fire and receive the prayers of spiritual aspirants. Even when one meditates without an external fire, gods being meditated on come into the internal fire of the aspirant and receive the mantras via that fire. However, the internal fire is quite weaker than an external fire for most people and hence it is beneficial to perform worship using an external fire. That practice eventually strengthens the internal fire also.
We all see and feel our sthoola sareera (gross body), which is made up of gross matter. But, we also have a sookshma sareera (subtle body) made up of subtle matter. It cannot be perceived by the senses attached to the gross body (eyes, ears, nose etc). It contains thousands of naadis, which are essentially subtle channels of energy flow. A fire called bhootaagni (existential fire) burns in this subtle body. It is the subtle basis of one’s entire existence. It manifests in the gross body in the form of various fires. Examples are the “fire” in the stomach that helps one digest the food eaten and the “fire” in the brain that helps one digest and understand various sense experiences.
This bhootaagni is vital to one’s existence. In most people, it is quite weak. Due to impurities and obstructions in the naadis of the subtle body, this fire cannot burn strongly to energize the entire existence. When it burns low, the divine presence that can enter it is quite limited in magnitude.
If one overcomes the internal weaknesses such as desire, anger, greed, false prestige, wantonness and jealousy, develops compassion, one-pointed devotion, detachment, and sheds one layer of ego and delusion after another, eventually the impurities in the naadis will be cleared and bhootaagni will burn strong. However, this is a very difficult and time-consuming process.
One can take advantage of an external fire in that regard. As the deity of homam enters the external fire on a regular basis, the nearby divine presence burns the impurities in the naadis, by burning various karmas (actions from the past, which will get corresponding reactions in the future) in the kaarana sareera (causal body). This eventually leads to the strengthening of bhootaagni.
After one performs homam for a long enough time, one’s naadis are cleared of the obstructions and one’s bhootaagni burns brightly. At that juncture, all sadhanas performed by one, including regular meditation, become much more effective. If bhootaagni can accommodate divine presence to a larger degree, the meditation becomes more effective.
The goal of all spiritual sadhana, whether one thinks in those terms or not, is actually to cleanse oneself of all the internal impurities. Various karmas from previous lives hang on to the kaarana sareera (causal body), making it heavy. These in turn manifest in the sookshma sareera (subtle body) as various impurities in various nadis (subtle energy channels) that block the free flow of energy. These in turn manifest in the sthoola sareera (gross body) as various problems of the body and mind. These also cause dense conditioning of one’s mind to sink one’s consciousness in an ocean of delusion. This conditioning of the consciousness due to previous karmas is also known as maayaa. When one is sunk in maayaa, one is beaten down by the six enemies – kaama (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), mada (wantonness) and maatsarya (jealosy). As one makes spiritual progress, one’s karmas drop off the kaarana sareera, the impurities in the nadis are cleansed, one’s mental conditioning becomes weaker and one can resist the internal enemies. All these are inter-related and happen simultaneously. When one burns all of one’s major karmas, one becomes karmically very light. Nadis in the sookshma sareera are all clear and energy can freely flow anywhere. One is untouched by the internal enemies then. When one sees all as god, nothing can make one angry or jealous or deluded. When mental conditioning drops, nothing excites one and nothing saddens one. One stays in a state of bliss always. Despite the changing nature of the external work and appearance, one is in the same state internally.
The goal of all spiritual sadhana is to reach that state. Whether through jnaana (knowledge and wisdom) or through bhakti (devotion and surrender) or both, one has to burn the karmas and impurities blocking one from reaching that state. The goal of all sadhana is to let ego (the sense of “I-ness”) go completely and merge (have yoga) with divinity. If a vacuum can be created within oneself, then divine presence can fill the vacuum. As long as one has egotism and various kinds of conditioning (vasanas) of mind, such a vacuum cannot be created. When all those cease and the mental conditioning is weakened, the mind become extremely calm and a vacuum is created within. Then divine presence fills one and the result is indescribable bliss.
Homam facilitates this process quickly by burning various karmas that are creating various layers of conditioning and obstructing spiritual progress.
A lot of Hindu rituals involve invoking divine presence in an idol or a water pot (kalasha) and offering worship to the idol/pot. Unfortunately, we are living in Kali yuga in which the elements of earth, water and air are not pure. If the idol has any impurities on account of the time when it was made, how it was made, the thoughts of the person who made it etc, the impurities heavily restrict how much divine presence the idol can accommodate.
The only elements that cannot be polluted are space/ether (aakaasa) and fire (agni). It is very difficult to do spiritual sadhana via the medium of space. So the best medium for sadhana is fire. One of the Sanskrit words for “fire” is “paavaka”, which means “the one that purifies”. Fire is by definition pure and purifies everything that it comes in touch with. The wood or coconut used to sustain fire may have impurities, but fire itself is very pure and accommodates a divine presence of the highest degree. For a ritual using the earth or water elements as the medium to be successful, the sadhaka must be quite pure and the sadhaka’s bhootagni must be reasonably strong. On the other hand, a ritual using the fire element as the medium can be successful irrespective of the stature and purity of the sadhaka. For this reason, homam is the most apt sadhana for most spiritual aspitants in this yuga, especially as the Kali deepens. Unfortunately, many people have unfounded fears of making mistakes and being punished for them and hence do not take advantage of the fantastic practice of homam.
Apart from the personal benefits, there are universal benefits of homam. The offerings in the fire finally reach Sun, who feeds the entire earth. The gross material body of the burnt offerings reaches the gross material body of Sun. The subtle body of the burnt offerings reaches the subtle body of Sun. It is the subtle body of Sun that feeds the subtle bodies of all beings on earth. Thus, feeding it is very important for the smooth running of life on earth. As we enter the Ghora Kali (terrible age of strife and disorderliness) phase, adharma (un-righteous activities) will be on the rise in the world and as such the subtle body of Sun will become weaker. If more and more people perform homam and strengthen the subtle body of Sun, it will balance the adharma and keep the world away from a total collapse.