Yagas in Kerala
Explanation of Yagas and their role in Vedic rituals
If Kerala is a fertile land for Ayurveda, Kerala is the cradle of Vedic traditions and practices. This may be due to the fact that both Ayurveda and Veda are complimentary to each other. Kerala has produced a number of Vedic scholars and experts. In fact, almost all male members of the eminent Manas (the house of landlord Brahmins) in Kerala have learned Vedas and Vedic rituals. They learn it from the early stage of the age – say 5 or so. This wealth of knowledge they used to impart from generation to generation. They consider the learning of Vedas as a Brahminical duty.
There are two branches of Veda – Soma Veda and Rig Veda.
Panjal village in Palakkad district of Kerala is known as Vedic village. This village is the cradle of the practitioners of both Sama Veda and Rig Veda.
The Yagas link the human being with mystic Nature.
Prof Frits Stall of the University of California had spent nearly a year with the ancestral Mamanna Nellikkattu Mana in Panjal to study and feel the indescribable ecstasy obtained from Soma Veda sthrotham (chanting of melodious hymns). Stall who was in the forefront as an organizer in the Athirathram held in 1975, had written a book “Agni” based on his invaluable experience from Athirathram. At this Athirathram a group of foreign delegates from various Western countries had conducted scientific studies about the changes occurring in the Nature as a result of Athirathram. Scientists like Rose Mary Steele had undertaken research-oriented studies with the help of Kirlian camera to sketch out the aura formed around ritual conductors.
The just concluded Athirathram in Moolankode, near Vadakuncherry in Palakkad district, and Somayagam in Kaimukku Mana, near Kodakara, in Thrissur district had also attended by many foreign researchers and scientists, besides many dignitaries.
Athirathram or Sagnikam Athiratram is one of the Somayagas that exist in the Kerala tradition. This is a 12-day Mahayaga, considered as the most vital among the Vedic Yajnas (rituals). It is a fire ritual performed in three Agnikunds (fire receptacles) made of bricks. It will be conducted in specially erected Yagasalas (Yaga halls), mostly in temple premises. The Yajna is meant as an offering to Mother Earth for warding off natural calamities and for the welfare of the mankind. The offerings are made in the names of Sun, Moon, Fire, Earth, Air and Water. This Yaga links the human-being with the mystic nature.
To complete all the rituals 12 days are required. Each day the rituals vary. The major offerings to the sacrificial-fire are with the “Somarasa”, the nectar squeezed off Somalatha, an herbal plant. Plus dozens of herbs are required for the Agrnikunds.
The right to perform Athiratram is vested on a Yajaman (vedic leader) who has already performed Agnishtomam, one of the two Somayagas. The Yajaman needs to observe strict austerities prior to the commencement of the Yaga. Apart from Yajaman, at-least a dozen Vedic scholars and/or Vedic experts needed to perform the rituals which include chanting of Mantras. On the concluding day the Yagasalas will be set ablaze as finale. This will be conducted only once in a while.
Somayagam is also known as Agnishtomam. This is 6-day Yaga, conducted for the welfare of human beings and to maintain equilibrium in environment. Somayagam will be conducted only once in 50 years. It is conducted in specially erected Yagasala. Like Athiratram, Somayagam is also a fire ritual performed in Agnikund prepared by bricks.
Somarasa, the nectar of Somalatha herbal plant is the major item needed for Agnikund. Apart from Somarasa, dozens of herbs are also required for the rituals. Somarasa is used as major offering to the Sun.
To complete the rituals 6 days are required. The rituals performed daily vary.
To conduct the rituals minimum 8 to 10 Vedic scholars and/or Vedic experts are required. Almost all the Vedic scholars and experts are Brahmins. Chanting of Mantras plays a major role in the rituals. During the Yaga showers or rain usually occurs as a signal of acceptance of the rituals by the Nature.
On the concluding day the Yagasala is consigned to the flames after completing the rituals.