The Five Daily Sacrifices (Mahayajnas) In Hinduism

Krishna and Arjuna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Summary: According to our scriptures, we are not totally at the mercy of gods. Brahma, the creator created a level playing field for both humans and gods by making them interdependent. The gods need you as much as you need them. If you ignore them you will harm yourself and harm them and harm the world. It means that when you ignore them you incur negative karma in three ways and greatly reduce your chances of a good life in the next birth. Besides it will take your straight into the hands of the Asuras (demons) and make you a slave to them. Evil grows in us and in the world when we neglect the gods who reside in us.

The Bhagavadgita speaks about obligatory duties. Obligatory duties are those duties that you cannot avoid because they are meant for your welfare and that of the world. Of the obligatory duties, the five daily sacrifices (maha-yajnas) prescribed for the householders are important. They are mentioned in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (2.10.1) in the following Sanskrit sloka.

Panca và ete mahàyajnàssatati pratàyante satati santiíêhante devayajnaï pitãyajno bhutayajno manusyayajno brahmayajna iti.

Its meaning is, "five indeed are the great sacrifices, to be performed daily until the end for peace in this world, namely sacrifice to gods, sacrifice to ancestors, sacrifice to beings, sacrifice to humans and sacrifice to Brahman."

The order in which the sacrifices are mentioned in this sloka is also very important, because it is based on the importance and relevance of the sacrifices to their recipients. Each sacrifice has three major components, the sacrificer, the sacrificed (offering) and the recipient of the sacrifice. The sacrificer is usually the person who performs the sacrifice. The offering is usually a mixture of prayers, invocations, and different kinds of foods, liquids and other ritual material. Each sacrifice helps both the sacrificer and the recipient of the sacrifice, in addition to the mediators, namely the priests, who perform them on behalf of the sacrificer and are entitled to receive fees and gifts. Thus sacrifice is not a mere superstitious ritual. It is a joint venture between humans and gods, in which the outcome is shared by several beneficiaries.

In the five daily sacrifices, the sacrifice to the gods comes first because gods depend upon the sacrifices entirely. They cannot make food for themselves and their nourishment comes only through the offerings we make during the sacrifices. If we do not perform sacrifices, they starve and become weak. The gods are mighty and powerful. They can manifest your desires and dreams, but they cannot make food for themselves. Brahma created them like that because he wanted them to depend upon humans for their food and help them in return. He also ensured that humans depend upon gods by making them incapable of achieving certain desires in their lives for which they have to seek the help of gods. By this arrangement, he bound gods to humans and humans to gods and made them interdependent.

Thus, in the five daily sacrifices, the sacrifice to gods comes first in the order of importance. Because of this only, rituals, sacrifices, and domestic and temple worship occupy a central place in Hinduism. The gods are responsible for the order and regularity of the world. They exist in us also, as our organs, and protect us from evil thoughts and desires. When they are strong, they help us to cultivate purity (sattva), practice virtue and remain bound to our duties and spiritual aims.

If we do not nourish gods, they become weak in our bodies and fail to protect us against our own evil tendencies. Then we begin to pursue evil desires and put our organs to misuse. The battle between gods and demons, or between good and evil, happens at various levels both in the macrocosm or God and the microcosm or our own bodies. We must be aware of this. If a majority of people fail to nourish gods, Asuras gain control of our minds and bodies and create chaos everywhere.

Therefore, daily sacrifice to gods is very important for our own good and the good of the world. There is a saying in the Upanishads, "Dharmo raksita rakshatah." It means that if you uphold your duty (dharma), your duty will protect you. This is very true as far as the five daily sacrifices are concerned, especially deva-yajna, the sacrifice to gods. Now, you do not have to make these offerings only ritually. You can also make them spiritually through internal sacrifices as meditation, prayers and mental offerings. This will be explained in more detail later.

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