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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Fire and Sacrifice

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

Fire is one of the five main elements, in fact an important element at that, so much so that the Greek philosopher Heraclitas (540 B.C. to 490 B.C.) considered this as the main substance. The Vedas have given it immense importance; The Rg. Veda starts with the mantra addressed to the sacred fire, ‘Agnimeele purohitam ratnadatamam – I bow to thee O, Fire!, the benevolent one and the giver of wealth.’ Science also has identified various forms of fire. The lightening is one of the forms of the fire. There is forest fire. Even the water has fire in it which is converted into hydro-electricity.  There is fire within human body that digests all that we consume. Lust and passion are fire too and these activate our senses violently. Our ancestors, sages as they were, had identified various forms of fire as ‘Davaagni’, ‘Vadvaagni’, ‘Jatharaagni’ etc. 

Every form of fire demands sacrifice in the shape of an oblation. Trees are oblation to the forest fire and food is an oblation to the fire in the tummy. This oblation, our sages have taught us, is to be given as a sacrifice. By doing so, we practise detached action, which in turn frees us from all types of bondages. While offering an oblation we say ‘Agnaye swaha  - this is an offering for the sacred fire’ and then hasten to add, ‘Idam agnaye, idam na mama  - this belongs to fire and this is not mine.’ In the words of the poet we say, ‘Tera tujh ko sonpte kya laagata hai more – I hand over to you what is already yours and in doing so I lose nothing.’ This gives us a mental attitude of detached action. Naturally, therefore, we reap neither good fruit for good deeds nor bad fruit for bad actions and our position is ‘Padma-patram-iva ambasa – lotus pod in the water, unscathed and unaffected. This is also in line with what is stated in Ishavasya Upanishad, ‘Tena tyekhtena bhunjithah  -  one should enjoy everything in a detached way.’

Shrimad Bhagvad Gita has described a variety of fires and their respective items of oblations. There are our senses of hearing, seeing, smelling etc. These are given as oblation in the fire of restraint. These senses in their turn form a fire in which sense objects are offered as oblations. Self-control is another form of fire kindled by knowledge. In this fire we offer all the actions of our senses and the functions of the life-giving breath as oblation. When oblation is offered into the sacred fire it is termed as ‘yajna’ or sacrificial fire. The act is differently termed as ‘yajna’, or ‘homa’ or ‘havana’. The oblation is called ‘aahuti’, the sacrificial fire is known as ‘hutavaha’ and one who makes the offering is called ‘hota’. The nomenclature for the fire is significant in as much as it means ‘the carrier of the oblations’. The question is ‘where does it carry the oblations and the offerings’. The answer given by our scriptures is simple, that it carries these offerings to the gods ‘devatas’, to whom these substances belong. There is a variety of these sacrifices which we offer, the wealth, austerity, self-study, knowledge, extreme vows and self-denial and even yoga whereby the individual soul or ‘jeevaatma’ gets merged with the universal soul ‘paramaatma’.   

There is yet another type of sacrificial fire going on continuously without any break or let up in our lives. The inhaled air is offered as oblation into the fire of exhaled air and the exhaled air is offered into the fire of inhaled air. This sacrificial fire is kept kindled by those who are engaged in the regulation of the life-energy or life-essence called ‘Prana’, by the exercise called ‘pranayama’. The knowledgeable who have mastered this technique treat the breath as fire as well as an oblation and are constantly engaged in this ‘yajna-karma’. This destroys all their sins because this world, according to Shri Gita, is for those who perform these sacrifices and not for others. They partake of the remains of these offerings and then get merged with the Absolute Brahman.

These all different types of yajnas emanate from actions and deeds and the realization of this fact liberates the knower. Although all the sacrifices are important yet they vary in the relative importance. Offering knowledge is naturally superior to any other offering of wealth etc. In fact all our actions are aimed at gaining knowledge or awareness. Once the awareness is attained we know the self and we know the Supreme, we know the creator, the creation and the relationship between the two. If the philosophy of dualism appeals to us we see the creator as a great painter or a sculptor and the creation as the paintings and sculptures drawn and carved by Him. If, on the other hand non-dualism convinces us, we see the creator as a ‘Nataraja’, the great dancer and the creation as His dance or sport called ‘Leela’. This magnificent spectacle enthralls us, bewilders us and leaves us awe-stricken where we say, ‘Vasudevah sarvam-iti  - everything here verily is Vasudeva only.’

Shri Gita has gone still further in describing this monistic phenomenon apparent from the character of the cosmos. It says, ‘Brahmaarpanam brahma havi brahmaagnau brahmana hutam, brahmaiva tena gantavyam brahma-karma samadhina – the oblation is for Brahma, the oblation in itself is Brahma, Brahma only offers these into the fire, which also is Brahma. One who sees Brahma alone in this action attains Brahma.’ This shloka describes the entire cosmos and its various functions as fires of different types. Even at mundane level we see the fires of different nature and different types in existence. When we feel hungry, the hunger erupts as fire and we satisfy it by giving food as oblation. When we are thirsty, the thirst burns as fire and the water that we drink to quench the thirst becomes an oblation. The passion, the lust, the zest, the vigour and similar other feelings and emotions form different types of fire and are satisfied by different types of offerings. This act goes on incessantly, constantly and continuously and we get engaged in sacrificial fires and offerings, knowingly or unknowingly.    

But fire is a good servant and a bad master. If we control it, regulate it, our life will remain on the track of righteousness, piety and purity. If, on the other hand, we allow it to overpower us, the journey of our life will go astray. It is, therefore, essential to understand each type of fire, identify it and select the right form of oblation for it to be satisfied. Take the case of desires, a very strong fire. This can be given an oblation of the desired object but that will satisfy it temporarily and then it will get rekindled in a big way. But, if we use contentment as an oblation the fire will subside permanently. Similarly the fire of hatred, malice, ill-will, enmity and jealousy needs an oblation of love, compassion, kindness, sympathy and goodwill so that the fire does not over power us.

Shri Gita talks of yet another type of fire. ‘Kama esha krodha esha rajoguna samudbhava – The desire and the anger emanate from the attribute of passion’. We get into an unending syndrome of desires and lust. If these are satisfied the satiation is momentary or temporary. Again the fire erupts and makes us restless with redoubled lust and craving. If these are not satisfied or are partially satisfied we lose temper, get into a rage and the fire of anger overpowers us. Here again the oblation has to be changed to enjoyment with a detached mind, action without an eye on the fruit of it and a poised attitude towards the pairs of opposites, like success and failure, happiness and grief, gain and loss.

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles


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