Yagna or Hawan is the Fire Ritual. The Sanskrit Word Yagna has three meanings- prayer to God, unification and religious giving or offering. The full meaning of Yagna is to perform selfless acts collectively. This concept is symbolized by performing a ‘fire ritual’ which is also called Hawan. This ritual is performed in all religious rites and ceremonies of Hindus. It is believed that during the early Vedic period Hawan was the only ritualistic worship allowed by the scriptures, and the Pooja system is a much later development. Many scholars are of the opinion that Pooja was originally practiced only by Dravidian natives but, later on, became a part of the Hindu worship system when their religious practices merged with the Vedic religion of Aryan settlers. The early Aryans used to perform the Hawans outdoors in the natural settings.
Like Pooja, a Hawan can either be a private family affair or a public event to mark or celebrate a special occasion. In many instances, both are combined, and the Pooja is followed by the Hawan or vice versa. The procedure involves making a small fire in a canister with an open top, called Hawan Kund. A special mixture of medicinal herbs, roots, dry fruits, sandal wood, incense and Ghee (clarified liquid butter), called Samagree, is used as offering. The whole procedure is
directed and orchestrated by a priest. The Samagree and Ghee is poured into the fire, bit by bit, by the host and the other participants with the chanting of sacred verses (Mantras) from the Vedas. Each Mantra starts with the Om and ends with the expression Swaha (surrender). This act of putting Ghee and Samagree in the fire is called Ahuti or offering. Each Ahuti is then followed by the Mantra Idam Na Mama which means. This is not mine or this is not being done for me, signifying selfless sacrifice. The ceremony ends with the singing of devotional songs and distribution of Prasad and a feast. The host and guests also offer donations which usually go to the local temple or a charitable institution.
The Hawan or Yagna is not considered as worship of visible fire. It is only a symbolic act which denotes that all we possess is with God’s grace and must be used for the benefit of the whole society. The Samagree represents the fruits of our labour and the act of pouring it in the fire means that what we produce is not sanctified unless we sacrifice a part of it for the benefit of others. Fire in Sanskrit is called Agni which is also a name for God. The spiritual significance of fire has already been explained elsewhere. The performance of Hawan also serves a practical purpose; the smoke and fragrance produced by the burning of herbal materials and incense, Samagree, fumigates and purifies the environment, which is especially beneficial in a tropical climate.