Growing up, I attended many fire rituals at temples. They’re commonly practised in the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. I remember as a young child wondering, “What are we burning? Why are we burning it?” And other such questions.
With time, I would discover that there is a prescribed manner in which one does fire rituals. You follow a sequence of events and generally speaking, there isn’t a lot of room for ‘creativity’.
A priest would ordinarily guide us through the ritual. It was like entering into another world. An ancient world that connected me to my ancestors and to their ancestors and to their ancestors before them. I could see the primordial power of fire and how it must have fascinated those who discovered it for the first time. Gazing into an open fire roaring and licking its flames is still a wondrous sight to behold.
Fire, as per Vedic system, is a life force that can be ignited. It can help you cook your food or it can burn your house down. It is why the Sages (and myself) advise caution when conducting rituals such as these.
Don’t play with fire or you will get burnt.
The Fire Sacrifice
Fire ceremonies are called either homa or havan. It is a fire sacrifice. They are usually performed at home or in a temple. Some do choose to perform them outdoors or on rooftops, but it really depends on the regulations of the local area.
There’s a fair bit of preparation that goes into performing the ritual. Fasting is recommended. Generally speaking, the offerings to the fire consist of vegetarian items such as: seeds, ghee, milk, fruits, sweets and so on. Animal sacrifice and alcohol is generally–but not universally–forbidden.
There is usually an intention set at the beginning of the fire rituals. They are conducted for all sorts of occasions–from formal ceremonies like initiation and marriage; as well as for personal and familial wellbeing.
Fire, which once ignited has a life force of its own, functions as a ‘witness’ to the ceremony that is taking place. Fire is also what we are offering a sacrifice to. It is not just a symbolic act; as what was fed to the fire will cease to exist once the ceremony is over. It is only ash that will remain. It is a reminder of the temporal nature of life and our fleeting existence on this planet.
Whenever I have presided over or sat through a fire ritual, the pure potency of fire is revealed for all to behold. It is a visually captivating experience that can be felt physically. It engages all the senses and functions as a sensory experience to be savoured and experienced first hand.
A ‘peaceful’ homa is performed to pacify the results of unwholesome actions as well as clear away obstacles and defilements that are present in our lives. It can function as a preventative measure to pacify or placate any pending karma that may eventuate due to unforeseeable circumstances. Fire is invoked when impending difficulties and illnesses have revealed themselves through either dreams or inauspicious omens in one’s life.
Through the ritual, we communicate with our ancestors, the deities and so on. A homa is usually dedicated to a particular deity or ancestor in order to achieve a specific purpose.
These rituals can be performed for one’s own benefit; or the merit accrued from such a ritual can be offered to another person–either alive or deceased. It is not uncommon for such rituals to be performed for one’s ancestors or spouse, family members and one’s community.