[Aim of the Article: Considering its importance, Yaagam is explained in a practical and step-by-step manner, although a complete and detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this article. However, this may help the reader to understand what Yaagam is and how Brahmins perform it. - Sundaresa Vajapeeyee -Thiruvaiyaru]

INTRODUCTION: It is said that when Lord Brahmaavu (the creator among the Trinity) created man, he also created "Yajnam" for man's livelihood and his attainment of spiritual desires. The fundamental premise of Yajnam is derived from the Vedams, although, according to "Purusha Sooktham", it is the other way around - Vedams originated from Yajnam! Anyhow, Vedams and Yajnam are eternal truths having neither beginning nor end, and are "Apourusheyam" (divine, not the creation of humans). Karmam (work or action) is an integral part of living. Right and wrong Karmams can hardly be discerned by human intellect, and has to be guided by knowledge. Vedams, indeed, contain the highest form of knowledge. The singular goal of Vedam is to guide man through the correct path. And Yajnam forms the essence of all the Karmams prescribed in the Vedams.

Goal of a Yaagam: The goal of all Yaagams is the prosperity of the people at large by energizing and protecting the environment. The Sun is considered as the main source of energy supply, and fire is considered as a representation of the Sun's energy. According to the ancient texts on Yaagam, any offer to Fire as a god, is actually an offer to Sun. Any such offer is either to enrich energy in the environment or to destroy the undesirable elements in the environment, and thus, in both ways, environment is protected. Attaching divine nature to such rituals (like Yaagam) induced people to practice them. Thus, the ancient texts proclaim that "Such Vaidika Karmams are result-oriented, and meant to lead to Sreyass or spiritual attainments".

The Ritual Process: The technical procedures for such Karmams (rituals) are detailed in ancient texts like the Braahmanams and Sroutha Soothrams. More important than the learning and understanding of the concepts, is the actual performance of such Karmams. In other words, the "performer" spreads more Sreyass to the world than the texts (Granthhams) themselves.

Yaagam and Brahmins: Brahmins perform only Agnishtomam, generally known as Somayaagam, and Athiraathram (Agnichayanam), popularly known as Agni. While performing of Somayaagam makes a Namboothiri a complete (Nithyam) Braahmanan, Athiraathram is only optional (Kaamyam).

In the Sangam literature (Tamil), however, there is reference to Vaajapeyam Yaagam having been performed during the second century BC in Perinchellur Graamam near Taliparamba in the present Kannur district. So, performances of other Yaagams by Brahmins during the earlier periods, cannot be ruled out.

Types of Yaagam:
The procedures for Yaagams are mostly similar throughout the country and are well classified. Based on several factors, Somayaagams are of various types, out of which, one is Agnistomam and the other, Athiraathram. Athiraathram itself can be further divided, based on several factors.


Different Types of Yaagam

                                                 Brahmins perform




                                    Agnishtomam                                    Athiraathram

                                    (Somayaagam)                                                  (Agni)

            2. Moola Prakruthi (Basic entity) of all Somayaagams  JYOTHISHTOMAM

3.  Jyothishtomam Sthomams (Musical Saamavedam) Lead the doer to

                                           +                                                JYOTHISS

                                   Sthothrams (Rigvedam Sasthrams) (Enlightenment)

Jyothishtomam: The core or basic entity (Moola Prakruthi) of all Somayaagams is called Jyothishtomam, which involves four Sthomams. Sthomams are collections of the musical Saamavedam combined with the Sthothrams ( hymns of divine praise ) and Sasthrams ( collection of hymns ) of Rigvedam. These Sthomams lead the doer to "Jyothiss" or enlightenment (Prakaasam, Agni), and that is Jyothishtomam. Each of the four Sthomams in Jyothishtomam denotes the number of Sthothra-Sasthrams taken from Rigvedam. They are the three-branched Thrivruth (consisting of nine Riks), Panchadasam (15 Riks), Sapthadasam ( 17 Riks) and Ekavimsam (21 Riks).



                                        [Consists of 4 Sthomams,

              each denoting the number of Sthothrams and Sasthrams]



       Thrivruth            Panchadasam             Sapthadasam            Ekavimsam


9 Riks                    15 Riks                    17 Riks                   21 Riks

(3 Riks  repeated thrice)

The Prakruthi - Vikruthi Classification: Depending on the ending process, Jyothishtomam has four Prakaarams with Agnishtomam as the Prakruthi (Entity). The Samsthhas (ending) of Jyothishtomam can be in seven different ways and thus six more kinds of Yaagams can be derived out of Agnishtomam. Agnishtomam is the first Samsthha. Agnistomam is a Jyothishtomam which ends with a Stuthi (hymns in praise) for Agni (Fire) as Devatha. There are three Vikruthis (attributes) for Agnishtomam which are Ukthyam, Shodasi (or Sholasi) and Athiraathram (Agni). Ukthyam, which is a Vikruthi, now acts as a Prakruthi (entity) to produce further Vikruthi (attrribute) called Vaajaapeyam. Similarly, Athyagnishtomam is derived from Shodasi and Aapthoryaamam, from Athiraathram. Thus, in all, Jyothishtomam is divided into seven Samsthhas. It may be noted that Agnishtomam is purely Prakruthi, while Ukthyam, Shodasi and Athiraathram are Prakruthi-Vikruthis (as they are Vikruthis of Agnistomam as well as Prakrithis of the last three), while the last three are purely Vikruthis (as they do not produce further Yaagams). The knowledge of these inter-relationships is essential for the successful performance of Yaagams, and are clearly defined in Kausheethaka Braahmanams.




                                    1.  Agnishtomam

                                 (Moola Prakruthi, ends with 12 Sasthrams)

                                            Vikruthis of Moola Prakruthi

                               (Also Prakruthis of 3 Vikruthis below them)



            2                                              3                                               4 

      Ukthyam                                   Shodasi                                 Athiraathram 


             5                                             6                                               7

      Vaajapeyam                     Athyagnishtomam                        Aapthoryaamam

The Sasthram-based Classification: Yaagams ending with the 12th Sasthram is Agnishtomam. A Yaagam with the 12 Sasthrams of Agnishtomam and three additional Sasthrams of the Hothans (15 Sasthrams in all) is Ukthyam, while one more Sasthram (16 Sasthrams) makes it Shodasi. Addition of 13 more Sasthrams to Shodasi will be Athiraathram (29 Sasthrams). Vaajapeyam has 17 Sasthrams and is an extension of Shodasi by one more Sasthram. Athyagnishtomam is one without Ukthyam (3 Sasthrams) but ending with Shodasi-Sasthram and having a total of 13 Sasthrams. As an extension of Athiraathram, if one Sasthram for each of the four Rithwiks is added, it becomes Aapthoryaamam (33 Sasthrams).


Agnishtomam           12 Sasthrams                                                                                                                                                    

Ukthhyam                  12 Sasthrams of Jyothishtomam  +  3 Sasthrams for Hothans   15 Sasthrams

Shodasi                      15 Sasthrams of Ukthyam + 1 additional Sasthram                        16 Sasthrams

Athiraathram             16 Sasthrams of Shodasi + 13 additional Sasthrams                      29 Sasthrams

                                (Some Sasthrams are chanted at night; so the name Athiraathram)

Vaajapeyam               16 Sasthrams of Shodasi + 1 additional Sasthram                     17 Sasthrams

Athyagnishtomam   No Ukthyam but ends with Shodasi Sasthram                               13 Sasthrams

Aapthoryaamam     29 of Athiraathram + 4 additional Sasthrams                                   33 Sasthrams

Suthyam-days based Classification: The most important stage of Somayaagam is the Suthyam (stage 4, discussed later), although there are several days of rituals (Karmams) preceding it to purify the performer in order to qualify him to do the Yaagam. Based on the number of Suthyam days, Yaagam may be categorised into three : Ekaaham - 1 day (example : Agnishtomam, Udbhith, Abhijith), Aheenam - 2 to 12 days (example : Athiraathram, Paundareekakrathu ) and Sathram - more than 12 days (example : Raajasooyam - 18 months, Aswamedha Yaagam - 12 months). Sathrams are again classified as Raathri-Sathrams (12 to 100 days; counted in terms of days) or Samvatsara Sathrams (more than 100 days; counted in terms of years).


                                                All Yaagams

                           (based on number of Suthyam days)

         ________________________ _________________________


1. Ekaaham                                 2. Aheenam                                      3. Sathram       

(1 Suthyam day)               (2 to 12 Suthyam days)         (More than 12 Suthyam days)

Classification of Agnichayanam (Agni or Athiraathram) based on the Large Altar of Uththaravedi
There are ten different kinds of Athiraathrams (Agni, or Agnichayanam), distinguished after the basic shape of the large bird-shaped altar of the Uththaravedi (second half of the Yaagam hall). The altar is a five layered brick-structure and is constructed with exactly one thousand specially designed bricks. Brahmins adopted three of these, leading to three kinds of Athiraathrams for them. These are:

1. Peetthan, which is made of squares,
2. Panchapathrika (five-tipped), in which the wings of the bird have five tips (pathrika), and
3. Satpatrika (six-tipped), in which the wings of the bird have six tips

Satpatrika (six-tipped) design

Satpatrika (six-tipped) design


The fifth layer brick design of Satpatrika (six-tipped)

The fifth layer brick design of Satpatrika (six-tipped)

The fifth layer brick design of Panchapathrika (five-tipped)

The fifth layer brick design of Panchapathrika (five-tipped)

The fifth layer brick design of Peetthan

The fifth layer brick design of Peetthan


The first is said to be like the Syena bird when it has just come out of the egg, the second, when it is young, and the third, when fully grown.

Ekaaham, Aheenam and Sathram
As discussed earlier, based on the number of Suthyahas days,Yaagam may be categorised into three:

Ekaaham - 1 day, Aheenam - 2 to 12 days and Sathram - more than 12 days.

All Yaagams explained here are Ekaahams. Aheenam and Sathram are quite similar to the Ekaaham. The major difference is in the number of Suthyam days, making the performance far more tedious and tiring. Remembering all the Sthuthis and Sasthrams for each day adds to the difficulties. As in Ekaaham, the first Upasath day and the first Suthyam day are quite tough, while the subsequent days are much easier.

Aheenam has several Ahassus with 12 to 29 Sasthrams, making the whole process more difficult. Sathram has 361 Ahassus (Suthyam) with a minimum of 12 Deekshahassus and exactly 12 Upassath days, making it all the more complicated.


Yajamaanan's Definition, Eligibility and Title:

The Yajamaanan (master / leader) is the person who actually performs Yaagam. After performing a Yaagam, the Yajamaanan gets a title. Agnishtomam (the basic Somayaagam) makes him a Somayaaji,

Rithwiks' Definition, Eligibility and Title: Rithwik is a general term for a priest in Yaagam, apart from the Yajamaanan, and should be well-versed in the three Vedams. They should be Brahmins having the right to perform Yaagam and fulfill the eligibility conditions (i), (ii) and (iii) of Yajamaanan, listed above. Seventeen Rithwiks of various expertise are needed to perform Yaagam. Adhwaryu, Hothan, Udgaathan (or Ulgaathan) and Brahman are the main Rithwiks with several assistants (also called Rithwiks) for the smooth performance of the Yaagam. The Rithwiks are appointed by the Yajamaanan.

Adhwaryu: Adhwaryu has to recite Yajurvedam and should be well-versed in it with deep knowledge in Yajurveda Manthrams, Praishams and the Havana Kriya Manthrams. A Praisham from Adhwaryu is a set of orders given to other Rithwiks to perform certain rituals in his absence. He guides the Rithwiks and other assistants in the Yaagam. Adhwaryu has Prathiprasthhaathan, Neshtan and Unnethan, all being experts in Yajurvedam, as assistants, though they need not be Yajurvedis. Yajurvedam experts among Rigvedis may also perform each of these duties.

Hotha: Hothan should have expertise in Rigvedam and its traditional chanting styles for Udaatham, Anudaatham, Swaritham, and Pracharyaswaram, which are followed here too. Hothan recites all the Sasthrams with the assistants' support. Hothan's assistants are Maithraavarunan, Achhaavaakan and Graavasthothan, the first two being Rigvedis and the last, a Saamavedi.

Udgaatha: Udgaathan chants Saamavedam in its traditional musical style, and the Sthuthis such as Subrahmanyaahwaanam. Udgaathan has three Saamavedi assistants, Prasthothan, Prathihaari and Subrahmanian. Saamavedam experts among Rigvedis or Yajurvedis may also assume any of these four posts.

Brahma: Brahman is witness to the entire proceedings and should know Adharvavedam too but the Namboothiri practice is that, Brahman has to be the same Charanam (recension) as that of Yajamaanan. For example, if Yajaamanan is a Kousheethaki, then Brahman should also be a Kousheethaki. The only exception is for Saamavedi Yajamaanan, then the Brahman has to be either Aswalaayanan or Kousheethaki. Brahman's assistants are Braahmanaachhamsi, Aagneedhran and Pothan, all Rigvedis.

Sadasya: Sadasyan should be an expert in all activities concerning the Yaagam and has the responsibility to ensure that everything is done right. He has no assistant.

Adhwaryu, Hothan, Udgaathan, Brahman and Sadasyan are called Mahaa (great) Rithwiks. The Mahaa-Rithwiks, except Sadasyan, have three assistants each. Thus, there are seventeen Rithwiks in all, including Sadasyan.

Yaagsaala: Yaagam is performed in special thatched sheds called Yaagasaala.

Items Used in a Yaagam: Several items are required for a Yaagam. They vary from utensils, raw parts of plants and so on. Some of them are given below.

1.       Earthen Vessels

(a)     Mahaaveeram :  3 numbers, used during Pravargyam. Made of soil dug out using Adi ( a special equipment), made to be smelt by a horse, wetted and kneaded using goats milk, and then mixed in a particular proportion with ant-hill soil (Puttumannu), Poothika grass, goats hair and iron powder; large enough to hold two potfulls (Kutam) of water.

(b)     Aajyasthhaali :  Used for keeping ghee; a circular container made of the same soil mix as in (a) above, with the bottom gradually sloping down to the middle.

(c)     Dohana Paathram :  2 numbers; for milking, shaped like the trunk

of  an elephant.

(d)     Rohina Kapaalam and Kapila Kapaalam :  In order to fry Purodaasam; shaped like a sphere on a horse.

(e)     Pots (Kutam) :  4 numbers; to keep vasuvari stored.

(f)       Pots (Kutam) :  2 numbers; to be kept in Havirdhaani.

(g)     Kamandalu :  For performing Parishekam with water.

(h)     Chattis (Flat Vessels) :  To keep grains, etc.

2.       Krishnaamrigathol

      Hide of Krishna Mrigam, black buck (Antelope cervicarpa); 2 numbers of the hide with horns, head, body and the four legs.

3.       Somalatha

2 bundles of Somalatha plant (Sarcostemma ascidium), believed to have been brought from the Moojaavan mountains

4.       Arani and Manthham

They are used for making fire, and are made from the branch of a banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) which has undergone Shodasa Kriyas.

5.       (i) Yoopam : A wooden post for tying the sacrificial lamb; made of Koovalam, [wood apple (Aegle marmelos)] or similar tree which the Yajamaanan and Adhwaryu together fell while Manthrams are chanted, ensuring that it falls towards northeast, and which a carpenter cuts to the proper length and a square shape.              

      (ii) Chashaalam :  Made out of the remaining upper part of the wood, in (i) above.

6.       (i)     Wood (Thadi) :  2 numbers, for carrying Mahaaveeram.

(ii)    Dhrishti :  Wooden spatula (Chattukam) made of Karingaali plant, for removing soot.

(iii)   Juhu :  2 flat and 2 with depression; made of Plaasu (Butea monosperma).

(iv)   Graham : 11 numbers, wooden vessels (Chashakam) for taking Soma juice.

(v)    Chamasam :  4 numbers, wooden vessels (Praneetha).

(vi)   Dronakalasam

(vii)  Paripsu : Shaped like a small boat.

(viii) Unthu Vandi :  2 numbers, push-carts to carry Soma juice.

(ix)   Ox hides : To be placed over Uparavakkuzhis (holes).

(x)    Lamb, cow, horse

(xi)   Darbha grass, Samidhas, special Dhaanyams and other items for various homams.

Stages in Yaagam: The different stages in the actual performance of Ekaaham are discussed here. Those for Aheenam and Sathram are similar to Ekaaham with slight variations. A Somayaagam (eg.: Agnishtomam) is a five-stage process, with

1. Naandeemukham (prelude) upto Saalaa Pravesam,
2. Deekshaahassu,
3. Upasaddinangal (Upasath days), or Oupavasathyam Ahassu (Ahassu = day).
[These three qualify the performer to do the most important part of Yaagam on Suthyam days.]

4. Suthyam, and
5. Yajnapuchham (tail-end of Yaagam).

The following table gives a summary of the performing days of each stage.

Day of Athiraathram

Event in Yaagam

Day of Agnistomam

1st day

Naandeemukham to Saalaapravesham, Deekshaahassu

1st day

2nd day

Pravargya Sambhaaram (Collection of Pravargyam items) 

2nd day

3rd day

Yoopam Kollal

3rd day

4th to 8th days

Construction of Altar (Agnichayanam)


4th to 9th days

Pravargyam & Upaasath (Upasaddinangal or Upasath days)

2nd to 4th days

10th & 11th days till the dawn of 12th day

Suthy Suthyam days and finally, Yajnapuchham

5th day till the dawn of 6th day

The five stages are discussed briefly here.

Stage - 1 (Prelude to Yaagam)

The objective of Yajamaanan at this stage of Agnisthomam (or any Yaagam) is to obtain the right to do Deeksha (self-consecration, stage - 2, below), by performing some rituals. Also, Agnisthomam formally begins with these rituals.

Agnishtomam should begin in the Velutha Paksham (the fortnight between new moon and full moon) of Vasantham (March-May) in Chaithram or Vaisaakham month. After external purifications like the traditional bath, Aachamanam, Naandeemukha-Punyaaham, etc. and internal purifications through Praanaayamam, etc., the Yajamaanan performs rituals seeking blessings from teachers and elders, and from God for making him remember the essential texts of Thaithireeya, Kausheethaka and Saama Chadangu (ritual procedures), Obtaining Sakhyam (Camaraderie) of Rithwiks, enabling him to create fire from the Arani (a traditional and crude mechanism for fire creation) and later for Aavaahanam of the fire back to the Arani. After these and a few other rituals, the Yajamaanan and the Rithwiks concentrate on the expected results of the process, enter the Yaagasaala with all the necessary items, make the fire from Arani, and deploy the fire in the required locations. The first stage is now over.

Stage - 2. Deekshaahassu (Consecration Segment)

Deeksha of Yajamaanan refers to the control of his senses (Indriyam) upto a much higher spiritual level. It is mandatory to perform the most important parts (Stage 3 to 5) of any Yaagam.

It starts with Hothru-Homam, and Koosmaanda-Homam (to remove all the accumulated sins in life). It s followed by nine specific rituals. Though there are six kinds of Hothans with specified number of Homam items for each Hothan, in Somayaagam, only the Hothan with seven items for Homam is required. After these Homams, the Yajaamanan performs Afsudeeksha, followed by the important Deekshayaneeyeshti for Agni and Vishnu, using (eleven Kapaalangalil Sravichha) Purodaasam (a special food item, made from powdered rice), as Havissu (offering).

Three different Havissus are required for this Ishti if Agnichayanam (Altar construction) is also to be performed. The Ishti is to be completed before sunset. (Ishti is a step-by-step ritual in Yaagam. Several kinds of Ishtis are performed in a Yaagam.)

At the end of several other rituals and procedures after sunset, the Yajamaanan is declared as a Deekshithan. If Agnichayanam is included, the rituals will include Vishnukramanam with an earthen pot, Ukha, containing the Agni generated while Manthrams are chanted, kept on Aasandi (pedestal, Peettham) which in turn is kept inside an Uri (a kind of pot), and then worn around the neck of the Yajamaanan.

The Adhwaryu then preaches to the Yajamaanan the importance of Deeksha, during which he should control his senses, language (Sanskrit), conversation, should not tell lies, laugh, itch fan/cool the body (for relief from heat), remove Krishnaajinam and so on. This is followed by the ritual, Sani, involving formally getting and keeping the Dakshina Dravyam (items for alm), and then Vratha Dohanam and Vratha Paanam. Vratham is the milk for the consumption of the Yajamaanan and the Pathni (Yajamaanan's wife).

If Deeksha extends to two or more days, only Vratha Dohanam and Vratha Paanam are to be done twice daily from the second day onwards, while, with Agnichayanam, Upasthhaanam of Ukhyaagni with Vaathhsapram is also to be done.

Thus ends the Deekshaahassu (Deeksha Day), the second stage.

Stage - 3. Upasaddinangal (Upasath Days) or Oupavasathyam Ahass

The third stage, popularly known as Upasaddinangal extends to a minimum of three days for Ekaaham, six for Aheenam and twelve for Sathram. On each day, Upasath Ishti followed by Pravargyam are to be performed in the morning (Poorvaahnikam) and repeated in the afternoon (Aparaahnikam). There are several other rituals too.

If Agnichayanam is also to be done, construction of the fire-place with 1,000 specially-made bricks has to be done during Upasath days, after the morning Pravargyam and Upasath.

On the first day of this stage or earlier, Ukhaa Sambhaaram (collection of bricks) after an Amaavaasi Ishti done on an auspicious day, and Vaayavyam Pasu (a purification process) would have been done. Once the fire-place is constructed, Ksheeradhaara (purification with milk accompanied by Manthram chanting) and other rituals connected with the lighting of the fire-place are performed.

The first Upasath day (which is usually the second day for Somoyaagam and the fourth day for Agni) is quite hectic for the Rithwiks. The rituals, Vrathadohanam, Praayaneeyeshti, Padam, Somakrayam, Somapravahanam, Aathithhyeshti, Thaanoonasthram, Avaanthara Deeksha, and Pravargya Sambhaaram are carried out along with Pravargyam and Upasath.

Vratham connotes the milk which the Yajamaanan ceremonially collects (by milking the animal), boils and is consumed (Praasikkal, Vratha Paanam) by himself and his wife. (Though it is theoretically the first ritual on day-2, in usual practice, it is done at night on day-1)

Praayaneeyeshti is a ritual to offer Havissu to five gods. The Havissu (item to offer) here is Charu for Adithi and Ghee for the other four gods. Padam is the soil (and its collection) which has been stepped on by the calf used for purchasing Soma. Charu is basically Nivedyam but made in a ritualistic manner. The purchase of the Somalatha or Soma plant is known as Somakrayam done during a pause in Aathithhyeshti.

After three days, the Soma plant is processed by grinding and pressing to get the juice (Abhishavam, Idichu Pizhiyal). The Soma is brought to the Saala in an ox cart, placed on an Aasandi (pedestal, Peettham) and received with the Arghya items. Then the Aathithhyeshti is continued.

Aathithhyeshti ceremoniously welcomes Soman as Athithhi or guest, although Vishnu is the spirit of this Ishti. (Vishnu is the consumer, Soman, the consumed; hence the relation). Purodaasam, made of rice, is the Havissu for this Ishti. Midway, fire is made through abrasion and deposited in the Aahavaneeyaagni.

All the Rithwiks, except Saamavedis, together take a pledge of Camaraderie, touching Thaanoonasthram, the ghee from this Ishti. Avaanthara Deeksha ritual is then performed for exchanging the Yajamaanan's body with Agni's. He thus conceals his identity and prevents the gods from troubling him. It is followed by Pravargya Sambhaaram, the formal collection and Samskaaram of the items required for Pravargyam. This part may be done earlier on one of the Deekshaahassu days. Then Pravargyam is performed (done only during daytime), with Saanthi Japam before and after ( see box below ).



Pravargyam is considered as theYajamaanan's head and Upasath, his neck. The story goes that once, the Yajamaanan's head was cut off accidently at his neck during his Yaagam, but was rectified through the powers of Aswineedevans (gods).  The rituals connected with Pravargyam are these rectification processes, and hence considered brutal.  So the wife of the Yajamaanan, as well as other ladies are banned from being present during these rituals, and the doors are kept closed.  The rituals are performed only during day-time.  All rituals for Pravargyam are preceded and followed by Saanthijapam (chanting for peace and tranquility)
Upaasath is an Ishti (ritual) in which Agni, Soman and Vishnu are the gods with Aajyam (Ghee with manthrams chanted) as Havissu (offering). Its objective is to cleanse the area with fire and has to be done in a hurry. Any mistake in it requires the ritual to be repeated immediately. It follows Vedeekaranam, a ritual to be performed as part of the land survey for Mahaavedi (main stage).

The last day's Pravargyam and Upasath are to be completed in the morning itself for sparing time to perform some additional rituals. It follows the transportation of all the items in a traditional manner to the east of the Mahaavedi, and arrangement in the form of a male human figure, known as Yajnapurushan. Items are arranged as organs of Yajnapurushan.

On a raised platform with thatched roof, located west of Dasapadam, called Havirdhaanam, two twin-wheeled carts, called Chaatu or Sakatam, are brought and parked. This process is termed Havirdhaana-Pravarthanam. Three Upasaalaas (sub-areas) are now to be formally made, though they would have already been constructed. One of them is located near the eastern side of the west (Agnihothra) Saala, and is called Sadass. The other two are smaller and are located in the middle of the southern and northern boundaries of the Mahaavedi, and are called Maarjaaleeyam and Aagneedhriyam, respectively. Between the two wheels and front of the southern cart, four small pits are dug - Uparavams - in which certain rituals are performed to purify the area by destroying the Valagam (poison) supposed to have been placed there by Asurans (demons) for removing Somarasam. The pits are covered with two wooden planks placed between four stakes (one "Chaan" high; "Chaan" = distance between tips of middle finger and thumb, stretched in opposite directions).

Somaabhishavam (grinding and squeezing the juice) is to be done on an ox hide spread on the planks and raised along the edges over the stakes in a bowl-like fashion. Eight Dhishnyams - low, circular earthen platforms of two Chaanns diameter and one Viral (finger) high - are made, one each in Maarjaaleeyam and Aagneedhriyam and six in Sadass. Then Darbha Pullu (Darbha grass) is spread over the entire floor of the Mahaavedi.

Now the Ishti of Agneeshomeeyam Pasu (explained below) is initiated and then Agneeshoma Pranayanam is performed, in which Agni and Soman are taken from the west Saala and placed in Agneedhriyam and on the southern cart respectively. The Yajamaanan then goes near the Somaabhishavam location and changes to his own self from another form he had taken through Avaanthara Deeksha. Yoopam Kollal is to be done now, unless it was done earlier during Deekshaahassu or Upasath days. (The tree used as Yoopam may be Palaasam (Plaasu - Butea monosperma - flame of the forest), Bilwam (Koovalam - Aegle marmelops - wood apple) or Khadiram (Karinjaali). For the "Vaayavyam Pasu" ritual in Athiraathram, the Yoopam must be of Plaasu.) The Yoopam is fixed at the middle of the eastern boundary of the Mahaavedi. When the Yajamaanan observed Deeksha, his soul (Aatmaavu) came under the control of Agni and Soman. He now regains his soul by offering Agneeshomeeyam Pasu, a double-coloured (any two of black, white and red / brown) lamb.

Next is Paswaalambhanam. It involves Homam (offering to Agni) of certain parts of a sacrificial animal, usually lamb. The three items for Homam are : (1) Vapa which is a fibrous fatty part of the animal spread over the entire body; (2) Purodaasam, a special preparation with rice powder, purportedly representing the essence (Saaraamsam) of the animal; and (3) Haviss, in this case, organs like heart, tongue (Jihwa), etc. Vapa Homam is done during the day while Purodaasam and Haviss are offered at night.

During the evening (dusk), after Vapa Homam, a pot (Kutam) of clear and clean water is collected from a water source. This is called Vasatheevari. Three (five, for Athiraathram) more potfulls called Ekadhanas are to be collected the next morning. These four are needed for the Somaabhishavam (Soma crushing). Thereafter, the materials required for the next day are collected. Thus ends the third stage, the Oupavasathhyam Ahass.

Stage - 4. Suthyam

The fourth stage of a Yaagam is Suthyam. All the rituals and arrangements done so far only prepares the Yajamaanan and others to perform Suthyam, which is the most important aspect of Yaagams. They are now qualified for it. Suthyam involves, among many other things, Somaahuthy and Sthuthi Sasthrams.

The first two Somaahuthys on the Suthyam day, using the containers called Upaamsu and Antharyaamam, are the most important ones. They are to be done just before and after sunrise, respectively. Earlier, and starting ten Naazhikaas (about four hours) before sunrise (the Mahaaraathram period, the last one-third of the night) several Kriyaas are to be performed. Those which are part of Paswaalambhanam (before the Yaagam animal is tied to the Yoopam) include Praatharan uvaakam (with 360 Riks), Savaneeya-Purodaasa Nirmaanam, and Ekadhana-Grahanam (formally collecting water in at least three containers); then Upaamsu Homam, followed by morning bath and Sandhyaa Vandanam. The Karmams (rituals) after sunrise include:

  1. Praathassavanam using Vapa as Havissu, in the morning,
  2. Maadhyandina Savanam using Pasupurodaasam as Havissu, at noon, and
  3. Thritheeya Savanam with Pasuhavissu (the 11 organs collected during Paswaalambhanam), in the afternoon,

in three equal periods of eight Naazhikaas (3 hours 12 minutes) each. These rituals are narrated below. The one-day Suthyam (in the case of Ekaaham) is then terminated with Kriyaas like Yajnapuchham, after which the Yajamaanan goes home to perform the evening Agnihothram - a hectic day altogether !

Just to the west of and attached to the southern cart (Chaatu) a cloth piece (Dasaapavithram) is kept stretched for straining Soma into the vessel (Dronakalasam) kept underneath on the Uparavappalaka. On the north cart will be kept two containers (Mitaavu), called Aadhavaneeyam and Poothabhruth, with the ground Soma juice stored in the former and covered by a cloth. The Soma juice is taken from the vessel with an earthen pot (Kindi) and poured over Dasaapavithram and the strained juice drops down as a stream - Dhaara - into the Dronakalasam. It is from this Dhaara that Soma is collected as and when needed, using wooden Oordhwa-Paathrams. Eleven of these are required for most ordinary Yaagams. Nine are made of Peraal (banyan - Ficus bengalensis) and are named : Upaamsu, Antharyaamam, Aindravaayavam, Maithraavarunam, Aswinam, two Rithu Paathrams, Aadithyopasayam, and Ukthhyaapasayam. (For Athiraathram, 3 more pots, called Athigraahyas, are also needed). Sukrapaathram is made of Koovalam (Bilwam - Aegle marmelops - wood apple) while Manthipaathram, of Vayyankatha (Gymnosporia montana - Family: Celastracea). Formal Abhishavam is to be done separately for each Savanam. The first one is done by Adhwaryu and poured into the Upaamsu, and the Yajamaanan performs Somaahuthi with it. If Upaamsu and Antharyaamam homams are done in reverse order (by mistake), he does not become a Somayaaji, but instead, only an Udakayaaji.

After Antharyaama Homam, Soma is collected in the nine (12 for Athiraathram) Oordhwa Paathrams (special vessels) from the Dhaara. The Dhaara is then stopped and milk, special coins (Tharippanam) and gold are placed in the Dronakalasam. The six Rithwiks and the Yajamaanan keep their hands on the next one's shoulders, crawl on to the Dasapadam, release their right hands, do Somaahuthi, and move to their respective seats, only after which the hands are released.

Then they sing Pavamaana Sthuthi for cleansing the mind, and other Sthuthis and Sasthrams, before Savana Karmams. Pavamaana Sthuthi is sung at the beginning of each Savanam, while seated in Sadass, except in the morning Savanam, when it is done sitting outside,Bahish-Pavamaana-Sthuthi

After Sthuthi, Soma is caught (Grahanam) in the Aaswina-Paathram. After this, a general and specific Upasthaanam (Somopasthaanam) is done with the Soma juice kept in the different vessels. Embers from Agneedhriyam Dhishnyam are taken and placed in the other seven Dhishnyams and Homams are performed. This is called Dhishnya Vyaaghaaranam.

The next Kriya is Aagneyam Pasu (also called Savaneeya Pasu), spreading into the three Savanams : Vapa Homam in the morning Savanam, Srapanam (boiling/cooking) in the mid-day Savanam, and Havish Prachaaram (or Hridayaadyanga Homam) in the third.

Before performing the Kriyas in the morning Savanam, all Rithwiks shall occupy their respective seats, a process known as "Kutipukkirikkuka". The Kriyas in this Savanam are : Savaneeyam, Dwidevathya Prachaaram, Prasthhitha, Dwidevathya Bhakshnam, Idaahwaana-Bhakshanangal, Vaajina-Yaaga-Bhakshanangal, Savana-Mukha-Bhakshanam, Achhaavaakeeyam, Yashta-Pathnee-Bhakshanam, Rithu-Yaagam and then the five Sasthrams.

Savaneeyam involves five havissus: Purodaasam, Dhaanakal (pounded and fried Yavam), Karambham (pounded, fried and powdered Yavam mixed in ghee), Parivaapam (Malar or popped rice), and Aamiksha. These would have been prepared by Agneedhran during Mahaaraathram (explained earlier) itself while the other Kriyas were going on. Dwidevathya Prachaaram is the Homams of Soma collected in Aindravaayavam, Maithraavarunam and Aaswinam. Next is Prasthhitha in which Adhwaryu and Prathiprasthhaathan perform Homams using Sukra Paathram and Manthhi Paathram, and joined by all Rithwiks doing Homams of Soma juice with their Chamasams (special vessels). This is followed by separate Homams by Maithraavarunan, etc., using their own Chamasams. Thus ends Prasthhitha.

Then, Hothan and Adhwaryu consume (Bhakshikkal - here, only wetting of lips, or smelling) the Hutha Sishtam (remains of offers in rituals) of Dwidevathya Grahams, followed by Idaahwaanam and Bhakshanam of Savaneeya Hutam Sishtam Havissu, and then Vaajina (whey) Homam and Bhakshanam, and where Aamiksha exists, its homam and Bhakshanam. Idaahwaanam is a ritual in which Purodaasam is collected in a pot, called Ida, by Hothan followed by Manthrams to address (Aahwaanam) other Rithwiks. Then, Savana Mukha Bhakshanam (eating the remains of Soma used for Savanam, explained above) for all Rithwiks who are eligible to have Chamasams.

Achhaavaakeeyam comes next. This is the formal and conditional welcoming back of Achhaavaakan who was not in the scene for long. The condition involves his having to recite one Sooktham, which he does. Then Soma is poured in his Chamasam, he does Homam with it, Bhakshanam and Kutippukkirikkal (explained earlier). Thereafter, Neshtan leads the Pathni to bring to the Sadassu the water - Panne Jani - meant for her Soucham (body cleansing). There is now a very brief resting time for the busy Adhwaryu, while the Yajamaanan and wife eat lunch.

This is followed by Rithu Yaagam. In this, the gods are the twelve seasons (Rithus in a year, explained in Panchaangam). Adhwaryu and Prathiprasthhaathan collect Soma from Dronakalasam and take turns to perform twelve Homams. Hothan and six other Rithwiks recite the Aajya. A set of two Homams is considered as a two-month Rithu (season). As in the case of Dwidevathyam, consumption of Hutha Sesham from the Rithupaathram (pot) in Rithu Yaagam is also only by wetting the lips or smelling (Ghraana Bhakshanam).

The last part of the Praathassavanam is the recitation of five Sasthrams. The first is Aajya Sasthram, with Indraagni as devatha (god). Facing the Rithwik reciting Sasthram, will be seated Adhwaryu or Prasthiprasthhathan serving as Prathigaram (motivator / applauder). After Sasthram, Soma Homam is performed and the Hutha Sesham is consumed. Then after a Sthuthi with Udgaathan in the lead and supported by four other Rithwiks, it is now the Hothan's turn for the second Sasthram called Pra-Ugam, in which seven different Viswadevakal form the Devathas, and each Thricham (three Riks) is preceded by recitation of Puroruk Rik. After the Sasthram, Homam and Bhakshanam, there are three more Sasthrams by Maithraavarunan, Braahmanaachhamsi and Achhaavaakan, each preceded by Soma collection and Sthuthi recitation. Praathassavanam is now over.

In Maadhyandina Savanam, after a general Upasthhaanam and a special one for Aadithyan, and after Kutippukkirikkal, Adhwaryu goes to Havirdhaanam and performs Soma Abhishekam, along with Graavastothan's Sthuthi. Seven Rithwiks, as before with hands on others' shoulders, perform Savanaahuthi and again takes their respective places. The Kriyas are almost the same as in the previous Savanam except for a Dadhigharmam, which is the collection of Dadhi (curd) in an Otam (a small open vessel, like a bowl), its processing (Srayanam), Homam and Bhakshanam, all of which are accompanied by chanting of Manthrams. There is also the Daakshinaayani which is a Karmam to give Dakshina to the Rithwiks (112 cows), to those in attendance and even to the casual visitors. In practice, real cows are not given, but are represented by Puthupanam - a small ancient coin - even which is only pretended to be given.

Vaiswakarmana Homam as a Praayaschitham to counter the inability to satisfy everyone's expectations, follows this. This Savanam, as did the earlier one, ends with five Sasthrams, the first two being Maruthwatheeyam and Nishkevalyam (with the Sthuthi, the latter is called Prushttham also), and then the three Sasthrams by Maithraavarunan, etc.

The Thritheeya Savanam (third, in the afternoon) is also somewhat similar to the earlier one, with some differences. Here, the pots named Sukrapaathram and Manthhipaathram are not used. The Sasthram is Vaiswadevan, followed as usual by Homam and (Sesha) Bhakshanam. Then there is a Karmam called Sowmyam, using the Charu made by Prathiprasthhaathan, after which ghee is poured into the Charu and the Thaithareeyas as well as the Saamavedis in the Sadass look for and see their own reflection in the ghee. The Homa Sesham, if consumed by pregnant women, is believed to cause excellent children to be born to them!

Next is Paathneevatham, in which Adhwaryu performs Homam with Soma mixed with ghee supplied by Prathiprasthhaathan; Agneedhran recites Yaajya Manthram and consumes the Homa Sesham while seated on Neshtan's lap. The wife (Pathni) is led and seated in the Sadass before Sthuthi (Yajnaayajnayam) and Aagnimaarutham Sasthram. If the wife gets excited while listening to the melodious Sthuthi, she should cleanse her body with the Panne Jani. The Savanam ends with the Homam of all the Chamasams and the consumption of Homa Sishtam. Thus ends stage - 4, Suthyam.

Stage - 5 Yajnapuchham (Soma Mudiyal or Tail end of Yaagam)

Yajnapuchham is the last stage of the Yaagam, an unwinding in a sense. It is quite similar in all Yaagams.

The first Kriyas are Anuyaajam followed by Haariyojanam. The leftover Soma juice is collected in the Dronakalasam, to which Dhaana (rice, fried dry) is added. Unnethan performs Homam and smells the Dhaanas. Sakhya-Visargam releases the bond of Camaraderie among the Rithwiks (undertaken earlier with Thaanoonasthram). It is a common practice to perform Praayaschitham (here, Kalpa-Praayaschitham) at the end of all important and major Karmams in order to overcome any imperfections in the performance. Then it is Avabhrutham Ishti, in which most of the used items are deposited in a water body (pond, lake or river), everyone bathes and returns to the Saala, as in Udayaneeyeshti, followed by Maithraavaruneeyeshti with Aamiksha (in Somayaagam) or Aamiksha with Pasu (in Athiraathram). Powdered rice is then used for Sakthu Homam, assuming the Vaidikaagni to be forest fire.

Threthaagni: Thereafter, the Threthaagnis (the three spiritual fires attained through Yaagam) are shown (Kaachi) at and invoked back to the Arani. Once the Threthaagni is invoked back to Arani, the remaining fire in the Yaagasala has conceptually become forest fire with no spiritual content. Also, the Yaagasala has lost its divine nature. The Yaagasaala is set fire to with this fire.

Back Home: On the way (Prathyaagamanam), either Ubhavaneeya Ishti or Poornaahuthi is performed and this Threthaagni is taken to the Yajamaanan's residence (Illam) and placed in an appropriate location like Vadukkini or Padinjaatti (two rooms in a Namboothiri Illam). The Somayaagam (or Athiraathram) is now over and the Yajamaanan now becomes a Somayaaji (or Akkithiri) and his wife (wives), Paththanaadi.

Such Threthaagni forms part of all Yaagams including Aadhaanam.

Agnihothram Rituals: It is using this Threthaagni that the Somayaaji (or Akkithiri) and Paththanaadi perform the rituals, viz., Agnihothram, twice daily, and Darsesthi and Poornamaaseeyesthi on every Prathipadam (first day after full moon or new moon), through out their life. Darsesthi and Poornamaaseeyesthi (about two hours long) require, apart from Yajamaanan, four Rithwiks, namely, Adhwaryu, Brahman, Agneedharan and Hothan, who can be members of Yajamaanan's family, unless they have Pula. Hothan should be an expert in Rigvedam for Rigvedi as well as Yajurvedi Yajamaanan but should be a Saamavedam expert for Saamavedi Yajamaanan. Brahman should be an expert in Rigvedam for Rigvedi as well as Saamavedi Yajamaanan but should be a Yajurvedam expert for Yajurvedi Yajamaanan.