It was in the mid 80’s when I began my studies in Yoga, Sanskrit and Meditation. During that time, I was introduced to Agni Hotra, an ancient vedic fire ceremony practice. The Agni Hotra practice consists of a set of specific elements that make up the fire and mantras that go into a pyramid shaped copper pot. When I first heard the first element that was to go into the fire, it amused me: Dried cow dung (Needless to say, It took a while for my laughter to die down). Other elements like, ghee (clarified butter), sometimes camphor and a sweet dry herbal mixture called havan-samaghri also went in to the fire. I learned what each of these elements symbolized and eventually let go of the humor around the cow dung and focused on the practice itself. I paid attention to how when I engaged this ancient fire practice, it linked me with the peace and wisdom of the yogic sages, the seers of light.
As the years passed in my yogic training, I consistently held to my morning and evening meditation and agni hotra practice. My guru, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, instructed me, “Say the fire mantras then watch the movement of the flame as it rises. Let the heat from the fire meet you. Let the heat from the fire guide you. Remember you are performing tapas.” His words took time to settled and mature in me. What he meant was that yogic practice is first an offering and as you offer the act of offering itself generates heat. He wanted me to allow not just verbal instruction to permeate my being, but the heat or essence of the offering. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati was saying that the fire practice, if I let it, would be another aspect of the yogic path that would teach me how make offerings and feel essence. With his guidance, the fire became a living practice in my life, not something apart from me from some far away culture, rather it was becoming part of me and as such, it was living.
Over time, with consistent agni hotra practice, I began refining my relationship with the fire more and more. One day, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati looked me directly in the eye and said definitively, “You must always make the offering on the svaha.” I inhaled deeply, and lowered my gaze. I knew he was telling me something important that I hadn’t yet fully grasped. I hoped one day I would. I encouraged myself to keep trying to incorporate what he’d said. As time went on, I chanted the fire mantras and each time I said them, they refined and became more accurate, more precise. And what amazed me was that with that connection and precision, the mantras offered back a felt understanding of grace. At the end of the mantra recitations, the word “Svaha” gets chanted while simultaneously an offering of ghee is placed into the fire. Svaha literally means I offer it up to the gods through the channel of the sacred fire. The more I practiced the more I realized that when I engaged agni hotra and entered the oblation on the sound ‘svaha,’ I was automatically humbling myself. When I entered humility within I was leaving my personal will aside and entered into divine will. In essence, by becoming conscious, as I made the offering to the gods on the “svaha,” I was saying, I make this offering to the gods through the vehicle of this body and mind. But what comes along with that action is the recognition and reaffirmation of the yogic reality that the body and mind are my vehicle, not my source. Making the offering on the svaha, showed me that it is the divine will, which I want to sync up with, not my personal will. When I align with divine will every experience in my life becomes a sacred offering.
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Photo Paul Bulai
Over the years, svaha has become one of my favorite Sanskrit words.
It means, I offer it up to the gods through the sacred fire. ~ Manorama
What will you make as an offering this year to the gods?