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Agni Upasana in Festivals
(From book by Pujya Sri Kumbakonam Swamigal)
Translated from Tamil by P. R. Kannan
Though many are the materials created by Bhagavan in the world, there are a few chosen ones in which Bhagavan's presence is perceived intensely, as also accepted in Sastras. If we invoke the respective gods in these materials through appropriate mantra Japa, the gods appear and bless us. This is stated in 'Smritimuktaphalam' (Vaidyanatha Dikshitiyam), the celebrated book of Dharma Sastra, in Aahnika Kanda:
अप्स्वग्नौ हृदये सूर्ये स्थण्डिलॆ प्रतिमासु च ।
षट्स्वेतेषु हरेस्सम्यगर्चनं मुनिभिः स्मृतम् ॥
"Munis recommend invoking and worshipping Bhagavan in the following six articles:
1. Pure water from rivers like Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna, Krishna, Godavari, Narmada etc.
2. Agni established through due Vedic process.
3. The hearts of yogis, who constantly meditate on Bhagavan.
4. Surya, the visible God.
5. Altar like yantra etc.
6. Images of gold, silver, brass, bronze, Panchaloha etc."
That Agni is included in the articles of worship here should be noted.
Agni Upasana, commenced as Samidadhanam in Brahmacharyasrama, grows into Aupasanam, Vaisvadevam, Nityagnihotram and many Sroutha and Smartha karmas in Grihasthasrama; it becomes an important part of our life and leads us higher.
Women clean the entrance to the home with cowdung, put 'kolam' (flour design) and light the lamp; they also light the lamp in the Pooja room in morning and evening. Traditionally this Agni Upasana has been observed in every household with no barriers of caste, lineage etc. In every month there are important occasions when we light the lamp and worship.
आश्विनस्याऽसिते पक्षे त्रयॊदश्यां निशामुखे ।
यमदीपं बहिर्दद्यात् अपमृत्युर्विनश्यति ॥
"Yamadeepa is lighted in Asvin month, Krishna paksha, in the night on Trayodashi, the night before Deepavali; this wards off untimely death."
Skanda Puranam extols Yamadeepa in glowing terms:
मृत्युना पाशदण्डाभ्यां कालेन श्यामया सह ।
त्रयॊदश्यां दीपदानात् सूर्यजः प्रीयतां मम ॥
"May Yama Dharmaraja, the son of Surya, who holds rope and staff in his hands and shines with Mrityu, Kala and Syamaladevi, be pleased with me through this Deepadana on this Trayodashi day." So praying, women should light earthen lamps with til oil in every home and worship. This will destroy sins committed by us unknowingly and fear of untimely death, and grant us long healthy life; there is no doubt.
This festival, where Deepas are lighted and kept in a row (Avali), is celebrated merrily throughout Bharatadesa. In 'Nirnayasindhu', a book of Dharmasastra, we are asked to light lamp with four wicks on the evening of Deepavali day and keep in Pooja room and entrance of homes and in Siva and Vishnu temples. The prayer is:
दत्तॊ दीपश्चतुर्दश्यां नरकप्रीतये मया ।
चतुर्वर्ति समायुक्तः सर्वपापाऽपनुत्तये ॥
"On Chaturdashi day, this Deepa with four wicks is offered for destruction of all sins and removal of fear of Naraka." This will grant us good health, long life, happiness etc.
Deepa offered during the entire Karthik month is called 'Akasadeepa'. The special Deepa on the days of Bharani and Karthik stars in Karthik month is known as Bharani deepa and Karthigai deepa. This Deepa festival is observed in all homes and Siva temples. In Tiruvannamalai, the Agni kshetra, Karthigai Deepa has been celebrated as a grand festival for many centuries. The Tiruvannamalai hill itself is worshipped as the form of Agni and Sri Parameswara.
दर्शनात् अभ्रसदसि जननात् कमलालये ।
काश्यां तु मरणान्मुक्तिः स्मरणात् अरुणाचलम् ॥
Our ancestors have said that by having darshan at Chidambaram, by taking birth in Kamalalaya (Tiruvarur), by dying in Kashi and by thinking of Arunachala, Mukti is attained.
Arunagiri shines indeed as the form of Jyoti.
Every year in Kartikai month, for 30 days from Sukla paksha Prathama tithi to Amavasya day, every day in the evening, Deepa should be lighted in earthen lamp with 8 wicks and with til oil at home on top level or in temples on a high staff. This is called akasadeepa. Nirnayasindhu says that one who does this will obtain good wealth, handsomeness and good luck.
कार्तिके तिलतैलॆन सायङ्काले समागते ।
आकाशदीपं यॊ दद्यात् मासमॆकं हरिं प्रति ॥
महतीं श्रियमाप्नॊति रूपसौभाग्यसंपदम् ॥
The prayer to be said is:
दामॊदराय नभसि तुलायां लॊलया सह ।
प्रदीपं ते प्रयच्छामि नमॊऽनन्ताय वॆधसे ॥
On Karthik Pournima day, it has been the practice to burn 'Chokkappanai' in front of Siva temple and in a common remote place. A tall staff or tree is covered with straw, and palm leaves are tied at top and that is put to fire. The term 'Chokkappanai' is perhaps derived from 'Chokkan', meaning Siva and 'Appan' meaning father. Mahakavi Kalidasa calls Siva and Parvathi as the father and mother of the world-जगतः पितरौ वन्दे पार्वती परमॆश्वरौ ।
One should think of the burning 'Chokkappanai' as Parameswara shining in the form of Jyoti and pray to him. When it burns, one should throw Guggula (fragrant gum resin) in it thinking of Mahabali the king. The prayer to be said is:
उज्वलज्यॊतिराकाशे दीप्यमाने विभावसौ ।
गुग्गुलं प्रक्षिपाम्यत्र प्रीतॊ भव महाबलॆ ॥
We pray to Agni Bhagavan for cleansing of the mind, saying:
कीटाः पतङ्गाः मशकाश्च वृक्षाः जले स्थले ये विचरन्ति जीवाः ।
दृष्ट्वा प्रदीपं न च जन्मभागिनः भवन्ति नित्यं श्वपचाः हि विप्राः ॥
"Worms, birds, insects, trees etc. existing in water and on land, on seeing the lamp, get released from the cycle of births; so do humans from brahmanas down to the eaters of dog's flesh."
Deepa Worship in Holi Festival
Holi festival is widely celebrated in north India by all people on Magha month's Pournima day. The story behind this festival is told in Bhavishyottara Puranam. In order to protect children from a Rakshasi named Dundika who troubles children in secret, it is the practice to create an image of a sleeping Rakshasi with firewood, cowdung cakes etc and put it to fire. This is done on Magha Pournima evening at home or in a common place. People circumambulate the raging fire, while saying the verse and praying to Holika, the demoness for prosperity:
अस्माभिर्भय-सन्त्रस्तैः कृतात्वं हॊलिके यतः ।
अतस्त्वां पूजयिष्यामॊ भूते भूतिप्रदा भव ॥
The book Smriti Koustubha further says that people should make noise, clap hands, laugh and sing while going round the fire:
ततः किलकिला शब्दैः लालशब्दैः मनॊरमैः ।
तमग्निं त्रिःपरिक्रम्य गायन्तु च हसन्तु च ॥
This is followed that night or the next day by saying this prayer to the ash:
वन्दिताऽसि सुरेन्द्रॆण ब्रह्मणा शङ्करॆण च ।
अतस्त्वं पाहि नॊ दॆवि भूते भूतिप्रदा भव ॥
This will lead to removal of all diseases, dullness of intellect, fear of untimely death etc. and grant long life, good health, sharp intellect etc.
Smriti Koustubham also says that on Magha Sukla Dvadashi day, Sri Mahavishnu created black til from his own body after performing severe tapas as per a Puranic account. Hence lighting lamp with til oil and offering til rice to Bhagavan will destroy all sins and bestow benefits. The verse is:
माघॆ तु शुक्लद्वादश्यां यतॊ हि भगवान् पुरा ।
तिलान् उत्पादयामास तपःकृत्वा सुदारुणम् ॥
तिलतैलेन दीपाश्च दॆयाः देवगृहॆषु च ॥