When was the First Vedic Homa done? - II
by Jayasree Saranathan on 24 Oct 2023 7 Comments

Birth of Skanda

Earlier we read from Vayu Purana, that Pavaka, Pavamana and Suci were born to Svaha and Agni. But even before the marriage, we come across another account of the union between Svaha and Agni known by the name Adbhuta, giving birth to Skanda. The foremost inference is that Skanda was born before the marriage of Svaha and Agni but at a time Svaha started cohabiting Agni in some other form. On coming to know of the complicity of their spouses in the birth of Skanda, the six sages abandoned their wives.


Meanwhile Skanda grew up in prowess, and this made the celestials feel threatened. They sought refuge in Indra who went to war with Skanda. A fierce battle ensued in which Indra threw his thunderbolt that pierced Skanda on his right side. This caused another being to come out of Skanda, who attained the name ‘Visakha’ (‘born out of piercing’). On seeing Skanda’s indomitable strength, Indra sought truce with him. The description of the war in which Indra used the thunderbolt conveys a lightning strike that probably split a hill or a mountain or caused damage to it. It could also mean lava burst from a fissure that occurred at the time of lightening, as the narration says that Skanda diffused the thunder showers of Indra by blowing out the fire.


This is a metaphor for a simultaneous lava-burst causing a fissure in the ground during heavy rainfall. But rainfall stopped after fire burst out of the fissure, and this was expressed as Indra seeking truce with Skanda. The splitting of the ground came to be regarded as ‘Visakha’ and the text describes this as Visakha born out of Skanda. Many people died and many were born after this event and those born after this event identified themselves as the Children of Visakha!


Marka??eya says, “A number of male children came into being when Skanda was struck with the thunderbolt, those terrific creatures that steal spirit away from little children, whether born, or in the womb and a number of female children too of great strength were born to him. Those children adopted Visakha as their father.” On seeing the prowess of Skanda, Indra got Devasena, daughter of Dak?a, married to him.


Skanda’s mothers

The narration continues: the abandoned wives of the six sages approached Skanda and wanted him to erase the bad name given to them. Skanda recognized them as his mothers to place them in high esteem. After this, Indra approached Skanda and talked about Abhijit, saying that the lady Abhijit, younger sister of Rohi?i, jealous of the latter’s seniority, had repaired to the woods to perform austerities.


This caused a loss of one among the stars, for which Indra wanted a substitute. He could not disturb Dhani??ha, Rohi?i and other asterisms created by Brahma. So, Indra advised Skanda to elevate Krittika as one among the 27 stars of the zodiac to fill the vacancy created by Abhijit. Krittika presided over by Agni was then made a star of the zodiac by Skanda. The six-starred Krittika came to be regarded as the mothers of Skanda following this.


They were originally wives of six of the seven sages of the Sapta rishi Mandala. In Vedic marriages, they are remembered along with Arundhati, the seventh rishi-patni, as Pati-vrata-s. In the mantra of Vedic marriages, they are remembered as rishi-patni-s; in the life history of Skanda, they are regarded as mothers of Skanda.


Skanda performed marriage of Svaha with Agni

After the six rishi patni-s were elevated as mothers of Skanda in the Krittika stars, Svaha approached Skanda expressing her desire to marry Agni. She reminded Skanda that she was his original mother by obtaining six seeds over six days by uniting with Adbhuta, which together gave birth to Skanda. Skanda, the son was born, but she, the mother, was not yet formally united with her husband. She requested Skanda to conduct her marriage with Agni. In this context, the name Adbhuta was not used. She referred to Hutasana.


Agni has many names depending on the purpose for which Agni is used. Adbhuta was used for cooking flesh and burning filth. By Svaha’s union it started growing, giving rise to six seeds which seems to signify permeation of heat everywhere. Now Svaha who caused Adbhuta to offer the seeds of semen recognized him as Hutasana, the fire standing in front of all deities to receive the oblations and transfer them to the deities for whom the oblations are made.


In Valmiki Ramayana, Hutasana was in the forefront of all the deities and received the Tejas of Siva to transfer it to Ganga. Hutasana is the Agni in the Vedic Homa who receives the oblations on behalf of the deities. Svaha specifically mentioned the name Hutasana to Skanda to enable her to marry him. Skanda agreed and performed her marriage with Agni, so goes the story narrated by sage Marka??eya. Performance of the marriage could only mean that Skanda conducted the Vedic Homa by offering oblations, while chanting Svaha’s name.


How can we say that this is the marriage of Svaha with Agni? The answer lies in the etymology of the name Svaha, explained in Taittiriya Brahma?a. Svaha means ‘Thine own’. She belongs to Hutasana, the Agni by marriage. The wife is recognized as the Atman of the husband. The Atman belongs to the body where it comes to reside, and it directs and guides the person in all his actions. There are verses in the Valmiki Ramayana giving this version.


When Rama was getting ready to leave for the forest, Vasi??ha said that Sita must be made the king in his absence, she being the Atman of Rama. This connection is enabled by marriage. Svaha by marrying Hutasana, becomes ‘his own’ Atman and directs her husband (Hutasana) about what to do. She tells him whom the oblations must reach. Suppose the offerings are meant for Prajapati, “Prajapatye Svaha’ is chanted by which it is meant that Svaha directs her husband to send the oblations to Prajapati. Hutasana is the receiver of the offering, but to whom it should go is told by Svaha, his Atman.


The concept of husband-wife is complete by invoking Svaha’s name in the Vedic Homa. This connection was for the first time done by Skanda! This makes Skanda as the progenitor of the Vedic Homa which until then was either not at all done or not done by invoking Svaha. The former scenario is highly probable going by the story of Adbhuta when the climatic and environmental conditions were not conducive for growing fire.


The ushering in of the first Vedic Homa

Sage Marka??eya reiterates that it was Skanda who started the practice of doing Homa by the married couple. Skanda told Svaha, “From this day, lady, all the oblations that men of virtuous character, who swerve not from the path of virtue, will offer to their gods or ancestors with incantation of purifying hymns by twice-born, shall always be offered (through Agni) coupled with the name of Svaha, and thus, excellent lady, wilt thou always live associated with Agni, the god of fire.”


The exact verse from the Mahabharata runs as follows (MB: 3-220)

havya? kavya? ca yat ki? cid dvija mantrapurask?tam

ho?yanty agnau sada devi svahety uktva samudyatam

adya prabh?ti dasyanti suv?tta? satpathe sthita?

evam agnis tvaya sardha? sada vatsyati sobhane


The terms ‘havya? kavya?’ in this verse refer to first Agni made from Aupasana done by the householder. Vayu Purana in the chapter on genealogy of Agni refers to Havya-vahana and Kavya-vahana as referring to Ahavaniya and Garhapatya respectively. 


Vayu Purana says that Pavamana’s son is Kavya-vahana, the fire of Pitru-s. Suci’s son is Havya-vahana, the fire of Devas. Pavaka’s son is Sahasrak?a, the fire of Asuras, that became Dak?i?agni. By the reference to only the first two, it is inferred that only Havya? and Kavya? were introduced by Skanda upon starting the Vedic Homa.


The fire that takes offerings in both Kavyam and Havyam is Hutasana, and Hutasana means one who eats. The root word ‘hu’ has three different meanings, giving /dana), eating (eating /adana), and receiving (receiving /adana). From that word came the words ‘huta’, ‘hatwa’, ‘homa’, and ‘hutasana’. It was Skanda who had done the Homa and also commanded that the people should do them.


It is well established symbolically in the story of Skanda that it was Skanda who initiated the Garhapatya and Ahavaniya homa-s by conducting the marriage of Svaha with Agni, but those who propound the Aryan invasion (migration) claim that homa was started by the Iranians and Persians in Mesopotamia.


According to them, the word Homa can be traced to ‘haoma’ which refers to some kind of plant in the Persian language, but the basis of the homa is agni. There is no homa without agni. Agni receives, agni eats, and when it eats, what is eaten becomes ashes (bhasman). The crux of the story is that the knowledge of Agni and the formation of Agni could have originated in the tropics in the beginning. Iran is not in the tropics. By this fact alone, the idea that the Veda-Homa came from a foreign country is struck down.


That Skanda initiated the Ahavaniya and Garhapatya homa has been immortalized in a story of Skanda conducting the marriage of Svaha with Agni. These two fires are the primary fires from which all other homas are done. Of the two fires, the Garhapatya, derived from the word Gruhapati, lord of the house or householder, is the first agni that a son receives from his father and passes on to his son. This Agni is to be kept alive at home throughout one’s lifetime. Even if the husband is away, the wife can do this homa. This appears in consonance with a time that Agni was protected at home as the only source of light and fire.


This Homa was first initiated by none other than Skanda, as revealed in the verse quoted earlier. The first Homa is Aupasana where the offerings are made by chanting Svaha. It is from the Aupasana fire, the other Agni’s are drawn for doing Havya? and Kavya?. These three must have been initiated by Skanda. From Aupasana Agni, Paka yajnas, attributed to Manu are done.


The Paka yajnas also are household yajnas in which cooked rice is offered. Thus, we find the development of the Vedic Homa started by and starting from Skanda, and further expanded by Manu with more developments in course of time. The story of the marriage of Svaha with Agni appeared after the marriage of Skanda with Devasena, leading to the deduction that Skanda started doing these homas (to Devas and Pitru-s) after his marriage with Devasena.


So, it is apt to say that Skanda-Devasena was the first couple to protect or create Garhapatya-Agni and Ahavaniya for making offerings. The etymology of Aupasana and the description of the same is found missing in the Veda-s. Only the Grihya Sutra-s explain the performance of Aupasana. However, without Aupasana, no other homa can be done.

? This implies that Aupasana was antecedent to Vedic literature.

? Skanda lived before Vedic literature was formed.


Skanda introduced the Homa culture at troubled times of fear from Agni, spewed by volcanism at the end of the Ice Age. There was fear from Indra’s thunderbolt and Visakha fissures. Manu and Vedic sages had not yet appeared then. The term ‘Aupasana’ seems to be derived from ‘Aum-upasana’ – known from the Tamil tradition of Skanda having taught his father, Lord Siva, the Pra?ava mantra which is nothing but ‘Aum’. No mantra can be chanted without ‘Aum’ and no homa can be started without ‘Aum’.


The mantra ‘Aum’ is described in many Upanishads - notable among them is the description given in Katopanishad, in which Nachiketas asks Yama:

You tell me what you see as beyond dharma and adharma, beyond matter and cause, beyond being and non-being.” (Kata-upa: 2-14)


Yama’s answer ended in one word, ‘Aum’.

Yama says: “I will summarize to you the meaning of what all the Vedas extol, what all the penances seek, and what those who observe celibacy desire. It is ‘Aum’. This akshara is Brahman; This akshara is parabrahmam.” (Kata-upa: 2-15 & 16)


It was Skanda who gave the mantra Aum, the essence of the Vedas. That he was the originator of the homa culture has been established by the story that he preached the basic mantra of Aum to Lord Shiva. That Skanda was the initiator of the Homagni is revealed in the description of Skanda in the Mahabharata narrative.


Skanda had six faces of which the middle one was that of a goat says, Marka??eya (MB: 3-217-12)

?a??ha? chagamaya? vaktra? skandasyaiveti viddhi tat

?a? ?iro ‘bhyantara? rajan nitya? mat?ga?arcitam


This means, “Know that the sixth face of Skanda was like that of a goat. That face, O king, is situated in the middle of the six, and is regarded constantly by the mother”. 


The same idea is found in the Tamil Sangam text (Tiru Murugatru Padai) that describes each of the six faces and what they look at. In this form as ?a?mukha (six faced), the middle face which is that of the goat will be looking at the Vedic Homa says the text. The Goat (Chaga) is unique to Homagni, as Agni Deva is mounted on a goat according to the iconographic rules found in Mayamatam.


It says that Agni Deva, “is mounted on a ram and is near the fire pit and he must wear the ascetic’s belt. Svaha is to his right, adorned with jewelled earrings. Agni, whose adornments are russet and who is favourable towards all sacrifices, is pure.”


This iconographic description with goat as the mount and Svaha as the consort of Agni taking oblations must clear any doubts arising from other legends of Agni with names of consorts being different in such legends.

? When Agni is associated with Svaha it refers only to Vedic Homa.

? Skanda as facilitator for the marriage of the two is a clear statement that Skanda was the initiator of Vedic culture.


(To be continued …)

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