Agnaukaraṇa (agnaukarana) is a process described in the Smṛti (Smriti) scriptures. Agnaukaraṇa is the process of offering cooked rice and sacred ghee as oblations to the holy fire (Agni) at funerals performed on special occasions or at monthly funeral rites. The idea is basically this: while, from among the items required for a funeral rite, the ghee smeared lump of rice was about to be offered into the flames, as if the rice itself was asked, “Should I do this in Agni?” – agnau kariṣyāmi; and the rice is also imagined to reply – “Yes, do” – kuruṣveti. This question and answer of performing or ‘doing’ the ritual – kariṣyāmi and kuruṣva – has been called the process of agnaukaraṇa. The word is a compound of agnau (‘to Agni’ or ‘in Agni’) and karaṇa (‘to do’). Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) clearly mentioned the ritual of agnaukaraṇa to be perfectly observed in accompaniment of hymns at funerals – kṛtvāgnaukaraṇaṃ pūrvaṃ mantrapūrvaṃ tapodhana.
Smārta (smarta; a scholar of Smṛti) Raghunandana has explained the meaning and significance of the term Agnaukaraṇa from the Gobhila Gṛhyasūtra (Grihyasutra) and has gone on to make us aware of the customs that were observed during the funeral rites of forefathers in the Vedic ages by extracting verses from the Viṣṇupurāṇa (Vishnupurana). According to Viṣṇupurāṇa, lumps of rice, devoid of vegetables and salt, need to be offered as oblation into the fire at a funeral – juhūyād vyañjana-kṣāra varjamannaṃ tato’nale.
Brahmapurāṇa (Brahmapurana) explains the way exactly how far the process of agnaukaraṇa stretches in the ritual of offering the lumps of rice into the flames. It says – “Now take the lump of rice and add to it ghee, sesame seeds and kuśa. Then ask the brāhmaṇa (brahmana) presiding over the ceremony or the sages present, “Should I perform homa in Agni?” The sages would answer, “Yes, do.” Then the person performing the funeral rite would offer the lumps of rice as oblations to the fire thrice to three deities: first in favor of Soma, then to Agni and lastly to Yama. This entire procedure is is collectively called agnaukaraṇa –
Tataṣcānnaṃ samādāya sarpistilakuśākulam
Vidhāya pātre taccaiva paryapṛcchattato munīn.
Agnau kariṣye iti taiḥ kuruṣveti ca coditaḥ
Āhuti-tritayaṃ dadyat somāyāgneryamāya ca.
Panchanan Tarkaratna, in his translation of Kūrmapurāṇa (Kurmapurana), writes, “The rice prepared for the funeral rite, if fed to brāhmaṇa or donated to celibate monks, suffices to complete the process of agnaukaraṇa.” However, the main text on this topic observes, “First feed this rice to Agni, and then offer it to celibate monks. Therefore the first part is agnaukaraṇa and not the second part” – prāśyedannaṃ tadagnau tu dadyad vai brahmacāriṇe.