Pṛśni (Prishni), the wife of Savitā (Savita), a representative form of Sūrya (Surya), gave birth to a sacrificial rite of immense significance known as agnihotra.
Agnihotra has been compared to the grinding of teeth of yajñavaraha (yajnavaraha), the sacrificial boar conceptualised as the mythical presiding deity of a yajña (yajna).
Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Bhagavatapurana) opines, while commenting on the characteristics of this sacrificial rite and the results that may be obtained from it, that if agnihotra, performed for the purpose of attainment, becomes the seat of desire, it will lead to disharmony — hiṁsraṁ dravyamayaṁ kāmyam agnihotrādyaśāntidam.
Bhāgavatapurāṇa also mentions that King Duṣyanta’s (Dushyanta) son Bharata used to perform this yajña.
Souls of men who perform agnihotra are said to get a place in pitṛyāna (pitriyana), the divine path along which the manes move to guide their descendants on the Earth and to advance themselves in the way of Heaven.
Śukra (Shukra, the master of the demons), King Purūravā (Pururava) and Dhūminī (Dhumini), the barren wife of King Ajamīḍha (Ajameerh) used to perform this yajña.
Soma’s son Budha, disguised as a brāhmaṇa (brahmana), put forward a sly invitation to Ilā (Ila) to look after agnihotra.
Agnihotra is said to be the mouth of the four Vedas.
- There are numerous examples in Rāmāyaṇa (Ramayana),Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) and Purāṇas (Purana) where we find a brāhmaṇa being met met with and inquired about the wellness of his agnihotra along with his own — tapo’gnihotraṁ śiṣyeṣu kuśalaṁ paryapṛcchata.
- Agnihotra serves as the model of any homa, yajña or any other sacrificial rite. [See Prakṛti yāga]
- It is the Vedic prescription that in the Vedic society the master of a household along with his wife would light the sacred fire in his homestead and would daily perform agnihotra in that sacredly preserved fire in that very hearth. This was supposed to be a compulsory ritual to be observed by all the three higher castes, namely brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya (kshatriya) and vaiśya (vaishya). The performing of agnihotra was a must for these three castes except in cases of infirmity due to old age and death. It is for this reason that Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (Shatapatha Brahmana) has referred to to agnihotra as jarāmarya oblation — etad vai jarāmaryaṃ satraṃ jarayā hyevāsmāt mucyate mṛtyunā vā. The master of the household himself used to perform agnihotra. In case he was indisposed, he must continue performing it, appointing his son or son-in-law or brother or adhvaryu (a priest with a specific duty) as his representative.
- The most important feature of agnihotra is that the wife the performing male had equal right and authority over this yajña. Bachelors and widowers were not allowed to perform agnihotra. If a person who had not remarried after his wife’s death was about to perform it, he must had his way by imagining his respect for his deceased wife as his wife who could share the results of agnihotra along with him.
- From the Vedic instruction of conceiving the respect for one’s deceased wife as the wife herself in order to perform a sacrificial rite it becomes apparent how great a position of respect and honour the wives used to enjoy in the Vedic society.
- Although agnihotra was a ritual to be observed daily, sometimes it was also observed with the intention of reaping various specific results, and in such cases the items for oblation (āhuti; ahuti) also varied. For instance, in case of wishing to have cattle and to attain Heavens in the afterlife, the offering of milk was made; in case of satisfaction of sensual desires, curd was offered; in case of desiring villages to rule, yavāgū (yavagu; porridge made of oats); with the desire of foodstuff, rice and lentils (odana); desiring honour, respect and power, cooked rice was offered, and so on. But in such cases agnihotra did not yield the good and greater result of the regularly observable ritual (which it was), and became a ritual with specific goals, the results of wihch could waver.
- The principal item of offering in agnihotra as a regular ritual was milk. An agnihotra performer used to keep a cow specifically for this purpose, from which he must collect the milk to be offered to agnihotra. This cow was called the agnihotrī (agnihotri) cow. In Rāmāyaṇa (Ramayana), when Viśvāmitra (Vishwamitra) asked for the cow named Śavalā (Shavala) from sage Vaśiṣṭha (Vashishtha), the the latter answered, “This milch cow called Śavalā is my mainstay for my havya (a daily sacrificial rite performed in honor of the gods with ghee), kavya (a sacrificial rite performed in honor of forefathers with ghee), agnihotra, bali, āhuti (or āputi; aputi), homa and other fire sacrifices — asyāṃ havyañca kavyañca prāṇayātrā tathaiva ca/ āyattamagnihotrañca balirhomastathaiva ca.
- Agnihotra as a daily ritual was supposed to be observed in the morning and the evening. In the evening, the first offering in agnihotra was made for agni, the Fire-god, and the second one for Prajāpati (Prajapati). In the morning agnihotra, the deity of the first offering was Sūrya (Surya), the Sun-god.
- There happen to be difference of opinion regarding the right time of performing agnihotra. Śrautasūtra (Shrautasutra) divides all agnihotra performers (or agnihotrī) in two categories, i.e., uditahomī (uditahomi) and anuditahomī (anuditahomi). The ones, like the brāhmaṇa belonging to Yajurvedī Kaṭha (Yajurvedi Katha), Taittirīya (Taittiriya) and Maitrāyaṇī (Maitrayani) branches, who perform agnihotra after the dawn fall into the first category; the ones to perform the ritual before the dawn, like the brāhmaṇa belonging to the Bahṛca (Bahricha) and Chandoga (Chhandoga) branches, conform to the second category.