Meaning of Devata Dhyanam
Devata dhyanam literally means meditating and inviting devatas to the land by performing various types of yajnas.
The term ‘Devata’ is the Devanagari translation for ‘Deity’, while ‘Dhyanam’ stands for ‘Concentration’. All the devatas are considered as the manifestations of the Supreme Brahman (Godhead).
Again, the devatas are divided into two types – the Vedic devatas and the Puranic devatas. Vedic devatas include Agni, Vayu or Indra, Surya and Soma, while Puranic devatas are the great Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and their various incarnations. Amongst all the Vedic deities or devatas, Indra is referred to as the King of all who reins swargloka (heaven).
Devata Dhyanam and Vedic Hymns
The Vedic hymns are composed and sung mainly:
(i) To highlight the qualities of yajnadevata,
(ii) To express gratitude for their kindness in showering abundance on earth and
(iii) To request further well-being.
Such hymns are used to invoke the assigned devata (deity) in the yajnic process.
Before the chanting and dispensation of suktas/richas (hymns/verses), it is customary to pronounce the name of the rishi, the concerned devata and the metre. The reason behind this tradition can be drawn out from various analogies of the Indian Vedic Scriptures.
The link between Yajamana and Devata
To draw electric current from a source (battery, generator or powerhouse) to a point, the two need to be connected through a medium. Similarly, in the yajnic process when the host or yajamana desires to establish a one-to-one relationship with the devata (with a view to drawing power) he needs to form a connection with him. A medium for this (virtual) connection is formed by chanting aloud the suktas comprising name of the rishi, the metre and the devata. The chanting of mantras and the rituals work as a switch, to enable the flow of power from the source (devata) to the point (yajamana).
When a devata is remembered with full faith, the yajamana successfully establishes a connection with him. He is then in a position to send his oblations to the devata, who becomes favorably disposed. Through the same medium, the yajamana reaps the fruits of inviting the devata on this earth.
It is also extremely important to have a one-pointed focus on the devata – i.e. ‘Devata Dhyanam’ (meditating on devata) – throughout the process of oblation. The Aitareya Brahmana explains how this should be done. Before any article of oblation is offered to Agni, the adhvaryu (the priest in charge of the act of oblation) calls upon the hota (the priest who chants the mantras) to commence the chanting. The call is termed ‘praisha’. The hota now needs to focus his mind one-pointedly on the devata, and maintain the focus throughout the chanting of the mantras. At the end of the chanting, he has to say aloud: “Vaushat.”This is known as vashatkara, and is an indication to the adhvaryu to drop the articles of oblation into the agnikunda (in the middle of the glowing flames).
The yajamana also needs to maintain his attention on the devata throughout the yajna, and especially vashatkara, say, Idam Na Mama – “This (the articles being offered) is not mine.” The call of the hota, the oblation by the adhvaryu and renouncing the right to the articles by the yajamana must all synchronize. When there are multiple devatas to whom oblations are getting offered, the entire process must be performed separately for each devata, maintaining full concentration on the form of the devata.
According to Sayanacharya, by so doing the hota develops actual affection for that devata. The devata then becomes delighted and makes an appearance to his devotee. In addition, even though the devata is invisible to the human eye, it is actually visible on the mental screen of the hota due to his one-pointed focus, meditation and deep contemplation. The connection is thus total and results in a successful two-way virtual transmission.
Importance of Understanding Mantras
The importance of devata dhyanam is also underlined by Rishi Shaunaka in Brihad Devata. He says that it is absolutely essential to have the right knowledge of the yajnadevata. This knowledge must be earned through conscious effort. Those who understand the deeper meaning of the mantras get connected to the devata automatically. In the absence of such knowledge, any karma (yajna-related action) or samskara will not bear the desired fruit. Shaunaka also says that such persons are held in high esteem, as they are considered to have participated in the sacred yajna being performed in the heavens. It is very emphatically stated that devatas accept havi only from such knowledgeable priests/yajamana. They do not accept havi from the ignorant.
In the absence of acceptance of havi, how can one expect the desired fruits? Other important treatises such as Sarvanukramani and Rigvidhan also express similar views. An important corollary is that the priests and participants in large-scale yajnas like Ahina, Kratu, Samvatsara, etc must necessarily have experience-based subtle knowledge of the Devata-tattwa. In its absence, the offering of havi in the yajna fire is equivalent to throwing food in a garbage can; that means it is totally fruitless. Only one who realizes the object of worship and also the abstract form of the principle in one’s own ‘self’ can maintain full awareness of the richas (phrases) and their compound words while chanting. Such a person is said to enter the immortal and eternal Brahma-tattwa.
Yoga and Devata Dhyanam
As assured by Rishi Shaunaka, knowledge of devatas promises convergence of the individual identity (of the self) into the totality to attain Brahman. Interestingly, the prerequisite for this appears to be mastery in yoga. Words like ‘conscious effort’ can assume meaning only within the framework of Asana, Pranayama, Dharana and Dhyana.
Devata-tattwa is a very subtle principle. Its real knowledge is not possible without attaining a state of mind that is super sensitive and makes one a dispassionate observer. This is precisely the point made by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (YS 1: 14). He says that such a state can be achieved through protracted and faithful effort in Dhyana.
The Dhyan mantra is
‘Satudeergha kaalanairantarya satkaaraasevito dridhabhoomih’.
There is no practice other than yoga that can develop the dispassionate attitude (sakshibhava) of an observer. Projection of the image of the devata cannot occur without mastering the techniques of yoga. Merging into the Ishtadevata is the principal sadhana of yoga in general and of bhakti yoga in particular. Having mastered the yoga techniques, the host couple and the priests should meditate on the yajnadevata. The Rig Veda declares that beneath every word of every richa, lies sacred knowledge. One who does not understand the devata cannot reach it. The effort to attain the end result without such knowledge is a futile exercise.
Therefore, the concept of devata should be properly introduced to one’s mind before performing any sort of yajna. One way to start understanding them is to know about their total number, classification, functions, characteristics and qualities as described in the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, etc and then ponder over their significance and deeper meanings.