The Vedic hymns are composed and sung mainly:
(i) To highlight the qualities of devatas,
(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 in the yajnic process.
Before the chanting of suktas/richas (hymns/verses), it is customary to pronounce the name of the rishi, the concerned devata and the metre before dispensation of the sukta/richa. There is a reason for this tradition which can be explained by drawing an analogy.
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 it. A medium for this (virtual) connection is formed by ‘calling aloud’ the name of the rishi, the metre and the devata of the sukta. The chanting of mantras and the rituals that follow, work as a switch to enable the flow of power from the source – the devata.
When a deity is remembered with full faith, the yajaman successfully establishes a connection with it. He is then in a position to send the essence of the oblations to the yajnadevata, who becomes favourably disposed. Through the same medium, the yajamana receives the aspired for fruits. It is also extremely important to have a one-pointed focus on the devata, devatadhyanam (meditation on devata) throughout the process of oblation. The AitareyaBrahmana explains how this should be done. Before an 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 process, and at the vashatkara, say, Idamna 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 offered, the entire process must be performed 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 favorably disposed. 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, concentration and deep contemplation. The connection is thus total and results in a successful two-way virtual transmission.
The importance of devatadhyanam is also underlined by Rishi Shaunaka in BrihadDevata. 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 know the devata in a mantra also understand the secret and deeper meaning of the mantra. 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 devatatattwa. In its absence, the offering of havi in the yajna fire is equivalent to throwing food in a garbage can; 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 and their compound words while chanting. Such a person is said to enter the immortal and eternal Brahma tattwa.
Yoga and DevataDhyanam
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. Deva 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.
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 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 devatas should be properly and fully understood. One way to start 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.