This word, which comes from the root yaj (to worship), is commonly translated “sacrifice”. The Sanskrit word is, however, retained in the translation, since Yajna means other things also than those which come within the meaning of the word “sacrifice”, as understood by an English reader.
Thus the “five great sacrifices” (panca-maha-yajna) which should be performed daily by the Brahmana are: The homa sacrifice, including Vaisva-deva offering,(1) bhutayajna or bali, in which offerings are made to Deva, Bhuta, and other Spirits and to animals; pitr-yajna or tarpana, oblations to the pitr; Brahma-yajna, or study of the Vedas and Manusyayajna, (2) or entertainment of guests (atithisaparya). By these five yajnas the worshipper places himself in right relations with all beings, affirming such relation between Deva, Pitr, Spirits, men, the organic creation, and himself.
Homa, or Deva-yajna, is the making of offerings to Fire, which is the carrier thereof to the Deva. A fire pit (kunda) is prepared and fire when brought from the house of a Brahmana is consecrated with mantra. The fire is made conscious with the mantra, Vam vahni-caitanyaya namah, and then saluted and named. Meditation is then made on the three nadis – Ida, Pingala, and Susumna – and on Agni, Istadevata in the fire. After the puja of fire, salutation is given as in Sadanga-nyasa, and then clarified butter (ghee) poured with a wooden spoon into the fire with mantra, commencing with Om and ending with Svaha. Homa is of various kinds,(3) several of which are referred to in the text, and is performed either daily, as in the case of the ordinary nityavaisva-deva-homa, or on special occasions, such as the upanayana or sacred thread ceremony, marriage, vrata, and the like. It is of various kinds, such as prayascitta-homa, srstikrt-homa, janu-homa, dhara homa and others, some of which will be found in the “principles of Tantra”.
Besides the yajna mentioned there are others. Manu speaks of four kinds: deva, bhauta (where articles and ingredients are employed, as in the case of homa, daiva, bali), nryajna, and pitr-yajna. Others are spoken of, such as japa-yajna, dhyana-yajna, etc. Yajnas are also classified according to the dispositions and intentions of the worshipper into satvika, rajasika, and tamasika yajna.
1. Offerings of food and other thing; are made in the domestic fire. (See Kriya-kanda-varidhi, p. 917).
2. Also called Nri-yajna (man racrifice).
3. See Kriya-kanda-varidhi; p. 133. Homa may be either Vaidik, Pauranik, or Tantrik.