Every man who takes his birth in this world is in three kinds of debts that he is required to discharge in full before he can attain liberation. These debts are man's obligations for enjoying the original legacy of wealth and knowledge passed on to mankind by the Gods and RiShis since the creation of this world.

The Concept of the debts

The Taittiriya SaMhita ( of KrishNa Yajur Veda says:

जायमानो वै ब्राह्मणस्त्रिभिर् ऋणवा जायते
ब्रह्मचर्येण ऋषिभ्यो यज्ञेन देवभ्यः
प्रजया पितृभ्य एष वा अनृणो यः
पुत्री यज्वा ब्रह्मचारिवासी तत् अवदानैर् एव
अवदयते तत् अवदानानाम् अवदानत्वं

jAyamAno vai brAhmaNastribhir RuNavA jAyate
brahmacharyeNa RuShibhyo yaj~jena devabhyaH
prajayA pitRubhya eSha vA anRuNo yaH
putrI yajvA brahmachArivAsI tat avadAnair eva
avadayate tat avadAnAnAm avadAnatvaM

"A BrAhmaNa on birth is born with a threefold debt, of knowledge or mantra (brahmacharya) to the RiShis, debit of sacrifice (yajna) to the Gods, of offspring to the PitRus. He is freed from his debt who lived as a pupil, who performs yajna (to the Gods) and has a son (putrI); this (debt) he returns (avadayate) by these givings, and that is why the givings (avadAna) have their name."

The Shatapatha BrahmaNa also enumerates these debts and adds a fourth debt--a debt unto mankind (manuShya RuNa):

" And further, inasmuch as he is bound to practise hospitality, for that reason he is born as (owing) a debt to men: hence when he harbours them, when he offers food to them, it is (in discharge of his debt) to them that he does so. Whoever does all these things, has discharged his duties: by him all is obtained, all is conquered."

The logic behind the concept of the debts and their discharge is profoundly simple. Man enjoys the objects of nature created by God, and maintained by His deputies. Man becomes wise and learned by the Vedas and other texts of knowledge bestowed to us by the RiShis. And man owes his very life and living to his parents. Therefore, man is under a perpetual, lifetime debt which he can repay only in the prescribed ways of discharge, before he can finally attain liberation. Man is also under an irrevocable obligation not just to enjoy but also conserve and preserve for posterity, the wealth and knowledge he has obtained.

Discharging the debts: five great sacrifices

The dvija (twice-born) discharges these debts by nitya karma (daily rites and observances) that include yajna, tarpaNa, and pUja (oblations in fire, libation with water and sesame, and puja). It is also the bounden duty of the dvija to have a virtuous son who would continue to discharge these debts after his lifetime.

When the twice-born is in the stage of a householder in life, he repays the debts by performing the pancha-mahA-yajnas named in the Taittiriya Aranyaka 2.10:

deva-yajna consists of offering Ahuti (oblations) to Devas.

pitRu-yajna consists of tarpaNam (libations) to ancestors or pitRus offered with water and sesame.

bhUta-yajna consists of offering bali or food to all (departed) creatures.

manuShya-yajna consists of feeding guests (atithi bhojanam and dAnam).

brahma-yajna consists of reciting the Vedas and offering tarpaNam to the RiShis who gave the world the Vedas.

Other scriptural testimony for man's debts and obligations

देवान्भावयतानेन ते देवा भावयन्तु वः ।
परस्परं भावयन्तः श्रेयः परमवाप्स्यथ ॥

devAnbhAvayatAnena te devA bhAvayantu vaH |
parasparaM bhAvayantaH shreyaH paramavApsyatha ||

--Bhagavad Gita, 3.11

"Fulfill the desires of (appease) the deities by performing sacrificial fires (yajna). Then they too will fulfill your desires (endow prosperity). In this way by mutually satisfying each other’s emotions both can attain the ultimate benefaction."

This righteous doctrine of mutually fostering emotions is very important. Not only is it applicable to humans but also to animals and man and between families, communities and nations. As the conduct worthy of this doctrine goes on increasing in the world, happiness and prosperity shall progressively materialise.


Sri Lokamanya Tilak described the Hindu Religion as:

प्रामाण्य-बुद्धिर्वेदेषु साधनानम्-अनेकत ।
उपस्यानाम्-अनियमः एवद्धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥

prAmANya-buddhirvedeShu sAdhanAnam-anekata |
upasyAnAm-aniyamaH evaddharmasya lakShaNam ||

"The religion of the Hindus has the Vedas as the book of testimony which are practised by different sets of spiritual search and religious services."

The quote 'sAdhanAnam anekata upasyAnAm aniyamaH' means that the potential of every individual is variable hence like other religions the Hindu religion does not recommend only one path or worship of only one deity.

Shri KrishNa says in the Gita:

यो यो यां यां तनुं भक्तः श्रद्धयार्चितुमिच्छति ।
तस्य तस्याचलां श्रद्धां तामेव विदधाम्यहम् ॥

yo yo yAM yAM tanuM bhaktaH shraddhayArchitumichChati |
tasya tasyAchalAM shraddhAM tAmeva vidadhAmyaham ||

--Bhagavad Gita, 7.21

"I steady the faith of a devotee in a particular deity which he wishes to worship with faith."

Thus the pervasiveness of the Hindu religion encompasses the entire, vast universe thereby becoming Sanatana Dharma.


"Average Righteousness includes mercy, truth, control over the mind, purity, making offerings (dAna), control over the senses, non-violence, service of the Guru, embarking on a pilgrimage, compassion, honesty, absence of greed, honouring of deities and Brahmans and not criticising anyone."
--VishNu-dharmasUtra 2.16-17

In the Gautam Dharmasutra the above moral values are called the qualities of the soul principle. This form of Righteousness is applicable equally to all. It includes both types of Righteousness that of inspiration (chodana) and of worldly and spiritual progress (abhyudaya).


A conversation between King Harishchandra, who had a hundred wives but still failed to obtain a son, and Sage Narada (AitB 7.13):

The King asks:
Now, since they desire a son,
Both those who are intelligent and those who aren't;
What does one gain by a son?
Tell me that O Narada.

Narada replies:
A debt he pays in him,
And immortality he gains,
The father who sees the face,
Of his son born and alive.

The Mahabharata (1.111.14), speaking of the same four debts as the Satapatha Brahmana, states that the debt to the fathers consists of both sons and food offerings (shraddha).

The yajamAna and the yajna

Vedas describe 400 yajnas or sacrifices for nitya (daily) and kAmya (wish fulfilment) karmas. Of these, only the aupAsana is performed by all the four varNas (classes).

The sacrificer is the yajamAna and those who perform the sacrifice for him are rtviks (priests) who consist of the hota, adhvaryu, udgata and brahma.

• The first three varNas had a right to all the other sacrifices, but in practice only the BrAhmaNas and kShatriyas performed them. KShatriyas performed yajnas to earn physical strength, victory in war and so on. Sacrifices like the rAjasUya and ashvamedha were performed by imperial rulers.

• Vaishyas performed yajnas for wealth, good agricultural yield etc. The sacrifices conducted by the rulers and business community of the Hindu society had the purpose of security, peace and prosperity of the country rather than individual gains.

• The yajamAna (benefactor) of a yajna was a KShatriya or a Vyshya depending on the type of yajna but the kartas (priests who performed) were always BrAhmaNas.

• All these yajnas conducted by the ruling and business communities fall under the category of kAmya karma.

Nitya Karmas: pAkayajnas

This category has 21 sacrifices, which are included in the 40 samskAras and they must be performed at least once in a lifetime. The Nitya Karmas are divided into three groups of seven each: pAka yajnas, havir yajnas and soma yajnas. Rites conducted in the family are included in the chapter called ekAgni-kANDa in the Apastamba-sUtra.

The pAkayajnas

• are minor sacrifices performed with the aupAsana fire at home, such as the propitiation of a planet foreboding evil, or worship offered to the inferior deities called Vishvadevas.

• are simple, 'pAka' meaning 'small' ('like a child'), also 'cooked food' (so 'pAkashAstra' for the art of cooking and 'pAkashAla' for the place of cooking);

• have no chayanas (altars built with bricks), no Rutviks (priests); the householder as the yajamAna performs the rites with his wife.

• may have the offering of cooked rice, cooked grains or unbroken rice;

• belong to the Smritis and are called "Smarta-karmas".

The seven pAkayajnas

The seven pakayajnas are: aShTaka shrAddha (anvaShTaka), sthAlipAka, pArvaNa, shrAvaNi, agrahayani, chaitri, asvayuji.

AupAsana homa

Marriage is conducted with offerings made in the fire. AupAsana, which must be performed every day, is commenced in this fire, and it must be preserved throughout one's life. The seven pakayajnas, rites like upanayana and sraddha must be conducted in the aupasana fire. The son lights his aupasana fire during his marriage from his father's aupasana fire. The son's aupasana fire, like his father's must be maintained throughout his life. Thus, without any break, the sacred fire is kept burning in the family generation after generation.

All rites in which the aupAsana fire is used and pertain to an individual and his family are "Grhyakarmas". The seven pakayajnas also belong to this category. They are related exclusively to the family and are not very elaborate. Even so they are conductive to the good of the world outside also. Grhyasutras deal with such rites. They belong to the Smritis and are called "Smarta-karmas".

The aupAsana homa is performed by offering some unbroken rice to the preserved aupAsana agni before the regular cooking commences. AupAsana must be performed by all the castes and varNas. The husband and wife must do it together. Where the husband is away, the wife must perform it. The Vedas themselves have given women such a right. Aupasana is the only Vedic right that a woman is entitled to perform on her own.

The aupAsana fire will keep away all evil spirits and afflictions of all types. AupAsana is a remedy for all ills and wearing the aupAsana ashes is a great protection.

Women must preserve (not extinguish) the aupAsana agni that witnessed their marriage and must do all their cooking and other heating chores with it after performing the aupAsana homa and wearing its rakSha (ash as protection), and then again preserve the fire for the next day. In the olden days, the fire was preserved by offering paddy husk to it now and then, which was one reason rice was pounded in homes. It should be easy to preserve and carry over the fire in these days by lighting an oil lamp with it and using that lamp as aupAsana agni on the next day.


On every prathama tithi (first day of the lunar fortnight), the pAka yajna known as sthAlipAka is to be performed in the gRuha agni (fire preserved at home). The shAli is the pot in which rice is cooked; the pot is placed on the aupAsana fire, the rice called charu cooked on the fire must be offered back to the same fire. The rite that is the basis of many others (the archetype or model) is called prakrti. Those performed after it, but with some changes, are known as vikrti. For the sarpabali called shravaNi and the pAkayajna called agrahayani, sthAlipAka is the prakrti.

aShTaka shrAddha

This pAkayajna is performed for the fathers. In a lunar month, the waxing fortnight is auspicious for the Devas and the waning fortnight for the PitRus (ancestors). Since the ancestoral rites are performed during this fortnight, it is known as apara pakSha. The aShTami (eighth day) of the apara pakSha is particularly important for them. The aShTakA shrAddha must be performed on the aShTami of the apara pakSha fortnight during the shishira (mid-Dec to mid-Feb) and hemanta (mid-Feb to mid-Apr) seasons (first and second half of winter) (MArgazhi, Tai, MAsi and Panguni months of the Tamil calendar). The aShTaka performed in MAsi is said to be particularly sacred. The rite gone through on the day following the aShTaka is called anvaShTaka. In the aShTaka shrAddha, puroDAshaH (an oblation made of ground and cooked rice) is offered.


PArvaNi, one of the pAkayajnas, is the prakrti (or the archetype) for shrAddhas. Since it is performed every month it is called mAsishrAddha. (This is according to the Apastamba-sutra. According to the Gautama-sutra pArvaNa denotes the sthAlipAka performed during each parva).

shrAvaNi or sarpa bali

The pAkayajna shrAvaNi is also called sarpabali. On the full moon of the month of ShrAvaNa charu rice and ghee are placed in the fire and flowers of the flame of the forest are offered similarly by both hands. Designs have to be drawn with rice flour over an anthill or some other place and offerings made to snakes with the chanting of mantras. This ceremony must be held every full-moon night up to Margazhi (mid-Dec to mid-Jan).


On the Margazhi full moon, apart from completing the sarpabali, the pAkayajna called agrahayani must be performed. Like shrAvaNi, the name agrahayani is also derived from the name of the month of the same name--Agrahayani is Margazhi. 'Hayana' means 'year' and the first month of the year is 'Agrahayana'. In ancient times the year started with this month. The first of January [of the Gregorian calendar] falls in mid-Margazhi. It was from us that Europe took this as their new year. Though we changed our calendar later, they stuck to theirs. sthAlipAka is the prakrti (archetype) for this yajna.


Chaitri is conducted where four roads meet. Since it is performed for IshAna it is called ishAnabali: IshAna is Paramesvara (Shiva). In the other pAkayajnas the deities worshipped are different but through them Paramesvara is pleased. It is like a tax paid to the ruler through the sub-collector. In Chaitri it is as if the tax is paid directly to the ruler.


In Aippasi (mid-Oct to mid-Nov), kuruvai rice is harvested [in Tamil Nadu]. This is first offered to Ishvara in the rite called ashvayuji before it is taken by us. Similarly sambA rice is eaten only after agrahayani is performed in Margazhi (mid-Dec to mid-Jan).

The elaborate works that are especially meant for the well-being of mankind are called "Srautakarmas". They are so called because their procedure is directly based on the authority of Sruti or the Vedas. The sastras dealing with them are "Srautasutras".

The aupasana fire (lighted at the time of marriage from that of the groom's father) is divided into two in a ceremony called "agniyadhana". One part is called "grhyagni" or "smartagni": it is meant for rites to be performed at home. The second part is srautagni and meant for srauta rites. These two sacred fires must be preserved throughout.

Nitya Karmas: haviryajnas

The elaborate works that are especially meant for the well-being of mankind are called "shrautakarmas. They are so called because their procedure is directly based on the authority of Shruti or the Vedas. The shAstras dealing with them are shrautasUtras.

There is no question of Shruti being superior to Smrti or vice versa. Similarly, the ShrautasUtras and the GrhyasUtras are of equal importance. In the sanatana dharma that goes under the name of Hinduism both are to be cared for like our two eyes.

The haviryajnas

• are more elaborate, though not so large in scale as the somayajnas.

• have havis as their offer. Anything offered in the sacrificial fire is called havis. In Tamil works like the TirukkuraL it is referred to as 'avi'. However, ghee is specifically referred to as havis.

• have four rtviks and the yajamAna. But the udgata's place is taken by the agnidhra. The udgata is the one who sings the Saman. It is only in somayajnas that there is SAmagAna, not in haviryajnas.

shrauta sacrifices among the forty samskAras.

The seven haviryajnas

The seven haviryajnas are: adhana, agnihotra, darsha-pUrNa-mAsa, chaturmAsya, nirudhapashubandha and sautramani. The first four haviryajnas are performed at home and the last three in a yAgaShAla.

The yAgaShAla is also known as a devayajna. The Kalpa-sUtras contain a description of it, not omitting minute details. There are altars called chayanas to be built with bricks. (There are no chayanas for havir and pAkayajnas.) There is the application of mathematics in all this. Several kinds of ladles are used in making offerings in the fire, "tarvi", "sruk" and "sruva". Their measurements are specified, also the materials out of which they are made. No detail is left out. In a nuclear or space research laboratory even the most insignificant job is carried out with the utmost care, so is the case with sacrifices which have the purpose of bringing forth supernatural powers into the world.


The aupAsana fire (lighted at the time of marriage from that of the groom's father) is divided into two in a ceremony called agniyadhana. One part is called grhyagni or smartagni: it is meant for rites to be performed at home. The second part is shrautagni and meant for shrauta rites. These two sacred fires must be preserved throughout.

shrautagni meant for the shrauta rites is in the form of three fires burning in three mounds. So it is called tretagni. The section in the Apastamba-sUtra dealing with rites performed in it is called tretagni-kANDa.


If aupAsana is a grhyakarma, agnihotra is a shrauta ceremony and it too must be performed twice a day. Agniyadhana mentioned before and agnihotra are the first two of the seven haviryajnas. Those who perform agnihotra are called agnihotrins.

If the agnihotra fire is extinguished for whatever reason, it must be kindled again through a new adhana (agniyadhana) ceremony. The same applies to the aupAsana fire.


On every Prathama (first day of the lunar fortnight), a pAkayajna called sthAlipAka and a haviryajna called darsha-pUrNa-iShTi have to be performed in the grhyagni and shrautagni respectively.

In the name darsha-pUrNa-iShTi, darsha means the 'new moon' and pUrNa the full moon. So the iShTis or sacrifices conducted on the day following the new moon and the full moon (the two Prathamas) are together given the name of darsha-pUrNa-iShTi. The two rituals are also referred to merely as iShTi. This is the prakrti (archetype) for haviryajnas.


Agrayana is performed on the full moon of Aippasi (mid-Oct to mid-Nov). In this shyAmaka grains are offered in the fire.


chaturmAsya gives the impression that it includes a number of sacrifices. It is a term that refers to sannyasins staying at the same place during the rainy season. But it is also the name of a haviryajna to be performed by householders once every four months, in Karttigai (mid-Nov to mid-Dec), Panguni (mid-Mar to mid-Apr), Adi (mid-Jul to mid-Aug).


The haviryajna called nirudhapashubandha (or simply pashubandha) is the first yajna in which there is animal sacrifice, mrgabali. There are rules to determine which part of the sacrificial animal's body is to be offered in the sacrificial fire. This is not the same as bali. What is offered in the fire is homa. In pasubandha only one animal is sacrificed. In yajnas involving animals there is a yUpa-stambha or sacrificial post of bamboo or khadira to which the animal is tethered.


In the last haviryajna called sautramani sura (liquor or wine) is offered to appease certain inferior powers or deities for the welfare of the world. A government, which otherwise strictly enforces prohibition, may relaxes the rules to entertain foreigners with drink, considering the gains to be had from them. The oblation of liquor in sautramani is to be justified on the same grounds. It is never offered in the sacrifices meant for higher deities. What is left over of the liquor--what is purified by mantras--is imbibed by the performers of the sacrifice, the quantity taken in being less than a quarter of an ounce. To say that BrAhmaNas drank the soma juice and sura to their heart's content on the pretext of performing sacrifices is an outrageous charge, like the falsehood spread about the partaking of the meat left over from a sacrifice.

Nitya Karmas: somayajnas

Sacrifices in which the soma juice is offered are called somayajnas. The udgata is the one who sings the Saman (sAmagAna). The conclusion of the Samavedic hymns chanted by the udgata is called samsta. Compositions recited in praise of deities are generally known as stotras. But in the Vedic tradition the Rgvedic hymns are sastras. In the Samaveda such hymns which suggest the seven notes or saptasvara are called stotras. In soma sacrifices it is this, singing of the stotras of the Samaveda, that is the major feature. Homa (placing oblations in the fire) is the dominant feature of pAka and haviryajnas while in somayajna it is the singing of stotras.

The name somayAga is derived from the fact that the essence of the soma plant, so much relished by the celestials, is made as an oblation. Apart from this, animals are also sacrificed. Even so the singing of the Saman creates a mood of ecstasy. When a musician elaborates a raga and touches the fifth svara of the higher octave the listeners are transported to the heights of joy. So in the singing of stotras of the Samaveda during the samsta all those assembled for the sacrifice feel as if heaven were upon earth. This is one reason why somayajna is also known as somasamsta.

In such soma sacrifices there is the full complement of priests--the hota, the adhvaryu, the udgata and the brahma. Each priest is assisted by three others. So in all there are sixteen priests in a soma sacrifice.

The seven somayajnas or somasamstas

The seven somayajnas are: agnistoma, atyagnistoma, uktya, sodasi, vajapeya, atiratra and aptoryama.

Agnistoma which is the first of the seven somayajnas is the prakrti (archetype) and the other six are its vikrti. The Vedas will flourish in the world if at least the somayajna called agnistoma or jyotistoma is performed.

Vajapeya is regarded as particularly important. When its yajamAna (sacrificer) comes after having had his ritual bath (avabhrtha snAna) at the conclusion of the sacrifice, the king himself holds up a white umbrella for him. "Vaja" means rice (food) and "peya" means a drink. As the name suggests, the vajapeya sacrifice brings in a bountiful crop and plentiful water. The name is appropriate in another sense also. This sacrifice consists of soma-rasa homa, pasu-homa (23 animals) and anna--or vaja-homa. The sacrificer is "bathed" in the rice that is left over. Since the rice is "poured over" him like water the term vajapeya is apt.

In the old days a BrAhmaNa used all his wealth in performing the soma sacrifice. Much of this was spent in dakShina to the priests and the rest for materials used in the sacrifice.

aptoryama is a sacrificial rite produced from Brahma's northern mouth as per the Vishnu Purana. The aptoryama is the seventh or last part of the jyotishtoma. It is a voluntary sacrifice made for the attainment of a specific desire. The literal meaning of the word would be in conformity with the praudhamanorama. It is a sacrifice which procures the attainment of the desired object.

1. Hindu Dharma a compilation from the discourses of Kanchi Paramacharya
hosted at http://www.kamakoti.org)

2. The Ashrama system By Patrick Olivelle

3. Wikipedia articles on Yajna and Shrauta

4. 'Which are the debts each individual has to repay?'