[Advaita-l] On a Vedic quest

Abhishek RK rkabhi at gmail.com
Sat Oct 22 07:40:34 CDT 2005

On a Vedic quest

"I AM doing Agnihotram not for name or fame but because I love it. It is
considered the mother of all Yagas. I believe in Srouta Yaga. I want to know
how Agnihotram is performed in different parts of the country." Indeed it is
the quest of a sincere Nityagnihotri. But he is neither a traditional
scholar nor an academic researcher in Vedic rituals. This Agnihotri, Dr.
Jayanta Kumar Dirghangi, is a certified medical practitioner of the American
Board of Obstetrics and Gynaecology with many professional affiliations to
his credit, practising at Memphis, Tennessee.

It needs tenacity of a different kind to juggle a demanding career and a
religious rite like Agnihotram with its stringent regulations performed
twice daily, day after day. It has become an all-consuming passion with this
doctor ever since he set out on this journey to discover his roots over
eight years ago. He returns to his motherland unfailingly every year to
quench his thirst for knowledge of the age-old Vedic tradition.

Dr. Dirghangi developed an interest in Sanskrit, Vedic chanting and Srouta
Karma at an early age and the late Prof. Gourinath Sastri encouraged him to
study further. Amidst his hectic professional life in the U.S. he pursued
these disciplines relentlessly till he was initiated into Agnihotram on May
1, 2000, according to Apastambha Srouta Sutra, Krishna Yajur Veda. A person,
who wishes to perform Agnihotram and other Srouta rites must first acquire
the sacrificial fire.

The rituals starting from Agnihotram should be performed with oblations to
the three distinct altars having different fires namely, the Garhapatya,
Aahavaniya and the Dakshina. The acquisition of these fires and instituting
them in one's house are done through a ritual called Adhana (Agnyadhana,
Agnyadheya), during initiation.

Dr. Dirghangi received guidance from the 45th Azhagiya Singar of Ahobila
Math and instruction from Sengalipuram Adhvarapathy Dikshitar and
Therezhundur Anantanarayana Dikshitar. When a close friend introduced him to
the veteran traditional scholar, Agnihotram Ramanuja Thathachariar, it
opened up further vistas in his avocation and he mastered the intricacies of
performing the ritual and learnt the meaning of the Mantras from him. He has
travelled to remote villages seeking the help of masters of this practice,
observing them perform, clarifying doubts and documenting the subtle
differences among the different Srouta sutras like Apastambha, Asvalayana,
Vaikhanasa, Manaba and so on.

He is learning the procedure according to the Rig, Sama and Atharvana Vedas
though he follows the Yajur Veda. Back at home in Memphis he has an
improvised smokeless Yagasala, where the sacrificial fire has to be
maintained. The furnace had to be improvised to conform to the laws of the
US where smoke in any form triggers an alarm. He felt the need for a
handbook on Agnihotram explaining its performance, meaning and variations.
So he has undertaken the task of compiling one himself. His trips to India
are well planned. Dr. Dirghangi shared his experience during this trip with
this writer. "This time I visited Kerala to meet the Namboodiris. Through
one of my patients I was introduced to an Agnihotrin at Thiruvananthapuram.
The Namboodiris performed the Agni (Athirtha) Yaga, which is a little longer
than the Somayaga, in 1975, and in 1995 at Panjal near Thrissur and
Guruvayur, and he learnt about their history. As many as 64 Namboodiri
families migrated from Gujarat long ago and of them 32 settled in the Tulu
speaking region of Karnataka and the rest in Kerala. Some of these families
continue to practise this rite. Each family becomes the high priest
(Yajamana) of a particular Yaga. From Thiruvananthapuram I went to Thrissur
as these Namboodiri families live around this place. I met Neelakantan
Namboodiri, who is an authority on the Rig Veda, at Vattakulam. I spent a
day with him and performed Agnihotram with him. From there I proceeded to
Kouprra to meet Sankara Narayan Somayajipad who performs the Somayaga.
Finally at Chembra, I had the opportunity of interacting with Ravi
Akkithiripad who is the only one allowed to perform the Athiratha Yaga by
hereditary right in Kerala, while in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh others
are permitted to."

"I spend the best part of my visit every time with Thathachariar Swami who
has been extremely generous in sharing his knowledge on the subject. I
continue to learn the meaning of the Mantras from him as they have both a
literary and a subtler meaning. I must share another experience with you.
The earlier feature in this paper generated a lot of interest both in the US
and in West Bengal. I keep getting calls from people evincing interest in
Agnihotram. It gives me immense joy that I should be instrumental in
reviving interest in the Vedic sacrifices. I have been invited to present a
paper at the Asiatic Society and a lecture-demonstration on Agnihotram
before the intelligentsia of Calcutta in this trip." Before you wonder where
he will be venturing into next, he signs off saying, "My dream is to become
a Somayaji ultimately."

bhava Sankara deSika me saraNam

sadASiva samArambham SankaracArya madhymam
asmadAcArya paryantam vande guru paramparam

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