Limitations of Yajnas! SRI TYAGARAJA-Part 5 (Post No7973)

WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No.7973

Date uploaded in London – – – 14 May 2020   

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 Bhagavad Gita on karma 

The orthodox tradition banks on the performance of ‘karmas’. Karma here means the karmas prescribed in the smritis, following Veda. It is classified under various heads. Over the centuries, it has become a subject of great attraction, repulsion, complication and reform.

Bhagavad Gita talks of karma in some detail. But it also warns us: “Gahana karmano gati:” – it is difficult to understand the real nature of karma.The Gita teaching on karma can be stated in brief as under, without technicalities:

For people in the world, karma cannot be avoided. But karma creates bondage. So skill consists in performing karma, without getting into bondage! This is possible only if the desire and attachment to  fruit  of karma are avoided ie ‘kamya’ karma should be avoided. This is possible if karma is done as ‘yajna’ , without desiring the fruit. Karma then becomes karma yoga, and the fruit of it should be surrendered to Bhagavan.

Bhagavan clearly warns us that pundits will entice us with flowery words (“pushpitam vachaam” into many karmas.(“kriya vishesha bahulaam”){2.42-44} They may get us the higher worlds, but once their fruit is exhausted, we have to come back to this world!  ( ksheenae punye, martyalokam visanti) They do not get us liberation.

Bhagavan also says Dana, Yajna, Tapas should not be given up. What does he mean by ‘yajna’ here, as he has warned us about Vedic karmas earlier? It is clear that he cannot mean those big yajnas which only the wealthy can do.

Pancha Maha Yajnas

 In the Hindu view, every man born is subject to five debts and these have to be discharged by appropriate karmas, performed as yajna, usually called “pancha maha yajnas”. This is the only karma/yajna enjoined on every dwija but with a peculiarity: Their performance does not confer merit (punya), but non-performance constitutes demerit (papa)! So it has necessarily to be performed as a yajna- ie in discharge of duty, as servicing the debt- as laid down in the Gita itself! 

The normal practice of Smartas in respect of performance of any karma is to make a sankalpa ( ie state explicitly the intention and determination) ‘ ‘Parameshwara preetyartam’ ( though other desires are added like ‘sarva mangala avaptyartam’, ishta kamyarta sidhyartam, etc) , and conclude it by dedicating its fruits to Bhagavan ” “Narayanayeti  samarpayami, Om Tat Sat, Brahmarpanamastu”. Thus the true spirit of karma is already embedded in the ritual itself, but we  have to do it consciously, not mechanically!

Samartha Ramadas on Yajna

This point has been subject to lot of discussions and controversy. Samartha Ramadas has explained it clearly:

It is the duty of Brahmins to perform yajna. But yajna here does not mean Srauta karmas like Vajapeyam, Atiratram, Soma Yajna, etc. It needs special qualifications to perform these yajnas. But by the mere fact of being born a brahmin, he has to discharge the pancha maha yajnas! Pandits usually explain karma/yajna in terms of Agnihotra, etc. They do not talk about pancha maha yajnas which involve service to  human beings and other forms of life! But Jnaneshwar has explained yajna only in the sense of pancha maha yajna. In explaining the expression ” yajnashistashina santa: muchyante sarvakilbisher”, (third chapter of Gita) Bhagavadpada too talks of yajna only in the sense of pancha maha yajnas, and not Ashwamedha and such like.

(See: Swaminatha Atreyan: Sri Samartha Ramadas Charitam, Tamil, 2008, p 79-81 )

 Sri Ramadas established this position clearly in an assembly of Pundits in Varanasi, by countering and defeating all contrary arguments..

Sri Bhagavannama Bodhendra  ( who was the 59th Pontiff of Kanchi Shankara Mutt) too has established, on the basis of our Puranas and Sankara bashya on Sri Vishnu Sahasranama and Bhagavad Gita, that yajna does not mean the big yajnas like Ashvamedha, Vajapeya. These involve himsa, dravyantaram, purushantaram,desaniyamam, kala niyamam, prakara niyamam, etc. Any deficiency or imperfection or deviation  in their performance brings bad or unintended consequences. These are almost impossible to perform in this yuga. And all these are after all kamya karmas, which are prohibited by the Gita.

Society in Tyagaraja’s Times

Tyagaraja’s time was one of severe disturbances and disruption in socio-religious life of the Hindus. The smooth flow of Hindu dharma had been interrupted by Muslim invasions and rule; following them, the local rulers had lost their financial power and political independence, and were mutually antagonistic, even seeking support of Muslim sultans against one another, playing into the Muslim hands; the Europeans had come: Portuguese, Dutch,French, besides English; the Christian missionaries were very active. Through all this, the English asserted themselves and slowly made the local rulers dependent on them for support, effectively reducing their  span of direct influence. The agriculturists were subject to great suffering. The Brahmin community suffered for want of support. (They could not earn money by following any other occupation, nor could they accept daana from all and sundry; but the traditional means of support were declining). Their greatest problem was regarding dharma: it became  difficult to follow the varnasrama, and the Vedic karmas. 

Rise of Nama Sidhanta

 But what was the alternative? As we saw in previous postings, the Nama Siddhanta took root in Tanjore area in this period, but the old adherents of yajna karmas opposed it as being ‘anacharam’. Sri Bodhendra wrote his treatise “Sri Bhagavan Namamruta Rasodayam” providing a firm sastric base for Nama Sidhanta. He clearly stated:

kali kalmasha chittanam

papa dravya jeevinam

vidhi karma viheenaanaam

gati: Govinda kirtanam.

But still there were murmurs. 

 Tyagaraja has to be viewed in this background.

In his kritis, Tyagaraja has shown a clear way. First he tackles the Yajnavadins.

Yajna is for the Ignorant

YAJNADULU       (Jayamanohari)

Yajnadulu sukhamanuvaariki  samu
lajnadulu galare

Are there (other) ignorant people equal to those who say that yajnas are good?


Sujnana daridra paramparula

Such people come in paramparas which lack real jnana.
Asura chittula jivatma himsukala
Yajnadulu  sukhamanuvaariki…..

These people have the mentality of asura, and the yajnas involve jivahimsa.

No doubt the yajnas were prescribed in the Vedas. But the Vedic dharma changed through the Yugas. In the Kritayuga, it was dhyana, in Treta Yuga it was yajna, in Dwapara it was archana, puja. But in Kali? Yajnas are inappropriate. 

Even as the Vedas prescribed yajnas, they were not for all- only for householders. And the very same Veda ( Kaivalyopanishad) also said that any amount of karma cannot lead to Liberation:


Na karmana, na prajaya dhanena tyagenaike  amritatvamanasuh
parena nakam nihitam guhayam, vibhrajate yadyatayo visanti
vedanta vijnana sunischitarthah sanyasayogadyatayaha shuddha satvah
te brahmaloke tu parantakale paramritat parimuchyanti sarve

Here are excerpts from a translation done by Major Chadwick, a staunch follower of Bhagavan Ramana, corrected by Ramana himself:

It is not by means of karma immortality is gained,
Not even yet by offspring,nor possession of much gold,
But by renunciation by some it is attained.

The sages who their senses have all thoroughly controlled,

Attain that Sat than which high heaven’s Supremacy is less,

Which ever doth within the Heart its radiance unfold.
The Adepts by renunciation and one-pointedness
Who have become both pure in heart and who have also known
The certainty of that one Truth Vedanta does profess,

Attain Self-realization.

From: The Collected Works of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramanasramam, 2007. Many terms in the original have deep meaning. For a sample of it, see Talks 511 and 513  (9 and 16 September 1938)  in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi.

 Bhagavan made us see yajna in a new light in the Gita: it is a means of interdependence between man and Devas for their mutual benefit. A man who enjoys what the Devas give without nurturing them in yajna is a thief. But he expanded the meaning of yajna beyond ‘dravya yajna’ to include tapo yajna, jnana yajna, etc! He said these karmas could give prosperity in this world and heaven after death; but once their effect is exhausted, we will have to take birth again. So, giving up kamya karma, one has to perform only ‘niyatam karma’, ‘karyam karma’ ie the ordained duties, that too as yoga, without desire, sankalpa, and attachment to fruit. And the only ordained duty  is pancha maha yajna.
But in course of time, we forgot the basics and got immersed in yajna karma for their worldly benefits. So Tyagaraja reminds us:

Vedoktam baukarmamu
vedagalgu gathagathamau     …..(Nee Bhakti Bhagya sudha)

The ritual karmas prescribed in the Veda cause distress again and again.( ie by leading to repeated rebirths).


Acharya Shankara and Karma

Acharya Sankara identified man’s problem as Ignorance of his true state, and prescribed only Jnana as the remedy. He said any amount of karma cannot remove ajnana, as they are of the same category. But the embodied being cannot avoid karma altogether, so he has to do it for ‘chitta suddhi’ ie for purification of the mind. But people got attached to yajna/karma for their own sake or for the sake of material benefits, and forgot the adhyatmic goal. So Tyagaraja reminds us that those who are attached to yajnas are ignorant.

 The pancha maha yajnas are meant for the welfare of all. including insentient beings, and have to be performed. But the other yajnas are undertaken due to desire, for showing off one’s status and wealth or for prestige, etc.


Raga lobha yuta yajnadulache
Bhogamulabbutayadi padava………(Padavi nee)

Is that a real status that is obtained by performing yajna  accompanied by desire, stinginess,etc?


These yajna karmas are performed, prompted by desire and a Rajasika disposition which is the result of one’s one past karma in many previous births:

Bahujanmambula vasanayutulai
ahi visha sama vishayakrushtulai
bahirananulai Tyagaraju
bhajiyinchu Sri Ramuni deliyaka…….(Yajnadulu )

Due to the vasanas acquired in many past janmas,  attracted by the sense-pleasures which equal the poison of serpents, ever with a gaze on the world outside, not knowing the truth of Rama worshipped by Tyagaraja, these people indulge in yajna. Are there other ignorant people to match them?

The Gita says that the Vedic karmas are subject to the three gunas : Trigunya vishaya veda. (2.45) The object is to rise above them, to go and grow beyond them.



Karmas keep us in Samsara

Tyagaraja Swami says that it is not enough to perform various rites and rituals following karmakanda. Such acts make man sink deep in the forest of Samsara. God’s grace is required to get out of this.


Karmakandamada krushtulaibhava
Gahana charulai kasi jendaga
Kali manava avataarudai
Kaniyinchi naade……………(Manavinalakinchara)

When men followed the karmakanda, undertaking all the rites. desiring their fruit, and were wandering in the forest of Samsara, subject to untold suffering, Did not Rama come as a human Avatara  and show them the correct path by his own conduct?


There is little doubt that yajnas are performed mostly for the sake of social prestige, and involve Rajo guna:

Bhuvilo bhogamula koragu
Rajasamuna yagadulonarinchi yalayuvarula
                                            (Ninne nera)

For the sake of enjoying bhogas, people endowed with Rajasa gunas perform yajnas in the world.

Do such yajnas please the Almighty? There is one nama (600) in Sri Lalita Sahasranama: Daksha yajna vinasini.It is known that Daksha performed the yajna due to his dhamba and Mother did not tolerate it but destroyed it! Bhagavan says in the Gita:


Adathyoabhijanavaan asmi kaunyoasmi sadruso maya 
Yakshye dasyami modishya ityajnana vimohitaa:

Aneka chitta vibhranta mohajaala samavruta:

Prasaktaa: kama bhogeshu patanti  narakeashuchou.

(  Chap.16. slokas 15 &16)



“I am rich and well-born. Who else is equal to me? I will perform yajna. I will give. I will rejoice.” Thus deluded by ignorance,


Bewildered by many a fancy, covered by the meshes of delusion, addicted to the gratification of lust, they fall down into a foul hell.

(From the translation of Swami Swarupananda, Advaita Ashrama)
Such yajnas are only in name: ‘nama yajnai’ ( Gita: 16.17)


Sri Tyagaraja reminds us that we should not get addicted to yajnas- as Bhagavan taught us in the Gita long ago!
 The real Yajnas which merit performance are the  pancha maha yajnas , performance of which is a duty, and not a means for profit.

Note: 


1.Sri Ramakrishna maintained the same position with regard to Vedic Karmas in general. He did not condemn them, but  said they were difficult of performance in this age. He said that the path of devotion shown by Narada is the most suitable path for this age. But he said that Sandhya should not be given up.
2. It is the pancha maha yajna which is stated in Tirukkural No.43 as the prescribed duty of householders.(
அறத்துப்பால்இல்லறவியல்இல்வாழ்க்கை ) 

–to be continued

tags Limitations of Yajnas, SRI TYAGARAJA-Part 5

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