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CREATIVITY IN A HAVAN – Guest Author Satish Bhatnagar, Ph.D.

Havan/Homa/Yajana is an iconic activity in the Hindu religion. It continues to be a part of Buddhism and Jainism, the major offshoots or reformations of Hinduism, but it is not a part of the 500-year old Sikhism. Havan is not at all fire worshipping, though fire is the central piece in the entire ceremony. Fire is the ultimate purifier of the environment as well as what is burnt in it! The cremation of the dead amongst the Hindus is a corollary of this philosophy of life. 

The incantation of specific Vedic mantras invokes ‘spiritual’ purification of the havan performers as well as that of the surrounding. The whole havan exercise is intended to create a resonance effect by uplifting the assembly, sitting around fire in a havan kund (fixed or portable rectangular receptacle with inclined sides), and for the purification of the environment. The Hindu literature is filled with stories and legends of grand yajnas performed by kings once or twice during their reigns to the commonest ones – on festive and ceremonial occasions in homes, institutions and temples. 

Swami Dayanand Sarawati (1824-1883) made havan a rallying point for the Hindus, disunited and dispirited for over a few centuries to come together on Sunday mornings. He had witnessed the Draconian revenue collection measures that the British had imposed upon Indians after quelling the 1857 rebellion by the nationalist Indians. Eventually that resulted in man-made famines and diseases in East India killing 15-25 million people and destroying the general health of the masses for generations to come. 

Dayanand’s vision was to strengthen his countrymen physically and mentally in order for them to rise up to the political challenges of that era. And, he was far more successful in this mission, as evidenced by the fact that 90% of the Hindu freedom fighters, who were hanged to death or given life sentences, were the members of the Arya Samaj organization that he had founded in 1875 in Mumbai.

Dayanand noted that the Muslims gathered on Friday afternoon prayers, and the Sikhs and Christians on Sundays, when they took stock of their political affairs too. The Hindus, despite being  at least 90% of India’s population at that time, had lost every aspect of their collective identity. Well, this is a thumbnail history of the havan background that is essential before giving my ‘report’ on the solo havan that I have been doing in the backyard of my house since April 18, 2020. As I wrote in a previous havan reflection that it is my way of countering the menace of Coronavirus by ‘homogenizing’ it. My then gut feeling remains the same now – that my way of performing havan is working. At the moment, I have no scientific way of measuring it. 

Any way, here is my havan protocol duly ‘researched’:
1.  As soon as I step out into the backyard, I start the soft recitation of the Gayatri mantra. It goes on for 10-12 minutes until even the smoke in the havan kund  (8”x8”) is no longer visible from six feet.

2 (a) The first thing to be done is to empty out the havan kund of any ash from the previous day’s havan, and mix it with the potting soil. Then II place 3-4 balls of crumbled shreds of recyclable paper as the first ‘layer’ in the havan kund.

(b) A bunch of tiny twigs, at most ⅛” in diameter, are spread over the paper. The dry twigs are picked up right from the bushes and trees growing in the backyard and front yard of our house.

(c)  Two spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil are spread on the shoots. With heat, olive oil breaks out better than ghee.  

(d)  Then come two spoonfuls of samagri (a fragrant combustible material), available at any Indian market; which are spread over it evenly – done only once!

(e) During the last 12 days, I have added only one of the following items on the top of the pile – white thin peels and a clove of garlic/dry peels of onions/dry skins of bananas/dry remnants of apples/dry peels and seed of mangoes/dry rind of watermelon/dry rind of cantaloupe/dry rose petals/dry seeds of cantaloupe/dry buds and flowers of our pomegranate tree/dry peels of oranges.

(f) After all this is set, then the fire is ready to go. It is ignited by not a matchstick, but by an igniter, as that is better when two spots are to be ignited simultaneously.

3. The flames shoot up quickly and are beautiful to watch. The Gayatri recitation goes on. 

4. The burning is so good that there is hardly any smoke. There has been no need for re-igniting the wood, or adding flammable kapoor or ghee etc. 

5. The entire ‘ceremony’ is over in ten minutes – since my stepping out in the background. However, I work outside for an hour even after the fire has gone out – breathing the whole aroma. My hope is that I may be warding off the Covid-19! But there is no way of testing it, which I do not care at this moment!

Some Concluding Remarks:The  image of a havan has been skewed for a number of historical as well as social reasons – like, a priest must be invited to perform it, the wood should be of a mango tree or of other specific trees; the use of ghee and kapur , and so on. It is for such overbearing reasons, the Hindus in the hilly regions and in the rainy areas do not perform havan. Worst part of their thinking is that it would be sinful, if havan was not performed ‘precisely’!  

I have Googled all different peels for finding out their composition. Amazingly, we throw away parts of fruits that are edible. Yes, I have a small section of the backyard for the drying of the peels. But in the Las Vegas dry heat, they shrivel up within hours.  Fire is an equalizer, it does not discriminate. However, I avoid all plastic and inorganic materials. 

My admiration for havan has been reflective. I do believe in its merits, but I cannot spare more than ten minutes for it. At the age of 80, the Coronavirus has compelled me to discover this 10-minute havan. Initially, for a couple of days, it takes longer than ten minutes, but soon the Perfect Ten is hit! 

Guest author Satish C. Bhatnagar is a mathematics professor at UNLV that he joined in 1974. He is the author of ten non-fiction books in six different genres.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the above article solely belong to the author Professor Satish Bhatnagar and are not an endorsement by The editor is pleased to provide as a platform for the community members to engage in intellectual debates, opinions, and discussions.

One Comment to CREATIVITY IN A HAVAN – Guest Author Satish Bhatnagar, Ph.D.

  1. Dr. Rampur Viswanath says:

    A very reflection of the history and purpose of Havan! I commend you for reminding all of us the concept of Havan!

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