On a Vedic quest
Dr. Dirghangi and his wife performing Agnihotram at his home in the U.S.
"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."
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