Gayatri and Yagna constitute the foundation of the Vedic Culture. While Gayatri imparts wisdom and pure intelligence, Yagna inspires corresponding creativity and actions. In talking of the Vedic age the images of the great rishis performing agnihotra-yagnas instantly flashes before our sight. In those days, apart from the rishis, the rich and the poor, the kings and citizens also had an equally deep faith and respect for Yagna and they used to sincerely participate in and lend wholehearted support for different kinds of Yagnas.
The rishis used to spend at least one-third of their lives in conducting Yagnas.It was a common belief and an observed fact in the Vedic Indian society that Yagna was essential for the refinement of human life from a shudra (i.e. a person living a life driven by animal instincts) to a Brahmin (i.e. a wise, knowledgeable, charitable person), and ultimately to a divine, great personality. Yagnas played an essential role in the all-round progress, prosperity and happiness in the Vedic age. This was indeed natural, as the philosophy and science of Yagna and the different modes of performing agni-yagna were discovered and developed by the rishis based on their deep understanding and in-depth research of the human psyche, the intricacies of the social fabric and the mysteries of Nature.
The brilliance and purity of agni (fire) appears to be a universal symbol for worship. The rituals of different religions affirm this fact. The first mantra of Rigaveda - the most ancient scripture of knowledge on Earth, quotes "agnimaye purohitam", signifying agni as a sacred symbol of God. This is what is referred to in different religious and spiritual scriptures as Brahmateja, Divine Flame, Sacred Glow, Divine Light, Latent Light, etc. The Vedic hymn "agne supatha raye" prays to this omnipotent, supreme power to enlighten and inspire us towards the righteous path. The same is meant in the phrase "dhiyo yonah prachodayat" of the great Gayatri Mantra.
Meaning of Yagna:
In its gross form, Yagna is a spiritual experiment of sacrificing and sublimating the havana samagri (herbal preparations) in the fire accompanied by the chanting of Vedic mantras. This is only the outer physical process or ritual of Yagna, which has scientific importance and beneficial effects. This agni-yagna when performed on a small scale is also known as havan, homam or agnihotra. The meaning of yagna is not confined to this sacrificial ritual. It has a much wider and deeper meaning. The word yagna is derived from the Sanskrit verb yaj, which has a three-fold meaning: worship of deities (devapujana), unity (sangatikarana) and charity (dana). The philosophy of yagna teaches a way of living in the society in harmony and a lifestyle which promotes and protects higher human values in the society, which is indeed the basis of an ideal human culture...