Surrendering to the Divine
Sacrifice plays an integral part in Hindu rituals and customs. For devoted Hindus, it is a path to achieve liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and enlightenment through a state of unity with the Supreme Being. There are many kinds of sacrifices and offerings that existed during various eras in the course of Hindu history, with most of them evolving with time as the religion changed and developed.
During the early Vedic period there were five kinds of sacrifices namely brahmayajna, devayajna, pitriyajna, manushyayajna and bhutayajna, considered as sacrifices to Brahmin, God, ancestor, humans and to all living things respectively. The Sanskrit yajna is often translated as “sacrifice”. It is the offering of ghee, grains, spices, and wood into a fire along with the chanting of sacred mantras. The belief behind these sacrificial rites is that it would appease the Gods and he would bless them. In the Yogic tradition, Yogis sought to self-sacrifice through yoga and meditation to become one with God.
Practices of animal sacrifice are mostly associated with Shaktism, particularly in the worship of the goddess Kali and other tribal Goddesses. Devotees of these Goddesses regularly performed ritual sacrifice to please them and attain prosperity. There are records of human sacrifices performed in the early years in some of the Kali temples. Animal sacrifices, particularly goat and cock were also a part of many of the worship rituals. A ‘bali’ of these animals is said to have the ability to calm a deity who is angry. Human sacrifice is, of course, illegal now; animal sacrifice still exists though it is confined to special occasions as a part of certain rituals.
Adi Shankara, the revered saint was influential in ending this heinous practice of human sacrifice at shrines. He denounced the practice as unholy and having no spiritual connection. The coconut was then chosen as a suitable substitute by people who wanted to continue practice ‘bali’ without blood shed. Since then the coconut has become a symbol of sacrifice. In any auspicious venture or ritual in Hinduism, devotees offers a coconut to a deity with the essence of offering themselves at the feet of the Lord.
The word Upvaasa is the Sanskrit word for fasting or sacrifice of food. Fasting in Hinduism signifies a person’s desire to give up food for an entire day or till sunset to repent for his/ her sins, to receive blessings or to please the God. During festivals and on auspicious days devotees fast to please the Lords and get their blessings. Sacrifice of hair, materialistic things, non vegetarian food etc are also performed, associated with various rituals.
Every sacrifice is accompanied by hope and a prayer to a cherished divinity, a renunciation in exchange for a blessing. The noblest of all these sacrifices, however remains self-sacrifice to others – the dedication one’s body, mind, and spirit in the service of humanity. That is the true path to the self’s unity with the cosmic one, the brahman.