By Swami Harshananda
Agnyādhāna literally means ‘producing the fire’.
During the Vedic period, offering sacrifices was very common. It was believed that one could get whatever one desired through the appropriate sacrifices. Only men belonging the brāhmaṇa, the kṣattriya or vaiśya varna were eligible for establishing performing these Vedic sacrifices. Certain classes of śudras like the rathakāras (carpenters) were also considered eligible. Even such persons had to establish the fires in a ceremonial way following the prescribed procedure. One who established the fires was known as an āhitāgni.
Agnyādhāna, also known as agnyā-dheya (or simply ādhāna or ādheya) was this prescribed rite. Literally it means placing of burning coals for the generation of the gārhapatya fire. Only a married adult could establish this Vedic fire. He could do it on any day he felt the desire or had to do it only in certain seasons and on certain astronomically suitable days, naksatras of the stars being the determining factor.
The actual rite was spread over two days though preparation of the araṇis (pieces of wood used in producing fire by attrition) and other implements would start much earlier. The first day known as upavasatha is devoted by the yajamāna (sacrificer) to preliminaries like choosing the priests (ṛtvigvaraṇa), offering them madhuparka, preparing the sacrificial ground, having a shave and so on. Preparation and consumption of the brahmaudana (cooked rice meant for the priests) is another rite, performed by the adhvaryu.
After the first night and just before the dawn, the next day, fire is produced by the attrition of the two araṇis by the adhvaryu. Singing of sāmans at this time by the udgātṛ (priest of Sāmaveda) is a special feature. Gārhapatya fire in the hearth is the first to be set up. The āhavaniya fire is produced from the gārhapatya by the adhvaryu. The dakṣiṇāgni is set up by the priest āgnīdhra (one of the assistant to lit the fire) either directly by the attrition of the araṇis or from the gārhapatya. Establishing of the other two fires, sabhya and āvasathya, is optional. After setting up the fires, various kinds of grains and fuel sticks are offered to them.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore