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Agnihotra — a critical reappraisal

Reviewed by Dr. S. Basu


Agnihotra is a simple Vedic ritual of atmospheric purification, tuned to circadian biorhythms of nature viz. sunrise and sunset and based on the Vedic science of bio-energy. It is claimed that along with atmospheric purification, Agnihotra purifies the life-energy and the mind. In actual practice, a small fire is prepared using dried cowdung cakes in a semi-pyramid shaped copper vessel. Two pinchfuls of raw rice smeared with cow's ghee are offered into the fire along with the chanting of two short Sanskrit mantras. The ritual is invariably carried out at sunrise and at sunset. It has been traditionally held that the cleansing and healing effects of Agnihotra arise from several variables which are simultaneously active, viz. the healing effect of the pyramid, the fire, the effect of bio-rhythm on the mind and body, the bacteriostatic effect of the copper used, the subtle effect of the mantric vibrations and the medicinal effects caused by the burning of various organic substances.

Use in drug-dependency and alcoholism

Several studies have claimed that the practice of Agnihotra or ‘Homa Therapy’ is a useful adjunct in the treatment of drug-dependents and alcoholics. Dr. G.R. Golechha presented a paper at the annual conference of the Indian Psychiatric Society in 1987 where he described how an army officer with manipulative drug habits overcame his dependence on heroin with the help of Agnihotra and continued to remain drug-free for a prolonged follow-up period(1). He had earlier undergone detoxification and psychotherapeutic interventions but could never develop a sense of motivation. In fact, he kept on challenging his mentors. To break the impasse, he was introduced to Agnihotra which he accepted after some initial resistance. Over a period of four weeks, he became a completely changed man who could go back to his work without any drugs. He continued practicing Agnihotra for another eight weeks after his recovery. Discontinuance thereafter did not lead to relapse during the follow-up period.

How could Agnihotra help the subject to get cured of his drug dependence? Dr. Golechha thinks that it is not the fragrance of the fumes or the chemical effects of burning ghee, rice and cow-dung but the vibrations generated during the practice of the ritual at sunrise and sunset which need to be investigated for assessing the beneficial effects. These ‘vibrations’ to a physicist can mean the various electro-magnetic waves and radiations that might be produced in the copper-pot during Agnihotra. Some of these electro-magnetic waves might be in synchronisation with the cosmic radiations at sunrise and sunset and may influence the mind and health of a subject.

The work of Selva Murthy(2) on the neurophysiological effects of Agnihotra also seems to corroborate the fact that the practice of Agnihotra fosters mental tranquillity. He measured various physiological parameters in healthy volunteers practicing Agnihotra. Electro-encephalographic findings showed suppression of delta waves and enhancement of alpha waves in frontal leads which denote mental tranquillity. Selva Murthy postulates that there is generation of electromagnetic energy in and around the Agnihotra pot which has radio-effects on biological systems of the body and the brain and their rhythms. The frequency and amplitude of these electromagnetic waves are as yet unknown. Their synchronisation with the cosmic electromagnetic field existing at the time of sunrise and sunset might have amplifying and boosting effects. This in turn might stimulate the modifying and enhancing activity of some eurotransmitters and neuromodulators associated with natural tranquillity. The resultant effect would be an increased tranquillity which might be conducive for curbing the urge to take heroin or alcohol. Indeed, Agnihotra or ‘Homa Therapy’ has been found to be a useful adjunct in the treatment of alcoholism by different researchers. In a study on 18 alcoholic subjects, Golechha et al.(3) found that Agnihotra served as a useful adjunct in maintaining the motivation for abstinence and 55% of the subjects continued to remain abstinent for more than 8 weeks.

When Dr. Golechha first presented his paper on the beneficial effects of Agnihotra in heroin addiction, this reviewer(4) had ventured to suggest that as ‘chasing’ heroin resembled a ritualistic act, was it being effectively replaced by another ritual (Agnihotra)! In fact, ‘chasing’ heroin is a delicate task where each step has to be done carefully and correctly, such as: scraping off the carbon deposit after the white tissue paper adherent to one side of a foil(available in a cigarette packet) is burnt out, then placing a minute quantity of heroin on the foil without spilling and carefully heating it from below by a lighter, match-stick or candle and finally chasing the undulating coil of white fumes that resemble a dragon's tail (hence the name ‘chasing’) to inhale through makeshift straws made from polythene tubes or rolled foils or new currency notes, all the while concentrating to avoid any wastage. It takes time to master this intricate act with precision. Perhaps this ritualistic component of ‘chasing’ heroin may have some appeal for addicts and Agnihotra, being itself a ritual might be beneficial by substituting one ritualistic behaviour for another. Performing rituals is a type of cultural obsession. Alcoholism itself has culture-specific ritualistic paradigms that have survived through ages. It is interesting to note that when Agnihotra was used on alcoholics by Golechha et al., the subjects developed a sort of obsessive compliance to voluntarily perform and repeat performing Agnihotra(3). The appeal of ritualistic behaviour to the mind needs to be studied to assess the beneficial effects of Agnihotra and might be as important as the theory of electromagnetic waves and radiation produced in the Agnihotra pot which are thought to enhance the tranquillity of mind.

Ecology and Agnihotra

While the beneficial effects of Agnihotra on the mind continue to be an enigma, certain preliminary experiments conducted by the Institute of Vedic Sciences, Shivpuri, on the behaviour of microflora in the atmosphere generated by Agnihotra(5), deserve attention. Through a series of experiments it was demonstrated that pathogenic staphylococci do not survive in the Agnihotra atmosphere and the reduction in the number is consistent. It was hypothesised that the bacteriostatic reduction was due to a yet unknown stable active radical that might be formed during fumigation. It has been claimed that Agnihotra is a cheaper and more effective substitute than formaline fumigation and might contribute in a positive way to maintain the ecological balance.

These experiments need to be replicated by different researchers in different situations. It would be interesting to watch the progress of positive, goal-directed and well-documented research on the application of Agnihotra in the fields of mental and ecological health.


1.Golechha, G.R.;Deshpande, M.; Sethi, I.C.; Singh, R.A.. Agnihotra — a useful adjunct in recovery of a resistant demotivated smack addict. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 1987, 29(3), p.247-252.

2.Selva Murthy. Neurophysiological effects of Agnihotra. Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, 1987.

3. Golechha, G.R.; Sethi, I.C.; Deshpande, M.; Usha Rani. Agnihotra in the treatment of alcoholism. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 1991, 33(1), p.44-47.

4. Basu, S. and Ghosh, S.. The drug Scene in Calcutta. Vivekananda Education Society, 1989, p. 23-24.

5. Preliminary study of microflora under the atmosphere generated by Agnihotra. Institute for studies of Vedic Sciences, Shivpuri, Akkalkot, 1995.

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Ecology and Agnihotra