I want to start by discussing SVa-Haa as a word and a concept, since this is the start point of this journey.
In days to come, as we terry deeper, I hope that this journey will take us, into the non lit labyrinth of thoughts, strategies, models and stories about self and the world.To begin with, let me examine meaning of SVa-Haa , from etymological, functional, symbolic and mythical vantage points.
All of these views are individually complete but when juxtaposed, in love thy neighbor format, they co-create the overall understanding landscape around this concept .
SVa-Haa or svaha or swaha as it is worded, according to Monier Williams Sanskrit- English dictionary, is composed of two syllables: Su meaning good and Ah meaning calling or hailing or shouting. So coupled together it means a shout of joy or good utterance or a phonetic blessing.
SVa-Haa is used as an incantation for hailing the gods, when offerings are made to them in the holy fire of yagna ( a sacred pyre to invoke and appease gods). Each ladle of offering thus made is appended with the chant of the Pallav(salutation) SVa-Ha. For example: Om Agnideva Svaha ( Salutation to the lord of fire).
Apart from saluting the gods, its another connotation is that SVa-Haa is articulated for the destruction of negative energy or bad health by activating the positive vibes of the gods.In chapter four of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam ( an ancient text of Hindus called the Purana) this verse occurs, describing the role of SVa-Haa
ātmajāḿs trīn ajījanat
pāvakaḿ pavamānaḿ ca
śuciḿ ca huta-bhojanam
Which loosely translated means that the fire god ( Agni) with his wife Sva-ha had three children, namely Pavaka, Pavamana and Suci. These demigods subsist by eating the offerings made to the fire of sacrifice.
Sva also stands for self. Ha also means sacrifice.Self sacrifice connotes giving up your relative self ( ego awareness) to realize the absolute self or God.
So when SVa-Haa is chanted with offering to fire (which signifies heat and thus transformation) the whole gesture signifies offering of the narrow self to the sacred fire of transformation and thus in the process becoming one with God.
Like most intrigue stories of mythology ( as everywhere else in world of fiction or friction) this story also has its dose of the sacred and the scandal.
Agni or fire was a powerful deity. Save for Indra( king of devas or astral beings) in Vedas( four books which are essential repository of Hindu system of knowledge) no other deity has more verses dedicated to him than Agni. In fact Rig Veda opens with its first verse dedicated to Agni. In Vedic times along with Indra and Surya ( sun god) Agni was the ruling troika of deities. Later of course, they were superseded by the Trimurti ( three idols or versions) of God : as a creator ( Brahma), Preserver ( Vishnu) and Destroyer ( Shiva).
So, Agni once he became a demigod used to carry offerings that mortals and sages made to gods, back to heavens. Once there was a yagna being conducted by Saptrishis ( seven wise sages of Indian Mythology who attained semi immortal status as Ursa Major star constellation) and Agni was as usual in attendance on the yagna pyre. Accompanying the rishis (sages) were their beautiful wives. The seven wives were extremely pretty and their complexion glowed in divine radiance upon reflection of Agnis heat. They looked so ethereal and were so near, that Agni was aroused in passion. He got besotted with them and through-out the yagna could hardly contain his desire and escalating lust. So when the ritual got over and rest of the invited and invoked devas returned to respective abode, Agni lingered back.
Like a resourceful stalker, he changed form and assumed the “GrahaPatya mode” ( household or kitchen fire) and entered the house of these seven sages. Now he would get a chance to get acquainted with these seven lovely women in the intimacy of their homes. Everyday he would peep out of the hearth to ogle at their beauty. His passion instead of abating kept getting stroked. With each passing day he was getting restive and soon started to itch for action.
Now Agni had assumed that no one had noticed his sleight and he was thus safe in his lustful ways. He was however mistaken. A maiden named Svaha, daughter of Daksha Prajapti , was up to speed on his insidious plans. This was because was in love Agni and thus followed him around. Agni however, blind in his lust, had never noticed her. So Svaha espying Agni want of other women, grew extremely jealous.
She realized that she would have to do something drastic and soon to achieve her love otherwise the matter of her heart would soon devolve into a disaster. She came up with a plan to entice Agni.
Assuming the form of Siva ( wife of one of the seven sages, Angirasa) she accosted Agni in private. She confessed to have seen Agni ogling at her and that she and the other six friends of hers (the other wives) were indeed consumed with a similar desire for him. This was stroke of extraordinary luck for Agni. Capitalizing on the opportunity he did not waste any time in consummating their bond in seclusion of a nearby jungle.
However after the romp, Svaha was scared of leaving the jungle in the form of Siva for if somebody saw her in that form, the good lady would lose reputation. Though if Svaha came back to her original form, agni would find out that he was duped and might even curse her. So to solve this she assumed the form of a bird and flew off to drop the seed of Agni in a golden lake of the nearby white mountains.
This charade continued for six nights as Svaha kept assuming forms of other wives. However on the seventh day, owing to the piety and power of Arundhati, wife of the seventh sage Vasishta , she could not assume her form. The game was over for Svaha.
However the seeds of six days that were deposited in the lake, gave birth to a fierce warrior with six heads called Skanda popularly known as Kartikeya (In alternate and popular version of this story Kartikeya is born to Lord Shivas fallen fluids carried by Agni himself to the golden lake). Skanada later commandeered devas armies against the demon tarak and won them a great victory.
However the word had got out by then that wives of the six rishis were his mother. Hearing this, the rishis, enraged of this infidelity, decided to cast their wives away. Svaha meanwhile was pining for Agni, as he, once the ruse ran its course, had stopped responding to her entreaties.
So the six wives approached Skanda to get their name cleared which he did. However he also honored them as his mothers. Svaha also approached him and claimed him as his son, born with her union to Agni. She asked him to grant her a boon that would get her married to Agni.
Skanda , conferred this boon on his mother with the added blessing that henceforth any offering made to Agni ( to be carried forward or consumed) will not be accepted unless it is accompanied by the chanting of his consorts name..SVa-Haa.
So from where does one start a journey and anyways in the first place, what does one wants to attain by undertaking a journey.
Joseph Campbell, everybody’s favorite mythologist, explaining a mythic heros’ adventure highlighted that the journey for any fabled hero typically starts with his unwillingness to leave the secure confines of his known world. He is happy tilling his farm, having a candy in his arm or simply minding his swarm. But then a siren call ensues to his sense of security, adventure or simply his values and he gets enrolled.
So overall it is not a volitionary jaunt for our man but actually is a repose interrupt. He is dragged into it headlong despite his laziness or wiser counsel.
However when he returns to his pastoral shades having successfully completed the adventure, he is carrying back with him the elixir for general health or has been able to blacken the eye of evil if not actually shut it for good. Thus safety and good health of his world ensured, he resumes smoking his pipe in the usual corner of that wayside tavern that he always inhabited.
So the start and end payoffs of a mythic journey are clearly laid out.
My start of SVa-Haa has some parallel to this ancient blueprint. I have been lounging happily thinking, businessing, familying , reading in my time. Life has been kind and though a swiss bank account still remains unopened , I am getting by. ( God please note, if you ever take up Woody Allens challenge of proving your existence by depositing money into his swiss account, my account has similar numbers with last two digits changed to twenty two. I offer this information despite grave personal taxation risk, lest press and posts, accuse you of a sceptic bias)
Ok so what was the call to action for undertaking this journey called SVa-Haa.
It was actually a slow and creeping realization that in lifes pursuits till now, I have been too focused on self . Having been cloistered in my little world I began to realize that I have largely discounted the wide view in favor of the narrow focus. I have been borrowing relentlessly from the world never to return it back, till this day.
So if this world was a library, I would be one of its termites.
This realization prompted me to act, to restore the balance between hoarding and dissemination, understanding and action, holding back and exhalation. I could not just continue relaxing in my chair without feeling a growing sense of unease.
For me, SVa-Haa then, is an adventure of not going someplace but coming back home. It is an act of thanks, to load balance, my blessings with my gratitude. There is no payoff but a payback if not actually a pay-forward.
I view it as my oblation to the sacred fires of the universe which burn brightly and demand that you add offerings to them, per your capacity, so that the flames burn undimmed and continue to warm all those who are present, and all those who are yet to arrive, at the scene of this eternal ongoing yagna. SVa-Haa