Agnihotra (IAST: Agnihotra, Devnagari: अग्निहोत्र) refers to the yagya (sacrifice) of casting of ghee into the sacred fire as per strict rites, and may include twice-daily heated milk offering made by those in the Śrauta tradition.
This tradition dates back to the Vedic age; the Brahmans perform the Agnihotra ritual chanting the verses from the Rigveda. The tradition is now practiced in many parts of South Asia in the Indian sub-continent, including primarily India and also in Nepal. The Brahmin who performs Agnihotra ritual is called Agnihotri.
The history of Agnihotra includes the Iranian fire-worship ritual called Zoroastrian Yasna Haptaŋhāiti ritual mentioned in the Old Avestan. This was already popular in India with Upaniṣads as religious performance.
Agnihotra rituals in Nepal
Witzel (1992) locates the first Agnishala hypothetically at Jhul (Mātātīrtha), in the western ridge of the Kathmandu valley and later at the southern rim of the palace of Aṃśuvermā at Hadigaon, Kathmandu. The first source of inscription evidence was from Tachapal tole, east part of Bhaktapur city, also shown by a legend that the Maithila King Harisiṃhadeva would establish the yantra of Taleju Bhavānī in the house of an Agnihotri. From 1600 CE onward, the Agnihotra has been attested to the Agnishala temple in Patan only.
The Agnihotra ritual in Nepal has been first recorded in an inscription of King Anandadeva in c. 1140 AD that mentions of the initiations of his two sons, viz. Yasho Malla and prince Somesvara at Agnimatha (or Agnishala in Lalitpur). The temple of Agnishala since the 12th century maintains the Vedic tradition of Agnihotra fire sacrifice ritual and despite having undergone many ritual changes, the basic Vedic performance is still intact. The Agnishala is maintained by the Newar Rajopadhyaya Brahmins of Patan, who are the premier Krishna Yajurvedic Brahmins of Nepal.
- at southern edge of Pashupatinath temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nepal) by a Purbe Brahmin. This has been in practice for almost 200 years now, and for this Agnishala, in 1974 the government provided NRs. 18,000 (then around US $7,000) per year.
- at Kumarigal, south of Bouddha (another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal) in Kathmandu by Narayan Prasad, a Purbe Brahmin
- at Thamel, north of central Kathmandu by Tirtha Raj Acharya
- Knipe, David M. (2015). Vedic Voices: Intimate Narratives of a Living Anthra Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Witzel, Michael (1992). Hoek, A W van den; Kolff, D H A; Oort, M S (eds.). "Meaningful Rituals: Vedic, Medieval, and Contemporary Concepts in the Nepalese Agnihotra Ritual". Ritual, State and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of J.C. Heesterman. E J Brill: 774–828. ISBN 9004094679.
- Rajopadhyaya, Abhas D (2017). Fire Rituals in Newār Community: The Dynamics of Rituals at Agnimaṭha, Pāṭan [MA Thesis]. Kathmandu: Department of Anthropology, Tri-Chandra College (affiliated to Tribhuvan University).
- Witzel, Michael (1986). "Agnihtora-Rituale in Nepal" [Agnihotra Ritual in Nepal]. In Kölver, B; Leinhard, Seigfried (eds.). Formen kulturellen Wandels und andere Beirtaege zur Erforschung des Himalaya. St Augustin: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 157–187.