"How can any Brahmin perform so many samskaras these days?" is perhaps a natural question. "What is the use of speaking about things that are not practicable?"Suppose I myself give two lists, the first containing the samskaras that are easy to perform these days and the second containing those that are not so easy. What will happen then? You will keep on adding items to the second from the first list and, eventually, I am afraid nothing will be left for you to perform. So, on your retirement at least, you must perform all the religious rites imposed on you as Brahmins. You must not ask for an extension of service with your present employers nor look for a new job.
Let me now speak about a Brahmin's daily religious life according to the sastras. It is indeed a harsh routine. A Brahmin must get up five nadikas, or two hours, before sunrise. "Panca -panca-usatkale", so it is said. "Panca-panca" means five*five - "panca-panca usatkale"denotes during the 25th nadika". From sunset to sunrise is 30 nadikas. So a Brahmin must rise during the 25th nadika- from this time to sunrise is "Brahma muhurta".
After getting up, he cleans his teeth, bathes in cold water and performs sandhyavandana and japa. Next he goes through aupasana and agnihotra. These rites come under "devayajna", sacrifices to the gods. Next is "Brahmayajna", the daily study and chanting of the Vedas. As part of this rite there are some tarpanas or libations to be offered. (For people following certain sutras these come later). If daytime is divided into eight parts one part would have been over by now.
In the second part of the daytime, the Brahmin must teach his disciples the Vedas-this is adhyapana. Afterwards, he must gather flowers himself for the puja he is to perform. Since he is not expected to earn a salary- and if he does not own any land received as gift - he must beg for his food and also for the materials for the conduct of various sacrifices. The Brahmin has the right to beg, but it is a restrictive right because it means that he can take only the minimum needed for the upkeep and what is required for the performance of the rituals. A considerable part of what he receives as gifts is to be paid as daksina to the priests officiating at the sacrifices he performs.
Of the six "occupations" of the Brahmin one is "pratigraha" or accepting gifts. Another is "dana", making donations to others. It is asked why Brahmins alone have the right to receive gifts. The answer is that they are also enjoined to make gifts to others. Indeed, the Brahmin accepts gifts for the purpose of the charity he himself has to render. This apart, he has also to make gifts during the rites to be mentioned next, "atithya" and "bhutayajna".
After the second part of the day and a portion of the third have been spent thus, the Brahmin must bathe again and perform madhyahnika. Next he does pitr-tarpana, that is he offers libations to the fathers; and this rite is followed by homa and puja. In the latter rite he must dedicate to the deities all those objects that he perceives with his five senses(the five jnanendriyas). It must now be midday and the fourth part of the daytime will have been over and the Brahmin must have completed the rites meant for the deities, the Vedas and the fathers.
Of the five great sacrifices or panca-mahayajnas, two remain- manusyayajna or honouring and feeding the guests and "bhutayajna" which includes bali to the creatures of the earth and feeding the poor (vaisvadeva). Rice is offered in the sacrificial fire and also as bali( that is without being placed in the fire). In bali, food is placed in different parts of the house to the chanting of mantras- food meant for outcastes, beggars, dogs, birds, etc. In the manusya-yajna, guests are entertained and it is also known as atithya. The Brahmin has his mealtime only after going through these rites. Until then he must not take anything except perhaps some milk or buttermilk, but never coffee or any snacks. If he has any other sacrifices to conduct, paka, havir or soma, his mealtime will be further delayed. If he has a sraddha to perform also he will have to eat later than usual. A sraddha ceremony must be commenced only in the "aparahna": I will tell you what it means.
Daytime, we have seen, is divided into eight parts. But it can also be divided into five, each of six nadikas. If the sun rises at 6, 6 to 8. 24 is morning or "pratah-kala"; 8. 24 to 10. 48 is "sangava-kala"; and 10. 48 to 1. 12 is "madhyahnika". From 1. 12 to 3. 36 it is "aparahna"; and from 3. 36 to 6 (or sunset) is "sayam-kala". (The time close to sunset is "pradosa". "Dosa" means night, the prefix "pra" meaning "pre" or "before". The English "pre' is derived from "pra". Pradosa thus is the time before night).
I said that the time for sraddha is aparahna. Rites meant for the gods may be performed only after the completion of the sraddha. After his meal, the Brahmin must read the Puranas. Next he has the duty of teaching members of other castes their hereditary vocations, arts and crafts. He does not have a moment for rest or relaxation. For soon it will be time for his evening bath, sandhyavandana, sacrifices and japa. Vaisvadeva has to be performed at night also before the Brahmin has his meal and retires to bed. On most nights he takes only light food consisting of fruits, milk, etc. On Ekadasi he has to fast the whole day.
There is not a moment without work. It is clear that, if the Brahmin created the sastras, it is not because he wanted to live a life of ease and comfort. On the contrary, the sastras impose on him a life of hardship and austerity, a life of utter physical and mental discipline.
Even today Brahmins who work in offices or other establishments must try to live according to the sastras. They must get up at 4 a. m. (Brahma muhurta), perform aupasana, agnihotra, Brahmayajna, etc, in the traditional manner. They may perform puja and madhyahnika during the sangava time (8. 24 a. m. to 10. 48 a. m. ). "Madhyahnika" as the name suggests is a midday rite but, making allowances for present-day life, it may be performed during the sangava kala. In the evening too the rites may be gone through in the sastric manner. as they say, if there is a will there is a way. On holidays it must be possible for a Brahmin to perform all the rites expected of him.
Even those who are on the morning shift and have to rush to their places of work must perform the rites as best they can. In the evening the Gayatri-japa be extended to compensate for non-performance in the morning. If it is morning shift for a week, will it not be mid-shift or night shift in the subsequent weeks? There could be adjustments made to suit these timings.
Brahmins must feel repentant if they fail to perform the rites they are duty-bound to perform. They must devote the years of their retirement to the pursuit of their dharma instead of feeling sorry for not going out to work. There are rare cases ---perhaps one in a lakh---of people who have learned the Vedas during their retirement and lived the rest of their life according to the tenets of the sastras.
The rites of our religion go back to a time when no other faith was prevalent. We must make every effort to ensure that they do not cease to be performed. They are not meant for our sake alone [as individuals] but for the welfare of all mankind.