Agnihotra simply means a sacrificial fire. ... In many homes prayers are offered with fire, particularly amongst Vedic Hindus.
The agnihotra (sacred fire) has been a very important part of all Vedic ceremonies since the beginning of time. The act of putting ghee (clarified butter), fire-wood, food and samagree (a mixture of herbs) into a specially lit fire represents the sacrifice of valuable material resources essential for human survival and contentment such as food and fuel. The ingredients of the samagree include sandalwood, dried medicinal herbs and food (such as sweet dishes cooked in the home that day or dried fruits etc; foods containing salt and/or spices are prohibited).
The composition of samagree was scientifically formulated by sages in pre-historic India to confer disinfectant and sterilizing properties to the vapors produced by the fire. Effectively, it is an ancient and organic - method of purification of the environment by fumigation. The heated air produced by the fire spreads to all places in the home or building where it is performed and so purifies the air by destroying germs as well as producing a pleasant fragrance that replaces foul air.
The light from the flame of the fire is a symbol of knowledge replacing ignorance (darkness). Enlightenment of the mind is enhanced by the act of chanting mantras (verses from the Vedas the most original religious Scriptures known to mankind) whilst the fire is fed. This form of prayer not only brings peace to the soul but its daily repetition is also an act of mental concentration that enables the mind to memorize the wisdom contained in the Vedic mantras.
Agnihotra is not the worshipping of fire. Instead, it is a process of worshipping God while it purifies the environment by using a correct method of producing fire (the use of fossil fuels has always been strictly prohibited in this ritual from time immemorial).
The use of items such as cooking-ghee, food, samagree, firewood and water is altruistic because such valuable materials are sacrificed for the greater good of society. It acts as a reminder that human beings require only that bare quantity of materials necessary for our subsistence. In other words, performing agnihotra promotes unselfishness and doing good to the rest of the world (thereby guiding people to reject unnecessary materialism and possessive individualism). The desire to improve the environment is not just for the personal good but also for the good of all, fostering a spirit of universal good.