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Agni The Vedic God Of Fire, Sacrifice And Knowledge

  • Agni is actually the Vedic God of Fire, Sacrifice and Knowledge. He conveys oblations to the Divinities and steers man to the gods. Agni was among the most important Vedic gods.
Etymology
  • Agni means fire. Agni has 3 shapes: 'the Sun', 'lightning' and 'fire'.
Vedic concept of Agni
  • Agni is actually the god of divine knowledge, sacrifice, and fire and he is also linked with water. Agni, acknowledged with action and energy, is the 1st emission and the revered spark concealed in all beings. In Vedic mythology Agni is 2nd only to Indra in the importance and power. In the Rig Veda, he is among the supreme gods with Indra and Varuna.
Vedic god of sacrifice and fire

High-priest and sacrificial fire

  • Agni is actually the image of the sacrificial fire. He is related with Vedic offering, taking sacrifices to the other world. He is the god of the priests and the priest of the gods. He brings the sacrifices to the gods through yajna. Without the channel of Agni, no god is approachable.
  • Agni is actually the main terrestrial god represented by the sacrificial fire. The earth wrapped in darkness and the sky becomes observable when Agni is created. Agni is considered as a gift to man from gods.
  • Agni is irresistible, supremely powerful, and the observer of all activities, who controls all heavenly and earthly riches.
  • Agni is actually the distributor, holder and receiver of energy, steers the devtas to success in their fights against the asuras, and bestows wealth of different types to the performers of yajnas.
Kravyād and Jataveda
  • Agni has two shapes: Kravyad and Jataveda
  • Kravyād is used to burn the meat (animal parts and corpses).
  • Jātaveda is used to burn and bring the offerings (except meat) to the corresponding Gods.
  • In the Kravyād shape, Agni eats corpses. The fire which eats dead bodies can eat everything. This form is much feared. In this form, following one’s demise and at the time of burning, Agni heats up and burns the body only.
  • In the Jātaveda shape, Agni works as the heavenly form for the oblatory priest. He is the emissary who transfers the offerings from human beings to the gods, getting the Gods to offering, and mediating between human beings and gods. Whenever Agni is happy, the gods are kind. Agni represents the cultured, cooked and cultivated, features of Vedic rite. Agni is cited in the Rig Veda together with Soma, more than any other gods.
Knowledge
  • Agni is thinking, longing for, proud and dignified. Agni steers man on the passage to God. Agni is prayed as the symbol of purity and piety; as manifestation of two types of energy i.e. heat and light, he is the symbol of activity and life. Agni is actually the power of outer and inner illumination.



Textual appearance

Vedas

  • After Indra, Agni gets the most important place in the Vedic divinity. Agni has a conspicuous place in the Vedas. In the Rig Veda there are more than 200 hymns in praise of and addressed to Agni. Along with Surya and Indra, Agni makes up the Vedic trio of gods.
  • In the Rig Veda, a sage prays for the ten everlasting powers to grace Tvashtr (the best mind which makes all things) with the beginning of Agni, which is an indication to the 10 secret powers which nurture Agni.
  • Prajapati generated Agni as the sacrificial fire.
Upanishads
  • The Isha Upanishad concentrates on the custom of Agni as the action and Divine Will. The sage of this Upanishad prays to Agni to guide him to protection of all that is, origin, the establishment, and Brahman.
  • Agni discloses his individuality in the Kena Upanishad, as the ever-burning fire of the alert force in matter and the heat energy which creates the whole world. First the gods directed Agni to discover the character of Brahman, meaning it’s Agni which releases the energy that is hidden in all beings.
  • The Katha Upanishad informs the way Yama trained Nachiketa the mysteries of the fire which leads to heaven, and bricks which were needed to make the altar.
  • The Chandogya Upanishad refers to the Panchagni Vidya, the concentration on the 5 fires. It describes the connection of everything with creation as a type of oblation. Each sign, the small-scale version, is a sign of Prakrti, the universe.
Depiction

Iconography

  • In Hindu religious text, Agni is shown with 2 or 7 hands, 2 heads and 3 legs. One head shows life after death, and the other shows an unidentified sign of life. He rides a chariot or a ram controlled by powerful horses. Agni is signified as red and two-faced, with black hair and eyes, 7 arms and 3 legs.
  • From his body seven rays of light originate. Saptajihva is one of his names. He licks the sacrificial butter with his seven sizzling tongues. It is said in the Mundaka Upanishad that Agni has seven tongues – Vishwaruchi ('having the fuel as the Sun'), Sphulingini ('emitting sparks'), Sudhumravarna ('coloured like thick smoke'), Sulohita ('very red'), Manojava ('speedy as the mind'), Karālī ('terrible'), and Kālī ('black').
  • Agni was divided into three parts by the ancient seers – dakshinagni (for fighting against all evil), āhavaniya (for inviting and welcoming a deity or personage) and gārhapatya (for general domestic usage).
Cultural artefacts  
  • There’s a First century CE red sandstone statue in the collection at Banaras Hindu University, identifiable as Agni shown in the dress of a Brahmin. There is a god with a ring of flames in the Panchala coins of Agnimitra. In Gupta statues, Agni is displayed as a Brahmanical god with a ring of flames round the body.
Legends

Birth

  • In the Visnu Purana, Agni is said to have jumped from the mouth of the Cosmic Man, the Virat purusha. In another version, Agni is actually the son of Eternal Law and daughter of Light.
  • A sage of the Rig Veda declares that when Agni was born, the Sun became visible.
  • Agni's parents are said to be the 2 parts of the fire drill used to commence the fire and while he was young ten servants took care of him.
  • Agni went into out of sight from the gods, however Atharvan located him and nursed him, hence merging the human and the divine worlds, changing the subtle and the sublime to the material and the gross.
Family and ascension
  • On the orders of Bhrigu, Agni was transferred from the heavens. Agni was a son of Angiras who discovered fire and its uses.
  • Agni married Svāhā and fathered 3 sons - purifier, purifying and purity who had 45 children, all different parts of fire. As per the Vayu Purana Agni’s 3 sons stand for 3 different parts of Agni (fire): Śuchi is the solar fire, Pāvamanā is the fire created by abrasion, and Pāvaka is the electric fire. His 3 sons, Abhimāni, and their 45 sons make up the 49 mystic fires of the Puranas, particularly the Agni Purana.
  • Agni’s daughter is Agneya and his sister is Medhā.
Purifier
  • Insulted by Agni, Bhrigu had damned Agni to become the eater of all things, however Brahma changed that curse and made Agni the purifier of all objects he touched.
  • The Khandava Forest
  • In the "Khandava-daha Parva", Agni in the pretense of a Brahmin approached Arjuna and Krishna to eat the forest of Khandava. Agni wanted to recover his own nature, which had been reduced by the sacrifice of King Swetaki, who had spilled butter into a fire for 12 years. Assisted by Arjuna and Krishna, Agni ate the Khandava Forest, pardoning only the four birds, Maya, and Aswasena.
Kartikeya
  • The Puranas link the birth of Kartikeya and the basis of Krittika nakshatra with Agni. It’s stated that Agni being the transferor of all sacrifices to the gods got Shiva’s energy from Parvati as charities which he had to part with others. Agni provided this energy to the 6 wives of the saptarishis, and for this they were cussed by their spouses to become nakshatras, the 6 nakshatras that form the Krittikas. After that, these 6 wives donated the energy to the Himalayas, which flowed down to the reeds from which the Kartikeya was born.
  •   One more type of this myth tells that initially Kartikeya was born from combined power of Parvati and Shiva like a bright globe of energy. To keep the child safe, Agni stole it and ran throughout the universe in order to avoid the dreadful Asura Taraka who was to be crushed by Kartikeya. When Parvati awoke she came to know that her son was lost. She was angry and came out of the cave where she confronted the Devs and their teacher, Brihaspati. They informed Parvati that her son had been taken away by Agni. This made Parvati so furious that she cursed the Devs that their wives would remain infertile forever. She cussed Agni that he would not be able to differentiate between impure and pure and anybody who made a contact with him would turn into ash and that thick black smoke would surrounded him forever. Just in time, Shiva emerged from the cave and calmed down Parvati and promised her that he would find their son. Parvati returned to the cave. Later Shiva found Agni and endorsed him that in spite of Parvati's curse, he would remain holy forever.
King Shibi
  • King Shibi was tested by Agni by adopting the shape of a pigeon and by Indra by adopting the shape of an aggressor. In swap of pigeon's life, Shibi offered his own meat to the hawk. The pigeon was thus rescued by the king's sacrifice.
Fire ordeal
  • Agniparikshā has Agni as the eyewitness. To prove her virtue, Sita was compelled to go through this trial. Agni liberated the original Sita from the condemnation and wrath of her community and her husband.



Rituals

  • All Vedic rituals include Agni. Agni appears in several stages of life like at death (cremation), at marriages (the yajna where the groom and bride circle the fire seven times) and at honouring of a birth (diva lamp).
Agnihotra yajna - sacrificial fire
  • The "sacrificial fire" is called the Agnihotra which is considered to free the yajmāna from death and evil. Prajapati had to produce milk as food for the Agni and carry out the very first act of Agnihotra to evade death and continue his own existence.
Vedic times
  • Once the Agnihotris kept a continuous fire in their homes. This customary ceremony was performed on auspicious and important occasions. In lots of homes prayers are still offered to Agni.
  • The scholar of the Atharvaveda prays to the fire for mental contentment and strength, for good health and resolve, for a happy temperament, peace, and happiness. The sage also says that Agnihotra destroys opponents.
  • Shatapatha Brahmana informs us that Agnihotra must be performed by the performer who knows that he will achieve the victories and strength achieved by Agni who occupied the earth, the air and the sky, and the same text further informs us that the Agnihotra, no doubt, is the Sun.
Present-day fire ritual
  • Hindus believe that it is the duty of a man to perform Agnihotra. The key offering is milk and at the conclusion, the sacrificer offers 4 water oblations, to the gods, to Agni on earth, to father and the fathers of the 7 seers.
  • Agni as the deity is dealt with in a different way from Agni, the messenger who brings sacrifices to the gods. The sacrificial form of Agni is actually the Sun.