Agni – The Fire – Indian Mythology


Agni is the God of Fire. He is said to be the son of Dyaus (Heaven) or of Heaven and Earth [R.V.1.160]. Indra is said to be his twin brother. The later Puranas say that he is the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. The very first hymn of the Rig Veda is addressed to him. It invokes his blessings upon mankind, extolling his virtues as the divine priest, the lord of sacrifice. Next to Indra, he is the most important Deva. Around 200 hymns are addressed to him in the RigVeda.
He is closely identified with his form as the sacrificial fire. He is said to have many faces (flames of the fire), be of a tawny color (the color of flames), be butter-backed (butter is poured into the sacrificial fire), flame-haired and has a tawny beard. With a burning head, he faces all directions. With his tongue (flames), the Gods eat the oblations (Havis).
He is compared with various animals: he resembles a bull that bellows, and has horns that he sharpens; when born, he is often called a calf; he is kindled like a horse that brings the Gods. He is yoked to convey the sacrifice to them. He is a divine bird; he is the eagle of the sky; dwelling in the waters (as lightning among showers), he is like a goose; he is winged, and he takes possession of the wood as a bird perches on a tree.
Wood or ghee (clarified butter) is his food. Melted butter is his favorite beverage; and he is nourished three times a day. He is the mouth by which the Gods eat the sacrifice; and his flames are spoons with which he besprinkles the Gods, and he also consumes the offerings himself. He is also often invited to drink the Soma juice (either alone, or with other Gods).
His brightness is often referred to. He shines like the sun. His radiance is like that of the lightning in the rain-cloud. He shines even at night, and dispels the darkness with his beams. His path is black when he invades the forests and shaves the earth as a barber shaves a beard. His flames are like roaring waves, and his sound is like the thunder of heaven. His red smoke rises up to the sky, like the erector of a post he supports the heavens with his smoke. He is often referred to as ‘Smoke-bannered’ (dhuma-ketu).
He is said to possess a shining, golden, lightning car, drawn by two or more ruddy and tawny steeds. He is the charioteer of the sacrifice, and with his steeds he brings the Gods on his car.
There are many descriptions in the Rig Veda of his various births, forms and abodes. He is produced daily from the two kindling sticks (aranis), which are his parents. As soon as he is born, he devours his parents. Since great force is required to kindle him, he is called ‘son of strength’. Being produced every morning, he is forever young. No sacrificer is older than him, for he conducted the first sacrifice. Being created in the aerial waters, he is the embryo of the waters. Indeed as ‘son-of-waters’ (अपां नपाद्), he is a separate deity. He was born in the highest heaven, and was brought down from heaven by Matarisvan, the Indian Prometheus. The Sun [R.V.7.63] is also regarded as a form of Agni.
The universe being regarded as divided into the two divisions of heaven and earth, Agni is said to have two origins, and the epithet dvi-janman (having two births), is his exclusively. Since he is kindled in every dwelling, he is said to have many births. He is more closely associated with humans than any other deity. He is called the ‘Lord of the house’ and is called the ‘guest’ in human dwellings. He is the immortal who dwells among mortals. He is often called as a father, sometimes as a brother or a son of his worshipers. He is the messenger of the Gods and the bearer of sacrificial offerings.
He wisdom is legendary and he knows all the details of the sacrifice. He is called jata-vedas or one-who-knows-all-created-beings. He is a great benefactor of his worshipers. He is also the witness of oaths, especially of the marriage vow, and the Hindu marriage is said to take place with “Agni as the witness”.
Agni is central to the sacrifice and is called the priest. He is called the domestic priest (purohita), invoking priest (hotr), officiating priest (Adhvaryus) and playing priest (Brahmana). Just as Indra is chief among warriors, Agni is the chief of priests.

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