Agni (अग्निः)

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Agni (Samskrit: अग्निः) means Fire, Lighting, Purifier. Agni (the Fire deity) occupies a key place in Vedic mantras. Fire was one of the main elements that brought about a change in the way human civilizations evolved and plays an important role in the evolution of man and this fact is explicit in the Vedas as Agni was significantly praised for his prowess.

Agni devta appears from a yajna Courtesy: Book "Sarwang" Published by Adivasi Lok Kala Evam Boli Vikas Academy, Madhya Pradesh Sanskriti Parishad

Contents

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

A large number of mantras of the Rigveda are devoted to describing and praising Agni. Some of the attributes are summarized as follows[1]:

  • पञ्चभूतः ॥ Panchabhuta : Fire is one of the Panchabhutas or the five traditional elemental forces that make up the world of matter.
  • Bearer of Yajnika Offerings : The presiding deity of tejas (fire and heat), Agni is revered as the receiver of oblations and yajnas of men on behalf of the devatas.
  • First Rigveda Sukta : Fire has a very prominent place since the Vedic period and the Rigveda starts with the Agni sukta (अग्निसूक्तम् ie. Agnimeele purohitam...). Agni is second only to Indra in power and importance attributed to him in Vedic literature, with 218 out of 1,028 hymns of the Rigveda dedicated to him. With Varuna and Indra, he is one of the supreme gods in the Rigveda.
  • दिक्पालकः ॥ Dikpalaka : He is the one of the Ashtadikpalakas (अष्टदिक्पालाकाः) or the presiding deities of the eight directions as described in Devi bhagavata (Chap. 8). Among them, He is the Agneyadishadhipati (आग्नेयदिशाधिपतिः), the sovereign guardian of the Agneya direction or the south-east quarter.
  • स्वरूपम् ॥ Swaroopa (Nature) : Agni manifests as follows in nature

सूर्यः द्युस्थानः । वायुः वा इन्द्रः वा अन्तरिक्षस्थानः । अग्निः पृथिवीस्थानः ।(Nirukta 7.5)[2]

sūryaḥ dyusthānaḥ । vāyuḥ vā indraḥ vā antarikṣasthānaḥ । agniḥ pṛthivīsthānaḥ ।(Nirukta 7.5)

Meaning: Self illumine bodies such as Surya in the Antariksha (अन्तरीक्षम् | heavenly Cosmic regions), Lightning in the Akasha (आकाशः । Sky) ie. Vayu (वायुः) and Indra (इन्द्रः) representing wind and lightning, Fire (Flame or Agni) on the Prithivi (पृथिवी । Earth). Badavagni or Vadavagni (बडवाग्निः) in water (underground volcanic structures) as given in Shabdakalpadruma,

बडवायाः समुद्रस्थितायाः घोटक्या मुखस्थोऽग्निः । समुद्रस्थाग्निः ।[3]

baḍavāyāḥ samudrasthitāyāḥ ghoṭakyā mukhastho'gniḥ । samudrasthāgniḥ ।

जठराग्निः ॥ Jataragni (hunger) in all mortal beings as fire that cooks food in the stomach as given in Vachaspatya,

जठरस्थितोऽग्निः । कौक्षेये अन्नादिपाचके वह्नौ “अन्नरसोजठराग्निना पच्यमानोरक्ततां प्रतिपद्यते”।[4]

jaṭharasthito'gniḥ । kaukṣeye annādipācake vahnau "annarasojaṭharāgninā pacyamānoraktatāṃ pratipadyate"।

Thus, as an element that lights up and consumes everything, he plays a very significant role in सृष्टिः ॥ Srishti.

  • देवतास्वरूपम् ॥ Devataswaroopa : He is prominent as the twin brother of Indra, the husband of Svaha (स्वाहा) and Svadha (स्वधा), and the father of Dakshina (दक्षिणम्), Garhapatya (गार्हपत्यम्) and Ahavaniya (आहवनीयम्).
  • ज्ञानतत्त्वम् ॥ Jnana Tattva : He is also known as the devata for Jnana (ज्ञानम् | Knowledge). Knowledge or nature of every object is known only in the presence of Light or Deepa. But Fire is, by nature, self illuminating and does not need another lamp to reveal its nature.

व्युत्पत्तिः || Etymology

  • Amarakosha defines the following about Agni in Svargavarga (Prathama Kanda Slokas 53 - 57, Page No 12 of Reference 5)[5]

अग्निर्वैश्वानरो वह्निर्वीतिहोत्रो धनंजयः । कृपीटयोनिर्ज्वलनो जातवेदास्तनूनपात् ॥ (Amara 1. स्वर्ग. 53)

बर्हिः शुष्मा कृष्णवर्त्मा शोचिष्केश उषर्बुधः । आशयाशो बृह्दभानुः कृशानुः पावकोनलः ॥ (Amara 1. स्वर्ग. 54)

रोहिताश्वो वायुसखः शिखावानाशुशुक्षणिः । हिरण्यरेता हुतभुग्दहनो हव्यवाहनः ॥ (Amara 1. स्वर्ग. 55)

सप्तार्चिर्दमुनाः शुक्रश्चित्रभानुर्विभावसुः । शुचिरप्पित्तमौर्वस्तु वाडवो वडवानलः ॥ (Amara 1. स्वर्ग. 56)

वह्नेर्द्वयोर्ज्वालकिलावर्चिर्हेतिः शिखा स्त्रियाम् । त्रिषु स्फुलिङ्गोग्निकणः संतापः संज्वरः समौ || (Amara 1. स्वर्ग. 57)

agnirvaiśvānaro vahnirvītihotro dhanaṃjayaḥ । kṛpīṭayonirjvalano jātavedāstanūnapāt ॥ (Amara 1. svarga. 53)

barhiḥ śuṣmā kṛṣṇavartmā śociṣkeśa uṣarbudhaḥ । āśayāśo bṛhdabhānuḥ kṛśānuḥ pāvakonalaḥ ॥ (Amara 1. svarga. 54)

rohitāśvo vāyusakhaḥ śikhāvānāśuśukṣaṇiḥ । hiraṇyaretā hutabhugdahano havyavāhanaḥ ॥ (Amara 1. svarga. 55)

saptārcirdamunāḥ śukraścitrabhānurvibhāvasuḥ । śucirappittamaurvastu vāḍavo vaḍavānalaḥ ॥ (Amara 1. svarga. 56)

vahnerdvayorjvālakilāvarcirhetiḥ śikhā striyām । triṣu sphuliṅgognikaṇaḥ saṃtāpaḥ saṃjvaraḥ samau || (Amara 1. svarga. 57)

Different names of Agni include Agni, Vaishvanara (वैश्वानरः), Krushanu (कृशानुः), Jataveda (जातवेदः), Barhihi (बर्हिः), Pavaka (पावकः), Anala (अनलः), Vayusakha (वायुसखा), Hiranyareta (हिरण्यरेता), Havyavahana (हव्यवाहनः), Jwala (ज्वालः), Chitrabhanu (चित्रभानुः), Vadavanala (वडवानलः) and other names.

  • According to Shabdakalpadruma,

अङ्गयन्ति अग्य्रं जन्म प्रापयन्ति इतिव्युत्पत्त्या... अङ्गति ऊर्द्ध्वं गच्छति इति . अगि गतौ ॥

aṅgayanti agyraṃ janma prāpayanti itivyutpattyā... aṅgati ūrddhvaṃ gacchati iti . agi gatau ॥

Meaning : Agni is that which goes upward, and who was "first born" derived from the dhatu (धातुः) - अग् ॥ ag used in the meaning कुटिलायां गतौ || kuṭilāyāṃ gatau (as in Panini's Dhatupatha | धातुपाठः ) meaning that which moves crookedly.

  • Yaskacharya (यास्काचार्यः) explains in Nirukta (7.14) अग्रणीः भवति । अग्रम् अथ अतः अनुक्रमिष्यामः ॥ agraṇīḥ bhavati । agram atha ataḥ anukramiṣyāmaḥ [2] - Agni is so called because he is Agrani (अग्रणी) (the foremost leader), whom one follows.
  • According to Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana (काण्वशतपथब्राह्मणम्)(1.2.4.2)[6]

स वा एषोऽग्रे देवतानामजायता तस्मादग्रिर्नामाग्रिर्ह वै नामैतद्यदग्निरित्याहुः स उ जातः पूर्वः प्रयाय तद्वैवास्य द्वितीयमग्रित्वं पूर्वं्हि यन्तमाहुरग्र एतीति ॥ (Kanv. Shat. Brah. 1.2.4.2)

sa vā eṣo'gre devatānāmajāyatā tasmādagrirnāmāgrirha vai nāmaitadyadagnirityāhuḥ sa u jātaḥ pūrvaḥ prayāya tadvaivāsya dvitīyamagritvaṃ pūrvaṃhi yantamāhuragra etīti ॥ (Kanv. Shat. Brah. 1.2.4.2)

Meaning : This ( Agni) was born before the devatas. Therefore, he is known as Agri (अग्री). It is indeed Agri which they say as 'Agni'. Being born, he went ahead of others. That is indeed his second 'aheadness/firstness'. They say (of) one who goes first (before others) 'he goes ahead'.

  • Agni is the god of fire and yajna, of divine knowledge, and is also associated with water. Agni, identified with energy and action, is the first emanation and the sacred spark hidden within all beings. Agni has three forms: 'fire', 'lightning' and 'the Sun'. Agni is the drying agent which neither wets nor moistens anything.

अग्निः यज्ञाः च ॥ Agni and Yajnas

Agni Upasana (उपासना), commences with Samidadhanam (समिदाधानम्) in Brahmacharyashrama, grows into Aupasana (औपासनम्), Vaisvadeva (वैश्वदेवम्), Nityagnihotra (नित्याग्निहोत्रम्) and many Shrauta and Smarta (स्मार्त) karmas in Grhasthashrama.

Kindling of fire in a kunda (altar or yajnavedi | यज्ञवेदी) is the most important usage aspect of Agni, since ancient times. Kanva Shatapatabrahmana outlines the process of Agnyadhana (अग्न्याधानम् | installation of the fire) and setting up the two Agnis (Smarta and Shrauta agnis) by grhastha for the purpose of yajnas. A unique feature about Agni is that it is classified and called by different names based on its purpose in yajnas (Shrauta | श्रौतः and smarta । स्मार्तः ), the ahutis (आहुति-s । oblations) offered and its use in laukika kriyas (cooking).

एकाग्निः ॥ Ekagni (One Fire)

Grhyagni (गृह्याग्निः) is also called aupasanagni (औपासनाग्निः) since the daily rite of Aupasana (औपासनम्) is performed in it by the grhastha. It is the fire contained in one "kunda" and so it is called "ekagni ". Rites conducted in the family are included in the chapter called "Ekagni-kanda (एकाग्निकाण्डम्)" in the Apastamba-sutra [7]. Agni acts as the intermediary between man and devatas as the divine yajnika priest.

In Rigveda, the first sukta, where Agni is praised for his presence, he brings in all other deities to bless the yajnakarta (यज्ञकर्ता | performer of the vedic ritual) with abundance, wealth and fulfill the desires when pleased. Grhyagni (गृह्याग्निः) or Aupasana Agni (औपासनाग्निः)and Shrautagni (श्रौताग्निः) are thus maintained by the grhasthas, and offerings (ghee, rice, purnahuti | पूर्णाहुतिः etc) are made to Agnideva to fulfill the worldly desires. The Taittiriya samhita (तैत्तिरीयसंहिता) outlines the different activities of a householder as the one who tends the Grhyagni for the welfare of nature, animals and plants and fellow human beings.

त्रेताग्निः ॥ Tretagni (Three Fires)

Agni is carried at the fore front in all ritualistic undertakings (यज्ञाः । yajnas) given in the Shrauta sutras. Some Shrauta yagas require three fires called as Tretagni (त्रेताग्निः) which are invoked through procedures with chanting of mantras. Example: Somayaga

Agni is ascribed 3 names and placed in three sides of a yajnavedi (यज्ञवेदी)–

  1. गार्हपत्यः ॥ Garhapatya ( Agni maintained by ahitagnis | आहिताग्नि-s on a daily basis). It is placed to the west of the yajnavedi. 
  2. आहवनीयः॥ Ahavaniya ( Agni used for yagas where particular offerings are made to deities). It is derived from the Garhapatya agni and placed east of the yajnavedi.
  3. दक्षिणाग्निः ॥ Dakshinagni ( Agni used to give offerings to pitrs | पितृ-s ). It is also derived from the Garhapatya Agni and placed south of the yajnavedi.

पञ्चाग्निः ॥ Panchagni (Five Fires)

Panchagni (पञ्चाग्निः) means 5 Agnis or fires[1]. In vedic and puranic literature, Panchagni has been mentioned as a methodology adopted for performing severe penance. There are many instances of tapas (penance) for thousands of years, performed by different celestial beings including Kubera, Parvati and asuras such as Mahishasura and Tarakasura, by standing or sitting in the midst of a set of five fires called Panchagni.

According to Puranic Encyclopaedia, Rohini (रोहिणी) - a daughter, Soma - a son and Agni, were born to Nisha , the third wife of Manu. Besides them, they begot five sons in the form of Agni (fire) and these five are called Panchagnis. They are Vaishvanara (वैश्वानरः), Vishvapati (विश्वपतिः), Sannihita (सन्निहितः) , Kapila (कपिलः) and Agrani (अग्रणी). Such a penance that is performed amidst the five Agnis is said to be very austere and is performed with an intention to please Brahma or the others, Vishnu and Shiva for obtaining material boons.

षडग्निः ॥ Shad Agni (Six Fires)

According to Shabdakalpadruma, names of six fires (षड् अग्नि-s) into which havis is offered, are Garhapatya, Ahavaniya, Dakshinagni, Sabhya, Avasathya, Aupasana Agnis.

हविः प्रक्षेपाधिकरणेषु गार्हपत्याहवनीयदक्षिणाग्निसभ्यावसथ्यौपासनाख्येषु षड्ग्निषु ।[8]

haviḥ prakṣepādhikaraṇeṣu gārhapatyāhavanīyadakṣiṇāgnisabhyāvasathyaupāsanākhyeṣu ṣaḍgniṣu ।

अग्निदेवतास्वरुपम् ॥ Agnidevata Svaroopa

Birth and Family

There are different versions in different texts about the birth of Agni.

  • Agni descended from Vishnu in the following order according to Puranic Encyclopedia[1] (based on Bhagavata and Mahabharata) : Vishnu - Brahma - Angiras - Brhaspati - Agni.
  • Agni is described as the son of Vayu as per Rigveda Sukta (1.16.112). Fire is made by the attrition of two sticks (some scholars believe these to be from Shami trees) named as Arani (अरणिः), and sages get the strength to produce fire from it through the Vyana vayu (व्यानवायुः) (one of the panchavayus | पञ्चवायु-s ), hence Agni is the son of Vayu.[1]
  • Rigveda Sukta (1.95.1 to 11) describes the birth of Agni from the ten daughters of Tvashta (त्वष्टा) according to Ralph Griffith's translation.[9] However, according to Pt. Satavalekar, ten ladies (दशयुवतयः) in the meaning of 'ten fingers' त्वष्टुः गर्भे जनयन्ति ॥ tvaṣṭuḥ garbhe janayanti - give rise to Agni from aranis (अरणि-s) (sticks).(Page 244 of Reference [10]). According to Acharya Dharmadev Vidya Martanda, another version is described as follows[11]:

"Men should know the 'ten directions' which like un-wearied industrious young women bring forth from electricity or wind त्वष्टुः || tvaṣṭuḥ, thus germ the origin of dealings गर्भे जनयन्ति || garbhe janayanti"

दशेमं त्वष्टुर्जनयन्त गर्भमतन्द्रासो युवतयो विभृत्रम् (Rig. Veda.1.95.2)[12]

daśemaṃ tvaṣṭurjanayanta garbhamatandrāso yuvatayo vibhṛtram (Rig. Veda.1.95.2)

  • Agni was born from Prajapati as per Madhyandina Shatapatha Brahmana (2.2.4.1)

प्रजापतिर्ह वा इदमग्र एक एवास । स ऐक्षत कथं नु प्रजायेयेति सोऽश्राम्यत्स तपोऽतप्यत सोऽग्निमेव मुखाज्जनयांचक्रे तद्यदेनं मुखादजनयत तस्मादन्नादोऽग्निः ... - २.२.४.[१] (Shat. Brah. 2.2.4.1)[13]

prajāpatirha vā idamagra eka evāsa । sa aikṣata kathaṃ nu prajāyeyeti so'śrāmyatsa tapo'tapyata so'gnimeva mukhājjanayāṃcakre tadyadenaṃ mukhādajanayata tasmādannādo'gniḥ ... - 2.2.4.[1] (Shat. Brah. 2.2.4.1)

Meaning : In the beginning Prajapati only existed. He thought 'How may I be reproduced?' He toiled and undertook penance and generated (gave birth to) Agni from his mouth. And because he was so generated he became the consumer of food.

Same concept has been presented even in the Kanva Shatapatha Brahmana (1.2.4.1).[6]

  • मुण्डकोपनिषद् ॥ Mundakopanishad describes the origin of Srshti (सृष्टिः) and the Panchabhutas. Thus, from the Paramapurusha arises Agni as one of the five elements.

    अग्निमूर्धा चक्षुषी चन्द्रसूर्यौ दिश: श्रोत्रे वाग्विवृताश्च वेदा: | वायु: प्राणो हृदयं विश्वमस्य पद्भयां पृथिवी ह्येष सर्वभूतान्तरात्मा || (Mund. Upan. 2.1.4).[14]

    agnimūrdhā cakṣuṣī candrasūryau diśa: śrotre vāgvivṛtāśca vedā: | vāyu: prāṇo hṛdayaṃ viśvamasya padbhayāṃ pṛthivī hyeṣa sarvabhūtāntarātmā || (Mund. Upan. 2.1.4).

Meaning : Agni (Fire) is forehead of the Paramapurusha while Surya and Chandra are the eyes. Vayu is the breath.

  • Agni was born to Pururavas (पुरूरवस्) as a son named Jataveda (जातवेदा) according to Shrimad Bhagavata (Navama Skanda, Adhyaya 14)[15].

स्थालीस्थानं गतोऽश्वत्थं शमीगर्भं विलक्ष्य सः ।  तेन द्वे अरणी कृत्वा उर्वशीलोककाम्यया ॥ ४४ ॥

sthālīsthānaṃ gato'śvatthaṃ śamīgarbhaṃ vilakṣya saḥ ।  tena dve araṇī kṛtvā urvaśīlokakāmyayā ॥ 44 ॥

Meaning : Returning to the spot (in the forest) where the fire pot was kept (by him), he notices an ashvattha (Peepul) tree grown out of the 'womb' of the Shami tree. With a desire to attain the region of Urvashi (उर्वशी), he made two aranis (अरणि-s | churning sticks) out of them (with a view to kindle fire by friction).

उर्वशीं मन्त्रतो ध्यायन् अधरारणिमुत्तराम् । आत्मानं उभयोर्मध्ये यत्तत् प्रजननं प्रभुः ॥ ४५ ॥

urvaśīṃ mantrato dhyāyan adharāraṇimuttarām । ātmānaṃ ubhayormadhye yattat prajananaṃ prabhuḥ ॥ 45 ॥

Meaning : Reciting the mantra, the king contemplated the lower Arani as उर्वशी ॥ Urvasi and upper Arani to be himself and the intermediate piece between them as their issue (son) (the king churned out the fire while saying the mantra prescribed for such frictional fire).

तस्य निर्मन्थनात् जातो जातवेदा विभावसुः । त्रय्या स विद्यया राज्ञा पुत्रत्वे कल्पितस्त्रिवृत् ॥ ४६ ॥

tasya nirmanthanāt jāto jātavedā vibhāvasuḥ । trayyā sa vidyayā rājñā putratve kalpitastrivṛt ॥ 46 ॥

Meaning : By that friction of churning was kindled a fire (flame) which is called Jataveda (जातवेदा) (that from which wealth and every enjoyable object is produced). It was consecrated by the method prescribed in the three vedas. It assumed three forms - Ahavaniya (आहवनीयः), Garhapatya (गार्हपत्यः) and Dakshinagni (दक्षिणाग्निः). As it, with its three forms, leads to the celestial regions, it was adopted as his son by the King Pururavas (पुरूरवस्).[16]

  • Mahabharata Anushasana parva (अनुशासनपर्व) (Adhyaya 85) mentions the association of the Shami tree and Agni devata. It is said that the heart (core) of the Shami tree branches have fire in them. Rishis use this tree branches to generate fire. After the curse of Bhrugu maharshi, Agni hides himself in different places and ultimately devas find him in the Shami tree. Hence, this tree is sacred and since this finding out of Agni after a long absence is like a rebirth, the Puranas mention it as being born from Shami Tree.[17]

इत्युक्त्वा निःसृतोऽश्वत्थादग्निर्वारणसूचितः। प्रविवेश शमीगर्भमथ वह्निः सुषुप्सया॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13-85-36)

ityuktvā niḥsṛto'śvatthādagnirvāraṇasūcitaḥ। praviveśa śamīgarbhamatha vahniḥ suṣupsayā॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13-85-36)

  • Agni has two consorts, Svaha and Svadha . Shabdakalpadhruma mentions that Agni through Svahadevi (स्वाहादेवी) (invocation offering) fathered three sons पुत्त्रास्त्रयः पावकः १ पवमानः २ शुचिः ३[18] - Pavaka, Pavamana and Shuchi, who in their turn had forty-five children. Thus, Agni, his three sons, and fortyfive grandsons, together constitute the fortynine Fires mentioned in the Puranas. Mahabharata Sabha parva (Adhyaya. 31[19]) contains the legend about Sudarshana (सुदर्शना), the daughter of King Neela (नीलः) of Mahishmatipura (महिष्मतिपुरम्), who became the wife of Agnideva.
  • According to Agni Purana, Shuchi born of Svahadevi is the Badavagni, Badabagni or Vadavagni (बडवाग्निः), the Agni that resides in the underground parts of the earth (Agni. Pura. 20.16)[20].

पावकः Pavaka

Offended by Agni, Bhrigu had cursed Agni to become the devourer of all things on this earth, but Brahma modified that curse and made Agni the purifier of all things he touched. Puranic Encyclopedia cites the Rigveda (1.52) mantras describing Agni as the purifier. Devatas wanted to clean their hands off the oblation materials and for this purpose Agni created three sons from water named Ekata (एकतः), Dvita (द्वितः), and Trita (त्रितः)[1].

दाहकः Dahaka

Agni is feared as the deity for destruction. In Mahabharata (Adi Parva. Khandavadaha (खाण्डवदाहपर्व) parva Chap. 221 to 226)[21], there is a legend about Agni. Agni who suffers from stomach ailments (due to the Yajnas of Shvetaki King) was advised to consume the Khandava forest which contains the medicinal herbs that can treat his condition. In the process, Indra protects Takshaka who resides in the same forest, thus preventing Agni from consuming the medicinal plants. In this parva, Krishna and Arjuna, are requested by Agni (who is in the guise of a ब्राह्मणः | Brahmana) to quench his hunger. Realizing his true form, they agree to prevent his obstacles (Indra from sending heavy rain) in consuming the forest.

Pleased with their offer of help, Agni gave Arjuna an arrow case which would never be empty, a chariot bearing Hanuman on the flag and four white horses and the famous Gandiva (गाण्डीवः) bow. To Krishna he gave the Chakrayudha (चक्रायुधः | discus). With the help of these military equipment,Krishna and Arjuna created a canopy of arrow against the downpour created by Indra and thus, Agni burned incessantly for fifteen days, and was cured of his stomach ailments.

हव्यवाहनः ॥ Havyavahana

Agni is the very personification of the yajnika fire. He is associated with Vedic yajna, taking offerings of men to the other world in his fire. He is the priest of the gods, and the god of the priests. Through yajna he carries the oblations to the gods, to ensure the continuance of conditions favorable to mankind. No devata is approachable without the medium of Agni, and no divinity is without the presence of Agni.

अग्निर्होता ॥ Agnirhota

In the Vedic literature, Agni occupies, after Indra, the most important position. He occupies a prominent place in the Vedas (both as a deity and as a mantra drashta | मन्त्रद्रष्टा ) and particularly the Brahmanas. Agni also has the role of a mantra drashta as to him are revealed many mantras of the 9th Mandala of Rigveda. The first mantra of the Rigveda (1.1.1) starts with the word Agni of the Agni sukta and and thereafter many mantras and suktas are given lauding his role in the existence of life forms. Rigveda mantras (1.26.1 to 10) extol the role of Agni as the Varenya (वरेण्य: | distinguished or chief ), Purvya hota (पूर्व्यहोता), Sanatana Yajnakarta (सनातन-यज्ञकर्ता)[10].

Rigveda details the two forms of Agni - Jataveda and Kravyada [22]

क्रव्यादमग्निं प्र हिणोमि दूरं यमराज्ञो गच्छतु रिप्रवाहः । इहैवायमितरो जातवेदा देवेभ्यो हव्यं वहतु प्रजानन् ॥९॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.16.9)[23]

kravyādamagniṃ pra hiṇomi dūraṃ yamarājño gacchatu ripravāhaḥ । ihaivāyamitaro jātavedā devebhyo havyaṃ vahatu prajānan ॥9॥ (Rig. Veda. 10.16.9)

Summary : Keep us far away from Kravyada Agni (क्रव्याद-अग्निः | the Agni that consumes flesh), may he leave for the people of Yamaloka, while Jataveda (जातवेदा | Agni) may carry the offerings to devatas.

जातवेदाः ॥ Jataveda

जातवेदाः कस्मात् । जातवित् यः वा जातप्रज्ञानः । जातानि वेद । तस्य एषा भवति । जाते जाते विद्यते इति वा । जातधनः ।(Nirukta 7.19)[2]

jātavedāḥ kasmāt । jātavit yaḥ vā jātaprajñānaḥ । jātāni veda । tasya eṣā bhavati । jāte jāte vidyate iti vā । jātadhanaḥ ।(Nirukta 7.19)

Meaning : Jatavedas (क्रव्याद-अग्निः) is used as in - one who knows all creatures by birth, one who is Knowledgeable (knows Vedas) by birth.

जातवेदसे सुनवाम सोममरातीयतो निदहाति वेदः । स नः पर्षदति दुर्गाणि विश्वा नावेव सिन्धुं दुरितात्यग्निः ॥१॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.99.1)[24]

jātavedase sunavāma somamarātīyato nidahāti vedaḥ । sa naḥ parṣadati durgāṇi viśvā nāveva sindhuṃ duritātyagniḥ ॥1॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.99.1)

In this famous Durga Sukta, containing Rigveda mantras (also seen in Taittriya Upanishad | तैत्तिरीय-उपनिषद्), Agni is praised as the protector who knows all creatures by birth, to whom Soma is offered and who burns all the impediments that arise in life.

क्रव्यादः ॥ Kravyada

Kravyada (क्रव्यादः) is the form of Agni which consumes corpses, the fire of the funeral pyre; the fire that burns the corpses can consume everything (Rig. Veda. 10.16.9)[22][23]. In this form, after one’s death and at the time of cremation, Agni heats up and burns the body (Shat. Brah. 2.2.4.8).[13]

Cremation is the fastest way to unite the body's panchabhutas (five elements) back into them. Agni thus, releases the Jeevatma from the body, and the soul then starts its ascent to the higher realms based on its Karma.

ज्ञानप्रदायकः ॥ Jnanapradayaka

In Ishavasyopanishad (ईशावास्योपनिषद्) mantras 17 and 18[25], Agni is worshiped as the torch bearer to the departing soul, leading it through the path of the devatas (देवयानः | Devayana) towards the Parabrahman. He is the witness to the deeds of all beings.

केनोपनिषद् ॥ Kenopanishad describes Agni as the Speech that runs the life processes of any being, eventually acclaimed for his knowledge of the Brahman.[26]

कठोपनिषद् ॥ Kathopanishad reveals the secrets of the fire that lead one on an enlightened path to the higher worlds or realms. This most divinely is explained in the famous Yama Nachiketa dialogue in कठोपनिषद् ॥ kathopanishad[27].

छान्दोग्य-उपनिषद् ॥ Chandogya Upanishad [28], in a more sakarmaka marg (सकर्मक-मार्गः), throws light on how a normal householder can enter the Brahmajnana marga (ब्रह्मज्ञानमार्गः) through the tending of Agnihotra (अग्निहोत्रम्) as given in Upakosala's and Satyakama Jabali's conversation (Adhyaya 5). The essence of brahmavidya symbolized by Panchagnividya for the householder is given in this Upanishad in the form of the dialogue between Uddalaka (उद्दालकः) and Shvetaketu (श्वेतकेतुः).

मुण्डकोपनिषद् ॥ Mundakopanishad, explains how a person progresses through the different ashramas in life and the rules and consequences of not tending to the Agnihotra by a grhastha (Mund. Upan. 1.2.2 to 1.2.4)[14].

अग्निः पुराणानि च ॥ Agni and Puranas

Agni Purana

Agni has a purana ascribed to him, named as Agni Purana[29] (one of the ten main Puranas), and is said to have been related to Brahmarshi Vasishta by Agni himself. In here, Agni gives the essence of Brahmavidya apart from the details of the ten avataras (अवताराः | incarnations) of Vishnu. This purana is a sacred text containing the expositions on the following matters in brief

  • religious rituals such as conducting vratas or sacred vows, pilgrimages and consequences of attaining hell when these dharmas are not adhered to.
  • different Manus in each Manvantara (Era of Manu)
  • the different varnashrama (वर्णाश्रमधर्माः) dharmas and raja dharmas
  • astrology and time aspects
  • various aspects about construction of temples
  • wars between devas and asuras
  • list of all other Mahapuranas and their length in terms of shlokas
  • literature and grammar. Agni Purana is the oldest text to talk about the characteristics of a Kavya or poetic text.
  • the origin or Srshti (सृष्टिः) and pralaya (प्रलयः | destruction)
  • yoga shastra and brahmavidya

शिवपुराणम् ॥ Shiva Purana

पुरा कल्पे महाकाले प्रपन्ने लोकविश्रुते आयुध्येतां महात्मानौ ब्रह्मविष्णू परस्परम् २७ (Shiv. Pura. 5.27)

तयोर्मानं निराकर्तुं तन्मध्ये परमेश्वरः निष्कलस्तंभरूपेण स्वरूपं समदर्शयत् २८ (Shiv. Pura. 5.28)

ततः स्वलिंगचिह्नत्वात्स्तंभतो निष्कलं शिवः स्वलिंगं दर्शयामास जगतां हितकाम्यया २९ (Shiv. Pura. 5.29)[30]

purā kalpe mahākāle prapanne lokaviśrute āyudhyetāṃ mahātmānau brahmaviṣṇū parasparam 27 (Shiv. Pura. 5.27)

tayormānaṃ nirākartuṃ tanmadhye parameśvaraḥ niṣkalastaṃbharūpeṇa svarūpaṃ samadarśayat 28 (Shiv. Pura. 5.28)

tataḥ svaliṃgacihnatvātstaṃbhato niṣkalaṃ śivaḥ svaliṃgaṃ darśayāmāsa jagatāṃ hitakāmyayā 29 (Shiv. Pura. 5.29)

The Shiva Purana contains the legend about Shiva appearing in the form of a pillar of fire (स्तम्भः | stambha) burning infinitely without a beginning or end, between Brahma and Vishnu. This form is believed to be the Sadashiva, the five-headed Shiva, who asks Brahma and Vishnu to find the beginning and end of this Anilastambha (अनिलस्तम्भः). The Shiva-linga represents that pillar of fire which is Agni. Brahma and Vishnu were very surprised to see the pillar of fire, which was so enormous in size that it reached the sky and penetrated down the earth. Vishnu transformed himself into a boar and went to 'Patal' (पातालः | nether  world) to find the base of that 'Pillar of fire'. But he was unsuccessful in his attempt and came back. Brahma then sought the help of Ketaki flower to give a false witness before lord Vishnu, that he (Brahma) had been successful in seeing the limit of that pillar of fire. Ketaki flower agreed. Both of  them  went  to  Vishnu  and  Brahma  told  him  that  he  had  seen  the  limit  of  that  Pillar  of  fire. Ketaki flower gave a witness. Vishnu accepted the superiority of Brahma.

Knowing that Brahma lied, in order to punish him Shiva severed the fifth head of Brahma and cursed him that he will not be worshiped by anyone and Ketaki flower will not be used for puja of Shiva.

रामायणमहभारतयोः Agni In Ramayana and Mahabharata

कार्तिकेयः ॥ Kartikeya

Different versions of birth of Kumaraswamy who is the chief of the devaganas (देवगणाः) and plays a key role in the war between devatas and Tarakasura (तारकासुरः), have been described in Mahabharata and Ramayana as follows.

वह्निगर्भः ॥ Vahnigarbha

Valmiki Ramayana (Balakanda Sarga 36 and 37[31]) details the birth of Kartikeya

यत्र जातो महातेजाः कार्तिकेयो अग्नि संभवः |

yatra jāto mahātejāḥ kārtikeyo agni saṃbhavaḥ |

Although we see a few versions of this event, generally it is said that the devatas request Bhudevi to receive Shiva’s energy (formed due to divine association with Parvati for 300 divyayugas). Once received, part of it becomes the element gold and the rest of it, unable to be borne by her, is transferred to Agni upon the request of the devatas. Agni requests Gangadevi to accept Shiva's effulgence, who then bears a six-headed child and she unable to contain the tejas any longer slips Him in the Sharavana (शरवण) reeds in a forest near the river. Hence, Shiva's son is also called Vahnigarbha (वह्निगर्भः) as he is born through Agni, Gangeya (गाङ्गेयः) as he is born through Gangadevi and Sharavana (शरवणः) as he is born in Sharavana reeds. Thereafter, the six stars of Krttika (कृत्तिका), feed and raise the six-headed boy. Hence, he is called as Kartikeya (कार्तिकेयः) in honor of the six mothers who cared for him.

Parvati angry at being denied motherhood curses that the Devas’ wives would be infertile and never enjoy parental happiness henceforth. She, angered by Prthvi for being a part of this matter, also curses her to be uneven and 'one with many husbands' (Earth having many landscapes is ruled by many kings; King is called as Bhupati | भूपतिः). She curses Agni that he would be an all-consumer, without distinction between pure and impure things and and everything that touches him would turn into ash (bhasma).

स्कन्दोत्पत्तिः ॥ Skanda Utpatti

In Mahabharata, Vana Parva, the legend of Skanda, is described with Indra approaching the Brahmadeva, for advise regarding the marriage of his daughter Devasena (देवसेना). In this context, it is described that Svahadevi (स्वाहादेवी), the daughter of Daksha Prajapati (दक्षप्रजापतिः) takes the form of 6 wives of Saptarshis (सप्तऋषि-s) to please Agni.

Once during the istikas (इष्टिक-s) performed by the maharshis, Agni gets infatuated with the wives of the Saptarshis who came to take part in the istikas. Agni after delivering the havishya (हविष्यम्), notices the beautiful wives of the Saptarshis and desires them. Knowing that his Kama (कामः । desire) for them is inappropriate thus, unable to fulfill his wish he goes to the forest dejected. Svahadevi, daughter of Daksha, who chose Agni as her husband, assumes the forms of the wives of Saptarshi's and approaches him first in the form of the wife of Angirasa called Shiva (शिवा). Later, she pleases him assuming the forms of 6 wives of the 6 Saptarshis except Arundhati, the wife of Vasishta rishi.

Svahadevi, places Agni's energy so fallen 6 times, in a pot, which takes the form of lustrous boy with 6 heads and pairs of hands. This valorous son of Agni was called Skanda by maharshi Viswamitra. Saptarishis except Vasishta hearing this news forsake their wives assuming infidelity on their part. However, later on learning the truth, they take their wives back (Maha. Vana parv Adhy. 223 - 227)[32]. Skanda, as the leader of the army of devatas was instrumental in the death of Tarakasura. Indra then offers his daughter, Devasena, to Skanda.

In the Anushasana Parva (Adhyayas 84 to 86)[17], the legend of Kartikeya is touched upon again (continued as given in Ramayana). When the effulgence of Shiva slipped and Parvati became angry as she was denied the privilege of bearing Shiva's son, she cursed the Devatas that henceforth they will not bear children. When devatas approach Brahma, he instructs them to search for Agni, who was absent and hence was excluded from the curse of Parvati. Devatas go in search of him and finally find him hiding in the Shami tree. They request him to transfer his tejas along with the effulgence of Shiva to Ganga. Gangadevi bears the tejas until a certain time and then unable to bear it leaves it in the reeds. That tejas partly becomes gold and partly into a boy who is called as Gangeya (गाङ्गेयः). Since Agni was also an instrument in the creation of gold - he is called hiranyaretas (हिरण्यरेतस्) and earth which bore the gold (वसुः । vasu) was known as Vasumati.

अग्निप्रवेशः ॥ Agnipravesha

Valmiki Ramayana (Yuddhakanda Sarga 118[33]) describes the Agnipareeksha or 'Fire ordeal' undergone by Sitadevi after death of Ravanasura (रावणासुरः). Bhagavan Sri Rama, informs Sita that he has released her from her bondage from Ravanasura and that she is free to go to the place of her choice. Unable to bear the thought of going anywhere else other than being with her husband Rama, she choses to enter the fire. Agni proving Sita's chastity returns her back to Sri Rama. There are different versions to this event. However, the role of Agni is as a witness to all deeds and as a purifier has been significant throughout different eras.

शिबिचक्रवर्तिः ॥ Shibi Chakravarty

Shibi (उशीनरः । Ushenara) Chakravarthy, belonging to the Ikshvaku (इक्ष्वाकुः) dynasty, the ancestor of Bhagavan Sri Rama, was famous for his righteousness and charity. Indradeva who wanted to test his datrutva (दातृत्वम् । sense of charity), assumed the form of an eagle and Agnideva assumed the form of a dove who was a prey to the eagle. The dove takes sharanagati (शरणागतिः । refuge) in Shibi Charavarty, who then offered an equal weight of his own flesh to the eagle in exchange of dove's life. Assuming the dove to weigh a little, Shibi offered a portion of his flesh, but soon he had to offer himself as the food to the eagle. Shibi's sacrifice for the bird was highly praised and both Agni and Indra offered him a place in the heavens in return (Maha, Vana parv Adhyaya 131)[34].

 श्रीमद्भागवद्गीतायाम् Agni In Shrimad Bhagavadgita

In Shrimad Bhagavad Gita (Sloka 15.14) it is said:

अहं वैश्वानरो भूत्वा प्राणिनां देहमाश्रितः |

ahaṃ vaiśvānaro bhūtvā prāṇināṃ dehamāśritaḥ |

Sri Krishna says - Taking the form of Vaishvanara (वैश्वानरः) and residing in the bodies of creatures, I, in association with Prana (प्राणः) and Apana (अपानः), digest the four kinds of food.[35]  

आयुर्वेदस्य दृष्टिः ॥ Ayurvedic Perspective

Agni is an important vital entity in Ayurveda. Agni is the indispensable agent involved in the process of Paka (पाकः । Digestion and transformation).[36] Different Ayurvedic texts mention that Agni is Pitta (पित्तम्), one of the tridoshas (त्रिदोषाणि) of the human body, which are vata (वातः), pitta (पित्तम्) and kapha (कफः). Different texts mention different numbers of Agni present in the body, however according to the function and site of action there are 13 in number - 1 Jatharagni (जठराग्निः), 5 Bhutagnis (भूताग्नयः) and 7 Dhatvagnis (धात्वाग्नयः).  

Jataragni, the most important Agni, aids in digestion of four types of food and transforms it into Rasa (रसः) and Mala (मलः । waste and toxins) thus, converting the gross matter to subtle substance thereby providing energy for body's needs. 

Ayurveda also defines three types of Agni based on the digestion types and Doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) - Vishamagni (विषमाग्निः), Teekshnagni (तीक्ष्णाग्निः), Mandagni (मन्दाग्निः). Samagni (समाग्निः) is a state of balanced Agni of the body.

मन्त्राः अर्थः च ॥ Verses and Meanings

Rig veda mantras 1.26.1 to 10[37] praise Agni as the bearer of yajna havishya (यज्ञहविष्यम् । yajnika offerings) from मर्त्याः (humans) to अमर्त्याः (celestial beings).

आजीगर्तिः शुनःशेप स कृत्रिमो वैश्वामित्रो देवरातः। अग्निः,। गायत्री।

वसि॑ष्वा॒ हि मि॑येध्य॒ वस्त्रा॑ण्यूर्जां पते । सेमं नो॑ अध्व॒रं य॑ज ॥१

नि नो॒ होता॒ वरे॑ण्य॒: सदा॑ यविष्ठ॒ मन्म॑भिः । अग्ने॑ दि॒वित्म॑ता॒ वच॑: ॥२

आ हि ष्मा॑ सू॒नवे॑ पि॒तापिर्यज॑त्या॒पये॑ । सखा॒ सख्ये॒ वरे॑ण्यः ॥३

आ नो॑ ब॒र्ही रि॒शाद॑सो॒ वरु॑णो मि॒त्रो अ॑र्य॒मा । सीद॑न्तु॒ मनु॑षो यथा ॥४

पूर्व्य॑ होतर॒स्य नो॒ मन्द॑स्व स॒ख्यस्य॑ च । इ॒मा उ॒ षु श्रु॑धी॒ गिर॑: ॥५

यच्चि॒द्धि शश्व॑ता॒ तना॑ दे॒वंदे॑वं॒ यजा॑महे । त्वे इद्धू॑यते ह॒विः ॥ ६

प्रि॒यो नो॑ अस्तु वि॒श्पति॒र्होता॑ म॒न्द्रो वरे॑ण्यः । प्रि॒याः स्व॒ग्नयो॑ व॒यम् ॥७

स्व॒ग्नयो॒ हि वार्यं॑ दे॒वासो॑ दधि॒रे च॑ नः । स्व॒ग्नयो॑ मनामहे ॥८

अथा॑ न उ॒भये॑षा॒ममृ॑त॒ मर्त्या॑नाम् । मि॒थः स॑न्तु॒ प्रश॑स्तयः ॥९

विश्वे॑भिरग्ने अ॒ग्निभि॑रि॒मं य॒ज्ञमि॒दं वच॑: । चनो॑ धाः सहसो यहो ॥१०

Transliteration: ājīgartiḥ śunaḥśepa sa kṛtrimo vaiśvāmitro devarātaḥ। agniḥ,। gāyatrī।

vasiṣvā hi miyedhya vastrāṇyūrjāṃ pate । semaṃ no adhvaraṃ yaja ॥1॥

ni no hotā vareṇyaḥ sadā yaviṣṭha manmabhiḥ । agne divitmatā vacaḥ ॥2॥

ā hi ṣmā sūnave pitāpiryajatyāpaye । sakhā sakhye vareṇyaḥ ॥3॥

ā no barhī riśādaso varuṇo mitro aryamā । sīdantu manuṣo yathā ॥4॥

pūrvya hotarasya no mandasva sakhyasya ca । imā u ṣu śrudhī giraḥ ॥5॥

yacciddhi śaśvatā tanā devaṃdevaṃ yajāmahe । tve iddhūyate haviḥ ॥6॥

priyo no astu viśpatirhotā mandro vareṇyaḥ । priyāḥ svagnayo vayam ॥7॥

svagnayo hi vāryaṃ devāso dadhire ca naḥ । svagnayo manāmahe ॥8॥

athā na ubhayeṣāmamṛta martyānām । mithaḥ santu praśastayaḥ ॥9॥

viśvebhiragne agnibhirimaṃ yajñamidaṃ vacaḥ । cano dhāḥ sahaso yaho ॥10॥

Ishavasyopanishad Mantras (ईशावास्योपनिषद् मन्त्राः) 17 and 18[38] praise Agni as the witnessing divinity to all actions of individuals and guides the soul on path of immortality.

वा॒युरनि॑लम॒मृत॒मथे॒दं भस्मा॑न्त॒ शरी॑रम् । ॐ क्रतो॒ स्मर॑ कृ॒त स्म॑र॒ क्रतो॒ स्मर॑ कृ॒त स्म॑र ॥१७॥

vāyuranilamamṛtamathedaṃ bhasmāntaṃ śarīram । oṃ krato smara kṛtaṃ smara krato smara kṛtaṃ smara ॥ 17 ॥

अग्ने॒ नय॑ सु॒पथा॑ रा॒ये अ॒स्मान्विश्वा॑नि देव व॒युना॑नि वि॒द्वान् । यु॒यो॒ध्य॒स्मज्जु॑हुरा॒णमेनो॒ भूयि॑ष्ठां ते॒ नम॑ उ॒क्तिं विधेम ॥१८॥

agne naya supathā rāye asmānviśvāni deva vayunāni vidvān । yuyodhyasmajjuhurāṇameno bhūyiṣṭhāṃ te namauktiṃ vidhema ॥ 18 ॥

References

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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Nirukta (Adhyaya 7)
  3. Shabdakalpadruma (बडवाग्निः)
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  6. 6.0 6.1 Swaminathan. C. R. (2000). Kanvasatapathabrahmanam, Volume 1. New Delhi : Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd
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  13. 13.0 13.1 Shatapata Brahmana (Kanda 2 Adyaya 2)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Swami Sharvananda, (1920) Mundaka and Mandukya Upanishads Madras : Sri Ramakrishna Math
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  18. Shabdakalpadruma (Agni)
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  21. Pt. Ram Narayandatt. Mahabharat Volume 1 (Adiparva, Adhyaya 221) Gorakhapur:Gita Press
  22. 22.0 22.1 Pt. Jayadeva Sharma (1935) Rig Veda Samhita, Bhasha Bhashya, Volume 6. Ajmer : Arya Sahitya Mandal Ltd
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  24. Rig Veda (Mandala 1, Sukta 99)
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  26. Swami Krishnananda's Essays on the Upanishads, Kenopanishad
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  29. Link to Agni Purana from Wikisource
  30. Shivapuranam (Adhyaya 5)
  31. Valmiki Ramayana (Balakanda Sarga 37)
  32. Pt. Ram Narayandatt. Mahabharat Volume 2 ( Vanaparva Adhyaya 225) Gorakhpur: Gita Press
  33. Valmiki Ramayana (Yuddhakanda Sarga 118)
  34. Pt. Ram Narayandatt. Mahabharat Volume 2 ((Vanaparva, Adhyaya 131) Gorakhapur:Gita Press
  35. https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/srimad?language=dv&field_chapter_value=15&field_nsutra_value=14&etsiva=1&etgb=1&choose=1
  36. Agrawal, Akash Kumar, C. R. Yadav, and M. S. Meena. “Physiological Aspects of Agni.” Ayu 31.3 (2010): 395–398. PMC. Web. 1 Mar. 2018.
  37. Rig Veda (Mandala 1, Sukta 26)
  38. Isavasyopanishad from Vedic Heritage Portal