Panchagnividya (Samskrit: पञ्चाग्निविद्या) deals with the essential principle of Origin of Life in Sanatana Dharma. Every aspect of life is a Yajna (divine activity), not just an action or labour. Yajna is a continuous activity offered to divinity on a moment to moment basis.
Panchagnividya is a specific kind of vidya (knowledge) taught by the royal sage, Pravahana Jaivali to Shvetaketu, the son of Uddalaka Aruni (उद्दालक-आरुणिः). It was vested with the Kshatriyas and Uddalaka Aruni was the first Brahmana to receive this knowledge. Pravahana Jaivali, who was well-versed in udgitha (उद्गीथः), held that the Universe exhibits at every stage, the principle of yajna.
परिचयः || Introduction
Panchagni vidya or knowledge appears in the Chandogya Upanishad (Chapter 5 Mantras 3-10) and the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Chapter 6.2).
The Chandogya Upanishad, which belongs to the Kauthuma Shakha (कौथुम-शाखा) of the Samaveda, conceives the whole universal activity of creation as a kind of yajna where everything is connected; this yajna/knowledge is known as the Panchagni vidya.
Panchagni Tapas Vs Panchagnividya
Panchagni means 5 Agnis or fires. In vedic and puranic literature, Panchagni has been mentioned as a methodology used for performing severe austerities. There are many instances of tapas (तपस् | penance) for thousands of years, performed by different celestial beings including Kubera, Parvati and asuras such as Mahishasura and Tarakasura (तारकासुरः), by standing or sitting in the midst of a set of five fires called Panchagni.
According to Puranic Encyclopaedia, Rohini - a daughter, Soma - a son and Agni, were born to Nisha (निशा), 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 in the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) for obtaining material boons.
Panchagnividya, however, is not actually fires in the physical sense, or a vaidika yajna, nor a tapas (penance) but deals with the knowledge or meditation to know the inner meaning of the common phenomenon of birth and death. It is a method of meditation wherein evolution and the cycle of the samsara-chakra is understood such that a householder frees himself from the bondage of the samsara-chakra. This all inclusiveness and comprehension of various aspects of the world and their relationship to the Universe is the secret of the meditation that is Panchagnividya.
पञ्चाग्निविद्या ||Panchagni Vidya
Panchagnividya, thus, different from the Panchagnis, is a part of Brahmavidya (ब्रह्मविद्या) or the knowledge to attain the Paramatma (परमात्मन्). This vidya as expounded in the fifth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad, constitutes a brilliant study of the Absolute or Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) even for an ordinary person.
The King Pravahana Jaivali addresses Uddalaka and Shvetaketu saying, "You are the first one among the Brahmanas to receive this knowledge. Until now it was known only to Kshatriyas" and explains the essence of Brahmavidya of which the Pancha-agni (5 types of Fire) is a part of. The five fires according to this vidya are symbolized as follows:
द्युर्लोकः || Dyurloka
असौ वाव लोको गौतमाग्निस्तस्याऽऽदित्य एव समिद्रश्मयो धूमोऽहरर्चिश्र्वन्द्रमा अङ्गारा नक्षत्राणि विस्फुलिङ्गाः || (Chan. Upan. 5.4.1)
asau vāva loko gautamāgnistasyā''ditya eva samidraśmayo dhūmo'hararciśrvandramā aṅgārā nakṣatrāṇi visphuliṅgāḥ || (Chan. Upan. 5.4.1)
तस्मिन्नेतस्मिन्नग्नौ देवाः श्रद्धां जुहोति तसेया आहुतेः सोमो राजा संभवति || (Chan. Upan. 5.4.2)
tasminnetasminnagnau devāḥ śraddhāṃ juhoti taseyā āhuteḥ somo rājā saṃbhavati || (Chan. Upan. 5.4.2)
Here, Dyurloka (World) is Agni (fire). Aditya (one of Surya's twelve names) is the firewood, his Light rays are smoke in the fire, the Day is the flame, the Chandra (Moon) is the embers and Nakshatras (Stars) are the sparks. In that fire, the devatas offer shraddha (श्रद्धा) as oblation and perform the Yajna. This is how the first level of creation, Soma (सोमः) is born.
Here, the activity of the celestial region is compared to Yajna. This level comprehends the connection of the physical world to the higher regions, where Surya, Chandra, Nakshtra are a part of the natural phenomenon of the visible world. The first oblation is the universal vibration in the celestial heaven.
पर्जन्यः || Parjanya
पर्जन्यो वाव गौतमाग्निस्तस्य वायुरेव समिदश्र्त्रं धूमो विद्युदर्चिरशनिरङ्गारा ह्रादनयो विस्फुलिङ्गाः || (Chan. Upan. 5.5.1)
parjanyo vāva gautamāgnistasya vāyureva samidaśrtraṃ dhūmo vidyudarciraśaniraṅgārā hrādanayo visphuliṅgāḥ || (Chan. Upan. 5.5.1)
तस्मिन्नेतस्मिन्नग्नौ देवाः सोमाँ राजानं जुहोति तस्या आहुतेर्वर्ष संभवति || (Chan. Upan. 5.5.2)
tasminnetasminnagnau devāḥ somām̐ rājānaṃ juhoti tasyā āhutervarṣa saṃbhavati || (Chan. Upan. 5.5.2)
Here, the Parjanya (पर्जन्यः | the water bearing cloud) is the Fire, fueled by Vayu (वायुः | Wind) which is wood, Clouds are the smoke, Lightning is the Flame, Thunder is the embers and the rumbling of the clouds is the spark of the fire. The just-created Soma at the first level is offered by the devatas as oblation to parjanya. That born during the second stage of creation is Rain (वर्षा). Here, the descent to the intermediate stage between the physical world and the celestial realms is exquisitely connected through the world of parjanya or the clouds. Thus, rain falls by the activity of the higher celestial beings. Clouds as comprehended by the greatest of poets, Kalidasa (कालिदासः) in Meghadoota (मेघदूतम्) are sannipata (सन्निपातः | combination) of,
धूमः ज्योतिःसलिलमरुतां सन्निपातः क्व मेघः || (Verse 5)
dhūmaḥ jyotiḥsalilamarutāṃ sannipātaḥ kva meghaḥ || (Verse 5)
The second oblation is the reverberation of the universal vibration felt in the upper atmospheric regions.
पृथ्वी || Prithvi
पृथिवी वाव गौतमाग्निस्तस्याः संवत्सर एव समिदाकाशो धूमो रात्रिरर्चिर्दिशोऽङ्गारा अवान्तरदिशो विस्फुलिङ्गाः || (Chan. Upan. 5.6.1)
pṛthivī vāva gautamāgnistasyāḥ saṃvatsara eva samidākāśo dhūmo rātrirarcirdiśo'ṅgārā avāntaradiśo visphuliṅgāḥ || (Chan. Upan. 5.6.1)
तस्मिन्नेतस्मिन्नग्नौ देवाः वर्षं जुहोति तस्या आहुतेरन्नँ संभवति || (Chan. Upan. 5.6.2)
tasminnetasminnagnau devāḥ varṣaṃ juhoti tasyā āhuterannam̐ saṃbhavati || (Chan. Upan. 5.6.2)
Prthvi (Earth) is the Fire, Samvatsara (संवत्सरः | One year) is the firewood, the Sky is smoke, Nights are the flame, the Quarters or Directions are the embers and the Upadisha (उपदिशाः | sub-directions) are the sparks. The devatas offer Rain, created at the second stage as oblation into Prthvi. And from this fire, Anna (अन्नम् | all that is consumable, related to the sensorial level) is born.
Here, the sadhaka (साधकः | seeker) comprehends the descent to the earth, which is the yajnika agni, into which the essence of time goes in as samidha (fuel). The third oblation is the reverberation at a much grosser level of the world.
पुरुषः || Purusha
पुरुषो वाव गौतमाग्निस्तस्य वागेव समित्प्राणो धूमो जिह्वाऽर्चिश्र्वक्षुरङ्गाराः श्रोत्रं विस्फुलिङ्गाः || (Chan. Upan. 5.7.1)
puruṣo vāva gautamāgnistasya vāgeva samitprāṇo dhūmo jihvā'rciśrvakṣuraṅgārāḥ śrotraṃ visphuliṅgāḥ || (Chan. Upan. 5.7.1)
तस्मिन्नेतस्मिन्नग्नौ देवाः अन्नं जुहोति तस्या आहुतेरेतः संभवति || (Chan. Upan. 5.7.2)
tasminnetasminnagnau devāḥ annaṃ juhoti tasyā āhuteretaḥ saṃbhavati || (Chan. Upan. 5.7.2)
In the fire called Purusha (Cosmic Man), Vak (वाक् | power of speech) is the firewood, Prana (प्राणः) is smoke, the Tongue is the flame, the Eyes are embers and the Ears are the sparks. In the Purushagni (पुरुषाग्निः | personified fire), the devatas offer anna (अन्नम् | a grain) as the fourth oblation and from this appears Virya (वीर्यः | semen).
Here, the sadhaka comprehends the descent to the Man himself, who is involved in the entire activity and by consuming the food energises himself and produces virility. Thus, at the fourth oblation the vibration of the higher celestial level has moved to the level of the individual man.
स्त्री || Stri
योषा वाव गौतमाग्निस्तस्या उपस्थ एव समिद्यदुपमन्त्रयते स धूमो योनिरर्चिर्यदन्तः करोति तेऽङ्गारा अभिनन्दा विस्फुलिङ्गाः || (Chan. Upan. 5.8.1)
yoṣā vāva gautamāgnistasyā upastha eva samidyadupamantrayate sa dhūmo yonirarciryadantaḥ karoti te'ṅgārā abhinandā visphuliṅgāḥ || (Chan. Upan. 5.8.1)
तस्मिन्नेतस्मिन्नग्नौ देवाः रेतो जुहोति तस्या आहुतेर्गर्भः संभवति || (Chan. Upan. 5.8.2)
tasminnetasminnagnau devāḥ reto juhoti tasyā āhutergarbhaḥ saṃbhavati || (Chan. Upan. 5.8.2)
Into this Fire called Stri (स्त्री | Woman), devatas offer the virya (semen) of the Purusha as oblation. In this fire, Ap (अप् here, denotes virya) is transformed into the masculine form and power of speech. From this appears the garbha (गर्भः | womb of the woman). This is the final stage and the Creation born of this fire - Prana stays within the garbha for nine or ten months, and after birth is encompassed by Jarayu (जरायुः | old age) until its life span. Before departing to paraloka, it returns to the same source that it was created from, i.e. Agni.
By the interconnection, combination and harmonious adjustment of subtle and gross structures across these five stages of manifestation, birth takes place. This is applicable to any form of birth that happens, be it living beings of all creation or events at inorganic levels such as the formation of waves.
The activity of procreation (or of manifestation of any object) begins with the birth of the child (or with the production of an atom or molecule) whom the cosmos produces and not parents alone. Then the child’s presence is felt everywhere mainly because the universe is intimately inter-connected. The Shastras teach that the macrocosm is in the microcosm; each manifestation is the quintessence of every particle of Prakrti, and that Prakrti on its own accord takes care of each manifestation or birth and withdraws those manifestations as a part of the operation of the universal laws. This is the philosophical background of this vidya which deals with all events of manifestation not merely as the birth of a human child alone, and which vidya is the contemplation of the mind in perceiving the reality that is transcendent to the visible parts of the inner sacrifice.
संवादः || Discussion
While Panchagni Vidya is a part of Creation in Brahmavidya as explained by the Chandogya Upanishad, Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda explains more about the Creation of the Universe.
Brhdaranyaka Upanishad is more transcendent or aprapanchaka (अप्रपञ्चकः) in its approach and provides meditation techniques that are beyond the comprehension of an ordinary mind, whereas the Chandogya Upanishad is saprapanchaka (सप्रपञ्चकः) and involves the path of ordinary experience, but both the ways lead the sadhaka (seeker) to the Absolute Brahman only.
- Jha, Ganganatha. (1923). The Chandogya Upanishad and Sri Sankara's Commentary, Fourth Volume. Madras:The India Printing Works.
- Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:Sahitya Prakashana.
- Vettam. Mani, (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass.
- Chandogya Upanishad (Fifth Adhyaya)
- Apte, Hari Narayana (1913) Chandogya Upanishad Poona: Anandashrama Sanskrita Granthavali
- Mallinath. (1895). Exhaustive Notes on the Meghaduta of Kalidas, Verse 5. Bombay:Indian Printing Press.
- Kale M.R (2011)., The Meghaduta of Kalidasa, Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers