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Agni


Agni was one of three great gods in the Rig Veda and was also worshiped by the Persians until the time of Zoroaster. His personification of fire made him the center of the ancient Vedic worship. Agni took three forms: celestial as the sun, atmospheric as lightening, and terrestrial as fire. He is all that burns: sun, heat, stomach, lust, and passion. His three spheres are the Earth, Sky, and Space, the worlds respective of men, spirits, and deities. He is priest of the gods and the god of priests, and serves as liaison between gods and men. His fire altar was oriented toward the East, the direction of the sunrise, the ever-new beginning.

In Hindu mythology Agni was born from a lotus created by Brahman, and as the god of fire is pictured red having two faces and seven tongues to lick up the butter used in sacrifices. The Vedic fire sacrifice was personified as Agni; the crackling of the fire, with its oblations of ghi (a kind of clarified butter), was believed to be the voice of Agni.

He is the most important of all of the Vedic deities, with more hymns dedicated to him than any other god, and presides over all the sacraments and all of the great events of life, and at the end of a man's life; it is Agni, through the flames of the funeral pyre, who accepts the body as an offering. The counterpart of Angi is Soma, the gentle, devoured substance, who is consumed by the other gods. "All this universe, conscious and unconscious, is made of fire [Agni] and offering [Soma]," says the Mahabharata.

Elsewhere, the Mahabharata depicts Agni as having exhausted his vigor by consuming too many oblations, he renewed his strength by consuming the Khandava forest, with the help of other gods in defiance of Indra. Agni is no longer the object of a single cult, but is invoked by Hindu lovers and men seeking virility. A.G.H.


Sources:

Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1978, p. 4
Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman's Sons, 1980, p. 63