“The most appropriate Vedic symbol for the lordship of the Lord is perhaps the figure of Agni, the friend of Man, the mediator, the sacred and sacrificial fire, and at the same time the fire that is in the sun, in burning things, and in the heart of Man, everywhere the same and yet everywhere different, having varied and even almost contrary effects. The devotion to Agni does not represent nature worship, much less pantheism; it is the recognition of an underlying polymorphic reality that softens wax and honey but hardens mud, dries up plants, may bring life or death, and always transcends all our powers, mental as well as physical."
“Om agnim ile purohitam yajnasya devam rtvijam hotaram ratnadhatamam”
I magnify God, the Divine Fire, the Priest, Minister of the sacrifice, the Offerer of oblation, supreme Giver of treasure. RV I, 1, 1
The opening verse of the Rigveda leads with a prayer to Lord Agni, invoked in all of his glory. This rich verse presents the whole of Man’s sanatana dharma, a code of ethics and way of life which honors praise, meditation, sacrifice and commerce with the divine.
Agni is, first of all, a divine epiphany, he is leader of the Gods. He is the one who presents the sacrifice, renders it acceptable and pleasing, transforms and divinizes the gifts offered, and brings together the whole cosmos. Agni represents, in point of fact, the anthropocosmic transcendental dimension of all that is. No other symbol has this richness and this underlying unity.
In the Vedas, Agni is seen as the mouth of the Gods, the conduit between the human and celestial realms. In the three-tiered universe portrayed by the Vedas, the Gods are “up there”, hell is “down there” and we’re in the middle. As we chant “Bhur Bhuvaha Swaha,” the sacrificial fire transforms our worldly oblations into the food of the devas.
On the bodily plane, Agni vaishvanara is the metabolic fire.
Humans are nothing but a crucible of agni, constantly changing one thing into another at the micro and macro level. This ability is one thing that defines life. Try giving rice to a rock and it will become a dirty rock. Give that same rice to a person and it gets transformed into a completely different thing. What was once “not me” becomes “me.”
The creation of culture began around the fire. Our ability to harness this gift of the Gods is a unique quality of being human. It is arguable that everything we have been able to accomplish as a species has rested on our mastery of fire.
In the story of Prometheus, originally, human beings didn’t have any fire. Fire belonged to the Gods. Prometheus, who was a very kind-hearted titan looked down and saw how the human beings were living without fire. It was very dark at night, there were wild beasts, they were cold, they were having to chew on raw food, and their lives were very miserable. He thought “I should give them fire,” so he broke all the rules of the Gods and gifted humans with fire. As a result he was horribly punished, he had to pay a heavy price for what we human beings have done with fire. We stole the fire from the sun and used it for our own selfish ends.
The last stanza of the Rigveda is dedicated to the human world and is a prayer for harmony and peace among Men by means of the protection of Agni and all of the Gods. “It comes back to the simplicity of the fact of being human: a union of hearts and a oneness of spirit, the overcoming of isolating individualism by harmoniously living together..”
RV X, 191, 4
samani va akutih
samanda hrdayani vah
samanam astu vo mano
yatha vah susahasati
United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be at one, that you may long together dwell in unity and concord!
May we hold Agni, the God of fire, with reverence and respect.
- Panikkar, Raimundo; Vedic Experience: An Anthology of Hinduism’s Sacred and Revealed Scriptures
- “Agni.” Agni - New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Agni.
- “Agni.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, www.ancient.eu/Agni/.