Agni is the deity of fire, and the carrier of sacrifices to the gods. He is also a deity of divine knowledge, who guides humans to the celestial realm. More specifically, Agni is the messenger who transmits all the prayers and intentions of human beings/devotees to the gods. No spirit is accessible without the vehicle of Agni, and no divinity is without the presence of Agni. Not only does Agni deliver the offerings from human beings to the gods, but he also brings the gods to the altar.
Agni is the chief officiate of ceremonies and duties, and functions as a high-priest. He assumes this role since his field envelops both heaven and earth, which allows him to be the meeting point amid the celestial and terrestrial worlds.
Agni, recognized with energy and action, is the primary emanation and the divine spark hidden inside all beings. Agni is the heart of the wisdom of Existence. People pray to Agni, to raise the potency, which is inside all human beings, to empower them to nurture solid faith, without which they cannot cultivate a strong belief and profound devotion to support a devoted mind. With Agni’s rise, ignorance and all illusions are overcome.
As the chief terrestrial deity embodied by the sacrificial fire, Agni is the essence of the ritual poetry of the 10,000-year-old Vedic text: the Rig Veda. Over 200 hymns are in honour of Agni in this scripture, and Agni is the first word of the first hymn of this Veda. With the exception of Indra, more hymns are addressed to him than to any other deity.
Vedic rituals all include Agni. Agni is present in many stages of life such as the honouring of a birth (diya lamp), in prayers (diya lamp), at weddings (the yajna where the bride and groom circle the fire seven times), and at death (cremation).
Agni is the beneficiary, container and transmitter of energy, who leads the devtas to triumph in their encounters with darkness. Born in the human aspirant, he awakens wisdom and burns ignorance.
The appropriate offering to Agni, and therefore all the gods, is ghee, which is clarified butter. It is a purifier in Vedic tradition. Seven rays of light radiate from Agni’s body. One of his names is Saptajihva, “the one having seven tongues.” He has seven blazing tongues with which he licks the sacrificial butter, and then transfers these oblations in the form of smoke, so they may be imparted to the gods. When Agni is satisfied, the spirits are generous. Agni embodies the cultivated, cooked and cultured features of Vedic ritual.
Agni’s consort is Svaha, which is the invocation offering – that which is uttered when each offering is made to Agni in ceremony.
Agni is considered the friend and protector of humanity, and in particular, he safeguards the home. Agni is said to have ten forms. They are lightning, fire, sun, absorbing fire, destructive fire, fire yielded through sticks used for sacrifices and rituals, fire given to a student during their initiation ceremony, domestic fire used for household uses, southern fire of ancestors used for some types of rituals, and funeral fire in cremation rituals.
Heat, combustion and energy is the realm of Agni which represents the transformation of the gross to the subtle. “Agni is the life-giving energy. Agnibija is the consciousness of tapas (proto-cosmic energy); agni (the energizing principle); the sun, representing the Reality (Brahman) and the Truth (Satya), is Rta, the order, the organizing principle of everything that is.”
Agni signifies the soul; it is the power of change that cannot be limited or overcome. Light, heat, colour and energy are simply its external qualities; inwardly, agni induces consciousness, knowledge and discernment.
(Cover Photo: Me performing Full Moon Vedic Fire Ceremony in the Western Himalayas.)