The songs to Agni reveal that the Rig Vedic poets often succeeded in touching the simple, warm, heart-felt tone. Agni, as the sacrificial fire and as the fire which blazes on the hearth, is esteemed as the friend of mortals. He is the mediator between them and the gods, and to him the poet speaks as to a dear friend. He prays to him, that he may bless him "as the father his son" and he takes for granted that the god is pleased with his song and will fulfil the wish of the singer.
Agni is the god of the householder, who protects his wife and children for him, and makes his homestead prosper. He himself is often called 'master of the house' (Grhapati). He is the guest of every house, the first of all guests. As an immortal being he has taken up his abode amongst mortals, and in his hand lies the prosperity of the family. Since primitive times, the bride, when she came to her new home, was led around the sacred fire, and therefore Agni is also referred to in the Rig Veda as 'the lover of maidens, the 'husband of women' and in a marriage benediction it is said that Agni is the husband of the maidens, and that the bridegroom receives the bride from Agni. Simple prayers are also addressed to him at the wedding, at the birth of children, and similar family events. During the marriage-sacrifice the prayer was offered on behalf of the bride- "May Agni, the lord of the house, protect her! May he lead her offspring on to a high age; may her womb be blessed, may she be the mother of living children. May she behold the joy of her sons!"
As the sacrificial fire, Agni is the messenger between gods and mortals. Sometimes it is said that, as such, he bears the sacrificial food up to the gods, sometimes also that he brings the gods down to the sacrifice. Therefore he is also called the priest, the wise One, the Brahman, the Purohita (family priest) and by preference the title Hotar-the name of the chief priest at the great sacrifice -is given to him.
Beginnings of mythology and poetic art can hardly be separated, especially in the songs to Agni. By means of abundant pourings of ghee the sacrificial fire was maintained in a state of radiant flame, and the poet says- Agni's countenance shines, or his back shines, his hair drips with ghee. When he is described as flame-haired, or red-haired, red- bearded, with sharp jawbones and golden gleaming teeth, when the flames of the fire are spoken of as Agni's tongues when the poet, thinking of the bright fire radiating in all directions, calls Agni four-eyed or thousand-eyed, then all this may be called poetry just as well as mythology. Thus also the rattling and rustling of the fire is compared with the bellowing of a bull, and Agni is called a bull. The pointed, rising flames are imagined as horns, and a singer calls Agni 'provided with a thousand horns,' while another one says that he sharpens his horns and shakes them in anger.
Just as frequently, however, Agni is also compared with a merrily neighing horse, a fiery runner and in mythology as well as in religious worship, Agni stands in close connection with the horse. But, when Agni is also called the bird, the eagle of heaven, hastening along in rapid flight between heaven and earth, then one must think of the flame of the lightning which descends from the sky. Again, another appearance of fire is in the mind of the poet when" he says - "Agni with his sharp jaws, devours the forests; he masticates them, he lays them low as the warrior his foes."
Myths on Agni
The actual Agni-myths have originated in the metaphorical and enigmatic language of the poets. Agni has three births or three birthplaces- in the sky he glows as the fire of the sun, on the earth he is brought forth by mortals out of the two pieces of tinder wood, and as the lightning he is born in the water. As he is brought forth with the help of two pieces of tinder wood (Aranis), it is said that he has two mothers, and "scarcely is the child born, when he devours the two mothers."
An older poet, however, says, "Ten indefatigable virgins have brought forth this child" by which are meant the ten fingers, which had to be employed in the twirling; and as it was only possible through great exertion of strength to bring the fire out of the pieces of wood by friction, Agni in the whole of the Rig Veda is called "the son of strength."
With the extensive part which the fire-cult played among the ancient Indians, it is not to be wondered at, that the majority of the numerous songs in the Rig Veda which are dedicated to Agni (there are about two hundred of them) have been used as songs of sacrifice, many of them having only been composed for sacrificial purposes. Yet we find among these songs many plain, simple prayers, which, perhaps are the work of priests, but certainly are the work of poets.
(Last Updated on : 21-02-2011)
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