Agni, the God of Fire, resides in every home and is
linked to a household priest. He is immortal, but has
made all homes his abode since he is the protector
of all ceremonies and helps men to perform their
sacrifices in the correct way. He flits swiftly between
heaven and earth, carrying man's oblations to God
and accompanying the gods to the place of sacrifice. In other words,
he forms the liaison between the worshipper and the worshipped. He
is the personification of the sacrificial fire around which Vedic religion
The discovery of fire was a very important landmark in the history
of civilisation and Man was in awe of this strange flame. It was natural
that all kinds of myths and stories grew around this almost supernatural
phenomenon. The Aryans developed the worship of fire to an
extraordinary degree, and the highest divine functions were ascribed
to Agni. He is said to be the son of heaven and earth; in the Vishnu
Purana he is said to be the son of Brahma, the Creator.
His strength was so great that only he could carry Shiva's seed over
the ocean and create his son Kartikeya.
Agni is invoked to be a witness to all significant events. Hindu
homes have the hauan, home or sacrificial fire, for important occasions,
be it a naming ceremony, the sacred thread ceremony, or marriage,
each an important event in an individual's life. The body at death too,
has to be placed on the sacrificial pyre, and Agni is
asked to warm the mortal part before carrying it to the
world of the righteous. Sita, in the Ramayana, to prove
her chastity after having been abducted by Ravana, goes through the
agni pariksha (ordeal by fire).
According to a Vedic hymn, Agni has three forms, as fire on earth,
as lightning in the atmosphere and as the golden sun in heaven. The
light and warmth of Agni bring joy into every home because he dispels
the terrors of darkness that plague humankind. He infuses confidence
in his worshippers and even the powers of evil seem to be reduced by
his spark. He brings wealth, prosperity and longevity to his devotees.
Because of its omnipresence, all things, including earth and heaven,
obey his commands.
In the Mahabharata, Agni is said to have exhausted his vigour
because of his over-indulgence in sacrifice.
In the eternal fight between good and evil Agni was called upon by
the gods to destroy the Kravyads, flesh-eating rakshasas, even though
he himself consumes flesh. He took the form of a Kravyad with iron
tusks and charged the rakshasas, killing them with his tusks and then
The worship of Agni on earth was established by the Bhrigus,
priests descended from the sage Bhrigu, who had received the gift of
fire through a celestial being, Matarisvana.
The image of Agni is that of a red man with three flaming heads, three
legs and seven arms, wearing a garland of fruit and riding a ram. The
three legs represent the three fires - the ceremonial, the nuptial and the
sacrificial; they could also denote the three worlds or lokas over which he
has power, the celestial, the terrestrial and the infernal. The Vedic Agni
becomes Rudra or Shiva, the Destroyer, in the Puranic period.
Agni found a place in all the pantheons because of the role he plays
in all sacrifices which even today form an important part of Hindu ritual.