Agni is a Hindu deity, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, and also immortal.
Agni, the Vedic god of fire, has two heads, one marks immortality and the other marks an unknown symbol of life. Agni has made the transition into the Hindu pantheon of gods, without losing his importance. With Varuna and Indra he is one of the supreme gods in the Rigveda. The link between heaven and earth, the deities and the humans, he is associated with Vedic sacrifice, taking offerings to the other world in his fire.
The word agni is Sanskrit for "fire", cognate with Latin ignis (the root of English ignite), Russian огонь (ogon), Polish "ogień", Serbo-Croatian oganj, and Lithuanian ugnis—all with the meaning "fire", with the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root being h₁égni-. Agni has three forms: fire, lightning and the Sun.
In Hindu scriptures, Agni is the God of Fire, and is present in many phases of life such as honouring of a birth (diva lamp), birthdays (birthday candles on a cake), prayers (diva lamp), weddings (Yagna where the bride and groom circle 7 times) and death (cremation).
Agni is the first word of the first hymn of the Rigveda:
अग्नि॒म् ई॑ळे पुरो॒हि॑तं यज्ञ॒स्य॑ देव॒म् ऋत्वि॒ज॑म् । होता॑रं रत्नधा॒त॑मम् ॥ agním īḷe puróhitaṃ / yajñásya devám ṛtvíjam / hótāraṃ ratnadhâtamam Agni I laud, the high priest, god, minister of sacrifice, The invoker, lavishest of wealth.
He is the supreme director of religious ceremonies and duties, and figures as messenger between mortals and gods. Vedic rituals all involve Agni, for example the elaborate Agnicayana, that is, the piling of the fire altar, the Agnihotra, viz., offering to Agni.
The Rigveda often says that Agni arises from water or dwells in the waters. He may have originally been the same as Apam Napat, who is also sometimes described as fire arising from water which in a natural explanation may have referred to flames from natural gas or oil seepages surfacing through water, or as the seven rays or bands of light of a rainbow. Other Rigvedic names, epithets or aspects of Agni include Matarishvan, Jatavedas, or Bharata.
Agni is a deva, second only to Indra in the power and importance attributed to him in Vedic mythology, with 218 out of 1,028 hymns of the Rigveda dedicated to him. He is Indra's twin, and therefore a son of Dyaus Pita and Prthivi. However, he is also said to have two mothers(the two parts of the firedrill used to start the fire), and ten servant maids (the fingers of the man who is lighting the fire) or as the twice-born. He is one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the southeast.
Agni, god of fire acts as the divine model for the sacrificial priest. He is the messenger who carries the oblation from humans to the gods, bringing the gods to sacrifice, and interceding between gods and humans (RgV.1.26.3). When Agni is pleased, the gods are generous. Agni represents the cultivated, cooked and cultured aspects of Vedic ritual. Together with Soma, Agni is invoked in the Rig Veda more than any other gods.
Agni with his consort Svaha.
In Hindu scriptures, Agni is depicted with two or seven hands, two heads and three legs. He has seven fiery tongues with which he licks sacrificial butter. He rides a ram or in a chariot harnessed by fiery horses. Agni is represented as red and two-faced, suggesting both his destructive and beneficent qualities, and with black
eyes and hair, three legs and seven arms. He rides a ram, or a chariot pulled by goats or, more rarely, parrots. Seven rays of light emanate from his body. One of his names is Saptajihva, "having seven tongues". Another one of his epithets is Abhimani (from Sanskrit: abhi towards + the verbal root man to think, reflect upon) meaning dignified, proud; longing for, thinking.
Agni is the eldest son of Brahma. In Visnu Purana, Agni (Abhimani) the fire god is said to have sprung from the mouth of the Virat purusha, the Cosmic Man. His wife is Svaha. Abhimani had three sons of surpassing brilliancy: Pavaka, Pavamana, and Suchi, the personifications of the three fires that produced our earth and
humanity (VP 1:10). All these three names indicate purity. Abhimanin, his three sons, and their 45 sons constitute the mystic 49 fires of the Puranas and theosophy.
His three sons, according to the Vayu Purana, stand for three different aspects of Agni (fire): Pavaka is the electric fire, Pavamana the fire produced by friction, and Suchi the solar fire. Interpreted on the cosmic and human planes, these three fires are "Spirit, Soul, and Body, the three great Root groups, with their four additional divisions" (SD 2:247). They are said to have been cursed by the sage Vasishtha to be born again and again (cf BP 4:24,4; SD 2:247–8). "Every fire has a distinct function and meaning in the worlds of the physical and the spiritual. It has, moreover, in its essential nature a corresponding relation to one of the human psychic faculties, besides its well determined chemical and physical potencies when coming in contact with the terrestrially differentiated matter" (SD 1:521).
Agni is also an important entity in Ayurveda. It is considered to be the one which is responsible for the sustenance of life. Agni helps in the various physiological functions of the body.
In some Hindu symbolism, Agni's parents are said to be the two components of the firedrill used to start the fire, and when young he was said to be cared for by ten servants, which represent the fingers of the man who is starting the fire.
Agni is the name of India's first long-range strategic missile capable of nuclear weapons delivery, becoming only the fourth country to have this combined technology (after the Soviet Union/Russia, the United States and China). The Agni-V was successfully test launched on April 19, 2012.
Sculpture of Agni from Musée Guimet
In Newar, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, he is a lokapāla guarding the Southeast. In the Tibetan text Jigten lugs kyi bstan bcos it says "Make your hearth in the southeast corner of the house, which is the quarter of Agni". He also plays a central role in most Buddhist homa fire-puja rites. A typical praise to Agni starts "Son
of Brahma, Lord of the World, King of fire gods empowered by Takki, Whose supreme wisdom burns all delusion.