Who is Agni?

Brendan McGuigan

Agni is a god of fire in Hinduism. His name literally means "Fire" in Sanskrit, and is a cognate of the Latin word ignis. Agni is one of the messengers of the gods, and one of his tasks is to bring sacrifices offered by devotees to the gods.

Agni, a Hindu god of fire, is present in lightning and other things that are fire-like.
Agni, a Hindu god of fire, is present in lightning and other things that are fire-like.

Agni is one of the most important gods in the Vedic pantheon. His faith predates Hinduism, as the worship of fire is one of the oldest in the world. He is one of a handful of gods who were incorporated almost whole into the Hindu religious structure.

Agni is an immortal god, but is also viewed as eternally young. This is representative of one of the miracles of fire, that every day the hearth is relit, the fire begins again, and yet fire itself is ever constant. Agni is described in various fashions, but most often as having seven tongues of flame coming out of his two faces, and bright golden teeth. His body is completely red, although he has a shocking mane of black hair. He is a three-legged god, with seven red arms, and seven beams of light that shine from his body.

Agni is seen as present in all things fire-like. He is present in the lightning that strikes from storms and bursts the land into fire, he is present in the column of smoke that is said to hold the Heavens up from the Earth, and he is present in the sun shining down. He is also viewed as present where the metaphorical fire burns, such as in peoples’ stomachs, and in people themselves, as the tiny flame that creates life. Agni is the god able to impart immortality on mortals, and was able to cleanse in fire the sins a human may have committed during their life.

Since sacrifices are burned, Agni is the god of sacrifice as well. He collects the offerings that rise to the Heavens, and delivers them to the gods they are intended for. This gives rise to his status as one of the major messengers of the gods, one of his many minor roles in the pantheon. He has rules which dictate the use of his flame, and the direction a fire faces is determined by the purpose of the fire. A fire that burns to the south is meant for sacrifices to the dead, a fire that burns to the east is meant for sacrifices to the gods, and a fire burning west is a fire meant for simple cooking.

There are many stories relating to Agni’s birth, but most commonly he is given as the son of Prthivi and Dyaus Pita, the twin of Indra, and brother of Dawn and Night. He took a bride, Svaha, and of her had a child, Karttikeya. Some myths relate him being born of ten mothers, representing the ten fingers of man who gives birth to fire. A myth building on that says that after his birth he devoured his parents, representing fire burning to ash the two sticks used to ignite it.

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