Agni is the Rigvedic deity of fire and the conveyor of sacrifices to the gods. He is also a god of divine knowledge, who leads man to the gods. He was one of the most important of the Vedic gods. The oldest religious book and the oldest record of the human beings, the Rig Veda, begin with a hymn to Agni and ends with a hymn to Agni. That is the beauty of the Veda. It shows the importance the Hindus give to Agni. Next to Indra, Agni has the highest number of hymns. His name is mentioned in other hymns as well. If we take them into account, he tops the list of all deities. Amarakosa, ancient Sanskrit thesaurus gives 34 names for the Vedic fire god Agni. Read more to know about those 34 names of Agni Deva.
Various accounts are given of the origin of Agni. He is said to be a son of Dyaus and Prithivi; he is called the son of Brahmā, and is then named Abhimāni; and he is reckoned amongst the children of Kasyapa and Aditi, and hence one of the Ādityas. In the later writings he is described as a son of Angiras, king of the Pitris (fathers of mankind), and the authorship of several hymns is ascribed to him.
Fire god is the witness of all rituals in Hinduism. From birth to death all Hindu rituals include fire worship. They celebrate the first anniversary of the child with a Havan/Homa or fire sacrifice and end a person’s life journey by consuming the body to fire. Even the wedding is celebrated in front of fire or Agni. He is the witness for all good and bad things.
The fire god Agni is extremely important in the Vedic religion. He is the messenger of the gods. He takes all the offerings poured into the fire to the gods. He is everywhere. He is in the sun and moon and as ‘jataragni’ in the stomach, says Sayana in his commentary. Jataragni is the metabolic activities in the body that produce heat. He is in the sea as Badava Agni. All the girls are possessed by him before the marriage. This means that all the girls must be married in front of him (sacrificial fire) as he gives them like a father gives his daughter to the bridegroom. The couple have to walk around the fire. It is called
Orthodox Hindus keep fire in a pot from the birth to death and use it for all occasions. The ‘aupasana’ pot contains paddy husk burning forever. It is never extinguished. When a baby is born it is lighted and the same fire is used to light the funeral pyre when the person dies at an old age.
Agni has got cognate words ignis in Latin ogni in Old Slavic and ugnis in Lithuanian . He is worshipped in the houses in three forms by the Brahmins and they are Garhapatya, Dhakshinagni and Ahavaneeyam.
Tamils have separate words for fire: Thii, Neruppu, Kanal. It proves Tamil is an independent language.
34 names of Agni in the Amarakosa and the commentaries on them give lot of interesting information:
1. Agni : Going forward
2. Vaisvanara : Relative of the people; Relative of Visva Nara:
3. Vahni : Travels with wind
4. Vitihotra : Place where many Ahutis are offered
5. Dananjaya : Helps to earn wealth; also name of Arjuna and a snake
6. Krupeetayoni : Source of water; vice verse Water produces Agni
7. Jwalana : Glittering, glowing
8. Jataveda : He who knows all; Heat creates everything
9. Tanunapath : He never allows the body to fall; one who does not protect his
own shape; becoming dry or one who eats ghee
10. Barhi : Creeping, crawling
11. Sushma : One who shortens or dries everything
12. Krsnvartma : One who produces black smoke
13. Sochiskesa : One who has flame as his hair
14. Usharbuh : Bright in the morning
15. Asrasya : One who burns everything associated with him
16. Brhatbanu : One who creates light
17. Krshanu : emaciating
18. Pavaka : One who purifies
19. Anala : One of the Eight Vasus
20. Rohitasva : One who has a red horse
21. Vayusaka : Friend of the wind
22. Shikavan : One who has flames of tuft
23. Asusukshani : Dries anything at once or shortens
24. Hiranyareta : Golden shakti or veeryam
25. Hutabuk : Whatever offered is eaten by him
26. Dahana : One who makes everyone feels hot
27. Havyavahana : One who has wind as a vehicle
28. Saptarchi : One who has got seven flames.
Kali, Karala, Manojawa, Sulohita, Sudumravarna, Spulingini, Visvadara are his seven tongues/ flames.
29. Damuna : One who subdue, quietens
30. Sukra : Colour of Sukra – Venus –Bright White
31. Chitrabanu : Colourful light
32. Vivavasu : Light is his wealth
33. Suchi : One who purifies everything
34. Apapitta : He is the embodiment of pitta in the water
Agni in Hindu Scriptures & Epics
In a celebrated hymn of the Rig-Veda, attributed to Visishtha, Indra and the other gods are called upon to destroy the Kravyads (the flesh-eaters), or Rakshas, enemies of the gods. Agni himself is a Kravyad, and as such takes an entirely different character. He is then represented under a form as hideous as the beings he, in common with the other gods, is called upon to devour. He sharpens his two iron tusks, puts his enemies into his mouth, and devours them. He heats the edges of his shafts, and sends them into the hearts of the Rakshasas.
In the Mahabharata, Agni is represented as having exhausted his vigour by devouring too many oblations, and desiring to consume the whole Khandava forest, as a means of recruiting his strength. He was [at first] prevented from doing this by Indra; but having obtained the assistance of Krishna and Arjuna, he baffled Indra, and accomplished his object.
According to the Ramayana, in order to assist Vishnu when incarnate as Rama, Agni became the father of Nila by a monkey mother; and according to the Vishnu Purana, he married Swaha, by whom he had three sons-Pavaka, Pavamana, and Suchi.