Campaign of the Month: February 2017
The Deva god of fire
One of the most ancient of the Vedic gods, Agni is the deification of fire, and is the twin brother of Indra. While Indra served the ancient, Vedic-dominated Deva as a king and warrior, Agni serves as the pantheon’s priest and messenger to this day, in a capacity as undimmed as his daily-rekindled flames. Agni accepts and consumes sacrifices on behalf of the Deva, transmitting power and prayers to the rest of the pantheon in the form of smoke, the link between the earthly world and the divine. Agni’s priestly duties include presiding over ceremonies and sacrifices to the gods, cleansing impurity with flame, and disposing of corpses and sending the dead to Yama by means of the funeral pyre. He also serves as the guardian of the family hearth and the Lokapala of the Southeast. He is a fearsome figure: bright red, with sparks flickering through his black eyes and hair. His two faces symbolize fire’s dual nature, both a useful tool and a destructive force, and his seven tongues lap up burning fuel. The flame of divine knowledge, understanding of self and true inner wisdom is his gift to mankind, and he is beloved by all because he bestows his flames at every hearth, regardless of caste or creed.
Agni and the Gods
Exhausted from the constant sacrifices and calls from the other gods to act as a messenger, Agni one day resolved to rebel and ran away, breaking his body into a million pieces to hide in the reeds along a riverbank. The other gods, frantic at his absence, searched high and low for him, but it wasn’t until Yama saw the faint glowing in the reeds that they found him. The gods begged him to return and take up his duties again; initially he refused, saying he was happier living among the reeds than dying of exhaustion, but they continued to cajole him until Yama offered to allow him eternal life, so that no matter how hard he was worked he would never die. When Agni heard this, he consented to emerge again in a blazing wildfire, and the gods were relieved that he once again took up his duties.
Agni and Indra
Agni once found that he had performed so many rituals and received so many sacrifices from the devout that he was totally exhausted, unable to do anything else. Descending to earth, he hid in a forest; when the hero Arjuna discovered him there, he explained that he could regain his strength by burning down the entire forest and consuming it, but that his twin brother Indra, king of the gods, had forbidden it and constantly caused rain to fall on it and put out the flames. Though Arjuna was Indra’s son, he took pity on the fire god’s plight and asked for a weapon with which to fight his father; Agni gave him the indestructible bow Gandiva, and, while Arjuna and his companion Krishna fought Indra to a standstill, Agni consumed the forest in flame and regained his strength once again.
Agni and Svaha
One day as Agni was walking he happened across a group of seven beautiful women bathing; they were the Krittika, the wives of the seven sages of heaven. He watched them at their bathing and soon fell hopelessly in love with them, but could not approach them as they were married women, and soon departed to wander the forest disconsolately. As he walked further, he happened upon another woman, less beautiful but very friendly; this was the goddess Svaha, who instantly fell in love with him when she saw his fiery form. Agni ignored her advances, his mind filled only with the Krittika, so Svaha disguised herself six times, each time as one of the Krittika, and tempted Agni so sorely that he laid down with her. When the sages heard of this, they believed that their wives had been unfaithful to them and cast them off into the sky, where they became the Pleiades; only the seventh sister, whom Svaha had not impersonated, remained with her husband. Though Agni was surprised to discover Svaha’s deception, he forgave her when she bore his children.