Purity of Agni
of nature is characteristic of Indian tradition. The Rig Veda, the oldest
Hindu scripture focusses on nature worship such as that of air, water and fire.
In a world ridden with squandering of natural resources, pollution and greed,
the Rig Veda teaches us to respect nature and to live in harmony with the
biosphere. Natural phenomena are personified as different divinities; yet they
are inter-linked into a holistic oneness, a supreme power.
Indra, armed with lightning and thunder, stands for rain, cattle and
destruction of evil. Varuna is the God of sky and waters. Rudra
symbolises fury of nature. Thunder that reverberates through the firmament is
his roar; he is the father of Maruts, the storm deities, who rage through
the skies, sending rain, whose approach makes the Earth fertile.
The waters from the mountains carry the powers of healing herbs and have a
purifying quality. The Indian tradition attaches great importance to theerthayatra,
literally pilgrimage to holy waters. The sun God or Surya gives us day
and night and seasons.
Agni, the fire God is an important Rig Vedic divinity. The use of fire,
which started 400,000 years ago, is the most important step in the progress of
the human race. Voluminous mythology was woven around fire. Greek mythology says
Prometheus stole and brought fire from heaven to the Earth. The Tasmanians and
the Koreans never let their house fires go out. The Russian peasant carries fire
to his new house and says, ``Welcome grandfather, to the new home''.
As times changed, most Vedic deities underwent transformations; but Agni's
sway over us continues. The Hindu household keep a lamp burning before the gods.
The Hindu marriage is solemnised before the sacred fire. At funerals, the sacred
fire is carried to the burning ground. The spirit of the dead person is believed
to rise with the smoke to the heaven.
Agni is prayed for food, cattle, prosperity, happiness, progeny and for
destruction of evil.
The Vedic religion preserved the fire cult of the ancient inhabitants of Earth
who gazed with awe at fire-seething volcanoes and brilliant streaks of lightning
that ignited primeval forests into fast-spreading flames. Rig Veda refers to the
fierce and radiant woodland fires accompanied by Maruts, which ``roared like
The notion of fire as a purifier is universal. Christianity believes in the
purificatory fires of the purgatory, and the eternal fires of hell. Sita's fire
walk, to prove her purity shows that such practice existed in ancient days.
Fire-walking exists to this day in many parts of India.
To the devotees, passage through the embers unharmed signifies purity and
undiminished faith. The Rig Veda says, ``Burn away from us the sin, flame out on
us the bliss. When the fire is kindled we speak indeed the truth''. Agni dispels
darkness or tamas that fills the world. Spiritual yearning of the ancient
Hindus is evident when they prayed to Agni, for discriminating between virtue
Agni strides forth in his golden chariot drawn by red horses. Wild fires blow
away burning fragments that set off spot fires miles away. Vivid images of this
particular aspect of Agni can be seen in the modern times.
The report of the British Royal Commission examining bush fires in Victoria in
1939, said: "The spread of the fires was appalling. They leapt from
mountain peak to mountain peak, far on to the lower country, lighting the
forests six or seven miles in advance of the main fire."
The Vedic bard appeals, "Grant, brilliant Agni, happiness to our sons and
grandsons...to ourselves". Fire is the intermediary between people and gods
and receives oblations from the humans. It sends up to the skies whatever is
burnt at the altar. Judicious use of the energy of fire is the key to human
Lord of the dwelling and friend of Man, Agni needs to be approached
reverentially. Agni is "mortal, divine, all-wise" truly a divinity
that is worshipped by us.
The Hindu temple is the continuation of the Vedic fire altar, that was in the
open air. The innermost sanctuary of the temple, the Garbagraha, is built
on a square plane, the basic shape of the Vedic altar. Indiscriminate dealings
with Agni will be catastrophic and is the main cause of human woes. Let Agni
lead mankind from darkness to light.
as fire, though one, entering the world
Adopts the shapes of the different objects it burns,
Similarly, the one atman of all living things, though one,
Assumes the forms of the various objects He enters
And exists also beyond.