God of Fire
Member of the Pancha Bhoota
Agni 18th century miniature.jpg
Agni with an aura of flames, seated on ram
AffiliationDeva, Aditya
Personal information
ParentsKashyapa and Aditi[2]
SiblingsIndra, Brihaspati, Varuna, Vayu, Dyaus, Samudra

Agni (i/ AG-nee,[5] Sanskrit: अग्नि, Agní, Pali: Aggi, Malay: Api) is a Sanskrit word meaning fire, and connotes the Vedic fire god of Hinduism.[6][7][8] He is also the guardian deity of the southeast direction, and is typically found in southeast corners of Hindu temples.[9] In the classical cosmology of the Indian religions, Agni as fire is one of the five inert impermanent elements (pañcabhūtá) along with space (ākāśa), water (ap), air (vāyu) and earth (pṛthvī), the five combining to form the empirically perceived material existence (Prakriti).[7][10][11]

In Vedic literature, Agni is a major and oft-invoked god along with Indra and Soma.[7][12] Agni is considered the mouth of the gods and goddesses, and the medium that conveys offerings to them in a homa (votive ritual).[6][13][14] He is conceptualized in ancient Hindu texts to exist at three levels, on earth as fire, in the atmosphere as lightning, and in the sky as the sun. This triple presence connects him as the messenger between gods and human beings in the Vedic thought.[7] The relative importance of Agni declined in the post-Vedic era,[15] as he was internalized[16] and his identity evolved to metaphorically represent all transformative energy and knowledge in the Upanishads and later Hindu literature.[17][18][19] Agni remains an integral part of Hindu traditions, such as being the central witness of the rite-of-passage ritual in traditional Hindu weddings called Saptapadi or Agnipradakshinam (seven steps and mutual vows), as well being part of Diya (lamp) in festivals such as Divali and Aarti in Puja.[7]

Agni (Pali: Aggi) is a term that appears extensively in Buddhist texts,[20] and in the literature related to the Senika heresy debate within the Buddhist traditions.[21][22] In the ancient Jainism thought, Agni (fire) contains soul and fire-bodied beings,[23] additionally appears as Agni-kumara or "fire princes" in its theory of rebirth and a class of reincarnated beings,[24] and is discussed in its texts with the equivalent term Tejas.[25]

Etymology and meaning

Agni (fire) is a part of major rites-of-passage rituals such as weddings and cremation in Indian religions.

Sanskrit Agni continues one of two core terms for fire reconstructed to *h₁n̥gʷnís, other reflexes of which include Latin ignis (the root of English ignite), Sclavonian ogni;[26] Russian огонь (ogon), Polish "ogień", Slovenian "ogenj", Serbian oganj, and Lithuanian ugnis, all meaning "fire".[27]; synchronically, the ancient Indian grammarians variously derived it:

  • from root aj, which in Sanskrit means "to drive" and mirrors in Indo-European languages (Latin ago, Greek ἄγω) in the sense of "nimble, agile".[28][29]
  • from agri, the root of which means "first", referring to "that first in the universe to arise" or "fire" according to Shatapatha Brahmana section 6.1.1; the Brahmana claims this is cryptically called as Agni because everyone including the gods are known to love short nicknames.[30]
  • according to the 5th-century BCE Sanskrit text Nirukta-Nighantu in section 7.14, sage Śakapūṇi states the word Agni is derived from three verbs – from 'going', from 'shining or burning', and from 'leading'; the letter "a" (अ) is from root "i" which he claims implies 'to go', the letter "g" (ग्) is from the root "añj" meaning 'to shine' or "dah" meaning 'to burn', and the last letter is by itself the root "nī" (नी) which means 'to lead'.[31]

In the early Vedic literature, Agni primarily connotes the fire as a god, one reflecting the primordial powers to consume, transform and convey.[32][33] Yet the term is also used with the meaning of a Mahabhuta (constitutive substance), one of five that the earliest Vedic thinkers believed to constitute material existence, and that later Vedic thinkers such as Kanada and Kapila expanded widely, namely Akasha (ether, space), Vayu (air), Ap (water), Prithvi (earth) and Agni (fire).[34][35]

The word Agni is used in many contexts, ranging from fire in the stomach, the cooking fire in a home, the sacrificial fire in an altar, the fire of cremation, the fire of rebirth, the fire in the energetic saps concealed within plants, the atmospheric fire in lightning and the celestial fire in the sun.[8][32][36] In the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas, such as in section 5.2.3 of Shatapatha Brahmana, Agni represents all the gods, all concepts of spiritual energy that permeates everything in the universe.[17][37] In the Upanishads and post-Vedic literature, Agni additionally became a metaphor for immortal principle in man, and any energy or knowledge that consumes and dispels a state of darkness, transforms and procreates an enlightened state of existence.[18][19][34]