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Agni

Agni, the Hindu God of fire, second only to Indra in the power and importance attributed to him in Vedic mythology. He is sometimes said to be Indra's twin, and therefore a son of Dyaus Pita and Prthivi. Alternatively, he is a son of Kasyapa and Aditi or a Queen who kept her pregnancy secret from her husband. Another version claims he has ten mothers, also sisters, who represent the ten fingers. Some stories claim he destroyed his parents when he was born because they could not care for him; this is a symbol of the two sticks which, when rubbed together swiftly, create fire (called a fire drill). He is married to Svaha and father of Karttikeya by either Svaha or Ganga. He is one of the Ashta-Dikpalas, representing the southeast.

His name is the first word of the first hymn of the Rigveda: "Agni, I entreat, divine appointed priest of sacrifice."

The sacrifices made to Agni go to the gods because Agni is a messenger from and to the gods; but, at the same time, he is more than a mere messenger, he is immortal. Another hymn runs: "No god indeed, no mortal is beyond the might of thee, the mighty One." He lives among men and is miraculously reborn each day by the fire-drill, the friction of the two sticks which are regarded as his parents. He is the supreme director of religious ceremonies and duties, and even has the power of influencing the fate of each man in the future world. Agni is also representative of the power which digests the food in every person's stomach. He created the stars with the sparks resulting from his flames.

He is worshipped under a threefold form: fire on earth, lightning and the sun. His cult survived the metamorphosis of the ancient Vedic nature-worship into modern Hinduism, and there are fire-priests (agnihotri) whose duty is to watch over his worshippers. The sacred fire-drill for procuring the temple-fire by friction -- symbolic of Agni's daily miraculous birth -- is still used.

In art, Agni is represented as red and two-faced (sometimes covered with butter), suggesting both his destructive and beneficent qualities, and with black eyes and hair, three legs and seven arms. He rides a ram, or a chariot pulled by goats or, more rarely, parrots. Seven rays of light emanate from his body.



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