Agni, the god of Fire, is one of the most prominent of the deities of the Vedas. With the single exception of Indra, more hymns are addressed to him than to any other deity.
The word agni is Sanskrit for “fire” (noun), cognate with Latin ignis (the root of English ignite), Russian огонь (ogon), Polish “ogień”, and Lithuanian ugnis—all with the meaning “fire”, with the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root being égni-. Agni has three forms: fire, lightning and the Sun.
The God of Fire is said to be the son of Dyaus (Heaven) or of Heaven and Earth . Agni is closely associated with Indra, and is sometimes said to be his twin brother. The later Puranas say that he is the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. The very first hymn of the Rig Veda is addressed to him. It invokes his blessings upon mankind, extolling his virtues as the divine priest, the lord of sacrifice. Next to Indra, he is the most important Deva. Around 200 hymns are addressed to him in the RigVeda.
In the Rig Veda there are many descriptions of his various births, forms and abodes. He is produced daily from the two kindling sticks (aranis), which are his parents. As soon as he is born, he devours his parents. Since great force is required to kindle him, he is called ‘son of strength’. Being produced every morning, he is forever young. No sacrificer is older than him, for he conducted the first sacrifice. Being created in the aerial waters, he is the embryo of the waters. Indeed as ‘son-of-waters’ (अपां
नपाद्), he is a separate deity. He was born in the highest heaven, and was brought down from heaven by Matarisvan, the Indian Prometheus. The Sun is also regarded as a form of Agni.
The universe being regarded as divided into the two divisions of heaven and earth, Agni is said to have two origins, and the epithet dvi-janman (having two births), is his exclusively. Since he is kindled in every dwelling, he is said to have many births. He is more closely associated with humans than any other deity. He is called the ‘Lord of the house’ and is called the ‘guest’ in human dwellings. He is the immortal who dwells among mortals. He is often called as a father, sometimes as a brother or a son of his worshipers. He is the messenger of the Gods and the bearer of sacrificial offerings. He wisdom is legendary and he knows all the details of the sacrifice. He is called jata-vedas or one-who-knows-all-created-beings. He is a great benefactor of his worshipers. He is also the witness of oaths, especially of the marriage vow, and the Hindu marriage is said to take place with “Agni as the witness”.
Agni is central to the sacrifice and is called the priest. He is called the domestic priest (purohita), invoking priest (hotr), officiating priest (Adhvaryus) and playing priest (Brahmana). Just as Indra is chief among warriors, Agni is the chief of priests.
Agni is the eldest son of Brahma. In Visnu Purana, Agni (Abhimani) the fire god is said to have sprung from the mouth of the Virat purusha, the Cosmic Man. His wife is Svaha. Abhimani had three sons of surpassing brilliancy: Pavaka, Pavamana, and Suchi, the personifications of the three fires that produced our earth and humanity. All these three names indicate purity. Abhimanin, his three sons, and their 45 sons constitute the mystic 49 fires of the Puranas and theosophy.
His three sons, according to the Vayu Purana, stand for three different aspects of Agni (fire): Pavaka is the electric fire, Pavamana the fire produced by friction, and Suchi the solar fire. Interpreted on the cosmic and human planes, these three fires are “Spirit, Soul, and Body, the three great Root groups, with their four additional divisions” . They are said to have been cursed by the sage Vasishtha to be born again and again . “Every fire has a distinct function and meaning in the worlds of the physical and the spiritual. It has, moreover, in its essential nature a corresponding relation to one of the human psychic faculties, besides its well determined chemical and physical potencies when coming in contact with the terrestrially differentiated matter” .
Agni is also an important entity in Ayurveda. It is considered to be the one which is responsible for the sustenance of life. Agni helps in the various physiological functions of the body.
In some Hindu symbolism, Agni’s parents are said to be the two components of the firedrill used to start the fire, and when young he was said to be cared for by ten servants, which represent the fingers of the man who is starting the fire.
In Hindu scriptures, Agni is the God of Fire, and is present in many phases of life such as honouring of a birth (diva lamp), birthdays (birthday candles on a cake), prayers (diva lamp), weddings (Yagna where the bride and groom circle 7 times) and death (cremation).
The cultural influence can also be seen in scientific field ,Agni is the name of India’s first long-range strategic missile capable of nuclear weapons delivery, becoming only the fourth country to have this combined technology (after the Soviet Union/Russia, the United States and China). The Agni-V was successfully test launched on April 19, 2012.