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Agni ( Sanskrit m., अग्नि Agni "fire", "god of fire") is the fire form of the divine in Hinduism and is one of the most important gods of the Vedic religion . A distinction must be made between the physical phenomenon and God: Agni exists in both heavenly invisible and earthly visible forms. The god protects both the sacred sacrificial fire and the domestic hearth fire. He is considered to be the mediator between people and gods (messenger of the gods), since he brings them the sacrifices (messenger of offerings), which is why he is also known as the "eater of the offerings" and the "mouth of the gods". Together with Indra and Vayu he forms a Vedic triad of gods , with Soma and Brihaspati he is one of the liturgical gods.

The fire is considered to be Agni's earthly manifestation


Many passages in the Vedic hymns, the oldest scriptures of the Hindus, call him "the all-pervading spirit", whose manifestations are the devas , the gods. Agni manifests as fire on earth in wood and stone, but as lightning in the air - then it is Indra and as the sun in the sky - then it is Surya . His parents are heaven ( Dyaus ) and earth ( Prithivi ), which he devours immediately after his birth. Sometimes Aditi is also named as his mother, which is why he is also an Aditya . Although Agni's benevolent and benevolent traits predominate, he also has a terrifying side, which is reflected in the fact that the corpses of the dead are traditionally his prey.

Measured by the number of hymns addressed to him , he takes second place in the Rigvedasamhita , eight of the ten song circles (books) of the Rigvedasamhita begin with the Agnis award. Agni also symbolizes fire as a male force, as it probably existed in all early Indo-European cultures alongside the original idea of ​​a factual fire (Germ. Fiur, Greek pyr) (cf. Latin ignis, Russian ogon, both etymologically related to agni). As such a power, Agni was thought to be omnipresent, for example in the sun, or as a digestive fire ( Jataragni ) in the stomachs of people.

In contrast to the other Vedic gods, he is a sedentary god and has a special, personal, close and intimate relationship with people. This is particularly due to the fact that Agni acts as a kind of messenger between humans and gods. He brings the gods the invitation to sacrifice as well as the wishes and offerings (the smoke) of the people with whom he ascends to heaven. He also looks for the gods and leads them to the place of sacrifice. Because of this important position with the victim, the first hymn of the Rig Veda and every victim begin with their invocation. He is the "preceding" ( purohita ) of the gods and is considered a kind of protective shield for people. Agni can therefore also be regarded as the highest "sacrificial priest". He is the leader, lord, defender, guardian and patron of the human community, protecting it from enemies and plagues, driving the darkness away and bringing prosperity to people. As guardian of the world, he cleanses people from their sins after their death and thus brings them immortality. Thus, he is also considered a true friend of people and especially of the family, who also lives in every house in the form of the hearth fire and knows the secrets of the people. (The worship of the hearth fire is found in many religions, including those of the Romans and Zoroastrians .) In general, he is not an angry god who needs to be appeased, but a benevolent god who is friendly to people. The Vedas always give him a certain intellectual honesty, honesty, omniscience and great wisdom. He is a watchful, ageless, insurmountable god. In the hymns addressed to him, he is mainly shown gratitude and appreciation for his mediating role in the sacrificial fire. Its importance results directly from the central importance of the sacrificial fire Yajna , which in the Vedic time was almost the only and most important form of sacrifice.

Agni is married to Svaha ("So be it"), the goddess of the blessing in the sacrificial fire, who complements him in his function as the sacrificial god. His brothers are Indra and Surya . As the son of Aditi, he is a permanent member of the Adityas. In some traditions, Agni and not Shiva is considered the father of Skanda, god of war .

Agni in Hinduism today

In the post-Vedic period, Agni became less important. Nevertheless, it plays an important role in today's religious life of the Hindus: on certain occasions, especially when it comes to cleaning ceremonies such as the inauguration of apartments, shops or the like, the priest ritually lights the holy fire. Agni is worshiped in the fire offering, now also called Homa or Havan . At an apartment inauguration, for example, the priest or the owner carries the bowl with the smoldering fire through all rooms in a blessing. Especially with all samskaras , the Hindu sacraments, the living presence of the divine in its flame form is necessary in all cases:

A Brahmin priest puts clarified butter (
ghee ) in a holy fire.

A Hindu couple marry by walking around the fire seven times together.

During the cremation of the dead, the priest quotes: “May Agni take you where you have to go!” And with mantras he asks: “O Agni! When the body is burned, bring the spirit to its ancestors! ” .

Agni is also regularly mentioned in the two important Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana . For example, Indra and his son Arjuna help the god in the Mahabharata to regain his powers by burning down a forest. In the Ramayana, Agni Sita emerges unscathed from the ordeal and also takes care of the wounds of the monkey god Hanuman after the "demon king" Ravana had set fire to his tail and wounded it in battle.

At that time, the Yajna fire sacrifice was probably the most important sacrificial ritual in which the offerings (meat, soma and clarified butter ) were thrown into the holy fire (sacrificial cult). With the transition to Hinduism, which became a cult of images, its once important role in sacrifice finally ceased. In contrast to the impersonal Vedic fire sacrifice, it is possible today to worship the gods personally and directly through puja and darshana . While the yajnas could only be performed by brahmins, the pujas can also be performed by so-called religious lay people. Nowadays, Agni is only the Lokapala of the southeast. Agni's function as the supreme Brahmin "sacrificial priest" merges in the Brahmanas in the form of Brahma , with whom he merges.


Agni in a miniature from the 18th century

Pictorial representations show Agni as an old, two- or three-headed man with three tongues, three legs, seven arms, six eyes and four horns. The three heads, legs and tongues stand for his different births, places of residence and manifestations. The god is always depicted in fiery red body color and the attributes water jug, book, "sacred cord" ( sutra ) around the upper body and flaming sword. Flames are his garb and he spits fire from his mouth. Its flag is smoke and its companion ( vahana ) is a ram or a goat. Some depictions also show him as an old man with a long beard. Occasionally, however, he appears in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. The god is old and yet always young. However, this anthropomorphic form is mainly important for mythology, in ritual it is present in fire.


  • Gerhard J. Bellinger: Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie. Knaur, Munich 1999, Agni
  • Jan Gonda: The Religions of India. Part 1: Veda and Older Hinduism. In: The Religions of Mankind. Vol. 11, W. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1960, Agni
  • Rachel Storm: Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology. Reichelsheim 2000, ISBN 3-89736-305-4 , Agni
  • Axel Michaels: Hinduism . Beck, Munich 1998

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gonda, Jan, 1. The religions of India, Veda and older Hinduism , W. Kohlhammer Verlag Stuttgart 1960, Agni
  2. Storm, Rachel, Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology , Reichelsheim 2000, Agni
  3. ^ A b Storm Rachel, Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology , Reichelsheim 2000, Agni
  4. a b c d Gonda, Jan, Religionen der Menschheit, Volume 11, Veda and older Hinduism , W. Kohlhammer Verlag Stuttgart 1960, Agni
  5. ^ Gerhard J. Bellinger, Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie , Knaur, Munich 1999, Agni
  6. Axel Michels, Der Hinduismus , CH Beck Verlag, Munich 1998, page 51
  7. ^ Gerhard J. Bellinger, Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie , Knaur 1999, Agni
  8. ^ Gonda, Jan, Religions der Menschheit, Volume 11, Veda and older Hinduism , W. Kohlhammer Verlag Stuttgart 1960, Agni

Web links

Commons : Agni  - collection of images, videos and audio files