Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": HYMNS TO AGNI

('Rig Veda,' I, 11, III, VII, selections)

1. I praise Agni, domestic priest, divine minister of sacrifice, Invoker, greatest bestower of wealth.1

2. Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers:
He shall bring hitherward the gods. 2
7. To thee, dispeller of the night, 0 Agni, day by day with prayer, Bringing thee reverence, we come;

8. Ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law 3 eternal, radiant one,
Increasing in thine own abode.

9. Be to us easy of approach, even as a father to his son:
Agni, be with us for our weal.

1.. Thou, Agni, shining in thy glory through the days, art brought
to life from out the waters, from the stone;
From out the forest trees and herbs that grow on ground, thou,
sovereign lord of men, art generated pure .4

2. Thine is the Herald's task and Cleanser's duly timed:
Leader art thou, and Kindler for the pious man.
Thou art Director, thou the ministering priest: thou
art the Brahman, lord and master in our home 5

9. Agni, men seek thee as a father with their prayers, win thee,
bright-formed, to brotherhood with holy act.
Thou art a son to him who duly worships thee, and as a trusty
friend thou guardest from attack.

14. By thee, 0 Agni, all the immortal guileless gods eat with thy
mouth the oblation that is offered them.
By thee do mortal men give sweetness to their drink.
Pure art thou born, the embryo 6 of the plants of earth. (II,I,1-2, 9, 14-)

2. That light Of thine in heaven and earth,
0 Agni, in plants,
0 holy one, and in the waters,
Wherewith thou hast spread wide
the air's mid-region
-bright that slendour, wavy, man-beholding. (III, 22, 2.)

4. 1 have begotten this new hymn for Agni, falcon of the Sky:7
will he not give us of his wealth?

8. Shine forth at night and morn: through thee
with fires are we provided well.
Thou, rich in heroes, art our friend.

10. Bright, purifier, meet for praise,
immortal with refulgent glow,
Agni drives Rakshasas 8 away.

13. Agni, preserve us from distress:
consume our enemies, 0 God,
Eternal, with thy hottest flames.

14. And, irresistible, be thou a mighty iron fort to us,
with hundred walls for man's defence.

15. Do thou preserve us, eve and morn, from sorrow,
from the wicked man,
Infallible! by day and night. (VII, 15, 4, 8, 10, 13-15-)


1 Agni, addressed here in the first of 1028 hymns, is second only to Indra in Rig Vedic popularity. As 'Fire' cosmic or ritual-his production, or rather his perpetual regeneration, becomes the subject of some 200 hymns. Typically, in this first brief stanza he is praised as domestic priest (purohita), performer (ritvij) of the sacrifice (yajna), the invoking and reciting priest (hotar), and bestower of wealth upon his worshippers.

2 Agni not only conveys the ablations to the gods, but brings the gods to the sacrifice as well.

3 Rita.

4 Agni is at home in the three worlds. In fact, his characteristics constantly fall into three-fold patterns. Here he is acknowledged as the vital heat in the waters, earth and plants of the terrestrial world. Similarly, he is child of the celestial waters, and as such is the separate deity Apam Napat; he is generated as a spark in the air from between two stones, as Indra generates him in lightning from the' clouds' (cf. Rig Veda II, 12, 3); and thirdly he is on earth the fire kindled in wood.

5 With more detail than in I, 1,1, Agni's priestly roles are enumerated, illustrating not only the complexity of early Vedic ritual, but also the manner in which Agni is seen to pervade the entire sacrificial action. He is hotar, potar (the 'Purifier), neshtar (who leads' forward the wife of the sacrificer), agnidh (the assistant to the adhvaryu who lights the fire by friction), prashastar (the first assistant to the hotar), adhvaryu (who performs the manual aspects of sacrifice such as constructing the altar and preparing the soma), brahman (who in the later ritual is overseer of the sacrifice, but who is here perhaps and assistant), and, finally, Agni is the householder himself.

6 Garbha. Agni is the vital heat, the germ of life.

7 As mediator between the realms of men and of the gods, the characteristics of flight are often Agni's. As divine eagle or falcon (shyena) he is depicted in the Agnicayana (Yajur Veda), the ritual construction of a 10,800 brick fire-altar in the form of a flying bird. The iron fort with a hundred walls in stanza 14 below perhaps recalls the eagle's soma-theft in Rig Veda, IV, 26 and 27.

8 Terrestrial demons who attack and eat humans.

Translation by Ralph T. H. Griffith, in his The Hymns of the Rigveda, I-III (Benares, 1889- 91);adapted by M. Eliade

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