by Chandamita Bhattacharya | 2021 | 67,501 words
This page relates ‘Worship and Mythology of Agni’ of the study on the Markandeya Purana, one of the oldest of the eigtheen Mahapuranas preserving the history, civilisation, culture and traditions of ancient India. The Markandeyapurana commences with the questions raised by Rishi Jaimini (a pupil of Vyasa), who approaches the sage Markandeya with doubts related to the Mahabharata. This study examines various social topics such as the status of women, modes of worship, yoga, etc.
The physical background of God Agni is fire which belongs to the Vedic pantheon. Agni is the most prominent figure in the Ṛgveda, who is placed next to Indra. In the next period, the Vedic conception of God Agni is partially held on and occasionally recovered.
In the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa also we find the description of Agni through which the characteristics features of God Agni have been reflected. It has been delineated by sage Mārkaṇḍeya in the context of describing how Śānti, a disciple was directed by his irascible guru, Bhuti. When the sacred fire went out, Śānti used to pray and eulogies Agni. The greatness of Agni has been reflected through his prayer. It has been stated here that Agni provides all the gods the means of their functions. Lord Agni is mentioned as the mouth of the gods, and he cheers up all the gods by taking the oblations in the sacrifice. He is said to be the breath of life of all gods. He is the origin of everything and composer of everything, also supports the sacrifices. At the time of sacrifices, Agni drinks the soma and consumes oblations for which he is called Somapā i.e. drinker of Soma juice. The Sun, the moon, the gods and the demons all gratify Agni as he bears the oblations for all and obtain their desired rewards. Agni is compared with some gods like Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Indra, Aryaman, Varuṇa and Sūrya, the illuminating one. He exists in the various measures of time, viz. lava, muhūrta, kalā, kāṣṭhā, nimeṣa, kṣaṇa, truti and other periods of time. He is the sublime principle of being or essential truth dwelling in the lotus heart of every being. He also sprang up before all the created beings. Though Agni is one, he exists in many forms at a time . For example, He is three fold (trividha) in the form of the air, the earth and the sky and stated as the light which illuminates all the created things. Agni also takes place under the form of glowing light, remains among the siddhas with loveliness, among Nāgas in the form of poison, among the birds in the form of wind. Among the mankind he is stated as anger, for the birds, deer and other animals he is stupidity. Agni is the stability of trees, his hardness is referred to with reference to the earth. He is fluidity in water, he has a form of swiftness in the wind, he is the faculty of permeation abide as soul in the sky. This Purāṇa does not give any idea of the figure or physical structure about lord Agni, but mentions about the seven tongues of Agni, viz. Kāli, Karāī, Manojavā, Sulohitā, Sudhūmravarṇā, Sphuliṅginī and Viśvasṛjā. The Ṛgveda also mentions about the seven tongues of Agni.
Later on, the lord Agni is personified as the wind charioteer god (Anila-sārathi) . The gods, Dānavas, Yakṣas, Daityas, Gandharvas and Rākṣasas, men, cattle, trees, deer, birds and reptiles all are fattened and nourished by Agni. From Agni all these take their birth and they meet their dissolution in Agni at the end. Thus, Agni is said to be the creator of the whole universe, both movable and immovable who nourishes the whole world and all the things created by him. Again, Agni created the water and consumed them and rendered the water wholesome for nourishment of the breathing beings. Agni is the submarine fire that is held within the bottom of the great ocean. He is compared with the gross elements like the wind, the earth with its mountains and forests, the sky which holds the moon and the Sun. Agni has lustre like to gold which is mentioned in the Ṛgveda also. He has golden semen and is the cause of the creation of gold. So he bears the epithets like hiraṇyaretas and Hiraṇyagarbha.
The fact that Agni, a god of immense power, was worshipped by the people, has been revealed from a story described in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. According to the story Bhutī, the irascible, angry disciple of Sage Angiras used to invoke bitter curses and spoke harshly for a small matter. Everything was taking place according to his order. No one could deny his order. Even the sun, the moon, the wind followed the rules created by Bhūti. One day, being summoned by his younger brother, Suvarcas, to a sacrifice to be performed by his brother, Bhūti, went to the sacrifice putting Śānti, his disciple, in charge of his hermitage. He told Śānti to watch the fire in his hermitage so diligently that it might not get extinguished. Though Śānti faithfully performed the duties, one day at the time of Śānti’s fetching fuel, flowers, fruit and other things from the forest, the fire became extinguished. Then, out of the fear of the curse of his guru Śānti became anxious and stressed. At last, Śānti was able to control his mind and he offered a hymn to fires i.e. Agni and prayed him. He joined his hands and knelt down on the ground and offered a hymn to the seven fires which is delineated in verses 27th to 71st of 96th chapter of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa. Through this eulogy of god Agni, the powers and attributes of Agni have been expressed in detail. Finally Agni became pleased with him by his prayer. The adorable fire appeared before him and wanted to grant him two boons what he desired. Accordingly Śānti sought Agni two boons. Firstly, to re-kindle the died out fire and secondly, to obtain a distinguished son for his guru.
Footnotes and references:
āpyāyyante ca te yajñāstvadādhārā hutāśana /
ataḥ sarvasya yo’nistvaṃ vaḥne sarvamayastathā // Ibid., 96.33
hutāśanastvamiti sadābhipūjyase mahākratau niyamaparairmaharsibhiḥ /
acbhiṣṭutaḥ pivasi ca somamadhvare vasaṭkṛtānyapi cahavīṃṣi bhūtaye // Ibid., 96.65
sūryendū sakalasurāsurāśca havyaiḥ /
santoṣyābhimataphalān yathāpnuvanti // Ibid., 96.67
Ibid., 96.67 ab
Ibid., 96.63 c
Ibid., 96.4 o
Ṛgveda, 2.24; 7.3.6
hiraṇyaretāstvaṃ vahne hiraṇyodbhavakāraṇam //
hiraṇyagarbhaśca bhavān hiṛaṇyasadṛśaprabhaḥ / Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 96.49 b-50 a