The Cosmic Gods — Agni1

I wish to give a short talk on Agni. Agni is one of our cosmic gods. He is second only to Indra. Indra, Agni, Varuna, Mitra and Rudra are some of the cosmic gods and there are many, many others. Today I would like to speak on Agni, the Fire-God.

You all know that the Rigveda is our most ancient, most sacred and most hallowed scripture. It is most sacred and at the same time, most profound, this Rigveda. In the Vedas you will read about Indra, the Lord of the Gods, who is considered the most important of the cosmic gods. Next to him is Agni. About two hundred verses were offered to this particular god, Agni.

Agni means fire. The fire refers to the aspiring flame that rises from our inmost being; again Agni refers to the Fire-God himself. We are all aspirants. We are all seekers after the infinite Truth. It is we who have to embody Agni, the flame of aspiration, in the inmost recesses of our hearts; again we have to grow upwards with this flame until we become the embodiments of Agni, the Fire-God himself.

There are four Vedas: the Rigveda, the Samadeveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. The Rigveda happens to be the most ancient and at the same time, the most significant of the Vedas. In the Rigveda Agni is the first of the cosmic gods to be invoked; not Indra, not any other god. Our Hindu scripture starts with Agni. Before I began this talk, I quoted and sang several times, the following shloka from the Rigveda:

aghnimīḷe purohitaṃ yajñasya devaṃ ṛtvījam hotāraṃ ratnadhātamam

aghnimīḷe means “I adore or worship the Flame, Agni”. purohitaṃ yajñasya means “the priest, the household priest, of the sacrifice”. Devam is “divine” and ṛtvījam is the priest or minister who officiates at the sacrifice. hotāraṃ is the summoner or the invoker. Ratnadhā means “the one who founds or establishes the jewel of ecstasy, the inner wealth, the nectar”; tamam is the superlative of Ratnadhā. It means now Rat nadhātamam “the one who most founds the inner ecstasy”. So the first verse to Agni runs thus in free translation:

"“O Agni, I adore Thee, O priest, O divine Minister who officiates at the divine Sacrifice and who is at the same time the Invoker, the Summoner who most bestows the divine wealth upon us.”"

Now here at this point, I would like to mention one thing. Translation can never do justice to these sublime and profound Sanskrit words. I use the English words priest and minister and so forth, but I beg to be excused for doing so. These English equivalents can never convey the word ritvik, the Invoker, the Summoner of the Supreme, the one who officiates at the sacrifice. Anyone who knows both Sanskrit and English will immediately feel that there is a yawning gulf between the Sanskrit words ritvik, hotāram and the English words priest, minister and so forth.

Let me explain a little about the priest, Agni. He is at once three different priests: first he is the praying priest. He is praying on our behalf, on behalf of the earth-consciousness. Then he is the officiating priest, closer to what we might call a minister of the church. He officiates at the divine sacrifice on our behalf. In his third aspect he is the priest who bestows the divine wealth upon us. This last priest carries our aspiration to the highest and brings down the message of the Highest for us. As I have said very often, a spiritual master enters into the disciples’ ignorance and carries the ignorance up into the highest. Then he brings down God’s Peace, Light and Bliss. So the Master is a messenger boy. Here also Agni plays the part of a messenger. He takes our human aspiration to the Absolute Supreme and brings down Divine Grace into our unlit and crying humanity.

Now I wish to tell you something about the origins of our Sanskrit language. About the beginning of our physical creation, we do not know a great deal in terms of concrete facts. But we know that all the ancient cultures had their own way of understanding and describing the origin of the creation. Hindu books describe the beginning of the universe in various ways. The Bible explains it in another way. Almost all scriptures, even those of the primitive tribes, have their own unique way of dealing with the beginning of creation. Now about the beginning of language or the beginning of human aspiration in the form of language, there is a particular pattern that many languages followed.

In Sanskrit, the mother of all our Indian languages, A is the first letter of the alphabet as it is in English. Agni is the first and foremost priest and his name starts with A. The beginning of the Veda starts with a hymn to Agni, so the Veda starts off with A. Now let us look very briefly at some Western languages. Hebrew begins with aleph and Greek with alpha, the same sound approximately as our A. Latin and the various languages derived from it, such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, etc. also begin with the letter A. So also do the Teutonic languages. In fact, probably all the languages of the Indo-European language group begin with the sound “a” and many other language groups also start their alphabet with this sound. We can be proud of our human oneness. It seems that the first sound that arose from the human consciousness at the very beginning of the awakening of the human race was the sound “a” symbolised by the letter A. When people first tried to communicate with each other, the first sound that came from their lips was undoubtedly “a”. Even an infant’s first cry is the sound “a-a-a”. So A symbolises our root sound. The source is one; one source.

To be continued

  1. AUM 858. This talk was given by Sri Chinmoy at the New York Sri Chinmoy Centre, on 2 August 1970.