AGNI (Fire) is one of those very few gods who have retained their supremacy in the Hindu hierarchy of gods completely, unimpaired right from the Vedic age till today.
Fire, is not merely the physical fire we know but the ramifications of the fire element throughout all nature. He is the vital spark in the earth; lightning in the sky; and Surya the sun. He is the sap in the plants, which is carried down to them by the rain.
He is present even in the dry sticks for, by friction, he can be brought to birth from them, and, when freed, soars to heaven. He brings fire down to earth as the lightning, which escapes from the ocean of clouds, which hide it. He is electricity itself and the vital element in man, power over which gives complete freedom and mastery over life. Just as there are seven notes to the scale and seven colors in the spectrum, so fire is sevenfold in its nature, and as each seven can be subdivided seven times, we have the forty-nine fires spoken of.
Fire has always to be brought forth from where he is hiding, but, when he has been released by friction, he has the power to light innumerable things. Fire by friction is one of the earliest gifts given to man by divine beings that helped infant humanity, it is said, and sacrifice by fire has been part of religious rituals down the ages.
There are many descriptive passages in the old scriptures of this great nature god. He is described as raging in the forest like a lion whose golden mane flies in the wind. He eats up everything that is in his path, and breathes out smoke as he burns up the living trees, leaving behind him blackened stumps. Even the wheels of his swift chariot leave dark tracks in the forest, and the sparks, flying out on all sides, turn the grass into a withered mass. All nature is terrified of his approach. He is also likened to a bull among a herd of cows, or to the onward rush of huge masses of water.
These are his destructive aspects. On the other hand he is the friend of man, for he gives him warmth and light, and is a great purifier. In Rig Veda the largest number of hymns are addressed to AGNI. AGNI, as per scriptures, has seven tongues, each of which has a separate name and in being used for licking up butter offered in sacrifices.
AGNI is the son of ANGIRAS and the grandson of SANDILA, one of the seven great sages. In theMahabharata comes an interesting episode. AGNI is there said to have exhausted his vigor by devouring too many oblations and therefore desires to consume the whole KHANDAV forest so as to regain its strength. Indra prevents him but eventually with the help of Krishna, AGNI consumes the forest.
Vishnu Purana on the other hand says that AGNI is the eldest son of Brahma. His wife is SWAHA and through this marriage he has three sons, PAVAK, PAVMAN and SUCHI and through them as forty-six grandsons. Thus AGNI has Forty-nine members as his descendants. In Hari Vans AGNI is clothed in black and has smoke as his standard and carries a flaming javelin. He has four hands and rides in a chariot drawn by red horses.
AGNI himself recited the AGNI Purana to sage VASHISTA. It has portions on ritualistic and mystic methods of worship, the art of wars, the laws of Hindus and glorification of Shiva.