Agni, the ancient Vedic deity of fire, has always appealed to me. But until today, I’d only met Agni through poetry, like this hymn to Agni, the fifth hymn of the third book of the Rig Veda, as translated by Ralph Griffith:
Agni who shines against the Dawns is wakened;
the holy Singer who precedes the sages:
With far-spread luster, kindled by the pious,
the Priest has thrown both gates of darkness open.
Agni has waxed mighty by songs of praise,
to be adored with hymns of those who praise him.
Loving the varied shows of holy Order
at the first flush of dawn, he shines as envoy.
Midst mortal’s homes, Agni has been established,
fulfilling with the Law; Friend, germ of waters.
Loved and adored, the height he has ascended;
the Singer, object of our invocations.
Thus I was pleased to finally see a visual depiction of Agni at the Asian Art Museum this afternoon. He was part of a painting from the Ramayana, protecting Sita during her trial by fire, as imagined by a Balinese artist c. 1850-1900. Since this was a traveling exhibit, photography was not permitted, so I drew a quick sketch of Agni — leaving out Sita, Rama, the army of monkeys, the tongues of fire, and everything else in this detailed painting:
Another in a series of stories for liberal religious kids. This is my adaptation of a hymn from the Rig Veda (book 10, hymn 90). Notes and discussion at the end.
Before the beginning of all things, a giant being named Purusha existed. Purusha had thousands of heads, and thousands of eyes, and thousands of feet. He was huge and embraced the earth on all sides; and at the same time he filled a space only ten fingers wide, the size of the space which holds a human soul. Purusha was the Primeval Man, the man who came before all human beings.
Purusha was everything, all that had once been, and all that which shall be in the future. He was the god of immortality, and he now lives through sacrificial food which humans offer up to him. All beings and creatures make up one quarter of him; the rest of him is immortal life in a world beyond this world. The three quarters of Purusha which are immortal life rose up high, and the remaining one quarter of him remains here on earth.
Before the beginning, Purusha gave birth to his female counterpart, who was named Virat. When she was born, she took the form of an egg. And then Virat in turn gave birth, and she bore her male counterpart, Purusha. Continue reading “The hymn of Purusha”