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Agni And Soma Interplay: Life Thrives On Life

1.1. The whole of universe is viewed as a perpetual yajna. At each moment of its existence one form or the other of its energies is being transformed into another form of energy; one form of life is transformed into another form of life; one form of life or its derivatives is consumed by another form of life. This ceaseless activity of transformation and devouring of the one by another seems to be the very nature of universe.

1.2. It is said, the universe has a triple aspect: the devourer, the devoured and their relationship, which is the yajna. It is through this relationship that the universe exists and endures; thus yajna is identified with Vishnu, the all pervading preserver. “The yajna is Vishnu” (‘yajno vai Vishnuhuh’: Taittereya Brahmana 2.1.83)

agni

1.3. The texts mention that all of universe could be broadly classified into two factors anna (the food) and annada (the one who eats or consumes). Every creature is the devourer of another and the food of some other. “I am food, I am food, I am food; I am the eater, I am the eater, I am the eater….the first born “(Taittereya Upanishad:3.10.06) – 

aham-annam-aham-annam-aham-annam;aham-annādo aham -annādo’-aham-annāda;aham-asmi prathamajā ṛtā sya , pūrvaṃ devebhyo amṛtasya nā bhāi

Similar statements occur in other texts:”The whole world is verily the food and the eater of food “(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 1.4.6)

 etāvad vā idaṃ sarvam annaṃ caivānnādaś ca | soma evānnam agnir annādaḥ |

2.1. Existence involves devouring and being devoured. In other words, life thrives on life (jivo jeevasya jeevanam).The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive states of everything. The processes of life and death are entwined, each giving rise to the other.

2.2. In this process the ‘Agni-principle’ represents the ‘eater’, while the ‘Soma-principle’ represents the ’food’, which feeds the Agni. The two were born together : eka-yonyā-tmakāv agnīṣomau “All this universe of conscious and unconscious is made up of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering)” (Mahabharata –Shanthi parva- 328.52). The process during which Agni the fire devours Soma the fuel is in the nature of yajna.

agniḥ somena saṃyukta ekayoni mukhaṃ kṛtam / agnī-ṣomātmakaṃ tasmāt jagat kṛtsnaṃ carācaram //12,328.052 //

2.3. The evolving universe is propelled by the interaction between these two forces of nature. Agni represents the ‘metabolism ‘of the universe. It is the agent for causing change. Soma, which stands for all that nourishes, is the fuel that sustains Agni. The pair, Agni and Soma, each need the other; and the two in tandem create, sustain and recycle the substances in the universe, ensuring continuity and evolution of life. This is the yajna.

3.1. There are many forms of yajna whether cosmic or human. Every form of creation human or otherwise has the character of yajna.”Any action of man which may promote betterment of man has the nature of yajna” (yogatrayananda – Shiva ratri)

3.2. It is explained that existence implies action. One can hardly remain for a moment without breathing, thinking or dreaming. Something or other is happening all the while to keep the body and mind alive. Action can be neutral having no moral value; or it can be positive; or negative. Even inaction is a form of action. We, all the while, take part in the yajna of life   either as instruments or its feed. The main activity of one’s existence is to take part in the ongoing ritual, yajna.

Let’s come back to the interaction between Agni and Soma,  a little later.

Agni

4.1. Agni is one of the most important deities of the Rig Veda. He is one of the Regents of space (Dikpala). He rules over the South-East (Agneya) and is called the first or the forward light (puro jyotishu). Agni the son of the heavens (gagana atmaja) is pictured as a priestly sage, beneficial to gods and men. He is the friendly mediator between men and gods. It is through Agni that man communicates with gods and dwellers of celestial spheres.

4.2. Agni is the purifier of all; and, all that purifies is yajna (Chandogya Upanishad: 4.16.1) – eṣa ha vai yajño yo’yaṃ pavate eṣa ha yannida sarvaṃ punāti. And, all that has been purified is worthy of being offered to gods; “He feeds gods through the mouths of Agni, the first among the gods “ (Aittareya Brahmana: 1.9.2).Agni is oblation eater Hutasa or Hutabhuj, the oblation carrier Havya vahana and the conveyer Vahi.

4.4. Agni had been controlled and domesticated and brought into the home, kept alive through careful tending; and is propitiated with offering. Agni is the friend and the center of household in the ritual sense or otherwise.   Agni is the protector of men and their homes; he presides over all sacraments. He is the witness to all the significant events and commitments that men and women make in their lives. Agni validates their life events on all solemn occasions.

 5.1. Agni is represented as all that burns and devours or digests. Agni is Vaisvanara the all pervader; the one who spreads, takes over and consumes. Agni is the Sun, heat, stomach, lust, passion and speech. Digestive acids are considered forms of Agni;   food is the offering. The fire of anger, the fire of lust, and all that destroys opens possibilities of other forms of yajna. War is one of the other forms of yajna –maarana homa. Human life and its efforts to exist amidst adversities; and to survive is an ongoing yajna.

5.2. The nature of the Agni is the nature of existence, as well as its source and symbol. At each moment some form of Agni is busy devouring some form of life, of fuel. Even the Sun, a form of Agni, burns devouring its own substance and puts out energy. All aspects of combustion, of digestion, of processing and of creation are forms of Agni.

5.3. The splendors or the shining quality in anything is a subtle form of Agni; he is the power of the inner as well the outer illumination, the power of knowledge as well as of perception. He is the Lord of knowledge. Understanding the science of fire in all its forms is the key to all knowledge.

 [ To take Agni as the name of the ritual fire only is to mistake the signifier for the signified. He is many things: a flame, a stream, a bird, a tree, a boat, a lion, a horse, a chariot, a craftsman, a thinker, a warrior, a sage and a knower, a seer and a will, often the seer-will (kavikratu), and he fulfills many functions: messenger, guest, priest of the call, bringer of the oblation, knower of all things born, friend and leader of the human people, fosterer, purifier, and none of these exhaust his reality, for he is said to have many names and to be manifold in his forms. But he is always connected with the truth , satyam, ritam, possessing the truth, ritavân.

Similarities between Sumerian Anki and Vedic Agni by Jean-Yves Lung [

Soma
   

6.1. Soma is personified as a deity and is one of the most important Vedic gods. All of the 114 hymns of the ninth book of the Rig Veda, known as the Soma Mandala, are addressed to Soma Pavamana(purified Soma). The hymns are in celebration of Soma represented as the most powerful god, healer of diseases, bestower of riches, and lord of all other gods. Soma is referred to in the Rig-Veda as the soul of the Yajna (atmayajnasya).

6.2. The oblation, the ritual offering in the yajna; that is, the food of the Agni is Soma. Every substance thrown into the sacramental fire is a form of Soma. At the same time, Soma is the elixir of life which stimulates fire and intoxicates the beings – apāma somam amṛtā abhūmāganma jyotir avidāma devān |RV_8,048.03

6.3. It mixes freely with water and is responsible for sweetness (madhurya) in food. And, as food it nourishes all forms of life.  It enters the herbs and supports beings with long and healthy life.  All the food, all the offering, all fuel, the cold, the moist, the moon, the sperm, and the wine etc in the universe are Soma.

chandra

7.1. Soma is a rather difficult concept. I am aware that Soma is variously described as the moon, the manas, the elixir, the honey, the sweetness, the drink, the creeper, the cold, the wet etc. A particular version even presents Soma as electrum (gold-silver metallic compound).  Here, I restrict myself; I prefer to treat Soma as a wonderful concept of the Vedic people employed to suggest an essential functionary that, in combination with Agni the fire of life, brings into existence any good object. It is that which provides reality or substance to the un-manifest (satyvataraya agnau suyate tasmat somah).

7.2. Soma the gentle devoured substance is the partner of Agni the fiery devouring spirit. Soma the substance of the universe is ‘food’.” Food is the principle of all, for, truly, the beings are born from food, when born they live by food; and when they are dead they themselves become food “. (Taittereya Upanishad 3.2)

annaṅ brahmēti vyajānāt. annāddhyēva khalvimāni bhūtāni jāyantē. annēna jātāni jīvanti. annaṅ prayantya-bhisaṅ-viśantīti. ৷৷3.2.1৷৷

Agni – Soma interplay

8.1. It is not possible to say whether food is more important than the eater; fuel more important than the fire; substance more important than action. Both fire and offering are important to one another. Both arise from the same root and both are the essential aspects of yajna, and of all life. Agni and Soma, each compliment the other wonderfully well; and that is the essence of all existence.

8.2. The life begins with yajna and ends in a yajna. Semen is Soma, yoni the yajna-vedi the altar and passion is the fire. Agni is the desire, the thirst, the intentional will; and Soma is that which aids to fructify that desire. They together bring forth a new life. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.3) classifies the act of procreation under ‘Vajpayee yajna’. The Agni- Soma pair participates in all creative processes.

sa yāvān ha vai vājapeyena yajamanasya loko bhavati tāvān asya loko bhavati |
ya evaṃ vidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsāṃ strīṇāṃ sukṛtaṃ vṛṅkte | atha ya idam avidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsya striyaḥ sukṛtaṃ vṛñjate || BrhUp_6,4.3 ||

At the end, man’s body is thrown into the funeral fire as his last offering.

9.1. It is the interplay between food and the eater, of Agni (fire) and Soma (the offering or fuel), which marks the yajna of all our lives. The nature of Agni is to spread and take over; and that of Soma is to contract, consolidate and vanish. Agni takes over; Soma is devoured. These aspects occur in every phase of human life.

9.2. Agni is the warm outward breath; Soma is the cool inward breath. Agni (fire) is life, Soma is activity; Agni is the enjoyer, Soma is that which is enjoyed. Soma is the food that feeds Agni, the hunger, in man’s belly. Soma and Agni together sustain and carry forward the life.

9.3. All substances that are hot, fiery, dry or parched are in the nature of Agni; Substances that are moist, cooling, soothing and nourishing are in the nature of Soma. Agni is red, Soma is the color of night (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.4).Anger, aggression is Agni; that which restrains is Soma. To grab, to take over is Agni; that which consolidates and preserves is Soma. Combustion is Agni; the fluidity in all aspects of life is Soma.

10. At times Agni becomes its own Soma, just as the Sun burns itself to radiate energy. When a substance has spread to its maximum size, it has to contract. Hence, Agni becomes Soma at each stage of its contraction. Soma falling into Agni itself is transformed into Agni. The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive stages of everything. The alternation of Agni and Soma provides the impetus for growth; for all beings which procreate, grow and perish in the yajna, the ritual of life.

Ayurveda

11.1. It is likely that the Agni and Soma was initially a bi-polar, a two humor fire- water medical theory. But that relation blossomed into the classical three humor (tri-dosha) doctrine of Ayurveda. The interplay of Agni and Soma is of vital importance in Ayurveda both at the physical and the subtle levels, as also in the Yoga of Ayurveda.

11.2. According to Ayurveda, a person’s constitution, health and disease are a result of the balance/imbalance of three biological humors – vata, pitta and kapha. If the functions of these three humors were well balanced, then the individual would be in a healthy condition. An imbalance within or between them, would lead to various kinds of ailments. This is the tri-dosha-siddhanta. The primary purpose of Ayurveda   is to restore/ maintain proper balance of vata, pitta and kapha.

11.3. These three humours correspond to the active elements of air, fire and water, which in turn are regarded the aspects of the Vedic deities Indra, Agni and Soma. Indra is equated with vata which is in the nature of Vayu (air); Agni is equated with pitta which is fire, combustion and transformation at all levels; while Soma as fundamental liquid of life is equated with kapha the biological water humour. While Vata controls all the movements in the body, pitta takes care of chemical reactions and biosynthesis of various compounds within the body. Kapha, on the other hand, deals with balanced growth, development and functioning of the body.

Samanagni  is the state when the three doshasvatapitta and kapha are well balanced.

12.1. At the subtle level, Indra represents prana the life-force; Agni represents tejas the fire or the sharpness of mind or intellect; while Soma represents ojas the essential body fluids. It is said, whenvata is purified or refined it rises to prana, a higher state of life-force; when pitta is purified it enhances the intensity of perception; and, when kapha is purified the essential body fluids are harmonized, then the mind is transformed. This is the Yoga in Ayurveda; and, it relates to balancing the three humors in their subtle essence as pranatejas and ojas. That is achieved through use of various substances and methods including herbs, medicines, rituals, mantras and meditation.

12.2. Agni and Soma, thus, together are of vital importance; and play complimenting roles in all stages of human development and evolution.

 

Iconography

Agni

 

(i) Rig Veda (4.58.3) describes Agni as:“A great god with four horns, three feet, two heads, and seven hands. He has the form of a Bull bound in places, whose bellowing descends among the mortals ‘.

catvāri śṛṅgā trayo asya pādā dve śīrṣe sapta hastāso asya / tridhā baddho vṛṣabho roravīti maho devo martyāṃ ā viveśa  RV_04.058.03

(ii) Various Agama and Shilpa texts carry his iconographic descriptions. Among such texts, the Shilpa text Isvara samhita (Nrusimha kalpa: 7.14-20) contains an elaborate description of the Agni’s form.

 “Strongly built, with a large belly, Agni is red, with golden brown mustache and red matted hair. He is endowed with two heads sprouting from a single neck. He has four horns (representing four Vedas), two on each head. His each head has three eyes. His two heads together have seven tongues of golden hue (three in the right head and four in the left head) emitting seven colors of fires. Agni should be shown with seven hands, four on the right (holding the ladles sruk and sruva; as also a rosary and a sphere) and three on the left (holding a sphere (shakthi), a fan and a jug holding ghee).  He is dressed in smoke-colored garments, surrounded by flames; and his countenance is placid. He is seated on a ram; and has three feet representing the three ablutions in morning, midday and evening.With these three feet he stands in three worlds.  ”.

(iii) There are other descriptions of Agni with four arms. Agni is described as being red in color; having yellow eyes and two heads. He carries to gods the offerings of the yajna (havya vahana).   His four hands carry an ax, a torch, a fan and a ladle and sometimes a rosary and a flaming spear (shakthi). He is also described as tomara-dhara (one who wields the javelin); Abja-hasta (one with a lotus in hand); Sukasa (bright one) and Suchi (pure), He is the giver of wealth (dravino dasa).

 

Adorned with flames he is dressed in black. His standard is smoke (dhumaketu).He is accompanied by a ram and he sometimes rides it (chagaratha). At times he sits in a chariot drawn by seven red horses (Rohitashva), representing seven meters used in the hymns.. The seven winds are the wheels of his chariot and Vata the air is his charioteer. Agni has also seven tongues of fire (sapta jihva), each of which has a name.

(iv) Agni is commonly depicted as riding a ram or a chariot or in standing position (sthanaka) ever ready to receive the offerings submitted to him. He is not shown either as relaxing (sukhasana) or reclining (sayana).

 Soma

(i) There is no specific iconographic representation of Soma. The stanzas addressed to Soma in the soma-suktha of Rig Veda urge Soma to manifest; but do not refer to his form. The theme of the hymns addressed to Soma generally runs as: “Oh Soma, Pavamana, the overwhelming power in the battles, manifest thyself for the good of our cattle, our people, our horses and useful plants. Protect us from the miser whoever he may be, protect us even from his voice .Open a way for us, carry us beyond difficulties” 

(ii) The iconography of Soma has got mixed up with that of Chandra the Moon, also addressed as Soma. The ancient text Vishnudharmottara (part three, ch.72, verses 1-8) mentions that “Soma should be given the form of the moon”. The text in its earlier passages (ch.68, verses 1-14) had described the form of Lord Chandra the master of the abode of the ancestors. It said:

Chandra drawn by ten horses

“The Lord Moon (Chandra) should be made with lustrous white body because he is composed of the essence of water; with four hands, and white garments. He should be adorned with all ornaments. His two hands hold two white lotuses representing beauty and grace. His chariot with two wheels should have Ambara (horizon) as the charioteer and driven by ten horses representing ten directions; and they are named (from left to right of the Moon) Sarja, Trimanasa, Vrsa, Vadi, Nara, Vach, Saptadhatu, Hamsa, Vyoma and Mrga. The insignia in the left corner of the chariot should bear the mark of lion representing Dharma.

His twenty-eight wives called Nakshatra (stars) should be depicted bright and beautiful. The Moon should be depicted with luster (kanthi), enchanting beauty (shobha) and as the delight of the whole world.

 

 

  

References and sources:

 
The Myths and Gods of India  By Alain Danielou.
Most of the substance is from this book.
 
 
Pictures are from internet
 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Speculation

 

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