Have you been to that colorful and cultural extravaganza called an Indian wedding ? Often packed into a week of lavish celebrations and abundant food, Indian weddings typically have an extremely long list of invitees. Although Indian weddings are, by and large, arranged marriages, it is a little known fact that arranged marriages are more a cultural phenomenon than a religious tradition and are common not only among Hindus, but also among Sikhs, Jains, Muslims and Christians living in India. The rituals of a wedding can vary widely across the country,but the distinctive feature of a Hindu wedding is the Saptapadi, or Seven Steps in which the bride and groom walk around a blazing fire seven times.Despite the presence of family, friends, relatives, and well-wishers, Hindus recognize that the ultimate witness to the union of man and woman in holy matrimony is the fire god Agni.
Vedic Deity of RigVeda
As the embodiment of fire, Agni is an important Vedic deity. He is said to be the messenger between humans and gods and delivers the sacrificial offerings to the heavens in the form of smoke. In terms of the number of hymns addressed to him, Agni is second only to Indra, which highlights Agni's importance in the Vedic pantheon. Almost all the books of the Rigveda start by addressing Agni. In fact the first hymn in the Rigveda is addressed to him. Among the Vedic deities, Agni alone posed a serious challenge to Indra's supremacy. His dominance can be seen in the fire god of Iranian mythology, which was developed from the same Aryan roots. Agni is said to be the son of Prithvi and Dyaus and therefore the brother of Indra or sometimes even his twin brother.Because of Agni's close association with Indra, Agni took on a mythology that was, in many aspects, similar to that of Indra's.
Agni is said to have been born in a certain form in each of the three regions of the Vedic universe. As a thrice-born deity, he manifests as flames of the sun in the heavens, as lightning in midair, and as altar fire on earth. He comes to life on earth as the product of friction between a male and female stick. Just as a fire stick turns to ashes while trying to sustain a fire, Agni is said to symbolically feed upon his parents, who cannot nourish him after his birth. After he devours his parents, he seeks other sources of sustenance for his survival. Just as Indra draws his strength from soma, Agni feeds on ghee (clarified butter) that has been emptied onto the sacrificial fire. Agni's earthly life has two aspects. As Jataveda, he is called upon to burn offerings;in this capacity he acts as the sacrificial priest and becomes a messenger between humankind and the gods, delivering the sacrificial offerings that ascend as smoke to the heavens. As a Kravyad (flesh eater), however, Agni is invoked to consume corpses and carrion. Among the Vedic gods he is immortal and sometimes said to be ever youthful, although as the originator of sacrificial rites, he is the oldest of all priests.
Although Agni himself is a consumer of flesh offered at sacrifice, he is blessed with the ability to not only remain pure but also to purify impure objects by consuming them. The Mahabharata gives the reason for this blessing. It says that the sage Bhrigu married a woman who was betrothed to a demon. Fearing reprisal from the demon, the sage carried her off to a secret place. The demon, who knew that as fire Agni had access to all places, inquired the deity about the woman's whereabouts.
When Agni Dev became a Monster
In his characteristic truthfulness, Agni revealed the location. The demon dashed to the secret location and took the woman to his home, much to the dismay of Bhrigu, who put a curse on Agni that he shall eat everything -both pure and impure. But Agni protested that honesty had always been his standard policy and in speaking the truth he did only what a deva should do. Fortunately for Agni, common sense prevailed. Bhrigu relented by turning the curse into a blessing. That is why impure objects consumed by fire become pure.
Like Indra, Agni is relentless in his fight against the demons.He is best known for his tussles with the Kravyads, who were known as flesh-eating rakshasas (man-eating demons). Even though Agni himself was a Kravyad in one of his forms, he was summoned by Indra to destroy them. For this purpose Agni assumed his Kravyad form and became an obnoxious monster with tusks. Roaring like a bull, he charged among the Kravyads, piercing them with his sharpened tusks and swallowing them.
Agni is often depicted as a red man who has two heads and three legs.He has seven arms and rides a ram. From his mouth fork seven fiery tongues of flame that lick up the sacrificial butter. He is some times known as Sapta Jihva, meaning "one with seven tongues." With the coming of the Brahmanic age, Agni's standing eroded like that of every other Vedic god, but not to the same extent as Indra's reputation .