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(Information provided by Janine Donnellan)
Agni is the Hindu God of Fire: In early Hindu belief, Agni is one of the most important of the Vedic gods and much of his importance comes from the role of fire in sacrifices and rituals. Agni is the conduit and messenger between the human realm and the celestial realm. Burnt sacrifices made through him are believed to go directly to other deities in heaven. During the Vedic age, Agni was frequently propitiated as an integral part of the animal sacrifices during this period. In modern times, Agni continues to be a central part of the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, which revolves around a fire-altar.
Agni was also given various other roles and functions. Not only does he have the ability to shape human life during the moment of sacrifice, but he also influences the fate of each human being after death, as well, which is evident in the ritual of creation.
Creations attributed to him include the stars, which were formed from the sparks which result from his flames, as well as the Agneyestra a fire weapon. Due to his characteristic vigilance and persistence, it is not surprising that in some stories about the Hindu gods, Agni is the one who is sent to the front in particularly dangerous situations. In the Puranas, Agni is said to serve as one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the southeast.
Agni is often depicted with two faces which are smeared with butter. He has seven fiery tongues and sharpened, golden teeth. He is red in color, with black eyes and wild, black hair. He has seven arms and three legs, and seven rays of light emanate from his body. He either rides on a ram, or on a chariot, pulled by goats or sometimes parrots.
Agni loves all his worshipers equally, and so is loved in turn by all of them. He visits everyone's hearth, no matter if they are rich or poor. He is the mediator between the gods and mankind.
It is said that when people use fire, they must face it toward the proper direction for different uses. When facing East, the fire should be used for sacrifices to the gods; when facing South, the fire should be used for sacrifices to the Manes or spirits of the dead; a cooking fire should always face toward the West. The proper offering to Agni, and hence all the gods, is ghee, which is clarified butter. Agni also had the power to impart immortality on mortals, as well as remove all sins at the time of one's death.
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