Pancha Bhoota Sthalams
Agni Lingam (South East)
Agni Arunachala Mythology
Lord Agni Narrative

Pancha Bhoota Sthalams

The Pancha Bhoota are five great elements, which, according to Hinduism are the basis of all cosmic creation.

These elements are:
Earth (Prithvi)
Water (Varuna)
Agni (Fire)
Air (Vayu)
Ether (Aakasha)

The Pancha Bhoota Sthalams refer to five temples dedicated to Lord Shiva that each represent a manifestation of the five prime elements of nature. The Temples are located in South India; four in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. The respective elements are believed to be enshrined in each of the lingams located at the five temples.

The five grand temples associated with the five basic elements are:

1. Earth - (Bhoomi or Nilam) - Kanchipuram - Ekambareswarar Temple

2. Water - (Neer) - Thiruvanaikaval - Jambukeswara Temple

3. Fire - (Agni or Nerupu) - Tiruvannamalai - Annamalaiyar Temple

4. Wind - (Vaayuvu or Kaatru) - Srikalahasti

5. Sky - (Akaasam or AAkayam) - Chidambaram - Chidambaram Temple

At Arunachaleswarar (Annamalaiyar) Temple, the element manifested is Fire. The Shiva Linga here represents the element fire and is called Jyothi Lingam. Shiva is said to have manifested himself in the form of a column of effulgence, whose zenith and nadir could not be found by either; the Hindu God of creation, Brahma or the Hindu God of preservation, Vishnu. A celebration of this manifestation is seen even today in the age old traditions observed during the festivals of Mahashivarathri and Karthigai Deepam. Agni Lingam explains the mythics of life-duty, virtue, self-sacrifice and ultimately liberation by and through an ascetic life.

Agni Lingam (South East)

Arunachala Hill and the Lingam inside Arunachaleswarar Temple are both regarded as Swayambhu Lingams (i.e. self-manifested). In addition to the Hill and Lingam inside the Temple's Siva Sannidhi, Arunachala is surrounded by eight Manusi (man-made) Lingams known as the Asta Lingams, with each residing in one of the eight directions of the four cardinal points (South-Yama, West-Varuna, North-Kubera, and East-Indra) and four intercardinal points (South East-Agni, South West-Niruthi, North West-Vayu and North East-Esanaya).

The guardians of the four cardinal directions are called the Lokapalas and are the deities who rule the specific directions of space. The name for the eight deities; the four cardinal and four intercardinal directions - is 'Asta-Dikpalas.'

The arrangement of the Asta Lingams around the octagonal perimeter of Arunachala reflects the geometry of a Cosmogram. Each of these Shrines (located at the four cardinal and four inter-cardinal points) were believed by the ancients who originally constructed the Asta Lingam Shrines to represent, characterise and vitalise certain aspects and qualities of life in relation to specific fields of energy and influence.

Agni Lingam, Arunachala Girivalam Roadway

The Agni Lingam has south-east as its direction. It is situated close to Seshadri Ashram on Chengam road and is the only Lingam out of the Asta Lingams which is located on the right side of the Girivalam Path.

Lord Chandra (Moon) is the dominant Navagraha of Agni Lingam. Lord Agni, is God of the fire of Knowledge. He has seven hands and seven tongues. Agni is the light of the lives of all creatures and is invoked in the performance of Homa. His vehicle is the goat Saga who serves as the sacrificial beast in the fires of Homa.

Worshipping this Lingam helps devotees get relief from disease, maintain good health and also helps them face problems and difficulties in their lives.

Agni Arunachala Mythology

Fire or Agni is the fourth element of the Panchabhutas. The essential character of Fire is to generate heat and according to Hindu Mythology, Agni is one of the Eight Guardians that guard our Universe known as Asta-dik-palakas.

In Indian mythology there are mentions of various types of fires. The four important ones are fire of the earth, fire of the sky, fire of the stomach (can mean hunger or digestive power) and the fire we commonly use.

There is a wealth of mythology attached to Arunachala connected to its association with fire and what is related to fire i.e. light and the sun.

A special association of Arunachala as Agni Kshetra, is that of fire walking. There is a festival called Thee-midi Utsavam in Tamil Nadu. On the day of this Festival, people walk on burning charcoal - which is not observed at Arunachala per the agama rules. However in the Tamil month of Aadi on the day of Pooram (Pushya) star, this fire walking festival is performed directly in front of the Unnamulai Shrine (the consort of Lord Arunachaleshawara).

Firewalking at Arunachaleswarar Temple

To further enhance Arunachala as Agni Kshetra, the Kaman Festival (Manmatha Dahanam) is celebrated in front of Lord Arunachaleswarar every spring.

Manmatha Dahanam

The Devas, who were being tortured by the demon Taraka, knew that they could only be saved when a son of Lord Shiva and Parvati killed the demon. Observing that the Gods were concentrated only on yoga, the Devas asked Manmatha to disturb the meditating Lord Shiva with his arrows in order to induce lust in Lord Shiva for Parvati. Manmatha refused since he knew that it would be fatal for him. But the other Devas threatened to curse him if he didn't obey. Knowing that it was better to be killed by the Lord than by the curses of Devas, Manmatha went with his wife, Rati, to the abode of the meditating Shiva.

Manmatha shooting his arrows at Lord Shiva

Manmatha shot a flower arrow on the Lord which awakened Shiva from his meditation. The next moment fire from the Lord's third eye burnt Manmatha. Shocked by the death of the God of Love, the Devas realised their plots would not work and that only sincerity would win the Lord's Grace - they thus surrendered to Lord Shiva and pleaded for mercy. The Lord forgave them and resuscitated Manmatha but agreed to let him live only in a disembodied form. After sometime a boy was born to Lord Shiva and Parvati named Kartikeya, who went on to defeat the demon Taraka.

Lord Agni Narrative

According to tradition Agni has ten forms:-

Ordinary fire
Digestive fire
Destructive Fire
Fire using sticks in sacrificial ritual.
Fire given at initiation
Fire kept in house for domestic purposes
Southern fire of ancestors used in certain rituals.
Funeral fire in cremation

Lord Agni

Agni, the God of Fire, is one of the most prominent of the deities of the Vedas. With the single exception of Indra, more hymns are addressed to him than to any other deities:

"Bright, seven-rayed god, how manifold thy shapes
Revealed to us thy votaries: now we see thee
With body all of gold; and radiant hair
Flaming from three terrific heads, and mouths,
Whose burning jaws and teeth devour all things.
Now with a thousand glowing horns, and now
Flashing thy lustre from a thousand eyes,
Thou'rt borne towards us in a golden chariot,
Impelled by winds, and drawn by ruddy steeds,
Marking thy car's destructive course with blackness

Various accounts are given as to the origin of Agni. He is said to be son of Dyaus and Prithivi; is called the son of Brahma (Abhimani); and reckoned amongst the children of Kasvpa and Aditi - thus one of the Adityas. In later writings he is described as a son of Angiras, king of the Pitris (the fathers of mankind); and the authorship of several hymns is ascribed to him. In pictures he is represented as a red man, having three legs and seven arms, dark eyes, eyebrows and hair. He rides on a ram, wears a poita (Brahmanical thread), and a garland of fruit. Flames of fire issue from his mouth and seven streams of glory radiate from his body.

Another aspect of Lord Agni

Agni is an immortal who has taken up his abode with mortals as their guest. He is the domestic priest who rises before the dawn, and who concentrates in his own person all the various sacrificial offices which the Indian ritual assigns to a number of different human functionaries.

He is a sage, the most divine among the sages, and acquainted with all forms of worship; the wise director, the successful accomplisher, and the protector of all ceremonies, who enables and instructs men to serve the gods in a correct and acceptable manner. He is a swift messenger, moving between heaven and earth commissioned both by gods and men to maintain their mutual communication; to announce to the immortals sacred hymns and to convey to them the oblations of their worshippers; or to bring them (the immortals) down from the sky to the place of sacrifice. He accompanies the gods when they visit earth and shares in the reverence and adoration which they receive. He makes the oblations fragrant; without him the gods experience no satisfaction.

Agni is the lord, protector, king of men. He is the lord of the house, dwelling in every abode. He is a guest in every home; he despises no man, he lives with every family. He is therefore considered as a mediator between gods and men, and as a witness of their actions; hence to the present day he is worshipped, and his blessing sought on all solemn occasions, as at marriage, death, etc. In old hymns Agni is spoken of as dwelling in the two pieces of wood being rubbed together to produce fire; and it is thought of as remarkable that a living being should spring out of dry (dead) wood. Strange to say, says the poet, the child, as soon as born, begins with unnatural voracity to consume his parents. Wonderful is his growth, seeing that he is born of a mother who cannot nourish him; but he is nourished by the oblations of clarified butter which are poured into his mouth, and which he consumes.

The highest divine functions are ascribed to Agni. Although in some places he is spoken of as the son of heaven and earth, in others, he is said to have stretched them out to have formed them, and all that flies or walks, or stands or moves. He formed the sun, and adorned the heavens with stars. Men tremble at his mighty deeds, and his ordinances cannot be resisted. Earth, heaven, and all things obey his commands. All the gods fear, and do homage to him. He knows the secrets of mortals, and hears the invocations that are addressed to him.

Lord Agni as Homam, sacrificial fire

The worshippers of Agni prosper, are wealthy, and live long. He watches with a thousand eyes over the man who brings him food, and nourishes him with oblations. No mortal enemy can by any wondrous power gain the mastery over him who sacrifices to this god. He also confers and is the guardian of immorality. In a funeral hymn, Agni is asked to warm with his heat the unborn (immortal) part of the deceased, and in his auspicious form to carry it to the world of the righteous. He carries men across calamities, as a ship over the sea. He commands all the riches in earth and heaven; hence he is invoked for riches, food, deliverance, and in fact all temporal good. He is also prayed to as the forgiver of sins that may have been committed through folly. All gods are said to be comprehended in him; he surrounds them as the circumference of a wheel does the spokes.

The main characteristics of this deity are: -

"Great Agni, though thine essence be but one,
Thy forms are three; as fire thou blazest here,
As lightning flashest in the atmosphere,
In heaven thou flamest as the golden sun

It was in heaven thou hadst thy primal birth;
By art of sages skilled in sacred lore
Thou wast drawn down to human hearths of yore,
And thou abidest a denizen of earth

Sprung from the mystic pair,* by priestly hands
In wedlock joined, forth flashes Agni bright;
But, oh! ye heavens and earth, I tell you right,
The unnatural child devours the parent brands
[*The two pieces of wood from which fire is produced]

But Agni is a god; we must not deem
That he can err, or dare to comprehend
His acts, which far our reason's grasp transcend;
He best can judge what deeds a god beseem

And yet this orphaned god himself survives:
Although his hapless mother soon expires,
And cannot nurse the babe as babe requires
Great Agni, wondrous infant, grows and thrives

Smoke-bannered Agni, god with crackling voice
And flaming hair, when thou dost pierce the gloom
At early dawn, and all the world illume,
Both heaven and earth and gods and men rejoice

In every home thou art a welcome guest,
The household tutelary lord, a son,
A father, mother, brother, all in one,
A friend by whom thy faithful friends are blest

A swift-winged messenger, thou callest down
From heaven to crowd our hearths the race divine,
To taste our food, our hymns to hear, benign,
And all our fondest aspirations crown

Thou, Agni, art our priest: divinely wise,
In holy science versed, thy skill detects
The faults that mar our rites, mistakes corrects.
And all our acts completes and sanctifies

Thou art the cord that stretches to the skies,
The bridge that scans the chasm, profound and vast.
Dividing earth from heaven, o'er which at last
The good shall safely pass to Paradise

But when, great god, thine awful anger glows,
And thou revealest thy destroying force,
All creatures flee before thy furious course,
As hosts are chased by overpowering foes

Thou levellest all thou touchest; forests vast
Thou shear'st, like beards which barbers' razor shaves.
Thy wind-driven flames roar loud as ocean's waves.
And all thy track is black when thou hast past

But thou, great Agni, dost not always wear
That direful form; thou rather lov'st to shine
Upon our hearths, with milder flame benign,
And cheer the home where thou art nursed with care

Yes! thou delightest all those men to bless
Who toil unwearied to supply the food
Which thou so lovest - logs of well-dried wood
And heaps of butter bring, thy favourite mess

Though no cow possess, and have no store
Of butter, nor an axe fresh wood to cleave,
Thou, gracious god, wilt my poor gift receive:
These few dry sticks I bring - I have no more

Preserve us, lord ; thy faithful servants save
From all the ills by which our bliss is marred;
Tower like an iron wall our homes to guard,
And all the boons bestow our hearts can crave

And when away our brief existence wanes,
When we at length our earthly homes must quit.
And our freed souls to worlds unknown shall flit.
Do thou deal gently with our cold remains

And then, thy gracious form assuming, guide
Our unborn part across the dark abyss
Aloft to realms serene of light and bliss.
Where righteous men among the gods abide.

In a celebrated hymn of the Rig-Veda, attributed to Visishtha; Indra and the other gods are called upon to destroy the Kravyads (the flesh-eaters), or Rakshas, enemies of the gods. Agni himself is a Kravyad and as such takes an entirely different character. He is then represented under a form as hideous as the beings he (in common with the other gods) is called upon to devour. He sharpens his two iron tusks, puts his enemies into his mouth, and devours them. He heats the edges of his shafts, and sends them into the hearts of the Rakshasas.

In the Mahabharata, Agni is represented as having exhausted his vigour by devouring too many oblations, and desiring to consume the whole Khandava forest, as a means of recruiting his strength. He was [at first] prevented from doing this by Indra; but having obtained the assistance of Krishna and Arjuna, he baffled Indra, and accomplished his object.

According to the Ramayana, in order to assist Vishnu when incarnate as Rama, Agni became the father of Nila by a monkey mother; and, according to the "Vishnu Purana," he married Swaha, by whom he had three sons - Pavaka, Pavamana, and Suchi.

There is also yet another form of Agni known as Vadavagni (Vadava-agni - "marefire") and represents Agni's most terrible form, which remains hidden deep under the sea. It's waiting for the ‘right' moment to destroy the world.

Hindu scriptures mention an ancient belief that the escape of this fire from under the ocean will, in the end, consume the current cycle of creation and prepare the universe for the next cycle of creation.

Agni has many names; those more generally known are the following:-

Vahni, "He who receives the horn, or burnt sacrifice."
Vitihotra, "He who sanctifies the worshipper."
Dhananjaya, "He who conquers (destroys) riches."
Jivalana, "He who burns."
Dhumketu, "He whose sign is smoke."
Chhagaratha, "He who rides on a ram."
Saptajihva, "He who has seven tongues."