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Agni, the Fire God, is in charge of the southeastern portion of the universe. In the sruti-mantras it is said, agnih sarva-devatah: "Fire is the aggregate of all demigods." Agni is the mouth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is through Agni, or fire, that the Lord accepts all sacrificial oblations.

Svaha, one of the daughters of Daksa and Prasuti, was given to be the wife of Agni. Svaha's name is uttered while offering oblations during the fire ceremony. Oblations offered in the sacrificial fire are meant for the demigods, and on behalf of the demigods the three sons of Agni and Svaha, namely Pavaka, Pavamana and Suci, accept the oblations.

From those three sons another forty-five descendants were generated, who are also fire-gods. The total number of fire-gods is therefore forty-nine, including the fathers and the grandfather. The grandfather is Agni, and the sons are Pavaka, Pavamana and Suci. Counting these four, plus forty-five grandsons, there are altogether forty-nine different fire-gods.

From Krttika, another wife of Agni, came the son named Skanda, Karttikeya, whose sons were headed by Visakha. The second Manu, whose name was Svarocisa, was the son of Agni, and His sons were headed by Dyumat, Susena and Rocismat. From Devadatta came a son known as Agnivesya, who was the fire-god Agni himself. This son, who was a celebrated saint, was well known as Kanina and Jatukarnya. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in his Anubhasya, gives a list of Manus and their fathers' names, including Svarocisa, the son of Svarocih, or Agni. Agnidhra, Idhmajihva, Yajnabahu, Mahavira, Hiranyareta, Ghrtaprstha, Savana, Medhatithi, Vitihotra and Kavi are also names of Agni, the fire-god.

When Ravana came to kidnap mother Sita and she saw him, she took shelter of Agni. The fire-god covered the body of mother Sita, and in this way she was protected from the hands of Ravana. The fire-god, Agni, took away the real Sita and brought her to the place of Parvati, goddess Durga. An illusory form of mother Sita was then delivered to Ravana, and in this way Ravana was cheated when he kidnapped the false Sita. The original Sita went to the abode of the fire-god. When Lord Ramacandra tested the body of Sita, it was the false, illusory Sita that entered the fire. At that time Agni brought the original Sita from his abode and delivered her to Lord Ramacandra.

Lord Brahma once ordered Maharaja Barhisat (Pracinabarhi) to marry the daughter of the ocean named Satadruti. Her bodily features were completely beautiful, and she was very young. She was decorated with the proper garments, and when she came into the marriage arena and began circumambulating it, the fire-god Agni became so attracted to her that he desired her company, exactly as he had formerly desired to enjoy Suki, the wife of Saptarsi. When the fire-god had been present long ago at the assembly of Saptarsi, he was attracted by the beauty of Suki when she was circumambulating in the same way. Agni's wife, named Svaha, took the form of Suki and enjoyed sex life with Agni.

Krsna, being engaged in the pastime of offering the Khandava forest which belonged to King Indra, wanted to give it to Agni, the fire-god. The Khandava forest contained many varieties of drugs, and Agni required to eat them for rejuvenation. Agni, however, did not touch the Khandava forest directly, but requested Krsna to help him. Agni knew that Krsna was very much pleased with him because he had formerly given Him the Sudarsana disc. So in order to satisfy Agni, Krsna became the chariot driver of Arjuna, and both went to the Khandava forest. After Agni had eaten up the Khandava forest, he was very much pleased. This time he offered a specific bow known as Gandiva, four white horses, one chariot, and an invincible quiver with two specific arrows considered to be talismans, which had so much power that no warrior could counteract them. The chariot was capable of conquering all sides, wherever it was drawn over the three worlds.

The King of heaven once took the shape of a pigeon-hunter bird (eagle), and Agni, the fire-god, took the shape of a pigeon. The pigeon, while being chased by the eagle, took shelter on the lap of Maharaja Sibi, and the hunter eagle wanted the pigeon back from the King. The King wanted to give it some other meat to eat and requested the bird not to kill the pigeon. The hunter bird refused to accept the King's offer, but it was settled later on that the eagle would accept flesh from the body of the King of the pigeon's equivalent weight. The King began to cut flesh from his body to weigh in the balance equivalent to the weight of the pigeon, but the mystic pigeon always remained heavier. The King then put himself on the balance to equate with the pigeon, and the demigods were pleased with him. The King of heaven and the fire-god disclosed their identity, and the King was blessed by them.

Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Excerpted from various sources, including text and Purport of HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.

Paintings is from the collection of St. Petersburg Institute of Oriental Studies.