This is the first in a series of five introductory articles on the five elements (pancha tattvas) that will be covered in the panchanga (skt, panca is five and anga is limb) course beginning in January 2015. https://www.facebook.com/events/743715252343232/
The five elements form the basis of life and the panchanga. Both are central to jyotish. These five limbs or energies of time are the carriers of the five elements and are based on the tabulations of the positions of Sun and Moon. Each true planet: Mars, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter carries the energy of one of the five elements: fire, water, air, earth and space (akash). (Sun is a star, Moon is a satellite, Rahu and Ketu are eclipse points)
In this article we focus on the fire element (agni). We will leave the remaining 4 elements for future articles.
The first element, fire (agni), has a physical, mental and spiritual aspect.
In the spiritual sense, Vedic people worshiped Agni as a god. He is the brother of Indra (lord of the heavens and leader of the devas), the most powerful god from antiquity…
The first word of the canonical Rig Veda (Sukta 1.1) is appealing to Agni: aghnimīḷe purohitaṃ yajñasya devaṃ ṛtvījam (I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice,…)
The ancient Vedic people believed that the gods are the celestial controllers who are subtle but potent forces of nature and only through Agni can they connect with them (Agni Purana) by yajna (spiritual ritual where the fire is seen as the carrier of offerings to the gods). The ancient seers (rishis) saw with their inner eye, Agni relaying the aspirant’s prayers to the divine realms, insuring the growth and prosperity of humanity. In this metaphysical/spiritual sense Agni digests and transforms the prayers, mantras, hopes and desires just as physical fire consumes and transforms what it comes into contact with.
These spiritual rituals (yajna) mimic how agni functions in the mind and body. Digestive juices in the stomach (the home of physical agni) “cook” or transform food into energy (heat) and ultimately into consciousness (light). Agni is the fire (tejas) of the mind (manas), giving us the ability to digest mental impressions, experience, knowledge and wisdom. Agni is also associated with the eyes, which digest light.
In ancient Greek mythology, Heraclitus believed the primal substance of the cosmos was fire. But unlike the Vedic priests who invoked Agni through a fire ceremony, the mythic hero of the Greeks, Prometheus, at great personal cost, used stealth instead and stole the fire from the gods to free humanity so it could evolve out of its dark, barely above animal existence and begin the process of civilization.
“Any technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech- and both are still dangerous to this day -but human beings would not be human without them.”― Isaac Asimov
Modern archeologists and anthropologists credit the use of fire with the birth and development of civilization.Humans are the only creatures on this planet that use fire for cooking. Most animals spend a large part of their days (or nights) gathering food, ruminating or resting. Herbivores are either grazing or migrating like nomads in search of food, while predators follow the herds stalking and chasing. Both are eating their food raw. Raw food is taxing on the system and requires more metabolic energy to digest than cooked food. Cooking, baking or roasting is akin to pre-digesting food for an improved absorption. A side benefit of that is that it not only expands the available variety of foods, but also helps prevent infections of bacterial or viral origin. Cooking also makes dried grains, beans, herbs etc. easily digestible.
Another important benefit of fire is the enormous reduction of time and physical energy required for the procurement, use and assimilation of food. It allows us therefore to spend much more time on spiritual, artistic, social, creative or scientific occupations…for example, writing, painting, philosophizing, studying, researching or meditating etc.
Fire is also nourishing our psyche in the form of light, its sister aspect, which is the sine qua non of all learning, seeing and knowing. And although light is also used by lower animals, the added use of fire gives humans an edge over merely “seeing in the moment” what is, and allows us to develop the ability to introspect, to reflect, to remember or learn from past experiences and to project reasonably accurately future events. But more about light a little further ahead…
We begin our jyotish study with Agni as it is the spark that initiates all processes. For instance,the creative fire sign of Aries (Mesa-Ram) begins the cycle of the zodiac,ushering in the spring. The raw, wild, thrusting and heroic energy of Aries is needed to rouse the world (northern hemisphere) from it’s winter sleep.
All life forms benefit and depend on the hot energy and explosive power of fire. Fire ignites, matter explodes, the universes come into being (big bang).
Fire symbolizes the masculine principle, the seed planted into the fertile Earth (the feminine principle or water). Agni energy in the semen drives the spermatozoa to swim in competition with millions of others, all focused on the goal of fertilizing the passive, awaiting ovum…
Agni, as the energy of the fire signs, fire houses, fire padas as well as other aspects of the jyotish chart represents the first goal (ayana) of human life, called dharma: (skt; dhr – “to hold, maintain, keep”) finding direction, purpose, meaning, right action.
A look at world history and events leaves little doubt that the more destructive aspect of agni (adharma) represented by Mars (rather than the Sun) is the predominant influence on this world. Our recorded history is mostly about conquests and war. And even attempts to promote positive intentions and prayers in a desperate desire for peace, would often lead to inaction toward warmongers until the only answer to save the situation was war. Our history is filled with the deeds of great heroes; warrior leaders like Rama, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Ashoka, George Washington, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, or wicked tyrants like Genghis Khan, Aurangzeb, Hitler, Stalin or Mao Zedong. The greatest epics of all time, the Iliad, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are bloody war poems, as are the battles described in the Old Testament and the Koran.
The more recent history of humanity is also a string of wars and conquests with every inch of territory and every scrap of property changing hands multiple times after varying degrees of bloodshed. It is no wonder with Mars ruling land and property.
By comparison, out poets, musicians, scientists, industrial giants, inventors and researchers occupy a much smaller page in our history, right next to the saints, reformers and founders of religions. And even the best intentioned religions were often harassed by followers of competitive schools of thought which in itself ended up causing many wars.
My war digression is to make the point that the red hot planet, Mars, also named Bhauma or son of Bhumi, the Earth Mother, rules our little planet Earth (Bu-loka) and is the battle ground of these forces and seems to remain such into the foreseeable future. We may not be able to change that, but what we can and should do, is learn to understand the dynamics and the rules of how to maneuver effectively. We can do that by observing the planetary danger times and zones from our charts and planets in transit and to keep our minds safe from the influences of tamasic Mars by use of mantras and other remedial measures.
(See Amit Garg class: http://illuminatelifetoday.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/ayurveda-gayatri-and-sanskrit/)
The Sun and Mars represents agni in jyotish, but in the panchanga Mars rules.
Agni is described as having 7 tongues representing the 7 rays or seven forms. Surya, the Sun god in his day-creating chariot, driven by seven horses, is the light of agni tattva. Surya is the spiritual side of agni; the sarva-atma-karaka, the universal soul, “the One without a second.” If we were to apply the principle of the three gunas, the Sun is sattva guna; pure light. Surya is the center of the solar system, it represents the pure light of agni so the days of the week begin with Sun(day) and end with cold Saturn(day), the planet furthest from the Sun. Mars (Mangala) on the other hand, is tamasic.
Mars, as described previously, is associated with hot-blooded passion, often causing aggression and destruction, while Sun symbolizes the shining light of Truth, as in “light is the best disinfectant” and credited with encouraging balance.
As ruler of the Bu-Loka (planet Earth) Mars is the physical side of agni; the energy of heat and visible forms and as such is deemed the ruler of the first limb of the panchanga called Vara (skt. vasa: to sit, ra: seed sound of Agni), or day of the week. Only the seven visible planets with physical existence can qualify as lords of the week days which is why the shadow planets Rahu and Ketu are excluded. Each day holds the energy of agni and the day of the week one is born holds valuable clues to the health of an individual. By studying this planet, called the vara lord, based on the day of the week a person is born, we can discern the problematic influences on the vara lord and be alerted to possible issues with energy level, health and vitality and take precautions. Which planet it is, where it is placed, who it is associated with… one can ascertain strengths and weaknesses and find remedies, if needed, to address them.
In other limbs of the panchanga ruled by other elements agni also plays a role. For instance in the limb ruled by water (jala) called tithi (phase of the Moon, there are 15 tithis each with a ruling deity), Agni initiates the tithi scheme by ruling the first one. Nakshatras, the limb ruled by the air element, also has Agni ruling the nakshatra Krittika, the first nakshatra of the earliest lunar zodiac (see
But more on tithis and nakshatras in the future…stay tuned.Advertisements