Whatever inspired the early man to rub two stones to discover fire, changed his world forever. The early man was a survivor, a hunter and a gatherer staving off vicious carnivores and struggling with darkness every day. Fire was a boon to him. It endowed him with a sense of supremacy over nature like nothing else did. Fire must have been intimidating, petrifying and even mesmerising, but he developed the skills to control it and use it in his everyday life.
To this day, fire has the same effect. Yes, we can light it whenever and wherever, with a flick of a matchstick or the click of a lighter and extinguish it just as easily–it remains integral to our existence. The discovery of fire altered the course of history and affected everything, including man’s spiritual journey. As mankind evolved, fire gained a significant spot in cultural and religious activities. The immense significance of fire in our lives is evident from the fact that many cultures worship it.
Venerating the fire god
The Hindus worship fire in the form of Agni. A powerful god, he is believed to be an immortal residing in the mortal realm and is often depicted as a red man with black eyes, seven arms and three legs, sitting astride a ram. Legend has it that he swallowed his parents when he was born. This action is considered symbolic of two sticks being consumed by the same fire created by them.
Considered to be extremely important in Hinduism, this element is central to almost every major ritual, be it marriages or funerals. What’s more, you can’t just light fire anywhere. While fire used for sacrifices to the gods should face east, the one used for cooking should face west. If intended for sacrifices to spirits, the fire should face the south.
Keepers of the flame
The Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsis venerate fire–calling it the Sun’s son. Their deity Ahura Mazda is said to be formless. More than a physical element in Zoroastrianism, it appears as a sacred symbol in the holy book Avesta. The Fire Temple or Agiary is the place where the holy fire burns. What makes this fire special is that it has to burn for eternity.
In the Bible, hell is described as a place for eternal punishment with fire playing a significant role.