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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

Forms a main feature in the ritual of the Rigveda


Agni

is an immortal who has taken up his abode among mortals; he is constantly called a "guest" in human dwellings; and is the only god to whom the frequent epithet grihapati, "lord of the house," is applied.

As the conductor of sacrifice, Agni is repeatedly called both a "messenger" who moves between heaven and earth and a priest. He is indeed the great priest, just as Indra is the great warrior.

Agni is, moreover, a mighty benefactor of his worshippers. With a thousand eyes he watches over the man who offers him oblations; but consumes his worshippers' enemies like dry bushes, and strikes down the malevolent like a tree destroyed by lightning. All blessings issue from him as branches from a tree. All treasures are collected in him, and he opens the door of wealth. He gives rain from heaven and is like a spring in the desert. The boons which he confers are, however, chiefly domestic welfare, offspring, and general prosperity, while Indra for the most part grants victory, booty, power, and glory.

Probably the oldest function of fire in regard to its cult is that of burning and dispelling evil spirits and hostile magic. It still survives in the Rigveda from an earlier age, Agni being said to drive away the goblins with his light and receiving the epithet rakshohan, "goblin-slayer." This activity is at any rate more characteristic of Agni than of any other deity, both in the hymns

and in the ritual of the Vedas.

Since the soma sacrifice, beside the cult of fire, forms a main feature in the ritual of the Rigveda, the god Soma is naturally one of its chief deities. The whole of the ninth book, in addition to a few scattered hymns elsewhere, is devoted to his praise. Thus, judged by the standard of frequency of mention, Soma comes third in order of importance among the Vedic gods. The constant presence of the soma plant and its juice before their eyes set limits to the imagination of the poets who describe its personification. Hence little is said of Soma's human form or action. The ninth book mainly consists of incantations sung over the soma while it is pressed by the stones and flows through the woollen strainer into the wooden vats, in which it is finally offered as a beverage to the gods on a litter of grass. The poets are chiefly concerned with these processes, overlaying them with chaotic imagery and mystical fancies of almost infinite variety. When Soma is described as being purified by the ten maidens who are sisters, or by the daughters of Vivasvat (the rising sun), the ten fingers are meant. The stones used in pounding the shoots on a skin "chew him on the hide of a cow." The flowing of the juice into jars or vats after passing through the filter of sheep's wool is described in various ways. The streams of soma rush to the forest of the vats like buffaloes. The god flies like a bird to settle in the vats. The Tawny One settles in the bowls like a bird sitting on a tree. The juice being mixed with water in the vat, Soma is said to rush into the lap of the waters like a roaring bull on the herd. Clothing himself in waters, he rushes around the vat, impelled by the singers. Playing in the wood, he is cleansed by the ten maidens. He is the embryo or child of waters, which are called his mothers. When the priests add milk to soma "they clothe him in cow-garments."

The sound made by the soma juice flowing into the vats or bowls is often referred to in hyperbolical language. Thus a poet says that "the sweet drop flows over the filter like the din of combatants." This sound is constantly described as roaring, bellowing, or occasionally even thundering. In such passages Soma is commonly compared with or called a bull, and the waters, with or without milk, are termed cows.


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