The Bhagavadgita has a very cool and unsentimental approach to death. In chapter two, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna - “For one who is born death is assured; for one who dies rebirth is assured; therefore, for what is inevitable, you should not grieve”. However, human relations are not as simple as this advice may sound. In life we go through multiple experiences with varying degree of intimacy. The husband and wife relationship is the closest physically, emotionally and spiritually, in a way symbolizing the union of male and female as in the unique figure of Shiva Ardhanarishwara. Recently my wife departed during the 60th year of our marriage. Having wedded when we were teenagers, we virtually grew up together and had become an integral part of each other’s lives. As I watched my elder son light the funeral pyre, it struck me sharply that fire defined our relationship 60 years apart. We were married by walking seven times around sacred fire, which was, as it were, witness to the union. This time again fire was present and witnessed her departure.
In the Vedic tradition, fire has always been held to be sacred, and Sri Aurobindo calls his translation of the Vedic verses ‘Hymns to the Sacred Fire’. In the Vedas themselves there are many hymns directed towards Agni which was considered to be the interlocutor between the human and the divine, and which, through the Yagna, conveyed human aspirations to the higher power. In several western civilizations also fire has occupied a very special place. We may recall how the brave Prometheus brought down the fire from heaven to humanity, for which the jealous Gods have punished him with eternal torment and torture. Also, the Zoroastrians still have their fire temples. The discovery of fire by early humans in fact marked a major milestone in the evolution of human civilization.
With its dual quality - benign as well as destructive - fire was always cherished. To quote a Vedic hymn to Agni from the Rigveda:
“Virtuous Agni, we set thee, a Sage, around us as a fort, thee triumphant in thy colour, day by day, destroyer of the treacherous foe. Through Agni man finds prosperity, nourishment from day to day, glory and greatest pride in heroes. To thee, Agni, dispeller of night, we come with prayer day by day, offering thee our obesience.” (Rigveda VI.44)
Shiva Nataraja carries the fire in one of his hands and is often depicted dancing within a fiery nimbus. The famous Isha Upanishad closes with the verse - “O Agni, lead us by the fair path that we may reap the good we have sown. Thou knowest all our deeds. Lord, destroy all crooked going sin in us. We salute Thee with our words again and again.”
Let us also keep in mind that the outer fire is but a symbol of the spiritual flame that burns in the deepest recesses of our hearts, whether or not we are aware of it, and that fanning the spiritual spark into the blazing fire of divine realization is the true, deeper purpose of our existence in this time life dimension. However, there are lower dimensions of fire also, as in the insatiable desire for worldly possessions, or negative aspects such as emotionally disturbing manifestations of anger and revenge. Robert Frost has a small but evocative prose entitled Fire & Ice. It goes like this -
Some say the world will end in fire
some say in ice.
From what i’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
Though if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
to say that for destruction ice
is also great and would suffice.
On our decision as to which dimension of fire we choose, will depend the contours of our inner life.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 at 12:27 am and is filed under Family, General, Hinduism, Interfaith Dialogue, Religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.