Vedas, especially the Rig Veda celebrates Agni as the foremost. Agni Purana is one of the eighteen main Puranas. However, we find only a very few iconic forms for Agni in temples. Firstly, Agni features in one of the hands of the Dancing Shiva statue. Secondly, the aura of Devi or Bhairav are shaped like fire or Agni. Thirdly, Agni appears as the Shiva Lingam in the famous temple of Arunachalam. Is there any other carving which captures the description of Agni in the Vedas? Surely, temple culture is a replacement for the Yagna traditions from the earlier times.
An iconic representation of Agni
We find an unique iconic representation of Agni in the Gavipuram cave temple. This temple is in the midst of the bustling city of Bangalore. The carving of Agni at the entrance to the cave here is rare. We see four horns, two faces, seven hands and three legs in this carving. Certainly, this iconic representation per the literal translations of one of the famous mantras from the Rig Veda.
catvari srnga trayo asya pada dvesirse sapta hastaso asya
tridha baddho vrsabho roraviti maho devo martyan avivesa”
We hear the above mantra during a Purnahuti ritual. Purnahuti is the concluding offering in a Yagna, the fire ritual. Divergent commentaries on this mantra attest to its importance. Firstly, several well known literary figures including Patanjali (250 BCE), Kumarilla Bhatta (50 BCE), Bhatta Bhaskara (800 CE) and Sayanacharya (1400 CE) have commented on it. Secondly, this mantra is a part of the Dahara Vidya section, the secret teaching, of the Mahanarayana Upanishad.
Carving of Agni in the Pateshwar temple
There are structures related to astronomical observations at the temple at Gavipuram. The unique carving of Agni in this temple, perhaps, denotes Agni as the Sun. Besides, Kumarilla Bhatt’s commentary supports this idea. Though historians date the Gavipuram temple to 900 CE, the iconic representation of Agni likely dates further back. The Pateshwar temple complex hosts another unique carving of Agni with three legs. Surprisingly, one of the three legs represents a ram’s hoof. The animal ram symbolizes Agni and is often seen as the vehicle of Agni. (My post on Pururavas and Urvashi explains the association of Agni with the ram. It also gives an explanation about the three feet of Agni)