There is a rare and interesting stone carving of Agni, the God of fire. This image of Agni has three legs, two faces and seven hands. Experts say that this iconic representation follows the literal meaning of a Mantra which invokes the power of Agni in the Yajna firepot (Vedi). Surely, the three legs of Agni too must be a metaphor. What is the metaphor?
The Vedas, the Puranas and the epic Mahabharata tell the story of Pururava and Urvashi, the celestial dancer. The great poet Kalidasa too glorified this story in his literary work, the Vikramorvashiya. Therefore, most people are familiar with the episode of how Pururava and Urvashi fell in love and separated by the play of fate. In this story, two rams (sheep) and the Gandharva who steals them cause their separation. The second half of story is more interesting. However, fewer people know this.
Pururava discovers fire
Pururava continued to pine for his beloved after their fateful separation. After a while, Gandharvas told him a way to find Urvashi with their blessings. Subsequently, Pururava performed a Yajna and received a pot of fire. Initially, he pined for Urvashi to magically arise from the firepot. Later, the King abandoned the firepot in the forest in dejection and returned to his kingdom. Long time after, he remembered this act and returned to the same location.
Pururava saw a Sami tree there. The firepot had turned into a tree. Immediately he recognized the tree as a hidden repository of Agni dev. He rubbed the Arani sticks from the Sami tree to create fire. Further, he split the fire into three Vedis or stations. Also, he cognized the role of each of these Vedis. Ultimately, he united with his beloved by performing a Yajna in all three Vedis. From that time on, humans began using three Vedis in their Yajnas. The three legs of Agni are a metaphor for the Vedis.
Three Vedis, three feet of Agni
Firstly, Agni, the cosmic fire is subtle in nature. Secondly, terrestrial fire is only a channel for this Agni. The Vedas are clear about these two facts. Therefore, the magic of a Yagna cannot unfold without his presence. Certainly, Mantras have the power to bring out his power in the Vedi. However, three Vedis bring the best result. Pururava was the first to discover this.
The firepot is called the Agni-Sthali. The Agni-Sthali maintains the presence of Agni. It is like the pilot flame. However, a Vedi is the place where offerings are made to Devas.