Mahakāl – Time – Agni

Shiva as Bhairava, 11th Century, Chola Dynasty Philadelphia Museum of Art (1979-157-1)

There are two entire suktas (chapters) dedicated to time (kālā) in the Atharva Veda and they elaborate on the Supreme Father and His expansion; they clearly define time as:

kālā (time), like a steed, moves and encompasses everything; like the Sun it emits seven rays that cover all, it has thousands of axles, with creation itself as its wheels that move; it is endless, ageless, the immortal father, and the first/primordial divine. The learned sages/Rishis mount this chariot. There is none stronger than this divine. In kālā are encompassed Heavens and Earth, all realms and all creatures, and the first Prajapati; the present, past, and future rest in it. The mind arises in it; it is the Prāṇa, and so are all forms and names (nama-rupa). The Sun, waters, winds, springs, rains, and heat, all arise in it. In it, all Yajna (karma) is inspired, and all years emerge.

Atharva Veda 19.53-54

From the above arise three major questions. Who is this immortal father who controls the past, present, and future? Who is the so-called “none stronger than this”? Who is this Prana, the mind, from whom all Heavens, Earth, beings, plants, Hiranyagarbha, and more, arise? Let us cover each and every aspect of this Sukta across the Vedas and we will see that Vedic seers (Rishis) and their hymns are not just a random collection of poems but an intricate and interlinked ocean of wisdom.

Let us start with exploring two unique titles. The first is trikāgnikālāyameaning the three fires which blaze at all times – garhapatyaahavaniya, and agnihotra. Time is always burning or is exhaustive, meaning it does not stop. Trik+āgni+kālāya also depicts the three dimensions of time, which are the memory of the past, the present moment at hand, and the upcoming imaginative future. One might think of past and future as linear events and thus non-existential, but we will address this soon. The second title is kālāgnirudrāya (कालाग्निरुद्र), meaning fire that devours time. Rudra himself is Time, hence the title Kālāya Namaha “कालाय नमः” TA10.18 (I bow to you, oh time) and this finally appears in the Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad, wherein it says “अन्त:काले सञ्चुकोच”SU3.2, meaning He dissolves all beings into Him at the end of time. One might consider both past and future to be non-existential. However, though non-accessible in this dimension, the same Upaniṣhad says “संयोगनिमित्तहेतुः त्रिकालात् परः अकलः अपि दृष्टः”SU6.5, meaning when one beheld in witness of Rudra, know He is the cause and the beginning of all causes – beyond the past, present and the future – and He is not a part of it. Śrī Kṛṣṇa says to Yudhishthira in Mahābhāratam Anushasnika parvam 161.11 that Rudra is the past, the present, and the future. The exact statement was repeated by Rśi Vyāsa in Drona Parva 202. Maharśi Vaśiṣṭha’s Ramayana speaks extensively on the accessibility of time through dimensions beyond the current, and how Devi Sarasvatī takes Her devotee across time to make her witness the past, present and future unfold at the same instance. This is why Maharśi Vaśiṣṭha says “only concepts like Shiva go beyond time”. We know that Rudra is the immortal one, He is the Prana, He is the Atman, and the inner self of all Devas and all beings, and this inner self is not bound by time. When it comes to power and strength, the Rig Veda says that He possesses infinite strength or is omnipotent “ananta-śuṣmāḥ” RV1.64.10. The following Shiva Sankalpa Suktam of Rig Veda Baskala Khila and also present in the SukYajur Veda lays this out perfectly:

येनेदं भूतं भुवनं भविष्यत्परिगृहीतममृतेन सर्वम् । येन यज्ञस्तायते सप्तहोता तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।। 4
यस्मिन्नृचः साम यजूँ॑षि यस्मिन्प्रतिष्ठिता रथनाभाविवाराः ।यस्मिँ॑श्चित्तँ सर्वमोतं प्रजानं तन्मे मनः शिवसंकल्पमस्तु ।।5

That (येनेदं) mental framework (मनः) that experiences (परिगृहीत) the past (भू॒तं), the current/present (भुवनं) and the future (भविष्यत) is the immortal (अमृतेन) all-knowing, all-comprehending (सर्वम्) inner self (तन्म -येन). It is the inner fire and source (यज्ञ). It encompasses (स्ता॒यते) seven (सप्त) inner priests performing the real sacrifice (होता). May it be filledwith my auspicious resolve – may my resolve be Shiva (शिवसंकल्पमस्तु) 4

In which (यस्मिन्) the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Veda (ऋग् साम यजूँ॑षि ) are established (प्रतिष्ठिता) like the spikes of a chariot wheel (रथ-नाभाविवाराः) so that knowledge is linked within all beings (सर्व-मोतं प्रजानं), in that inner self (तन्मे), may my resolve be auspicious – may my resolve be Shiva (शिवसंकल्पमस्तु) 5

Rig Veda Baskala Shakha Khila Sukta 33 / Sukla Yajur Veda Kanva Shakha 33

प्राणानां ग्रन्थिरसि रुरो मा विशान्तकः। तेनान्नेनाप्यायस्व॥
Oh Rudra, you are the vital force (प्राणानां) that connects (ग्रन्थि) us all (मा) and you are the cure/an end (अन्तक) to all ill and poison (विश) that corrupts ~ Sri Rudram Namakam

कतमे रुद्रा इति दशेमे पुरुषे प्राणा आत्मैकादशस्ते॥
There (इति) are different types of Rudras (रुद्रा) that enter the Purusha/being (पुरुषे) – ten are the Pranas that enter the 5 Karmindriyas and 5 Jnanindriyas, and the 11th (एकादश) is the Atman/self/mind (आत्म) ~Br̥hadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 3.9.4

मो वः किरिकेभ्यो देवाना हृदयभ्यो नमो विक्षीणकेभ्यो नमो॑ | विचिन्व॒त्केभ्यो नम आनिर्ह॒तेभ्यो नम आमीव॒त्केभ्यः|| 4.5.9
Salutations to the brilliant/dazzling (किरिके) indweller/heart (हृदयभ्यो) of all divinity (देवाना ), salutations to the one who depletes/the destroyer, salutations to the thoughtful/caring/intelligent (विचिन्व॒त्केभ्यो ), salutations to the indestructible (आनि+र्हते+भ्यो) ~ Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā 4.5.9

Rudra is the pure, spontaneous self-experience which is the one consciousness that dwells in all substances. He is the seed of all seeds, He is Prana, He is Atman, He is the essence of this world’s appearance, the greatest of actions. He is the cause of all causes and the essence in all beings. ~Yoga Vaśiṣṭham 6.1.36

Agni is the first cook in all homes AV19.55, and He is the fundamental element that digests our food and causes our bodies to disintegrate in the end. The vocabulary used to describe Rudra and Agni is identical to the Mitra-Varuna duo. Agni is speech since He is a celestial priest (Hotr) who recites the hymns RV1.1.1, He is the transmitter of the sacrifice of Yajñá (medha) RV1.38,5.60, He holds life and immortality in His hands RV7.4.6 as He is the deliverer of Soma to the Devas. Then who is the lord of hymns, and the lord of Medha (sacrifice) and lord of Soma? It is Rudra, as He is gātha-patim, medha-patim RV1.43 and brahmānaspatim, the lord of knowledge (omniscient) RV1.38.13.

Kala Bhairava Shiva in His Fierce From 9th-11th Century Sandstone Brooklyn Museum 68.185.6

The Brahmāṇa of Taittirīya Śākhā’s Śatarudrāya states in its opening hymns that Agni is Rudra when the sacrifice is submitted into the Yajñá – meaning, based on the cause and event, Agni becomes Rudra SB1.7.3.8. Agni is the one who transmutes and causes change. Addressing Rudra, Sri Aurobindo said, “He who both destroys and restructures Creation, and propels Creation forward”. This is why the third eye of trayambaka-Rudra is called Agni. Śrī Rudram of the Taittirīya Saṃhitā, again and again, urges Rudra’s missiles not to hit us; the same Veda urges Agni – the heat of those missiles – not to harm us, but to be auspicious for us TS4.61 . This statement is in concurrence with the story of Tripurasura in Mahābhāratam Karna Parva, wherein Agni becomes the tip of Rudra’s missiles. The aspect of Rudra synonymous with weeping/roaring comes from the event in Taittirīya Saṃhitā 1.5.1, wherein all knowledge and thoughts and riches were placed in Agni by the Devas in anticipation of a confrontation with the Asuras. Later, to recover their knowledge and thoughts, they harassed Agni – who wept and roared in anger and anguish. Hence, Agni became Rudra. As Agni restored this knowledge back to the Devas, Prajāpati, Manu and many cosmic phenomena like metals and seasons came into being. Further prosperity was bestowed upon all when the fire of Agni was re-established, hence Rudra is called “The Intelligence/Wisdom”AV11.2.17; similarly, Adityas are called “The Brilliance” KYV4.4.1,5.3.6. In this way, the concept of Rudra enters Agni and, at times, Agni becomes Rudra.

For individual beings, time is measured in terms of their breaths; in Sanskrit, it is called Pranas. When it comes to time as a whole and not per individual experience, it is measured as the rate at which Agni (fire) is combusting everything in Creation. This might sound unacceptable, so let us try to understand this. Agni is in everything – it is burning in the Sun, it is burning in the Earth’s core, it is burning and digesting food in our stomach, it is the very Tejas that gives birth to beings, it burns the crops, and it is what cooks our food. Every cell in our body has Agni. People asked Buddha after his Nirvana state, “how does Creation look to you?” He said, “everything and anything is burning, some fast and some slow”. Anything and everything is combusting, that is why scientists say we are all carbon-based life-forms, meaning our end product is always carbon. Hence the artifact dating method is called carbon dating. This is why Shiva has bhasma (carbon) on his forehead and His third eye is called Agni. Now compare this with the Vedas and ask the question: “If human life is measured in Prana and cosmic time is in Agni, how is Rudra related?” Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says Rudras are the 10 pranas and all Vedas say Agni is Rudra. As we have seen above, Rudra Himself is TIME and AGNI.

Kalo Na Jaanaati tava jananam, Kalo Na Jaanaati tava samaapanam, Dhrishto maya tava ahaakaaraha Yogeshwara! Kaala Kaala!
Time does not know your origin, Time does not know your end, I have beheld your glorious form O’ Lord of Yoga! The One beyond time!

Isha Foundation

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