“एष रुद्रो यदग्निः”TS 2.2.10 Rudra is that Agni and Agni becomes Rudra, “Agnir vai rudrah”KA III-239/MS2.1.10 or as Rig Veda says “tvám agne rudró ásuro mahó divás” RV2.1.6. Here Agni manifests into the concepts called Rudra, Maruts and Pushan. Across Rig Veda there are many example where Agni becomes so RV2.1.6/4.2/4.3. The similarity between Agni and Rudra is so close that they are treated identically. Those exploring from an angle of Agni will treat Agni as Rudra, similarly to those examining Rudra will treat Rudra as Agni. The same goes for Surya, yet Rudra is addressed multiple times as the brilliance of the Sun by calling him ādityavarna, and Rudra manifests into them all, but if we examine from the angle of Surya, then all other divinities like Savitar, Varuna, Indra, Aryaman, Agni, Yama, and Rudra are all Surya AV13.4, so as we can see Atharva Veda lists the name of Devas, and lists Agni and Rudra separate. The same can be said for Indra and Prajāpati. But it’s only Rudra who unanimously received a special place across Vedas to be addressed as Viṣvarūpam, meaning the cosmic form or the all-encompassing omni-form, and Pururūpam, meaning multiform/multihued, and Virūpam, meaning multifold altering forms and Vahurūpa meaning multi-formed RV2.33.10,TS4.5.4,TA10.23.1. In this way, Agni is also everything, and so is Rudra, so is Indra and so is Surya, but they are independent concepts of Vedas that have a large overlap, such divinities are called Collective Divinities, like a collective noun is different from a simple noun. This is the very reason why none of the vedic seers/Rishi ever contradicted each other or criticized each other’s hymns. Each witnessed ṛta (cosmic principle) from their own angle, and this is why each Vedic Shaka is a whole by itself. Hence, Taittirīya Saṃhitā 184.108.40.206 says “rudro va esa yadagni” and Atharva Veda 7.87.1 says “yó agnáu rudró yó apsv àntár yá óṣadhīr vīrúdha āvivéśa” meaning oh Rudra who is in Agni who is rapid water and in Plants and more, but the same Upon exploration both concepts become one with each other, Rig Veda 5.3.3 & 4.3.6-7 are good examples where Rudra is not an adjective to Agni’s ferociousness, since it clearly uses Maruts to denote the mantle Rudra and Rudra being a separate divine concept, hence is not an epithet. Another example in Atharva Veda which lists various Devas asking for their protection from negative forces and it lists in the following order, Indra, Vishnu, Savitar, Rudra, Agni, Prajāpati, Parameshthin, Virāj, Vāisvanara, and more, as we can see Agni and Rudra are listed separately, but because of their massive overlap they are treated the same. On the other hand Rig Veda 4.3.1 states Agni as Rudra. Atharva Veda Paippalāda 1.95.3 gives us an unequivocal conclusion by saying “Oh Rudra, they call you Agni vaiśvānaraṁ”. For example, Sun is a Star, but a Star can be more than just a Sun, similarly, Agni is Rudra but Rudra can be more than just Agni, but before we go to Rudra’s omniscience let us take a look at Agni.
Agni is the divine omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent Will, kavikratu, Seer-Will. Being Will, inseparable from Consciousness and Force, without which there is not any existence, he is universal god, Vaishavanara, presents in all worlds and in all that is in them. He fills both firmaments and mid-word, RV1.73.8; I proclaim three-headed seven-rayed whole Agni sitting within two parents (Earth and Heaven), him filling all bright planes of Heaven, RV 1.146.1. He is a head of upper Heaven, RV 3.2.14; he is satyaḥ, true (i.e. of highest Truth of existence sat), RV 1.1.5, 3.26.1, making true (satyā) all works, RV 1.70.8; he holds the ecstasy in highest degree, RV 1.1.1; sitting in Waters, knowing Svar, RV 3.3.5. Still, the gods have established him, the universal god, in Earth within human creatures like Svar, RV 1.148.1, 3.3.5. So Agni “has two homes” – as in worlds of Heaven so in world of Earth, he “is born” in two places, janitrī, (an original sense of popular now phrase “twice-born”), therefore he is named jātavedas, knowing births of gods and of men, and having two Mothers dvi-mātā, and it is this makes him Envoy, dūta, Traveller between Heaven and Earth, it is due to his double birth he is Hotar, hotṛ, and brings here, in Earth, the other gods and brings to them human’s offering, havyavāhana, and it is because of it the say, that other gods “are sleeping” before Dawn, whereas Agni is wakeful even in night of our Earth and shines in its darkness, Lord of the Nights, kṣapāvat, kṣapo rājan, it is why a man approaches to him the first.Sri Aurobindo, Lexicon of Rig Veda
न॒हि दे॒वो न मर्त्यो॑ म॒हस्तव॒ क्रतुं॑ प॒रः । म॒रुद्भि॑रग्न॒ आ ग॑हि ॥ 1.19.2
Neither (न॒हि) Devas (दे॒वो), nor (न) Mortals are higher (म॒ह) than You (प॒रः) | Bring with (आ) you the Maruts, oh Agni ||
ये म॒हो रज॑सो वि॒दुर्विश्वे॑ दे॒वासो॑ अ॒द्रुहः॑ ।म॒रुद्भि॑रग्न॒ आ ग॑हि ॥1.19.3Rig Veda 1.19.2/3
Those who (ये) know (वि॒दु) the highest/great (म॒हो) vital consciousness (रज॑सो), entirety (र्विश्वे॑) of Devas (दे॒वासो॑), and are harmless (अ॒द्रुहः॑) | Bring with (आ) you those Maruts, oh Agni ||
Note: रज॑सो : does not refer to the Guṇa of Prakṛti
Like Rudra, He too is a polar contradiction, he is of the Asura nature described in both the Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda RV4.2,TS 1.6,4.1. Agni disintegrates everything, from Yajñá to a corpse which is His fierce (aghora) side, but He remains unblemished, so He is Śiva (Forever Auspicious) and Mīḍhvaḥ (gracious) RV 3.16,7.34,4.6. But Taittirīya Saṃhitā, esp. Śatarudrāya, goes more profound and clearer than this, by addressing Agni’s fierce form (aghora tanūr) as Rudra and the auspicious body as ŚivaTS 2.2, 5.7.3,4.5.1/10. Hence the hymns from Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṃhitā – Śrī Rudram says “yate Rudra Sivā tanuhu”TS4.5.10 meaning Rudra who has the auspicious/Siva body. Therefore Agni is also the possessor of amṛta just like Rudra RV7.4.6/1.43, hence both are immortal AV3.12.9. Mahābhāratam Anushasanika Parva 161 elaborates on this topic wherein Sri Krishna says to Yudhishthira about Rudra as:
Brāhmanas conversent with the Vedas say that the divine has two forms. One of these is terrible, and the other mild and auspecious. Those two forms, again, are subdivided into many forms3. That form which is fierce and terrible is regarded as identical with Agni, and Lightening (Asani), and Surya. That other from which is mild and auspecious is identical with Righteousness and Water and Chandramas4. Then again, it is said that half of his body is fire and half is Soma (or the moon).Mahābhāratam Anuśāsanica Parva Section 161 (non-jaya section)
Time – Agni – Rudra
Further, it has two unique titles, first is trikāgnikālāya meaning the 3 fires which blaze at all times, are garhapatya, ahavaniya, and agnihotra. Time is always burning or is exhaustive, meaning it doesn’t stop, and 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 so are non-existential, but we will address this soon. The second title is kālāgnirudrāya (कालाग्निरुद्र) meaning fire that devours time, why because Rudra itself is TIME, hence the title Kālāya Namaha“कालाय नमः” TA10.18 (I bow to you oh time) and this finally landed in Svetasvatara Upaniṣhad wherein it says “अन्त:काले सञ्चुकोच”SU3.2 meaning He dissolves all beings into Him at end of time. Similarly, the association of Agni with time is clear in Muṇḍakopaniṣad 1.2.4 with the title Kāli. Kāli is the motherly aspect of Kālam and is not just “darkness” it also means the power of time, and the association with darkness is to denote the dissolution that swallows everything, very similar to the term (not concept) blackhole. 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”.
Agni is the first cook in all homes AV19.55, and he is the fundamental element that digests our food and disintegrates our bodies at 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 Sacrifice of Yajñá (medha) RV1.38,5.60, He holds the life and immortality in His hands RV7.4.6 as he is the deliverer of Soma to Devas. Then who is the lord or hymns? And who is the lord of Medha (sacrifice) and also the distributor of this sacrifice? And who is the lord of Soma? It is Rudra, as He is “gātha-patim” the lord of all hymns and “medha-patim” RV1.43 the lord of sacrifice, and “brahmānaspatim” the lord of knowledge (omniscient) RV1.38.13 and “súmakhāya havirdé” RV4.3.7 the distributor of sacrifice. Now, what does this mean to Agni if Rudra is the lord of both hymns and sacrifice? Well, the same Rig Veda answers this when it says “rudráṁ yajñā́nāṁ sā́dhadiṣṭim apásām” RV3.2.5 which means, Agni you are the Rudra of Sacrifice and the one who leads the sacrifice.
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 SB220.127.116.11. 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 concurs 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 the 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 becomes Rudra. As Agni restored this knowledge back to the Devas, Prajāpati, Manu, 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/Wise”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.