The Fire within us

Just like water, fire has the power to destroy the world. May be this is one of the reasons why fire is a symbol of divine. Because of the destructive capacity fire has, it is referred in the Bible as a symbol of God's anger.

The Fire within us

By Binu Alexander
It was an evening in Paris and as I strolled from a small Ibis Hotel room towards the main shopping street, I noticed a few school students and a few men in uniform; I guess it was retired army men, beneath the The Arc de Triomphe where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was located. Then they marched into the towering monument towards a torch to rekindle its flame. Since 1923, the eternal flame has been in existence.

Fire is significant to every religion in the world. In Christianity, water also has equal importance. Fire, in the form of a candle flame (which you can find in all the Churches), Holy Spirit and light is represented. In Hebrews you can find vast description of fire as sources of symbols. Just like water, fire has the power to destroy the world. May be this is one of the reasons why fire is a symbol of divine. Because of the destructive capacity fire has, it is referred in the Bible as a symbol of God's anger. Fire, it is believed, is itself the presence of God, for Jews, and in Biblical terms it can be explained in the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses.

Even for Romans, fire was sacred as is evident from the sacred fire burned in Vesta's circular temple in Rome. The temple burned completely on at least four occasions and caught fire on two others. It was last rebuilt in 191 AD on the orders of Julia Domna, the wife of the emperor Septimius Severus. It was extinguished after the Roman empire fell to Christians.

Many years back, I was in a sleepy town in Udhwada, bordering Mumbai and Gujarat. A fire flame has been burning here since 7th century. But I was not allowed inside the Zoroastrian Fire temple as per their religious custom. But the story of Parsis, as they are commonly called in India because of their origin from Iran or Persia, is itself intriguing. After losing their physical, political, social and economic belongings in Iran, they fled and reached the coastal areas of western India to save themselves from religious oppression under a rising Islam. It is widely believed they found it difficult to preserve the burning flame when they fled. But having reached the Indian shore, they set up a temple and since then it has been burning non-stop.

No other religion has fire as the backbone of its culture as Hinduism is. According to Hindu tradition, Agni – or Fire – is both the creator and destroyed of life. It is used in almost every ritual whether it is a marriage or it is a cremation. Ancient Vedic writings show that fire was the main component in offerings to various gods and goddesses. Fire, in Hinduism, is worshipped.

Whether officially or non-officially, we all venerate sacred fire as symbol of one or the other symbolic festivals. It has destructive power as we all know but it also symbolises purity and fresh life.

(Binu Alexander is the Editor and Publisher of Living in Faith)

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