In Ayurveda, the digestive fire is called agni or the fire. And this agni is present in our system in multiple forms, whether it is the acid in our stomach or the electrochemical signals in our nervous system. This agni is the fire that lights up our bodies and sustains life.
Meaning of agni
The Sanskrit word Agni emerges from the root –“anch“, which means “to go”. With the addition of a Sanskrit suffix – ni, it becomes agni. The word agni means ” the one that moves upwards”.
When a fire burns, the smoke moves upwards. The concept of agni signifies a transformation from gross to subtle. It transforms the heavy into the light. Agni changes matter into energy.
Vedic philosophy says – “yatha pinde tatha brahmande”. This statement means that the universe and particles follow the same rules. And therefore, every system in this universe is interconnected, just like the center of the web has the same structure as the periphery.
Agni is a concept that manifests itself in different forms at different levels. In the external world, it exists as a physical fire. Inside the body, it is the digestive fire. In the Vedic fire sacrifice, it is the energy that transforms matter to life force.
Agni is a concept of transformational energy that exists in different forms in different realms of nature. Inside the bodies of living beings, it works as an transformational energy that converts matter to life force.
Agni and Pitta
The transformative agni inside the body is called pitta. However, agni and pitta are different concepts. Agni is like the source/root/energy that when enters the system is called pitta. This system runs the body. We can say that agni is the soul that inhabits the body called pitta. And the pitta in body works to sustain our physical existence.
Acharya Charak says that when something hot burns our fingers, we say that the liquid has burnt the finger. But in subtler terms, it is the heat or the energy inside the liquid that burnt the finger. So, the transformative energy inside the pitta dosha is responsible for all the metabolic functions.
It is important to understand this concept. Because this agni inside the body is connected to the universal agni. And it functions following the universal rhythm. This connection is the reason why our digestive system responds to seasonal changes, solar and lunar radiations, and all other kinds of energies around us.
Pitta – The Digestive Agni
The Sanskrit word pitta emerges from the Sanskrit root – तप् (tap). This dhatu or root refers to penance or the energy produced through exertion. For example, fire results when we rub two stones together! Therefore, the pitta system also works on the foundation of constant metabolic friction. This friction is responsible for the production of heat inside the body.
Transformation agni (fire) in the universe is connected and supports the agni present inside the body. For example, the energy in food sustains the internal heat and metabolic processes.
Agni is the life force
One very beautiful statement in Charak Samhita Sutra Sthana says –
The agni (fire) works inside the body under the pitta metabolic pattern, in a balanced or imbalanced state; bringing auspicious or inauspicious results; like digestion or indigestion, vision or loss of vision….etc.
Let us imagine ourselves to be inside a beautiful house. But, what will we see if it is all dark? What is the difference between beauty or ugliness in darkness? The physical form manifests itself, but its perception cannot happen without the presence of light. Similarly, there can be no metabolism, without agni.
Agni is like the bonfire inside the house that keeps the cold house warm and habitable for its residents. Similarly, the agni lights up the body and makes it a suitable abode for the soul.
Agni or the transformational fires inside the body sustain the metabolism and make life possible.
Bonfire or Forest Fire
Agni or the metabolic fire runs the body. But, fire is fire. It is unreliable, like all other forces of nature. Thus, in its balanced state, this metabolic fire digests our food, produces heat, and maintains our body temperature, thus ensuring the proper function of our bodies’ enzymes.
In short, it manages all kinds of heat transactions inside the body.
However, in its imbalanced form, it can wreak havoc inside the body. An uncontrolled agni inside the body behaves like a spreading bonfire that can burn down the entire house.
Therefore, when the agni becomes imbalanced, the pitta system goes haywire. Let us take the example of over-active pitta in the stomach. The hyperactive or hyper secretion of digestive juices leads to heartburn or acidity in the stomach. Furthermore, too strong acid in the stomach may burn the mucosal lining to produce peptic ulcers. In the most severe cases, this agni may cross the digestive tract barrier and spread to the blood. This acidic blood induces inflammation all over the body.
This is only one of the multiple ways in which an imbalanced agni may affect the body.
In this blog, we looked at the broad definition of agni. It is not a synonym for the digestive system. It is the energy umbrella under which digestion happens. There are multiple forms of agni present inside our bodies. Broadly, there are a total of thirteen types of agni or transformative fires present inside the body.
Balanced agni sustains the life processes. But an imbalanced agni can burn down the tissues and destroy the metabolic balance.
Our body maintains a dynamic state of equilibrium. A constant transformation keeps our body going, just like constant cooking inside the kitchen keeps the family well-fed and content.
And this transformation happens at different stages, in different intensities, and for a different duration. for example, the main digestion occurs in the alimentary canal. However, there is a subtle digestive process that happens in each cell of the body. This cellular digestion is also a part of the metabolic agni.
I hope that this blog helps you to appreciate the depth of Ayurvedic wisdom. In the next blog, let us look at these thirteen types of agnis or transformative fires inside our bodies.