Aṅgirā (Angira) or Aṇgirasa (Angirasa) is one of the six sons born to Brahmā (Brahma) at the beginning of Creation—

marīcyatryaṅgirasau pulastyaḥ pulahaḥ kratuḥ;
ṣaḍete brahmaṇaḥ putrā bīryavanto maharṣayaḥ.

Numerous tales can be found in Purāṇas (Puranas) about the birth of the great sage Aṅgirā. Apart from describing him as a spiritually conceived son of Brahmā, a lot of Purāṇas also chronicle that Aṅgirā was born from the mouth of Brahmā at the inception of the universe. A tale in Vāyupurāṇa (Vayupurana) relates that at the beginning of the era Svāyambhuva Manu (Swayambhuva Manu) the seven sages, like Bhṛgu (Bhrigu), Aṅgirā and others, all spiritually conceived sons of Brahmā, were born. After Satī’s (Sati’s) demise at the yajña (yajna) organised by Dakṣa (Daksha), an outraged Śiva (Shiva) placed a curse on them. These cursed sages took birth once again as Brahmā’s sons during the age of Cākṣuṣa (Chakshusha) Manu. During this age, Brahmā once acted as the priest in a yajña arranged by Varuṇa (Varuna). At that time his heart was impassioned at the sight of the women from heaven present at the ceremonial altar, and he shed some of his power.Considering creation of people, Brahmā offered that speck of power as an oblation to the fire of the yajña. Consequently, two sages emerged from the fire—first came Bhṛgu, and then the great sage Aṅgirā. He was born from the embers of a yajña fire. Hence the appellation of Aṅgirā.

In all texts including epics and Purāṇas, the great sage Aṅgirā has been referred to a a hermit learned in Vedas and as a prajāpati (prajapati) or the founder patriarch of bloodlines. In Mahābhārata (Mahabharata) and Purāṇas, there are several lists of the spiritual sons of Brahmā born at the beginning of Creation. Somewhere, they are six in number, somewhere they are seven, or ten. Somewhere there are references to as many as twenty-one spiritual sons of Brahmā who created more bloodlines (that is, more people). Even then, in epics and Purāṇas, the more widely accepted version is that including seven sages, and among those seven sages created at the Beginning, Aṅgirā is certainly a significant name. A verse in Śāntiparva (Shantiparva) of Mahābhārata mentions that Aṅgirā was one of the ancient spiritual sons of Brahmā who adopted the creed of a man of worldly affairs and got married—

marīciraṅgirāścatri pulastyaḥ pulahaḥ kratuḥ.
vaśiṣṭha iti saptaite mānasā nirmitā hi te.
ete vedavido mukhyā vadācāryārśca kalpitāḥ.
pravṛtti dharmiṇaścaiva prājāpatye ca kalpitāḥ.

Bhīṣma (Bhishma) said that the seven sages including Aṅgirā resembled Brahmā. He even identified them as seven Brahmās— sapta brahmāṇa ityete purāṇe niścayaṃ gatāḥ.

There are numerous tales chronicled in epics and purāṇas about the ancient sage Aṅgirā.

  • However, the earliest allusion to Aṅgirā as a patriarch sage is found in incantations of Ṛgveda (Rigveda). In Ṛgveda, the word aṅgirā is mostly mentioned in the plural form. Invocations in Ṛgveda sometimes mention sage Aṅgirā and the other sages descending from him collectively as Aṅgirasaḥ (Angirasah) to serially denote his ancestral line. In some Ṛk (Rik) incantations, these Aṅgirasas are spoken of with the same deference given to gods, like the heavenly classes of Āditya (Aditya), Rudra, or Vasu. In several chants of Ṛgveda, Aṅgirasas are invoked with hymns along with the Āditya, Rudra, Vasu and Marut gods— sūryeṇādityebhirvasubhiraṅgirobhiḥ.

  • In one or two incantations of Ṛgveda, Aṅgirā is mention in the singular form as an ancient sage. There, he is identified as a prajāpati (prajapati) or patriarch created at the Beginning along with Dakṣa, Atri, Manu, et al.

With regard to the history of Aṅgirā’s origin, the moment the context of his birth from cinder comes up, one cannot but help think of him being an incarnation of Agni (or Fire). In fact, many scholars describe Aṅgirā as a form of Sūryāgni (Suryagni, or the fire of the Sun). Mahābhārata chronicles a tale about Aṅgirā’s relation to the fire of the Sun and his identity as a form of the same. The account narrates how Aṅgirā transformed into Fire when the power of Agni (or Fire) on earth dwindled. In any case, the etymological explanation of the word aṅgirā in Mahābhārata shows that the word stems from aṅgāra (angara), meaning agni or fire— aṅgārebhyo’ṅgirābhavat, aṅgārebhyoṅgirāstāta.

Perhaps, it is from this thought that leads to the notion endorsed by Purāṇas that Aṅgirā was born from the aṅgāra or fire of the yajña.

  • There is an ancient tale that goes such—once Aṅgirā engaged himself in rigorous religious austerities in order to become even mightier than Agni. Settled in his hermitage, as he continued his meditation, he eventually became truly more powerful than Agni. During the same time, Agnideva too was engaged in religious austerities in a forest. All of a sudden, he saw that every direction resplendent in the glow of a great, vigorous energy; even he was warmed by the vigour of that powerful glow. On the other hand, he himself had become dull and debilitated. Agni thought, “Has Brahmā then created another Agnideva— anyo’gniriha lokānāṃ brahmaṇā samprakalpitaḥ.”

Why else would his might and power have depleted? Wondering so, he spotted the great sage Aṅgirā who, replete in his own glory, was also radiating warmth to the world. As Agni timidly approached him, Aṅgirā said, “Please reinstate yourself to your previous glory, because everyone in the three worlds knows about your ability to burn and scorch all. Besides, it is you who was created by Brahmā to dispel the darkness of the world. Therefore, please reestablish yourself in your own station svasthānaṃ pratipadyasva śīghrameva tamonuda.”

Slightly abashed, Agni said, “All the triumph of my glorious virtue is gone. Now only you deserve the dignity accorded to Hutāśana (Hutashana) Agni.No one would recognise me as Agni— bhavantameva jñasyanti pāvakaṃ na tu maṃ janāḥ.

“Therefore, from this day onward I relinquish my agnitva (or ‘fireness’). Become the primary Agni of the world, I shall serve as the secondary Agni acting as the patriarch.”

Aṅgirā replied, “No, this is unthinkable. Continue to be the Agni who lights the way to heaven and disperses darkness for all. Accept me as your first son.” To this Agni agreed, and since then Aṅgirā has been identified as the first manifestation of Agni, who embodies fire.

Perhaps in light of this account Aṅgirā has sometimes been referred to as Āgneya (Agneya), and sometimes even as Brahmā in Mahābhārata āgneyastvaṅgirāḥ śrīmān kavirbrāhmo mahāyaśāḥ.

Even in Vāyupurāṇa, the account of the great sage Aṅgirā’s birth from the fire of the yajña performed by Varuṇa relates that Brahmā, with the intention of creating a populace, offered as oblation to Agni a drop of his powerful seed. As a result of that, when Aṅgirā emerged from the fire of the yajña after Bhṛgu, Agni himself appealed to Brahmā that this son born of Agni be known as his own son or Āgneya. Brahmā complied with this request. Hence, the great sage Aṅgirā, created from the yajña flame became renowned as Agni’s son.

Purāṇas chronicle that since Agni acknowledged Aṅgirā as his own son, all those belonging to the family line of Aṅgirasa (Angirasa) were also known as Āgneya.

  • It is mentioned in Śāntiparva of Mahābhārata that the seven spiritual sons of Brahmā including Aṅgirā were also known as Citraśikhanḍī (Chitrashikhandi). In another śloka of Śāntiparva, Aṅgirā’s name comes up as one of the twenty-one prajāpatis or creators.
  • Much information is found in Mahābhārata and Purāṇas regarding the great sage Aṅgirā’s marriage. It is known that the two daughters of Prajāpati Dakṣa, Svadhā (Swadha) and Satī (Sati) were married to Aṅgirā. The sons born of him to them were Pitṛgaṇa (Pitrigana) and Atharvāṅgiras (Atharvangiras). Mahābhārata identifies Subhā (Subha) as Aṅgirā’s wife.
  • Vāyupurāṇa records that the great sage Aṅgirā had three wives— Marīci’s (Marichi’s) daughter Surūpā (Surupa), Prajāpati Kadarma’s daughter Svarāṭ (Svarat), and Manu’s daughter Pathyā (Pathya). Among the three, Bṛhaspati (Brihaspati) was born to Surūpā and Gautama was born to Svarāṭ. Aṅgirā’s third wife Pathyā had four sons. They were called Abandhya, Bāmadeva (Bamadeva), Utathya and Uśija (Ushija). However, in Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Bhagavatapurana) and Viṣṇupurāṇa (Vishnupurana), Prajāpati Kadarma’s daughter and Aṅgirā’s wife has been called Śraddhā (Shraddha) instead of Svarāṭ. There are references to a son born to Aṅgirā known as Saṃvarta (Samvarta).
  • Apart from this, Aṅgirā’s daughters have been mentioned in Mahābhārata and Purāṇas. As per Mahābhārata, Aṅgirā had seven daughters— Bhānumatī (BHanumati), Rākā (Raka), Sinīvālī (Sinivali), Arcismatī (Archismati), Haviṣmatī (Havishmati), Mahiṣmatī (Mahishmati), Mahāmatī (Mahamati) and Kuhū (Kuhu). Perhaps it is due to Aṅgirā being a form of the Sun’s fire that annotator Nīlakanṭha (Nilakantha), while analysing this śloka, has interpreted Aṅgirā’s daughters as being the forms of the auspicious days/times for yajña based on the revolutions of the Sun and the Moon. Purāṇas, on the other hand, refer to only four daughters of Aṅgirā.
  • The plural form of the word ‘aṅgiras‘ is ‘aṅgirasaḥ‘ (angirasah). This word has been used to indicate hermits and sages who were sons and grandsons of Sage Aṅgirā, that is his descendants, and even his disciples. Aṅgirā’s son Bṛhaspati and Utathya have referred to as Aṅgirasa on multiple occasions. Sage Bharadvāja (Bharadvaja) hailed from Aṅgirā’s lineage as well. His descendant Droṇācārya (Dronacharya) and Droṇācārya’s son Aśvatthāmā (Ashwatthama) have also been called Aṅgirasa.
  • Since the renowned personalities hailing from the heritage of either Aṅgirā’s lineage or that of his disciples are also known by his name, he himself can be called an ‘institution’. However, during his own time, he was as eminent as Bhṛgu, one of Brahmā’s other spiritual sons. Mahābhārata chronicles that the time of the great sage Aṅgirā constituted the first yuga (an epoch, a span of twelve years) in the conception of yuga. This is the time when sanātana dharma (sanatana dharma, or the ancient fundamental form of Hinduism) was established—utpanne’ṅirase kāle prathama kalpite.

The rituals of paying obeisance to the manes were conceived during Bhṛgu and Aṅgirā’s time, but it was put down under King Nimi’s supervision.

  • Aṅgirā was one of those who chanted Sāvitrīmantra (Savitrimantra; the prayer dedicated to Sāvitrī or Savitri) to defeat dānavas (danavas or giants).
  • God Vāyu (Vayu) referred to Aṅgirā in the context of the power and anger of brāhmaṇas (brahmanas). Apparently, once, Aṅgirā was so thirsty that he drank up all the water on earth. Later however, he benevolently endowed the earth with ample water. Vāyu further related that previously, no smoke was emitted when a fire was lit. Agni was fair and his flame rose upwards uniformly. But all these virtues of Agni were depleted due to Aṅgirā’s rage and by a curse placed by him upon Agni. These facts about him have been similarly placed upon his son Utathya in accounts chronicled by Mahābhārata.
  • At the battle of Kurukṣetra (Kurukshetra), when Duryodhana was terrified by Arjuna’s strength, Droṇa (Drona) gave him an impenetrable armour with a word of benediction dedicated to Aṅgirā to protect him. Under these circumstances, Droṇa said that this armour was given by Śiva Mahaśvara (Shiva Maheshwara) himself to Indra at the time of slaying Vṛtra (Vritra) so that he remained impervious to Vṛtra’s attacks. That is, even Vṛtrāsura (Vritrasura) could not break this armour during battle. After Vṛtra was killed, Indra presented this armour to Aṅgirā— taṃ ca mantramayaṃ bandhaṃ varma cāṅgirase dadau.
  • Aṅgirā was among those sages and hermits who assembled at Kurukṣetra to meet Bhīṣma (Bhishma) lying on a bed of arrows.
  • The great sage Aṅgirā was also present at the time of Arjuna’s grandson Parīkṣhita’s (Parikshita’s) fast unto death by starvation.
  • Once Sage Aṅgirā visited Citraketu (Chitraketu), the king of Śūrasena (Shurasena). Citraketu was childless. When his official consort implored Aṅgirā to bless her with a child, he granted her the boon, following which the queen gave birth to a son. But, his other wives could not stand the good fortune of the queen and poisoned and killed the newborn. When the king and the queen were devastated by the death of their son, Aṅgirā, in the guise of a mystic saint, came to the royal palace along with Nārada (Narada) and consoled the bereaved couple.
  • It is said in Purāṇas that during the month of Nava or Āṣāḍha (Ashadha), the great sage Aṅgirā resides in the chariot of Sūrya (Surya, or the Sun).
  • Purāṇas chronicle that Aṅgirā was the first to champion Atharvaveda.
  • According to Bhāgavatapurāṇa, the great sage Aṅgirā once undertook the pilgrimage to Piṇdāraka (Pindaraka).