The Shatapatha Brahmana 1.3.3 mentions the following interesting conversation between Agni and the other gods:
- He then lays the (three) enclosing-sticks (paridhi) around (the fire). The reason why he lays the enclosing-sticks around (is this). When at first the gods chose Agni for the office of Hotri, he said: 'Verily, I am not equal to this, that I should be your Hotri, and that I should carry your oblation. Already you have chosen three before, and they have passed away. Restore them to me: then I shall be equal to this, that I should be your Hotri and that I should carry your oblation!' They said, 'So be it!' and they restored to him those (three former Agnis): they are these enclosing-sticks.
The Section 1.2.3 also gives some details:
- Fourfold, namely, was Agni (fire) at first. Now that Agni whom they at first chose for the office of Hotri priest passed away. He also whom they chose the second time passed away. He also whom they chose the third time passed away. Thereupon the one who still constitutes the fire in our own time, concealed himself from fear. He entered into the waters. Him the gods discovered and brought forcibly away from the waters.
The earlier section also mentions their epithets:
- That which is spilt he touches, with the formulas (Vâg. S. II, 2), 'To the Lord of the Earth--svâhâ!' 'To the Lord of the World--svâhâ!' 'To the Lord of Beings--svâhâ!' These, indeed, are the names of those Agnis,--to wit, Lord of the Earth, Lord of the World, and Lord of Beings. Thus in like manner as that (oblation) which is accompanied by 'Vashat' is offered up (to the particular deity to which it is announced), so is this (offered up) on his (the sacrificer's) part to those Agnis.
I want to know what is the story of these three previous Agnis who served the gods but then passed away?