A shloka of Kena Upanishad says:
tey agnim abruvan jaataveda etad vijaanihi kim etad yaksham iti tatheti
Agni – Fire, is called jaatavedas – ‘the knower of the Vedas.’
My question: Why is agni referred to as 'the knower of the Vedas'?
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The verse you have quoted in question is
तेऽग्निमब्रुवन् जातवेद एतद्विजानीहि किमेतद्यक्षमिति तथेति ॥ 16 ॥
te'gnimabruvan jātaveda etadvijānīhi kimetadyakṣamiti tatheti || 16 || They addressed the Fire thus “O Jataveda! Find out what this Great Spirit is.” He said “yes.”
And the your translation is - the knower of the Vedas.
Although it is somewhat right in vedic perspective as all knowing , when we consider Agni as Brahman himself. But here the meaning should be taken differently . I.e. repository of knowledge , or who is born for the sake of vedas etc. Lets see this in detail.
पावनात् पावकश्चासि वहनाद्भव्यवाहन : |
वेदास्तवदर्थं जाता वै जातवेदास्ततो ह्यसि ||42 ||
p. 64 The Veda have sprung for ministering unto thee, and, therefore, thou art called Jataveda.
That means for whom the Vedas originated is said to be Jataveda. Here the meaning of word jata is -"who is born" . Vedaha - For Vedas.
Here is Hindi translation of above verse.
जातवेदसे सुनवाम सोममरातीयतो निद्हति वेद : | स न: पर्षदाति दुर्गाणि विश्वा नावेव सिन्धुं दुरितात्यग्नि ||1|
May we offer oblations to soma to jata-vedas. May the all knowing one destroy what is unfriendly to us. May he , the divine fire that leads all , protect us by taking us across all perils even as a captain takes the boat across the sea. May he also saves us from all wrongs.
In the notes given below the above verse Vimalananda explaning that
Agni who is repository of knowledge. Jatavedas , interpreted physically as fire stands , stands for the all knowing divine reality that is worshiped within vedic rituals. The word veda and vedas in this stanza stand for one who knows everything i.e. the divine fire.
I.e..Agni knows everything and hence called as Jataveda. Agni is One who know past, present and future and is called as Jataveda.
As Śaṅkarācārya explains in his commentary, the term simply means 'one who knows all that is created.'
3.1.3 Te, they-those gods who failed to know, It, and were desirous of knowing It, but had fear in their hearts; abruvan, said; agnim, to Fire, (lit.) who goes ahead (of all); and who is jataveda, almost omniscient: [Agni precedes all other deities (agre gacchati) in receiving oblations at sacrifices; and Jataveda is one who knows (veda) all that is created (jata).] O jataveda, you being powerful among us; vijanihi, thoroughly find out about; etat, this Yaksa that is in our view; kim etat yaksam iti, as to what this Yaksa (venerable Being) is.
Why Agni is known by that name is also explained in Rigveda VI.15.13:
agnirhotā gṛhapatiḥ sa rājā viśvā veda janimā jātavedāḥ |
devānāmuta yo martyānāṁ yajiṣṭhaḥ sa pra yajatāmṛtāvā || 6.015.13
Book 6. HYMN XV. Agni.
- Agni, the Priest (Hotar), is King, Lord of the homestead, he, Jātavedas, knows all generations.
Most skillful worshipper mid Gods and mortals, may he begin the sacrifice, the Holy.
R. L. Kashayp translates the same verse as:
6.15.13: Agni, the Priest of the invocation, is a king and the Master in our house (1). All the births he knows, he is the Knower of all things born (2). (He is) strong to sacrifice, to the gods and mortals (3), let him sacrifice; the Truth is in him (4).