Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Agastya at Wikipedia.

AGASTYA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] A Rishi, the reputed author of several hymns in the Rigveda, and a very celebrated personage in Hindu story.

He and Vasishtha are said in the Rigveda to be the offspring of Mitra and Varuna, whose seed fell from them at the sight of Urvasi; and the commentator Sayana adds that Agastya was born in a waterjar as a fish of great lustre, whence he was called Kalasisuta, Kumbhasambhava, and Ghatodbhava. From his parentage he was called Maitravaruni and Aurvasiya; and as he was very small when he was born, not more than a span in length, he was called Mina.

Though he is thus associated in his birth with Vasishtha, he is evidently later in date, and he is not one of the Prajapatis.

His name, Agastya, is derived by a forced etymology from a fable, which represents him as having commanded the Vindhya mountains to prostrate themselves before him, through which they lost their primeval altitude; or rather, perhaps, the fable has been invented to account for his name. This miracle has obtained for him the epithet Vindhyakuta; and he acquired another name, Pitabdhi, or Samudrachuluka, "Ocean drinker,' from another fable, according to which he drank up the ocean because it had offended him, and because he wished to help the gods in their wars with the Daityas when the latter had hidden themselves in the waters.

He was afterwards made regent of the star Canopus, which bears his name. The Puranas represent him as being the son of Pulastya, the sage from whom the Rakshasas sprang. He was one of the narrators of "the Brahma Purana and also a writer on medicine.

The Mahabharata relates a legend respecting the creation of his wife. It says that Agastya saw his ancestors suspended by their heels in a pit, and was told by them that they could be rescued only by his begetting a son. Thereupon he formed a girl out of the most graceful parts of different animals and passed her secretly into the palace of the king of Vidarbha. There the child grew up as a daughter of the king, and was demanded in marriage by Agastya. Much against his wills the king was constrained to consent, and she became the wife of the sage. She was named Lopamudra, because the animals had been subjected to loss (lopa) by her engrossing their distinctive beauties, as the eyes of the deer, etc. She was also called Kausitaki and Varaprada.

The same poem also tells a story exhibiting his superhuman power, by which he turned King Nahusha into a serpent and afterwards restored him to his proper form.

It is in the Ramayana that Agastya makes the most distinguished figure. Ho dwelt in a hermitage on Mount Kunjara, situated in a most beautiful country to the south of the Vindhya mountains, and was chief of the hermits of the south. He kept the Rakshasas who infested the south under control, so that the country was only gazed upon and not possessed by them.

His power over them is illustrated by a legend which represents him as eating up a Rakshasa named Vatapi who assumed the form of a ram, and as destroying by a flash of his eye the Rakshasa's brother, Ilvala, who attempted to avenge him. (See Vatapi.)

Rama in his exile wandered to the hermitage of Agastya with Sita and Lakshmana. The sage received him with the greatest kindness, and became his friend, adviser, and protector. He gave him the bow of Vishnu; and when Rama was restored to his kingdom, the sage accompanied him to Ayodhya.

The name of Agastya holds a great place also in Tamil literature, and he is "venerated in the south as the first teacher of science and literature to the primitive Dravidian tribes;" so says Dr. Caldwell, who thinks " we shall not greatly err in placing the era of Agastya in the seventh, or at least in the sixth century B.C." Wilson also had previously testified to the same effect: "The traditions of the south of India ascribe to Agastya a principal share in the formation of the Tamil language and literature, and the general tenor of the legends relating to him denotes his having been instrumental in the introduction of the Hindu religion and literature into the Peninsula." 

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM