By Swami Harshananda
Agastya literally means ‘One who shunned the growth of the mountain Vindhya’.
Agastya is also one of the most famous ṛṣis. He is the seer of several Rgvedic mantras. He was a brahmarṣi and the son of Pulastya and Havirbhuk. Sage Agniveśya was his disciple. According to some texts, he was the son of Mitra and Varuṇa, and was born in a kumbha or jar. Hence he was also named as Kumbhaja, Kumbhodbhava, Kalaśīsuta and so on. Vasiṣtha was his brother. He married to Lopāmudrā (also known as Kāveri), the princess of Vidarbha and begot a son Dṛḍhāsya, also known as Idhmavāha. Some of his achievements are as follows:
- He was a man of vast knowledge and severe austerity.
- He is said to have destroyed the demons Ilvala and Vātāpi.
- He even stunted the growth of the Vindhya mountain which was growing recklessly and obstructing the light of the sun.
- He drank the waters of the ocean to expose the demons Kālakeyas who were subsequently killed by the Devas.
- He was honored by Lord Rāma when he was living in the Daṇḍakāraṇya forest and gave divine weapons to him. He also taught the Adityahrdaya-hymn to Lord Rāma.
- He brought about a reconciliation between the Indra and the Maruts.
- Though Agastya is not enumerated among the Saptarṣis (the seven great sages), he is included among the progenitors of ‘gotra’ genealogy.
- He has been accorded a stellar status and identified with Canopus, the brightest star in the sky of southern India.
- In the annals of Tamil literature, Agastya is the accredited originator of the Tamil language. He was the author of the maiden grammar of that language and the first president of the first organization of Tamil litterateurs.
- He is also credited with the authorship of several works on medicine, mysticism and magic. One work called Agastya Sarhhitā which deals with ritualistic worship is available. It is a part of Pāñcarātra literature.
- He is said to have visited several South East Asian countries like Borneo, Siam and Cambodia.
The word ‘Agastya’ might have been a title. Several Agastyas may have been involved in these stories, synchronized into one. An Agastyāśrama, a hermitage of Agastya, has been mentioned in the Rāmāyana. This has been sometimes identified with Agastyapurī, east of Nasik in Maharashtra state. The Vanaparva of Mahābhārata mentions an Agastyatīrtha in the Pāṇḍya country as an important place of pilgrimage. Seeing the star Agastya or Canopus when the sun is in the middle of Kanyā or Virgo and worshiping him at night is mentioned as a vrata (religious rite).
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore