Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Agastya - The Sage who created Kaveri


According to legend, the sage Agastya is an incarnation of Agni. Agni and Vayu had been cursed by Indra for insubordination to be born as mortals. Vayu was born as Vasishta (this account is different from the popular one where Vasishta is a wish-born son of Brahma). According to this curse, Agastya was born as the son of MitraVaruna Rishi (this is different from the dual Mitra-Varuna mentioned in the Rig Veda) and the Apsara Urvashi. Among the many epithets of Agastya are KumbhaSambhava (born in a pot) and MitraVaruni (son of MitraVaruna). From an early age he displayed an aptitude for the scriptures and spirituality.

The marriage of Lord Shiva to Uma, the daughter of the king of mountains Himavan was going to be conducted at Kailasa. All the people in the world and all the creatures began to flock to the north. The earth was in danger of toppling over, as the weights of North and South were not in balance. Upon beholding this the Lord said, "This cannot be allowed to happen. We need a suitable weight to counterbalance this northern tilt. Only Agastya can do this job." He then summoned Agastya and bade him to go south and use his yogic powers to balance the earth. Agastya was pleased with this signal honor, but was also saddened, because then he won't be able to witness this divine marriage. Perceiving the thoughts in the Rishi's mind, Shiva granted him a boon that himself and Uma will appear before Agastya, whenever the latter happened to think of them. Pleased, Agastya began his southward journey."

The Vindhya mountains were the natural separators between the North and the South. They were jealous of the fame of the mighty Himalayas and began to grow and grow in an attempt to become taller than them. This fact was known to Agastya. When he arrived at the Vindhya mountains, he asked it to stop growing for a while, so that he could go South and then return. If the mountain did not stop growing, he would find it very difficult to climb it on his return journey. The mountain consented to this request and stopped growing. Alas, it was tricked, as Agastya never crossed it again to go North, for he established his permanent abode in the south. The Vindhya mountain could not break its promise and therefore had to content to be shorter than the Himalayas.

He married Lopamudra, the daughter of the king of Vidharba. He also had another wife named Kaveri, who was the daughter of a sage named Kavera. To end a severe famine in the south, Kaveri was transformed into a river of the same name, which flows to this day through the south. She is also called the southern Ganga.

He is also famous for his curses. He cursed Nahusha who had insulted him, to be born as a giant python. Bheema was instrumental in releasing Nahusha from the curse. He had also cursed a king named Indradhyumna to be born as an elephant, for the King busy with his prayer, was late in receiving the sage. Later Lord Vishnu release the elephant (who was called Gajendra), from this curse.

When his wife Lopamudra expressed a desire for jewellery and fine clothes (for she was the daughter of a king), he obtained some wealth from three kings named Shrutharva, Thrasadasyu and Bradhnashwa. They also suggested that he defeat the Asura kings of Badami (the Mahabharata says that their capital was the city of Manimati), two brothers named Vatapi and Ilvala. These demons were master magicians and Vatapi was shape-shifter. When a Brahmana guest came to their palace, Vatapi would transform himself into a goat. Ilvala would then cook and feed this goat to the guest. When the poor guest had eaten his fill, Ilvala would shout "Vatapi! come out of there!". Vatapi would at once assume his normal form, killing the unfortunate guest.

They tried pulling the same trick on Agastya, but he was too smart for them. Before Ilvala could utter the words, he rubbed his stomach and said "May Vatapi be Digested!". By his yogic powers, he completely dissolved Vatapi. Enraged by his brother's death, Ilvala attacked the Rishi, who promptly reduced him to ashes by his yogic powers. He then took all the riches in the palace to his wife, who was overjoyed. See [Maha:3.96,3.99].

He is also famed for drinking the ocean dry. The way this incident happened was this: The south was infested with Asuras, who used to disrupt the penances of the sages. So the sages sought the help of Vishnu who hunted the Asuras down. However some of them took refuge in the ocean where he could not see them. He then asked Agastya to drink the ocean to expose those cowards. Agastya drank the ocean dry using his yogic powers. The Asuras had nowhere to hide and were utterly destroyed.

During the battle between Rama and Ravana described in the Ramayana, Rama had become disheartened at the monumental task ahead of him. The sage Agastya then appeared before him and instructed him in the use of Aditya Hridayam, a hymn praising Surya. Heartened by this prayer, Rama fought with renewed vigor and ultimately won the war by killing the Asura Ravana.

Also see 'Legends of Agastya'.

Last Modified At: Thu Nov 25 00:13:15 2004