Sage Agastya – Vedic Sage and Father of Tamil Literature

Sage Agastya

Agastya Muni is one of the esteemed sages in Hindu dharma. According to Shaivism, Sage Agastya is one of the 18 Siddhars in Tamil tradition and was the first to create Tamil language grammar, Agattiyam.

Various ancient religious texts of Shaktism and Vaishnavism also mentioned Agastya muni as a revered sage. His statues can be found in most of the Hindu temples throughout the Indian Subcontinent and other Southeast Asian countries.

Agastyaparva, an ancient Javanese language text (Includes some Sanskrit texts), mentioned him as a great personality and profound teacher.

Sage Agastya is the lord of all sciences and medicines as well as the author of many ancient Vedic texts and scriptures.

Sage Agastya
Sage Agastya – by Molee at DeviantArt

Birth of Sage Agastya

The story behind his birth says, once the god Varuna and Mitra was performing Yajna from which a beautiful nymph Urvashi appeared. Sexually attracted to her eternal beauty, the god of ocean and light emits semen, which fell into a mud pot from which Rishi Agastya was born along with his twin brother Rishi Vashistha. Thus, he is also called Kumbhayoni – the one who was born in a water pitcher.

Agastya lived an ascetic austere life and educated himself to become one of the great sages of Vedas. Later, he went to marry Lopamudra – Princess of Vidarbha kingdom. From them, they have a son called Drdhasyu/Idhmavaha.

Legends about Rishi Agastya

According to Ramayana, once all the Asuras(demons) hid into the bottom of the ocean so the Devas(gods) could not find and kill them. Therefore, all the Devas went to Rishi Agastya for help. With his years of austerity (Tapasya) powers, he drank the ocean’s water and helped Devas to defeat Asuras.

Some Vedic texts and scriptures mentioned sage Agastya as the only one whose austerity powers was so impressive that it was able to balance the earth when the entire beings of this universe were on the other side of the earth to participate in the grand marriage ceremony of Lord Shiva and Devi Parvati.

Maharishi Agastya has many names; one of them is Mountain Mover. Once Vindhya Mountain was competing with the great Himalayas who will grow the highest. The growth of Vindhya Mountain has blocked the sun causing darkness to the village situated below. Thus, Agastya muni ordered the mountain to shrink until he returns from the south. This incident has great significance as it paved the way between the north and the south part of the Indian sub-continent.

Contribution of Sage Agastya

As for his contributions;

Agastya and his wife had written hymns from 1.165 to 1.191 in Rigveda around 1200 BCE. His hymns in Rigveda are popular for spiritual messages hidden in images, puzzles, speech play, wordplay, and similes. In one of his hymns, he talks about the dispute between Indra (king of heaven) and Maruts (storm deities) which says;

अम्य॒क्सा त॑ इन्द्र ऋ॒ष्टिर॒स्मे सने॒म्यभ्वं॑ म॒रुतो॑ जुनन्ति ।
अ॒ग्निश्चि॒द्धि ष्मा॑त॒से शु॑शु॒क्वानापो॒ न द्वी॒पं दध॑ति॒ प्रयां॑सि ।।

Which means,

That spear of thine sat firmly for us, O Indra: the Maruts set their whole dread power in motion.  E’en Agni shines resplendent in the brushwood: the viands hold him as floods hold an island. 

– (Rig Veda 1.169.3)

Sage Agastya is the master of all Siddhars. Siddhars are those wise Individuals who have attained one of the eight supernatural powers called Asta Siddhi. They have complete knowledge of science, technology, arts, music, dance, astronomy, drama, and literature. With this inherited knowledges (siddhis), Agastya’s disciplines were able to become great Siddhars on their own. Rishi Agastya inspired all the Siddhi texts that were written by several Siddhars.

Agastya Rishi is a fatherly figure in Tamil culture and literature, who was the author of the first Tamil language grammar, Agattiyam.

Various Indian martial arts and traditional healing arts is now in existence because of Rishi Agastya. He is the first to introduce Silambam – an ancient weapon-based Indian martial art and Varma Kalai – an ancient art of healing that uses vital points of the body.

Human civilization should be thankful for Rishi Agastya’s theory of electricity generation. His theory for generating electricity requires an earthen pitcher, copperplate, copper sulfate, wet sawdust, and mercury amalgamated zinc sheet. These same principles scientists have used to produce current.

Agastya Muni and Lord Rama
Agastya Muni giving Rama a Sword (source)

Another great contribution by Sage Agastya includes the creation of a sacred hymn “Ādityahṛdayam(Aditya Hrudayam Stotram) dedicated to the Surya Dev (the sun god).

The great sage Agastya provided us with Lalita Sahasranama – a Vedic text dedicated to Devi Lalita. This text includes the thousands of names of the Maa Shakti (divine motherly goddess).

He has only written text and scriptures on Nadi Astrology – widely popular in the Kerala state of India.

Rishi Agastya Literature Works

The great Agastya muni has written several ancient texts and scriptures, which includes;

  • Agastya Gita mentioned in Varaha Purana
  • Agastya Samhita mentioned in Skanda Purana.
  • Dvaidha-Nirnaya Tantra text.

Agastya Rishi Legacy

There are several temples dedicated to great Agastya muni throughout the Indian sub-continent as well as south and Southeast Asian countries such as Nepal, Java (Island of Indonesia), Vietnam, Cambodia, and others.

Seated Divine Sage Agastya
Seated Divine Sage Agastya – Angkor period (975 C.E) (Source)

Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala is a sacred temple where the eternal soul of rishi Agastya got absorbed into the divine cosmic force.

Near the Shenbaga Devi Amman Temple, rishi Agastya was believed to have lived for several years. With a few uphill walking, you can find his statue inside the Siddha caves.

Dashavatara Temple at Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh highlights carvings of Agastya, which date back to the Gupta Empire (6th century).

The temple of Mallikarjuna, located in Mahakuta along with the Parvati Temple of Sandur displays the Agastya rishi statue with great respect.

Sage Agastya with Veena
Sage Agastya with a veena. Located in the Sesharaya mandapa (Sesharayar Hall) of the Ranganathaswamy Temple, in Srirangam, India, ca. 16th-18th century C.E.

Apart from that, various temples related to Agastya muni includes;

  • Agastheeswarar Temple, situated in the town of Agathiyampalli, Tamil Nadu, India.
  • Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, situated in Kumbakonam, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu, India.
  • Agastyamuni Temple, Uttarakhand.
  • Stone temples in Java.
  • Ranganathaswamy Temple, in Srirangam, India
  • Various temples in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Changu Narayan Temple, Bhaktapur, Nepal

Disciplines of Rishi Agastya

Sage Agastya has 12 disciplines who were;

  • Tiranadhumak or Tolkappiyar
  • Chemputchey
  • Atankotta
  • Turalinkan
  • Vaiyappikan
  • Vayppiyan
  • Panamparan
  • Kalaramban
  • Avinayan
  • Kakkaipatiniyan
  • Narrattan
  • Vamanan

Rishi Agastya is one of the most admired and reputed sages in Hinduism, whose contribution to literature, medicine, astrology, yoga, arts, and science will always remain immeasurable.