Agastya was a revered Vedic sage of Hinduism. In the Indian
traditions, he is a noted recluse and an influential scholar in
diverse languages of the Indian subcontinent. He and his wife
Lopamudra are the celebrated authors of hymns 1.165 to 1.191 in the
Rigveda and other Vedic literature.
Agastya appears in numerous itihasas and puranas (roughly, mythologies
and regional epics) including the major
Mahabharata. He is one of the seven or eight most revered rishis
in the Vedic texts, as well as a subject of reverence for being one
of the Tamil
Siddhar in the
Shaivism tradition. He is also revered in
the Puranic literature of
Shaktism and Vaishnavism. He is one of
the Indian sages found in ancient sculpture and reliefs in Hindu
temples of South Asia, and Southeast Asia such as in the early
medieval era Shaiva temples on
Java Indonesia. He is the principal
Guru in the ancient
Javanese language text Agastyaparva,
whose 11th century version survives.
Agastya is traditionally attributed to be the author of many Sanskrit
texts such as the
Agastya Gita found in Varaha Purana,
found embedded in Skanda Purana, and the Dvaidha-Nirnaya Tantra
text. He is also referred to as Mana, Kalasaja, Kumbhaja,
Kumbhayoni and Maitravaruni after his mythical origins.
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This article contains Indic text. Without proper rendering support,
you may see question marks or boxes, misplaced vowels or missing
conjuncts instead of Indic text.
1 Etymology and nomenclature
3 Textual sources
3.5 Tamil texts
3.6 Buddhist texts
3.7 Javanese and southeast Asian texts
4.3 Martial arts
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Etymology and nomenclature
seated divine sage Agastya
The etymological origin of
Agastya is unclear and there are several
theories. One states that it is derived from a flowering tree called
Agati gandiflora, which is endemic to the
Indian subcontinent and is
called Akatti in Tamil. This theory suggests that Agati evolved into
Agastih, and favors Dravidian origins of the Vedic sage. Another
theory states that the root is Aj or Anj, which connotes "brighten,
effulgent one" and links
Agastya to "one who brightens" in darkness,
Agastya is traditionally the Indian name for Canopus, the second
most brilliantly shining star found in South Asian skies, next to
A third theory links it to Indo-European origins, through the Iranian
word gasta which means "sin, foul", and a-gasta would mean "not sin,
not foul". The fourth theory, based on folk etymology in verse
2.11 of the
Ramayana states that
Agastya is from aga (unmoving or
mountain) and gam (move), and together these roots connote "one who is
mover-of-mountains", or "mover-of-the-unmoving". The word is also
written as Agasti and Agathiyar (Tamil: அகத்தியர்
Agathiyar; Telugu: అగస్త్య; Kannada:
ಅಗಸ್ತ್ಯ; Malayalam: അഗസ്ത്യന് or
അഗസ്ത്യമുനി Malay: Anggasta; Thai: Akkhot).
Agastya and Lopāmudrā
Agastya is the named author of several hymns of the
BCE). These hymns do not provide his biography. The origins of
Agastya are mythical. Unlike most Vedic sages, he has neither a human
mother nor a father in its legends. His miraculous birth follows a
yajna being done by gods
Varuna and Mitra, where the celestial apsara
Urvashi appears. They are overwhelmed by her extraordinary
sexuality, and ejaculate. Their semen falls into a mud pitcher, which
is the womb in which the fetus of
Agastya grows. He is born from this
jar, along with his twin sage
Vashistha in some mythologies. This
mythology gives him the name kumbhayoni, which literally means "he
whose womb was a mud pot".
Agastya leads an ascetic life, educates himself, becoming a celebrated
sage. He is not born to
Brahmin parents, but is called a
many Indian texts because of his learning. His unknown origins have
led to speculative proposals that the Vedic era
Agastya may have been
a migrant Aryan whose ideas influenced the south, and alternatively a
native non-Aryan Dravidian whose ideas influenced the
According to inconsistent legends in the Puranic and the epics, the
Agastya proposed to Lopamudra, a princess born in the
kingdom of Vidharbha. Her parents were unwilling to bless the
engagement, concerned that she would be unable to live the austere
Agastya in the forest. However, the legends state that
Lopamudra accepted him as her husband, saying that
Agastya has the
wealth of ascetic living, her own youth will fade with seasons, and it
is his virtue that makes him the right person. Therewith, Lopamudra
becomes the wife of Agastya. In other versions,
Agastya, but after the wedding, she demands that
Agastya provide her
with basic comforts before she will consummate the marriage, a demand
that ends up forcing
Agastya to return to society and earn wealth.
Lopamudra have a son named Drdhasyu, sometimes called
Idhmavaha. He is described in the
Mahabharata as a boy who learns the
Vedas listening to his parents while he is in the womb, and is born
into the world reciting the hymns.
Agastya had a hermitage (ashram), but the ancient and medieval era
Indian texts provide inconsistent stories and location for this
ashram. Two legends place it in Northwest Maharashtra, on the banks of
river Godavari, near
Nashik in small towns named Agastyapuri and
Akole. Other putative sites mentioned in Northern and Eastern Indian
sources is near
Kolhapur (Western ghats at Maharashtra, Karnataka
border), or near
Kannauj (Utar Pradesh), or in Agastyamuni village
Rudraprayag (Utarakhand), or
Satpura Range (Madhya Pradesh). In
Southern sources and the North Indian Devi-Bhagavata Purana, his
ashram is based in Tamil Nadu, variously placed in Tirunelveli,
Potiyal hills, or Thanjavur.
Agastya is mentioned in all the four
Vedas of Hinduism, and is a
character in the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, epics, and many
Puranas.  He is the author of hymns 1.165 to 1.191 of the Rigveda
(~1200 BCE). He ran a Vedic school (gurukul), as evidenced by
hymn 1.179 of the
Rigveda which credits its author to be his wife
Lopamudra and his students.  He was a respected sage in the Vedic
era, as many other hymns of the
Rigveda composed by other sages refer
to Agastya. The hymns composed by
Agastya are known for verbal play
and similes, puzzles and puns, and striking imagery embedded within
his spiritual message.
Agastya vedic verses
With thee, O Indra, are most bounteous riches
that further every one who lives uprightly.
Now may these Maruts show us loving-kindness,
Gods who of old were ever prompt to help us.
Transl: Ralph T.H. Griffith
May we know refreshment,
and a community having lively waters.
—1.165.15, 1.166.15, 1.167.11, etc.
Transl: Stephanie Jamison, Joel Brereton;
Sanskrit original: एषा यासीष्ट तन्वे
वयां विद्यामेषं वृजनं
His Vedic poetry is particularly notable for two themes. In one
set of hymns,
Agastya describes a conflict between two armies led by
Indra and Maruts, which scholars such as
G. S. Ghurye have
interpreted as an allegory of a conflict between Arya (Indra) and Dasa
Agastya successfully reconciles their conflict, makes
an offering wherein he prays for understanding and loving-kindness
between the two. Twenty one out of the twenty seven hymns he composed
in Mandala 1 of the
Rigveda have his signature ending, wherein he
appeals, "may each community know refreshment (food) and lively
waters". These ideas have led him to be considered as a protector
of both the Arya and the Dasa. However, some scholars interpret
the same hymns to be an allegory for any two conflicting ideologies or
Agastya never uses the words Arya or Dasa, and
only uses the phrase ubhau varnav (literally, "both
colors"). The theme and idea of "mutual understanding" as
a means for lasting reconciliation, along with Agastya's name,
reappears in section 1.2.2 of the Aitareya
Aranyaka of Hinduism.
The second theme, famous in the
Hinduism literature, is a discussion
between his wife
Lopamudra and him about the human tension between the
monastic solitary pursuit of spirituality, versus the responsibility
of a householder's life and raising a family.
Agastya argues that
there are many ways to happiness and liberation, while Lopamudra
presents her arguments about the nature of life, time and the
possibility of both. She successfully seduces Agastya, in the simile
filled Rigvedic hymn 1.179.
Agastya is mentioned in both the oldest and the youngest layers of the
Rigveda (c. 1500–1200 BCE), such as in hymn 33 of mandala 7, which
is older than mandala 1. He is also mentioned in other three Vedas
Vedanga literature such as in verses 5.13–14 of the Nirukta.
Agastya and his ideas are cited in numerous other Vedic
texts, such as section 7.5.5 of Taittiriya Samhita, 10.11 of Kathaka
Samhita, 2.1 of Maitrayani Samhita, 5.16 of Aitareya Brahmana, 2.7.11
of Taittiriya Brahmana, and 21.14 of Pancavimsati Brahmana.
12th century statue of
Agastya from Bihar.
Agastya is mentioned in the
Ramayana in several
chapters with his hermitage described to be on the banks of river
In the Ramayana,
Lopamudra are described as living in
Dandaka forest, on the southern slopes of Vindhya mountains. Rama
Agastya as the one who can do what gods find impossible. He is
Rama as the sage who asked Vindhya mountains to lower
themselves so that Sun, Moon and living beings could easily pass over
it. He is also described as the sage who used his
Dharma powers to
kill demons Vatapi and Ilwala after they had jointly misled and
destroyed 9,000 men.
Agastya, according to the Ramayana, is a unique sage, who is short and
heavy in build, but by living in the south he balances the powers of
Shiva and the weight of Kailasha and Mount Meru.
Agastya and his
wife meet Rama,
Sita and Lakshmana. He gives them a divine bow and
arrow, describes the evil nature of
Ravana and, according to William
Buck, B. A. van Nooten and Shirley Triest, bids them goodbye with the
advice, "Rama, demons do not love men, therefore men must love each
The story of
Agastya is mirrored in the second major
Mahabharata. However, instead of Rama, the story is told as a
Vaisampayana and Lomasa in section 33 of Book 3,
Vana Parva (the Book of Forest).
Agastya drinking the whole sea
He is described in the epic as a sage with enormous powers of
ingestion and digestion. Agastya, once again, stops the Vindhya
mountains from growing and lowers them and he kills the demons Vatapi
and Ilvala much the same mythical way as in the Ramayana. The Vana
Parva also describes the story of
engaged and married. It also contains the mythical story of a war
Indra and Vritra, where all the demons hide in the sea, gods
Agastya for help, who then goes and drinks up the ocean
thereby revealing all the demons to the gods.
The Puranic literature of
Hinduism has numerous stories about Agastya,
more elaborate, more fantastical and inconsistent than the mythologies
found in Vedic and Epics literature of India. For example, chapter
61 of the Matsya Purana, chapter 22 of Padma Purana, and seven other
Puranas tell the entire biography of Agastya. Some list
him as one of the
Saptarishi (seven great rishi), while in others he
is one of the eight or twelve extraordinary sages of the Hindu
traditions. The names and details are not consistent across the
different Puranas, nor in different manuscript versions of the same
Purana. He is variously listed along with Angiras, Atri, Bhrigu,
Bhargava, Bharadvaja, Visvamitra, Vasistha, Kashyapa, Gautama,
Jamadagni and others.
Agastya is reverentially mentioned in the
Puranas of all major Hindu
Shaktism and Vaishnavism. Many of the Puranas
include lengthy and detailed accounts of the descendants of Agastya
and other saptarishis.
In Tamil traditions,
Agastya is considered as the father of the Tamil
language and the compiler of the first Tamil grammar, called Agattiyam
Agastya has been a culture hero in Tamil
traditions and appears in numerous Tamil texts.
There are similarities and differences between the Northern and
Southern (Tamil) traditions about Agastya. According to Iravatham
Mahadevan, both traditions state that
Agastya migrated from north
to south. The Tamil text Purananuru, dated to about the start of the
common era, or possibly about 2nd century CE, in verse 201 mentions
Agastya along with many people migrating south.
In the northern legends, Agastya's role in spreading Vedic tradition
and Sanskrit is emphasized, while in southern traditions his role
in spreading irrigation, agriculture and augmenting the Tamil language
is emphasized. In the north, his ancestry is unknown with mythical
legends limiting themselves to saying that
Agastya was born from a mud
pitcher. In southern traditions, his descent from a pitcher is a
common reference, but two alternate southern legends place him as the
Caṅkam (Sangam) polity and is said to have led the migration of
Velir tribes from
Dvārakā to the south.
Reverence at an
Agastya shrine with garlands of fruits and flowers.
The northern traditional stories, states Mahadevan, are "nothing more
than a collection of incredible fables and myths", while the southern
versions "ring much truer and appear to be a down to earth account of
a historical event". Others disagree. According to K.N. Sivaraja
Pillai, for example, there is nothing in the early Sangam literature
or any Tamil texts prior to about the mid 1st millennium CE that
mentions Agastya. The earliest mention of the role of Agastya
in Tamil language, according to Richard Weiss, can be traced to the
Iraiyanar Akapporul by 8th century Nakkirar. However, in medieval era
stories of the Tamil tradition,
Agastya pioneered the first sangam
period that lasted 4,440 years, and took part in the second sangam
period that lasted another 3,700 years.
The Tirumantiram describes
Agastya as an ascetic sage, who came from
the north and settled in the southern
Pothigai mountains because Shiva
asked him to. He is described as the one who perfected and loved both
Sanskrit and Tamil languages, amassing knowledge in both, thus
becoming a symbol of integration, harmony and learning, instead of
being opposed to either.
Agastya, in Tamil
Hindu traditions, is considered as the first and
Siddhar (Tamil: cittar, Sanskrit: siddha). A siddhar is
derived from the Sanskrit verbal root sidh which means "to accomplish
or succeed". As the first Siddhar,
Agastya is deemed as the first
master, accomplished, the sage who perfected his knowledge of the
natural and spiritual worlds. This Tamil concept has parallels to
Tibetan mahasiddhas, Sri Lankan Buddhist, and
traditions of north India.
Agastya, along with Tirumular, is considered a siddhar in both
philosophical and practical domains, unlike most other siddhar who are
revered for their special domain of knowledge.
Agastya is also unique
for the reverence he has received in historic texts all over the
According to Venkatraman, the Siddhar-related literature about Agastya
is late medieval to early modern era. In particular, all medicine and
health-related Tamil text, that include
Agastya as the Siddhar, have
been composed in and after the 15th-century. According to Hartmut
Scharfe, the oldest medicine siddhar Tamil text mentioning Agastya
were composed no earlier than the 16th century.
His named is spelled as Agathiyar or Agasthiyar in some Tamil
texts, and some consider the writer of the medical texts to be a
According to Kamil Zvelebil, the sage Agastya, Akattiyan the Siddha,
and Akatthiyar, the author of Akattiyam, were three or possibly four
different persons of different eras, who over time became fused into
one single person in the Tamil tradition.
Several Buddhist texts mention Agastya. Just like early Buddhist texts
such as Kalapa, Katantra and Candra-vyakarana adapting Panini, and
Asvaghosa adopting the more ancient Sanskrit poetic methodology as he
praises the Buddha,
Agastya appears in 1st millennium CE Buddhist
texts. In Tamil texts, for example, Akattiyan is described as the sage
who learnt Tamil and Sanskrit grammar and poetics from Avalokitan
(another name for Buddha-to-be Avalokiteśvara).
The left Indonesian statue shows
Agastya with Shiva's trident, as a
divine sage of Shaivism.
Agastya iconography is common in southeast
According to Anne E. Monius, the Manimekalai and Viracoliyam are two
of many South Indian texts that co-opt
Agastya and make him a student
of the Buddha-to-be.
Agastya elsewhere appears in other historic Buddhist mythologies, such
as the Jataka tales. For example, the Buddhist text Jataka-mala by
Aryasura, about the Buddha's previous lives, includes
Agastya as the
seventh chapter. The Agastya-Jataka story is carved as a relief in
the Borobudur, the world's largest early medieval era Mahayana
Javanese and southeast Asian texts
Agastya is one of the most important figures in a number of medieval
era Southeast Asian inscriptions, temple reliefs and arts. He was
particularly popular in
Java Indonesia, till Islamic wars of conquest
overwhelmed the islands of Indonesia. He is also found in Cambodia,
Vietnam and other regions. The earliest mentions of
traceable to about the mid 1st millennium CE, but the 11th-century
Javanese language text Agastya-parva is a remarkable combination of
philosophy, mythology and genealogy attributed to sage
The Agastya-parva includes Sanskrit verse (shlokas) embedded within
the Javanese language. The text is structured as a conversation
Guru (teacher, Agastya) and a Sisya (student, Agastya's son
Drdhasyu). The style is a mixture of didactic, philosophical and
theological treatise, covering diverse range of topics much like Hindu
Puranas. The chapters of the Javanese text include the Indian theory
of cyclic existence, rebirth and samsara, creation of the world by the
churning of the ocean (samudra manthan), theories of the
Vedanta school of
Hindu philosophy, major sections on god Shiva
and Shaivism, some discussion of Tantra, a manual like summary of
ceremonies associated with the rites of passage and others.
While the similarities between the Agastya-parva text and classical
Indian ideas are obvious, according to Jan Gonda, the Indian
counterpart of this text in Sanskrit or Tamil languages have not been
found in Indonesia or in India. Similarly other Agastya-related
Indonesian texts, dated to be from the 10th to 12th centuries, discuss
ideas from multiple sub-schools of
Shaivism such as theistic
Shaivasiddhanta and monistic Agamic Pashupata, and these texts declare
these theologies to be of equal merit and value.
Agastya on south side of the 9th-century Javanese
unearthed from volcanic mud.
Agastya is common in medieval era
Shiva temples of southeast Asia,
such as the stone temples in
Java (candi). Along with the iconography
of Shiva, Uma, Nandi and
Ganesha who face particular cardinal
directions, these temples include sculpture, image or relief of
Agastya carved into the southern face. The
Shiva shrine in the
Hindu temple complex in southeast Asia, Prambanan, features
four cellae in its interior. This central shrine within Prambanan
group of temples dedicates its southern cella to Agastya.
The Dinoyo inscription, dated to 760 CE, is primarily dedicated to
Agastya. The inscription states that his older wooden image was remade
in stone, thereby suggesting that the reverence for Agastya
iconography in southeast Asia was prevalent in an older
period. In Cambodia, the 9th-century king Indravarman, who is
remembered for sponsoring and the building of a large number of
historic temples and related artworks, is declared in the texts of
this period to be a descendant of sage Agastya.
Agastya Samhita, sometimes called the Sankara Samhita is a section
embedded in Skanda Purana. It was probably composed in late
medieval era, but before the 12th-century. It exists in many
versions, and is structured as a dialogue between Skanda and Agastya.
Scholars such as
Moriz Winternitz state that the authenticity of the
surviving version of this document is doubtful because Shaiva
celebrities such as Skanda and
Vaishnavism ideas and the
bhakti (devotional worship) of Rama, mixed in with a tourist guide
Shiva temples in
Varanasi and other parts of India.
Agastya is attributed to be the author of Agastimata, a pre-10th
century treatise about gems and diamonds, with chapters on the
origins, qualities, testing and making jewelry from them.
Several other Sanskrit texts on gems and lapidary are also credited to
Agastya in the Indian traditions.
Other mentions of
Bṛhaddevatā in section 5.134.
Lalita sahasranama of
Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, which
describes the 1000 names of the goddess Lalita is a part of the
Brahmanda Purana. It is presented as a teaching from Hayagriya (an
avatar of Viṣṇu) to Agastya.
Agastya is credited as the creator of the Āditya Hṛdayam
(literally, "heart of the sun"), a hymn to Sūrya he told
recite, so that he may win against Ravana. Scholars such as John Nuir
questioned this hymn since the need for a such a hymn by
doubts about his divine nature.
Lakshmi Stotram and
The Tamil text Pattuppattu states
Agastya to be master of icai (music,
Kalidasa, in his
Raghuvaṃśa (6.61) states that
the horse sacrifice of a Pandya king of Madurai.
Agastya statues or reliefs feature in numerous early medieval temples
of north India, south India and southeast Asia. The Dasavatara temple
in Deogarh (Uttar Pradesh, near Madhya Pradesh border) features a
Gupta Empire era
Agastya carving. In Karnataka
similarly, he is reverentially shown in several 7th-century temples
such as the Mallikarjuna temple in Mahakuta and the
Parvati temple in
Sandur. He is a part of many Chalukya era
Shaivism temples in the
Indian subcontinent peninsula.
The artistic iconography of South Asian and Southeast Asian temples
show common themes such as he holding a pitcher, but also differences.
Agastya is featured inside or outside of the temple walls
and sometimes as guardian at the entrance (dvarapala), with or without
a potbelly, with or without a receding hairline, with or without a
dagger and sword. Rock cut temples and caves, such as the 8th
century Pandya rock temples group, show Agastya.
The shrine to
Agastya at the
Pothigai hill source of the river is
mentioned in both Ilango Adigal's
Silappatikaram and Chithalai
Similarly, the Sanskrit plays
Anargharāghava and Rajasekhara's
Bālarāmāyaṇa of the ninth century refer to a shrine of
Adam's Peak (Sri Pada), the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka
(ancient Tamraparni), from whence the river Gona Nadi/Kala Oya flows
into the Gulf of Mannar's Puttalam Lagoon.
Agastya is regarded as the founder and patron saint of
silambam and varmam -an ancient science of healing using varmam points
for varied diseases and southern kalaripayat. Shiva's son Murugan
is said to have taught the art to Sage
Agastya who then wrote
treatises on it and passed it on to other siddhar.
Hindu mythology portal
Abithana Chintamani - Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature
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Sanskrit original: त्वे राय इन्द्र
तोशतमाः प्रणेतारः कस्य
चिदृतायोः । ते षु णो मरुतो
मृळयन्तु ये स्मा पुरा
गातूयन्तीव देवाः ॥५॥
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