Siddha Agastyar - Vedic Saint

Agastyar, the patron saint of southern Indian's Tamil Nadu, has become a figure of mythology. He is surrounded by various legends of several ages. References to him arefound in the literature of both the Dravidian Tamil land and also in the Rig Vedic culture of northern India. In the Rig Veda, Agastyar is referred to as one of the seven great Rishis of the Vedic period. Several Vedic hymns are ascribed to him.

According to Vedic legends, once upon a time both Mitra, the god of Love and Harmony, and Varuna, the god of the seas, had a contest for the love of a heavenly damsel Urvasi. They could do no more than deposit their fertile seed: Mitra in a pot and Varuna in the sea. In time, Agastyar was born from the pot, and Vasistha, one of the reputed seven great Rishis, started his life from the sea. Agastyar, being from this divine parentage, became known also as "MaitraVaruni" and "Ourvasiya". He is known in Sanskrit as Kalasaja, Kalasisuta, Kumbhayoni, Kumbhasambhava, Kumbamuni and Ghatodbhava denoting his origin from the seed of Mitra. (Pillal, 1979, p. 254)

The correct interpretation of such legends is still being awaited. There are many indications that Agastyar existed as a real historical person. He had a wife, Lopamudrai by name, as well as a sister and a son, Sagaren. His wife demonstrated affection for him. He is renowned for combining domesticity with a life of austerity.

Agastyar's ashrams
Tamil tradition holds that at the time of Shiva's marriage to Parvati on Mt. Kailas, the assemblage of gods and goddesses was so great that the equilibrium of the planet was disturbed. To restore a balance, Lord Shiva asked Agastyar to travel from Mt. Kailash to southern India. Geographically, Agastyar's exodus to southern India divides itself into three distinct stages. The earliest finds him lodged in the Agastyasrama, a few miles north of Nasik, the ancient Panchavati, on the northern borders of the Dandakaranya Forest. His marriage to Lopamudrai, the daughter of the Vidarbha King, and Rama's first interview with him take place here. (Piuai, 1979, p. 254-57)

In the epic work entitled Ramayana, Rama tells his brother Lakshaman, as they are on their way to Agastyar's forest ashram, how Agastyar saved the world from a deadly serpent. He also narrated the story of the death of Vatapi in a manner which differs from that of the Mahabharata, though the deviations are of no significance. What is remarkable is the idea that the " Dandakaranya" region was first made fit for human occupation by the success of Agastyar against the asuras (demons). Agastyar's conflict with the asuras and rakshasas (hostile powers of the vital plane) is also hinted at elsewhere in the Ramayana. For instance, the sage Visvamitra explains to Rama the reason for Tataka's attacks on the Aryan settlers. Agastyar had destroyed Tataka's husband Sunda, and was consequently attacked by Tataka and her son Maricha. Agastyar cursed them both, turning Maricha into a rakshasa and his mother into an ugly ogress. From that time, to the moment when Rama did away with her, she kept up a war of revenge. (Pillai, 1979, p. 255)

Agastyar is now one of the most famous of holy men in India. He is considered to be a great sage and ascetic yogi and the oldest teacher of ancient times. Though less than five feet tall. he was a fighter, a famous hunter and an archer, who triumphed over barbarous enemies, and whom like Hercules, of ancient Greece, none could approach in eating and drinking.

The second stage of Agastyar's pilgrimage to the South begins with his residence at Malakuta, three miles east of Badami (the ancient vatapipura) otherwise known as Dakshinakasi, in the Kaladgi District of the Mumbai Presidency. This now residence is about three hundred miles south from his Nasik ashram. During this second stage he ate Vatapi and destroyed llvala (also known as Vilvala) as described above.

During the third stage, there are many stories about him at Pothigai, known also as the Pothigai Hills, one of the southern most promontories of the Western Ghats, in the Pandya country. During his residence in the very center of Tamil Nadu, he is credited with having founded the first Tamil Academy or Sangam, and having presided over it, besides writing an extensive Tamil Grammar and many other works on medicine, pharmacy, alchemy, botany, yoga, moral and natural philosophy, the education of youth, religious rites and ceremonies, exorcism, prayer, mysticism and even magic.
According to tradition, in two more stages of migration, he crosses the seas to the Indonesian Islands. Here he is said to have visited Barhinadvipa (Borneo), Kusa Dvipa, and Varaha Dvipa. Here too he appears to have taken up his abode in the Maha Malaya Hill in Malaya Dvipa (now known as Malaysia). In the fifth stage he crosses over to the mainland and enters Siam (Thailand) and Cambodia. It was here, near the end of his journey eastwards, that he was obliged to marry a local beauty, Yasomati by name, and leave by her a royal progeny among whom King Yasovarma was an outstanding personage. (Pillai, 1979, p. 256-257, 262)

The most famous ashram site, in the Tinnevely district near the Courtrallam waterfalls in the Pothigai mountains of southern Tamil Nadu, is where he is reported to be living to this day. Babaji was initiated into Kriya Kundalini Pranayama here by Agastyar.

In the epic Mahabharata, the story of Agastyar is more fully developed, and Agastyar's connection with southern India comes into prominence. His marriage with Lopamudrai, a princess of Vidarbha, is mentioned. The princess had demanded that to claim the exercise of marital rights, Agastyar would have to provide her with the costly jewelry and luxuries she was used to in her father's house, without in any manner jeopardizing his ascetism. Agastyar could only meet his wife's wish by seeking a large gift of wealth. lie approached three Aryan kings one after another, but in vain. They all went to Ilvala, the "daitya" (demon) king of Manimati. Ilvala was no friend of the Brahmins because one of them had refused to grant him a son equal to Indra. His vengeance took a bizarre form. He would transform his younger brother Vatapi into a male goat and offer his brothers flesh to the Brahmins as food. After doing so he would suddenly recall Vatapi back to life, who would rip open the flanks of the Brahmins as he emerged laughing. In this manner the two brothers killed many Brahmins and, on the occasion of the visit of Agastyar and the three kings, Ilvala tried to play the same game. He prepared the flesh of Vatapi to entertain them. The kings became unhappy. Agastyar ate it all, and when Ilvala called for Vatapi to come back, only air came out of Agastyar's stomach, because Vatapi had been digested. Then Ilvala, becoming unhappy, promised to give wealth to Agastyar if the latter could tell him what he intended to give. Agastyar was able to predict Ilvala's intention. The kings and Agastyar returned with the wealth they needed. Vatapi is the name of the well known fortified city in the western Deccan which was the capital of the early Chalukyas. This city is now called Badami. This story may be understood to mark the beginning of Agastyar's connection with southern India. (Pillai, 1979, pg. 255)
The Mahabharata also records the story of Agastyar drinking up the waters of the ocean to enable the gods (devas) to dispose of their enemies who were hiding under the sea; and of his journey to southern India on some unspecified business when he prevailed upon the Vindhya mountains to stop growing until he returned, which however, he never did. The pact with the Vindya mountains and the drinking of the waters of the ocean have been generally accepted as allegorical representations of the spread of Aryan culture first to India south of the Vindhyas, and then across the seas to the islands of the archipelago and to Indo-China. It is supported by other accounts of the life of Agastyar.

Agastyar and the Tamil language and grammar
Traditionally Agastyar is considered as the father of the Tamil language and grammar, and the royal chaplain (kulaguru) of the divine line of Pandiyan rulers. These rulers were the descendants of Shiva and Parvati who condescended to become the first king and queen of this celebrated line. Kulasekhara Pandiyan founded the Pandiyan dynasty at South Madurai, the capital of the ancient Tamilagam, lying far south of the present southernmost point of India.

His treatise on Tamil grammar is said to have contained no less than 12,000 sutras or aphorisms. Except for some fragments which have been preserved in quotations by Tolkappiyanar in his work on the same subject, Tolkappiyam, it has not survived. (Pillai, 1979, p. 264)
At what period Agastyar established himself in southern India is not known. It will remain so until the real date of the existence of the king Kulasekhara Pandiyan, who patronized Agastyar, is ascertained. All accounts concur in assigning the foundation of the
Pandiyan kingdom at Madurai to Kulasekhara Pandiyan; but they are at considerable variance with regard to the time when that event happened.
When Agastyar left the court of Kulasekhara Pandiyan, he is stated to have assumed the ascetic life, and to have retired to the Pothigai Hills, where he is commonly believed to be still living in anonymity.

There is no clear and specific reference to Agastyar and or his exploits, in any of the early Tamil works now known. Only some indirect ones are made in the anthologies of the Sangam Age. The phrase "sage of Pothigai" (Pothigal being the southernmost section of the western Ghats) is an indication that the legends relating to Agastyar were not unknown in the land at the time. Vasishtha, the author of the poem Manimckalai, a Buddhist epic, know of his miraculous birth. The same author also says that Agastyar was a friend of the Chola king, Kanta. At the request of Kanta he released the Cauvery river from his water pot.
Agastyar's abode was in the Pothigai mountains. Naccinarkkiniyar (1400 A.D.) a commentator of the Middle Ages, narrates (on the authority of a more ancient writer) that when Havana, the king of the asuras in the Ramayana, came to the Pothigai Hills, and was tyrannizing the inhabitants of the extreme southern, he was persuaded by Agastyar to leave that land alone and go to the island of Sri Lanka. (Pillai, 1979, p. 258; Zvolebil, 1973, p. 136) References to Agastyar's work on Tamil grammar appear rather late. The first occurs in the legend of the three Sangams, the ancient Tamil literary academies, narrated in the Iraiyanar-Agapporul Urai, a work of the ninth century A.D. Here Agastyar is mentioned as a leader of the first and second Sangams, which lasted for 4,400 years and 3,700 year respectively. His work Agastyam miss aid to have been the grammar of the first Sangam, while that work, together with the Tolkappiyam and three other works, formed the basis for the second Sangam. According to fraiyanar-Agapporul Urai, the third Sangam lasted for 1,850 Years. (Pillai, 1979, p. 258-259) Whether Agastyar wrote a treatise on Tamil grammar, and if so in what relation that work stood to the Tolkappiyam, the oldest extant work on the subject, has been discussed by all the great historians and commentators of the Tamil country. Perasiriyar (1250-1300 A.D.) says that in his day some scholars contended that Tolkappiyanar, the author of the grammar named after him, composed his work on principles other than those of the the Agastyam, following in this other grammars which have not survived. He refutes this theory by an appeal to tradition and authority, particularly that of lraiyanar Agapporid Urai. He maintains, with support from more ancient writings, that Agastyar was the founder of the Tamil language and grammar, that Tolkappiyam was the most celebrated of the twelve pupils of the great sage, that the Agastyam was the original grammar, that Tolkappiyanar must be hold to have followed its teachings in his new work, and that Agastyar's work must have been composed before the Tamil country was confined, by an inundation of the sea, to the limits indicated by Panambaranar in his preface to the Tolkappiyam, i.e., from Vengadam hill, to Cape Cormorin. (Pillai, 1979, p. 259).

The opposite party that denied Tolkappiyanar's indebtedness to Agastyar did not give up its position. The general belief that Tolkappiyanar was a disciple of Agastyar was too strong for them to deny, so they "postulated hostility between teacher and pupil arising out of Agastyar's jealousy and hot temper". (Sastri, 1966, p. 365393). Naccinarkkiniyar records the story that after his migration to the south, Agastyar sent his pupil Trinadhumagni (Tolkappiyanar) to bring his wife Lopamudrai from the North. Agastyar proscribed that a certain distance should be maintained between the pupil and his wife during their journey, but when the rising of the Vaigai threatened to drown Lopamudrai, Tolkappiyanar approached too close in holding out to her a bamboo pole with the aid of which she reached the shore in safety. Agastyar cursed them for violating his instructions saying that they would never enter heaven. Tolkappiyanar replied with a similar curse on his master. (Pillai, 1979, p. 259; Zvolebil, 1973, p. 137)

As K.A. Sastri says, this legend "represents the last phase of a controversy, longstanding, significant and by no means near its end even in our time" (Sastri, 1966, p. 77). Much more research must be done among the thousands of palm leaf manuscripts and other documents which have been collected in such places as the Oriental Manuscripts Library in Madras, the Saraswati Mahal library in Tanjore, the libraries of the Palani Temple, the Palayamkottai Siddha Medical College, and those in the hands of private collectors and siddha medical practitioners.

The affirmation and denial of Agastyar's father ship of Tamil and of his work being the source of the Tolkappiyam are both symbolic of divergent attitudes towards the incoming northern Sanskritic influences. As a matter of fact, there is no mention of Agastyar either in the Tolkappiyam nor in the Panambaranar's preface to it. The earliest reference to the Agastyam occurs only in the eighth century A.D., as we have seen, and that is also the time when Pandiyan chroniclers begin to proclaim the preceptor ship of Agastyar to the Pandiyas, the patrons of Tamil literature and the Sangam, and the first genuine Tamil power to achieve political expansion and to establish an empire. Many of the stories meant to support Agastyar's connection with Tamil and Tolkappiyanar may have been elaborated in subsequent ages. The attempt to give Agastyar the dominant position in the evolution of Tamil culture evoked a challenge. Things went on smoothly so long as Aryan influence, the influence of the "Northern" speech and culture, was content to penetrate the Tamil land quietly and by imperceptible stages, and silently transform the native elements. This process began very early and was accepted by the Tamils to an extent that has rendered it all but impossible to distinguish the elements that have gone to make up the composite culture. But when a theory was put forward, that is when a legend may have been invented: to show that Tamil as a spoken language and with it the entire culture of the Tamil country was derived from a Vedic seer. This was met, naturally, by a counter-assertion and the elaboration of legends in the opposite sense.

The main legends gathered around Agastyar in the north and in the south are on parallel lines and are filled with miraculous deeds. There are several local and temporal variations. The Himalayan mountain of the northern legend is replaced by the Pothigai of the South. Agastyar's composition of many Rig Vedic hymns and medical works in Sanskrit is answered by his numerous mystic and medical treatises in Tamil; his efforts to bring down the Ganges with the consent of Shiva finds an echo in his getting Tamraparni from Shiva and his bargaining with God Ganesha for Cauvery; his seat in Kasi (Bonares) seems to be replaced by his abode in Badami, known as Daksina Kasi; his marriage with Lopamudrai, the daughter of a Vidarbha King, has a parallel in his wedding of Cauvery, the daughter of King Cauvery; and taking into consideration the curses, which had issued from his spiritual armory in the north, his curse of Tolkappiyanar, his own student, shows unmistakably how the dwarf sage kept true to his reputation and habits, in the far-away south (Pillai, 1979, p. 258-261).

Agastyar's contributions to science
There are hundreds of ancient treatises from various areas of science ascribed to Agastyar. These include medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, astronomy and surgery. As a physician, Agastyar occupies the same eminence amongst the Tamils as Hippocrates does amongst the Greeks, and it is remarkable that there are some very curious coincidences between the doctrines of the former and those of the latter, especially as regards the prognosis and diagnosis of diseases, the critical days, and premonitory symptoms of death. The existence of seminal animalcules, which was discovered by Ludwig Hamm in Europe only in 1677 A.D., is mentioned by Agastyar in one of his medical works, entitled Kurunadichutram (PiUai, 1979, p. 265).
Below is a list of manuscripts attributed to Agastyar, as mentioned in a 160 year old bibliography of Siddha medical literature:

1. Vytia Vaghadum Ayrit Anyouroo (Vaidya Vahadam 1500)
A medical work by Reeshe Aghastier: it is written in Tamil poetry, and consists of 1,500 verses.

2. Tunmundrie Vaghadum (Dhanvanthari Vahadam)
A medical work, originally written by Tunmundric in Sanskrit, and translated into Tamool verse by Aghastier. It consists of 2,000 verses. The Hindu practitioners hold it in high veneration, for the particular account it gives of many diseases, and the valuable receipts it contains. (Manuscripts available at Palayamkottai)

3. Canda Pooranwn:
A work on ancient history, originally written in Sanskrit verse, by Resshe Aghastior and afterwards translated into Tamool by Cushiapa Braminy. It consists of 1,000 stanzas.

4. Poosavedy:
This book treats of the religious rites and ceremonies of Hindus. It was written by Aghastier, and consists of 200 verses. (Ms. available at Tanjore and Madras)

5. Deekshavedy (Deeksha Vithi):
A work which treats of magic and enchantment, on the use and virtues of the rosary, and on the education of youth: it consists of 200 verses, and was written by Agastyar (Ms. available in Tanjore and Madras)

6. Pemool (Peru Nul)
A medical work, written by Agastyar, in high Tamool. It consists of 10,000 verses, and treats fully of all diseases, regimen (Ms. available at Palayamkottai)

7. Poorna Nool:
This book consists of 200 verses. It was written by Aghastier, and treats chiefly of exorcism: it also contains many forms of prayer.

8. Poorna Soostru: A work on the intuition of religious disciples, and on their forms of devotion, and which
also treats of the materia medica and regimen. It was written by Agastyar and consists of 216 verses. (Ms.
available at Madras and Palani and also printed)

9. Curma Candum (Karma Kandam)
A medical shaster of Agastyar, written in Tamool verse, and consists of 300 stanzas: supposed to be translated from the Sanskrit of Durmuntrie. It treats of those diseases which are inflicted on mankind for their folhes and vices. (Manuscripts available at Tanjore and Madras and also printed)

10. Agastyar Vytia Ernoot Unjie (Aghastior Vaidyam 205)
A work on medicine and chemistry, written by Agastyar in Tamool verse, and consisting of 205 verses. (Ms. available at Palani)

11. Agastyar Vytia Nootieumbid (Agastyar Vaidyam 150)
A work in Tamool verse, written by Agastyar. It consists of 150 stanzas, and treats of the purification or rendering innocent, of sixty-four different kinds of poison (animal, metallic, and vegetable), so as to make them safe, and fit to be administered as medicine (Ms. available at Palani and printed)

12. Agastyar Vytia Vaghadum Napotetoo (Agastyar Vaidya Vahadum 48):
A medical shaster, written by Agastyar, in Tamool verse;, on the cure of gonorrhea; and consisting of 48 stanzas.

13. Agastyar Vytia Padinarroo (Agasthiyar Naidyam 16):
A medical shaster, written by Agastyar, in Tamool, and consisting of 16 verses. It treats of the diseases of the head, and their remedies.

14. Agastyar Vytia Eranoor (Agastyar Vaidyam 200):
A medical shaster, written by Aghastier in 200 Tamool verses. It treats of chemistry and alchemy (Ms. available at Palayamkottai and printed).

15. Calikianum (Kalai Gnanam):
A work on theology, written in Tamool verse, by Agastyar, and consisting of 200 stanzas (Ms. available at Tanjore)

16. Mooppoo (Muppu):
A medical shaster written by Agastyar, in Tamool verse, and consisting of 50 stanzas. It treats of the eighteen different kinds of leprosy and their cure. (Ms. available at Thirupathi)
17. Agastyar Vytia Ayrit Eranoor (Agastyar Vaidyam 1200): A Medical shaster, written by Agastyar, in
Tamool verse and consisting of 1200 stanzas. It treats of botany and of Materia Medica. (Ms. printed).

18. Agastyar's Vytia Ayrnouroo (Agastyar Vaidyam 500):
A valuable work on medicine, written by Agastyar, in Tamool verse and consisting of 500 stanzas. It treats very fully of many diseases, and contains a great variety of useful formulae.

19. Agastyar Vytia Moon-noor (Agastyar Vaidyam 300):
A work on pharmacy, written by Agastyar, in Tamool verse, and consisting of 300 stanzas. (Ms. available at Palayamkottai and printed)

20. Agastyar Vydeyakh Moonooro (300 verses): This chiefly instructs us in the art of making various

21. Agastyar Auyerutty Annooroo (1500 verses):
A general work on Materia Medica. (Ms. available at Tanjore, Madras and Palani)

22. Agastyar Aranooroo (600 verses): (Ms. available at Tanjore and Palani)

23. Agastyar Moopoo Anbadoo (50 verses) (Agastyar Muppu 50)

24. Agastyar Goonnoovagadam Moonoor (300 verses) (Agastyar Guna Vahadam 300): 
Ms. available at Tanjore, Thirupathi, Palani and Palayamkottai also printed.

25. Agastyar Dundakum Nooroo (100 verses). (Agastyar Thandaham 100):
These are various Works of Agastyar on chemistry and physic. They also treat of theology, and of the best means of strengthening the human frame. (Ms. available at Tanjore and Madras.) (Pillai, p. 268-70).

Agastyar is said to have had twelve disciples to whom he taught the different arts and sciences, and who were afterwards employed by him in instructing the people.
The names of these disciples are
1. Tolkappiyanar
2. Adankotasiriyanar
3. Turalinganar
4. Semputcheyanar
5. Vaiyabiganar
6. Vippiyanar
7. Panambaranar
8. Kazharambanar
9. Avinayanar
10. Kakkypadiniyar
11. Nattattanar
12. Vamanar

but few particulars are known about them. Other prominent disciples included Thiruvalluvar, the author of the perennial classic of Tamil literature, Thirukural, and Babaji Nagaraj, the fountainhead of Kriya Yoga Siddhantham in the modern age. Their influence on the world today is immeasurable, and will be discussed in subsequent chapters.

Agastyar is a sage of cultural integration, leading a fusion of the culture of the northern Aryans with that of the southern Dravidians. His ashram was the practical approach to harmony and integration, enabling every visitor to worship the Absolute in his or her own way.

There were separate shrines to different deities and an illuminating shrine to Righteousness. Kamban says Agastyar welcomed Rama in the sweet, pleasant tamil language, while his disciples chanted Vedic hymns. This may be seen in the story that Agastyar was specially sent down to the south by Lord Shiva himself, at the time of His wedding with Parvati on the Himalyas. The north sank low under the weight of the crowding celestials while the south rose up, free of such burden, and the diminutive sage was sent south to right the tilt. Was it because at that time the south had forgotten its gods or that the north had become too full of gods, masking the image of the single Absolute? Anyway it was Agastyar who propagated an integral, harmonious culture. The immortal message and spiritual technology of Kriya yoga, which he taught to Babaji, may be the master key to the cultural integration which is now needed in the modern world, where telecommunications and computer technology have created an interdependent "global village". May the name of this great sage inspire us to righteous and harmonious action in these troubled times! May integral institutions flourish!

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