LEGENDARY STORY OF ANOTHER GREAT SAGE : AGASTHYA
The mighty sage to whom the mountain bowed, and who drank the sea empty. He humbled the arrogant and punished the d. He is the symbol of man's heroism and confident strength.
Author - M.R.Narasimhan
What a wonderful sights the starstudded sky is! We want to go on gazing at it forever, don't we? We can identify quite a few stars and clusters - the cluster of the Seven Seers, Krittika, Thrishanku and the Pole Star, Dhruva. As we gaze we feel a great spirit dwells in each star, we feel the great spirits are narrating the stories of their lives. That star in the southern sky, the star Agasthya, how bright it is! What a great sage!' we reflect. The star reminds us of his magnificent life.
In the Puranas (stories of mythology) there are many stories about him; every one of them shows his daring and his compassion. In the Puranas he is
described as the 'Dwarf Sage'. Even though short in stature he performed mighty deeds and helped mankind.
The God Agni Becomes Agasthya
The story of Sage Agasthya's birth itself is very interesting.
The gods and the rakshasas have been enemies from time immemorial. They have always been at war with each other. Once the Lord of the Gods, Indra, gave an order to Agni and Vayu (the Gods of Fire and the Winds): "Pursue the rakshasas and destroy them."
Both of them followed the rakshasas. Many rakshasas were killed in battle. In order to escape from the gods a few of the rakshasas hid themselves in the ocean.
"They are hiding in the ocean. No harm will come from these cowards"--- so thinking Agni and Vayu returned.
Indra was very angry because Agni and Vayu had spared the lives of some rakshasas. He called them immediately and said, "Why did you not complete the task given to you? Even now go and churn the ocean, if necessary, and destroy the rakshasas hiding in it. Do not leave a single trace of them. I do not mind even if the ocean dries up." So ordered Indra.
Agni and Vayu were in a difficult position. They said, "0 Indra, there are many creatures in the ocean, they have harmed no one. If we churn the ocean, they will die. Will that not be unjust?"
Destruction of the wicked is good for the world. Every one should strive to destroy the wicked. Suppose a man gives shelter to a wicked person, knowing that he is wicked - does he not deserve punishment? In such a situation, can there be any question of right or wrong? The enraged Indra cursed them both saying, "You have forgotten your duty and have come to teach me the meaning of Dharma (right conduct). For such a discussion
the earth is the right place. So, be born on the earth!" Turning to Agni he added, "You shall drink the ocean."
Thus Agni and Vayu were born as Agasthya and Vasishta on the earth. Indira's curse became a boon to the earth.
Agasthya's father was Mithravaruna Rishi, his mother was the divine damsel Urvashi. Agasthya was also called Kumbhasambhava' (the one born in
a pot) and 'Mythravaruni' (the son of Mithravaruna). He grew up to be a great seer and a man of extraordinary spiritual power.
A Great Seer Who Stabilized
Lord Ishwara's marriage! And the marriage was to be celebrated on the Himalayas, the home of the bride Parvathi. Agasthya, too, was invited. All the gods, rakshasas and other superhuman beings assembled there. All the monarchs and emperors of the earth and the great rishis were there, too.
All of a sudden the earth began to wobble. The world moved from side to side like a swing. The mountains began sinking, the oceans were in a turmoil. Everybody thought that the end of the world had come. The gods sought refuge in Ishwara, "0 Lord of Lords, save us from this peril." Lord Ishwara calmly said, "You have come to see the marriage of Parvathi. All of you are in one place. So the weight of the entire world rests on the Himalayas in the north. There must be something at the southern end to balance I this weight. Then the earth will regain stability and calm will return. Agasthya alone can do this, none else." He called the great sage Agasthya, and said, "You have to go to the south at once. By the power of your tapas (meditation and prayer) bring back the world to its normal state."
Agasthya was very sad. He had come with great devotion to witness the pomp and splendor of the marriage of Uma and Maheshwara. But alas, he could not be there for that auspicious occasion.
Maheshwara understood the sadness of Agasthya. He said, "0 Sage, duty comes first. Be the means of doing well to the world. You want to see our marriage, do you not? Whenever you think of us Parvathi and I will appear before you. Do not be troubled, go." Agasthya was supremely happy at the gracious words of Maheshwara; he bowed to Parvathi and Parameshwara and left the place.
So Agasthya went to the south. He sat on the top of a mountain to perform tapas. By his holy power he made the earth stable again. The marriage of Parvathi and Parameshwara was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. The whole world rejoiced and praised Agasthya.
The king became an elephant. The elephant moved
with other elephants in the forest. Later on, he became 'Gajendra', the king of
the elephants. One day, the elephants were thirsty. They went to a lake to drink
water. The elephants entered the water and drank water to their hearts' content.
Suddenly a big crocodile in the water caught the leg of Gajendra. It started pulling Gajendra into the water. The elephant fought back. But the crocodile would not let go. The other elephants too came to the rescue of their king. They tried to pull him out of the water. But the crocodile was a big and strong one. It pulled harder than all the elephants. The elephants said in despair, "God alone can help you," and left the place. Step by step
Gajendra was pulled into the water. When all the elephants left him, he did not know what to do. He began to pray to-God; he cried out, "You are the hope of those who have no other hope," and prayed to Lord Hari in many ways.
Mahavishnu who was in heaven heard his devotee's cry of despair. How can the Lord bear it if his devotees suffer even a little? At once he mounted Garuda, who carries the Lord everywhere; he came to the lake where Gajendra was, and hurled the Chakra, the sacred wheel, at the crocodile.
Blazing like a thousand suns and revolving round and round, the Sudarshana Chakra shot forward and cut off the head of the crocodile. The compassionate Lord brought the elephant out of the lake. He accepted with all affection the lotus flower devoutly offered by Gajendra. Thus
Indradyumna was liberated from the curse.
'Sarpa, Sarpa' - 'May You
Become A Serpent!'
Nahusha was a pious emperor of theLunar Dynasty. He had performed a hundred Ashwamedha Yagas (Sacrifices) and attained the position of Indra, the King of the Gods. He was filled with pride because he was the lord of all the gods. He wanted that the old Indra and his wife Shachidevi should serve him along with the other gods.
The old Indra and Shachidevi were not prepared to serve the new Indra. But as Nahusha was the new Indra no one could disobey him.
What was to be done?
At last they thought of a plan. Shachidevi informed Nahusha that she would gladly serve him if he came in a palanquin carried by the rishis, the great sages. The great sages to carry the palanquin! What a shame! But the new Indra, Nahusha, blinded by arrogance, did not consider whether what he was doing was right or wrong. Without reflecting that the rishis are great tapasvis, men dedicated to prayer and meditation, he sent for them. "I want
to go to the palace of Shachidevi. You shall carry my palanquin," ordered Nahusha.
After all he was the lord of the gods, wasn't he? The sages agreed. Nahusha entered the palanquin. The sages carried it on their shoulders. Among them was Agasthya.
As Agasthya was very short the palanquin dipped a little on one side. Nahusha was enraged by this and kicked in impatience saying, "Sarpa.... Sarpa" (faster and faster). His foot touched Agasthya's shoulder. The insulted sage grew angry and cursed: "Nahusha, you have become arrogant. May you become a sarpa" (a serpent)! (In Sanskrit, the word 'sarpa' means both faster and a serpent.)
Nahusha's eyes were now opened. He was cured of his arrogance. He jumped out of the palanquin and, falling at Agasthya's feet, begged, "0 Sire, forgive my sin." Then the compassionate Agasthya said, "Your own descendents will bring you salvation."
Nahusha was transformed into an 'ajagara' (a python). He fell down from the high heavens to the earth. The huge python used to move about in the forest. Many years passed. When the Pandavas were in the forest Draupadi wanted the flower Sougandhika. The mighty Bheema went to find the flower. The python encircled him. Dharmaraja had to come to rescue Bheema. Dharmaraja gave properanswers to the questions of the python. Bheema was released and Nahusha, too, got salvation.
Thus Agasthya could punish the arrogant and pardon and save those who felt sorry for their misdeeds.
Lopamudra's Desire for
Once Agasthya thought he should marry. So he went in search of a suitable bride. The King of Vidarbha had a daughter. Her name was Lopamudra. Agasthya met the king and said, "0 King, I want to marry your daughter."
Lopamudra agreed to marry Agasthya. Her marriage was celebrated. Then she followed Agasthya to the hermitage. She proved an excellent wife. She obeyed every wish of his and never said a word in disagreement. Agasthya was very happy to get such a dutiful wife.
Once Lopamudra remembered the ornaments and silk sarees that she wore in the palace of her father. The desire for fine clothes and ornaments grew strong in her. So she said very hesitantly to Agasthya, "I want to wear ornaments?" Lopamudra answered, "you are not an ordinary ascetic. If you only make up your mind you can create whatever you want."
Agasthya was amused at the innocence of Lopamudra in a soft voice he said, "Lopamudra, what you say is true. But performing tapas is not for our benefit or for personal pleasures. My tapas to help others and to do well to the world. If it is used for our own pleasure and happiness the power and influence of tapas will decrease. But do not be unhappy. I shall try to get you the ornaments in a different way." So saying he left the place.
Agasthya could sympathise with Lopamudra. Lopamudra had not asked for anything so far. She was the daughter of a king. Hence it was natural that she should ask for such things. And he felt that it was his duty to fulfil her desires. Now the question was, how could he get the ornaments and dresses? So he went to emperors and monarchs and asked them for ornaments. Many kings, feeling happy and thinking that it was their good fortune
to fulfil the wishes of such a great sage, gave him jewels. Thus Agasthya went to three kings. Shrutharva, Bradhnashwa and Thrasadasyu. They too gave ornaments and dresses happily. Then they said, "The rakshasa kings of Badami, llvala and Vatapi, are very rich. You can ask them, too," Sage Agasthya came to Badami. It is said that the place where Vatapi and llvala lived is the present Badami of Karnataka, in South India
Agasthya’s fame spread all over the world. Even today ‘Vatapi, be digested’ has become a proverb reminding people of Agasthya’s might.
The Mountain Bows
Once there was a conflict between the mountains, the Vindhya and the Meru. The Sun used to go around Mount Meru every day. ‘Why should the Sun go round Mount Meru? Why should he not go around me, too? So thought Vindhya. He was angry at the Sun and jealous of Meru. He approached the Sun and said, "Please do go around me also." Without even looking at Vindhya, the Sun said with scorn, "Impossible." was very angry at the Sun’s attitude. "Yes, IVindhya will break your pride," so saying he began to grow. As everyone watched with wonder theVindhya grew and grew. His crest touched the sky. So he stood as an obstacle in the path of the Sun. The Sun told Vindhya that it was not right on his part to behave in that way. But Vindhya would not listen. Even the gods tried to reason with Vindhya, but it was all in Vain. Everybody was tired of the obstinacy of Vindhya.
Because the Sun’s movement stopped, the world was plunged in darkness.
No one knew what to do. All the gods went to Brahma, the Creator. Brahma said, "Agasthya alone can help." The gods went to Agasthya and prayed to him to save the world. Agasthya said, "Don’t be troubled. I will take care of Vindhya." After giving this assurance to the gods he went towards
Vindhya knew full well about the powers of sage Agasthya. He knew that before him his own prowess was insignificant. So he thought, 'I must cleverly solve this, problem. Somehow I must pacify Agasthya. If I get his sympathy my ambition will be fulfilled easily.' So he made ready to receive Agasthya. Agasthya was walking fast towards him in anger. Vindhya welcomed the sage with humility. He requested him to accept his hospitality. Vindhya also bowed his head to the sage and asked for his blessings.
When he saw Vindhya with bowed head before him, Agasthya felt a touch of pity. But the well being of the world was more important. So he said, "Look, Vindhya, I am going on urgent work to the south. I will be your guest on my way back. Be like this until then." So saying, without even waiting for an answer, he moved on.
Mount Vindhya now realized his mistake. But he could not disobey the orders of the sage. So with bowed head he sat waiting for Agasthya's return.
But Agasthya who went to the south, had much to do. So he could not return at all. So Vindhya had to stand with bowed head forever! The calamity, which threatened the world, was easily averted
All the gods went to Agasthya. They narrated the
story of their sufferings at the hands of the Kalakeyas. After hearing their
tale of woe Agasthya said, "Anyway, you have come prepared to fight
therakshasas. I will drink the ocean dry. They cannot hide in the dried up
ocean. They will be forced to face you. Then fight and destroy them."
The gods liked Agasthya's plan and said, "So be it."
Agasthya went to the ocean and drank all the water of the ocean at one gulp. The gods could easily see the rakshasas who were hiding. Like dry leaves caught up in a fierce storm, the rakshasas were tossed about and wiped out. Everybody praised Agasthya for saving the world from the
rakshasas. Agasthya filled the ocean again with water, using the power he had acquired by his tapas!
At this time sage Agasthya came to Brahmagiri.
All the sages of the place welcomed and honored him. Kavera, too, invited
Agasthya to his hermitage. On seeing Agasthya, Kavera had an idea. "After
all Kaveri is of marriageable age. If she is married to Agasthya then she will
be his partner in the service of mankind." He spoke his mind to Kaveri,
too. She also knew the greatness of the sage. She was very happy at the thought
of becoming the wife of Agasthya.
Sage Kavera married her to Agasthya and felt that his life's mission had been fulfilled. Kaveri lived happily serving her husband. Agasthya too built his hermitage in the Brahmagiri itself and was immersed in tapas. But one thought always troubled Kaveri; she yearned to serve the world. She spoke about her desire to Agasthya too, and asked for his guidance. He used to console her saying 'There will come a time for everything.'
At this period in the south there was a powerful rakshasa by name Shoorapadma. He hated Indra, the king of the gods. He was angry at human beings too, because they worshipped trie gods. In order to destroy the human beings he used his magical powers and prevented the iains from reaching the earth. There were no rains and so people suffered intensely. The lands became parched and cracks appeared. Animals and birds could
not get food or water. Their suffering was beyond words. All over the land there was sheer misery. Lack of food and water made life unbearable. Kaveri had always been yearning to help the people; now she saw an opportunity. She was very eager to help the people and the animals in their
distress. She prayed to all the gods with folded hands: "At least now grant my wish."
At last the hour of the fulfillment of Kaveri's prayer dawned!
It was early morning, Agasthya was getting ready to go to the lake for his bath. Kaveri had to be alone in the hermitage. She could not accompany him as usual, as she was not well. How could Agasthya leave her alone in the hermitage? *Then Agasthya thought of a plan. He transformed Kaveri into water; he filled up his'Kaman6la' (water pot) with the water and thus took Kaveri along with him to the lake. He put the water pot on a rock near
by and entered the lake for his bath.
The gods had decided that Kaveri should be instrumental in ending the famine and that the people should be saved. So they were waiting for Agasthya to leave the water pot and go.
Immediately the Lord of the Gods, Indra prayed to Vinayaka, (the God of Knowledge and of Obstacles): "0 Vinayaka, this is the time. Release
Kaveri from the pot. Are you not the powerful god who overcomes obstacles?" "Yes, I shall set Kaveri free," said Vinayaka.
Then Vinayaka assumed the form of a crow and
upset the water pot. The water gurgled forth. The earth, which was parched, was
thrilled and rejoiced
at the touch of water.
Agasthya knew nothing of what had happened. He returned after his bath. What did he see? Released from the pot Kaveri was racing forth gladly. Wave followed wave and the foam danced on the gurgling water. She turned this way and that, formed a little circle here and a little circle there, and laughing ran away. She was moving quite happily. Agasthya was thunder-struck. He was very unhappy and cried out, "Kaveri, 0 Kaveri, why did you
leave me?" Calling out her name he tried to catch her. But Kaveri was now beyond his reach.
Vinayaka appeared before Agasthya along with the gods and said, "Revered Agasthya, do not be troubled. By your grace Kaveri has gone forth as a
river to help the people. She and her father had been waiting for such a fulfillment for a long time. Her wish was fulfilled as soon as you transformed her into water. May Kaveri give wealth and food to the people of the South as 'long as the world lasts! May she sustain millions and millions of lives! May she be the river of grace that washes away sins and makes sinners pure! " Agasthya felt as though Kaveri, too, was praying, with bowed head saying, "Lord, I changed into a river and left you without your permission. Please forgive me."
'True,'said Agasthya to himself, 'how any lives do Kaveri sustain now! She is the mother of mankind. Well, I have served the world in my way; let the world now receive help from her!' These thoughts comforted the sage. He blessed Kaveri and took leave of the gods. And Kaveri became far-famed as the Ganga of the South!
Shri Ramachandra's Guide
Agasthya was living in the midst of the sages in the forest of Dandakaranya. He was running a Gurukula (a residential institution to which students who sought education joined) and was the teacher of a large number of students.
Shri Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, had to spend fourteen years in the forest. (The story of Shri Rama is narrated in the great epic, the Ramayana.)
He came to Dandakaranya with his wife Seetha and his brother Lakshmana. The sages welcomed them with greataffection. Shri Rama, Seetha and Lakshmana came to the hermitage of Agasthya. Because of his spiritual powers, Agasthya had known for a long time that Shri Rama would visit him. Agasthya looked after the guests well. He gave Rama a mighty bow known as the Vaishnava Dhanus and a quiver known as Akshaya Thuneera. This was a quiver known as Akshaya Thuneera. This was a quiver, which would always be full of arrows. He also bestowed on him a number of weapons of rare power. According to his advice Rama and Lakshmana built a ‘Parnakuti’ (a hut) on the banks of the river Godavari and went to live there.
Later, in the war between Rama and Ravana, Agasthya was among the many sages who assembled to watch the mightly battle. Ravana, too, was a great warrior. Shri Ramachndra was worried. He did not know how to kill Ravana. Then Agasthya came forward and taught him the most sacred mantra known as the ‘Adithya Hridaya’. It was addressed to the Sun God. By chanting it three times Rama got the strength to kill Ravana. Then peace and happiness reigned on earth.
After returning to Ayodhya Shri Rama chandra became the king. He had killed Ravana and brought relief to a troubled world; but his mind was not at peace. He was worried. At this time with Agasthya as the leader, a group of sages came to see Shri Rama. Agasthya understood the cause of Rama's unhappiness. Rama had killed Ravana, the great grandson of Brahma, the Creator, and so his mind was clouded. As a remedy, Agasthya advised
Rama to perform the Ashvamedha Sacrifice.
Such acts of Agasthya won him reverence everywhere. He was a devotee of Ishwara, and Shanmukha; it is said that, carrying our instructions, he popularized the Tamil language. The people of Tamil Nadu honour him even today as the Father of the Tamil Language. The Shivalingas installed by Agasthya are famous to this day as
'Agasthyeshwara'. There is also a pool by name Agasthyateertha in the south. Since he was the first among the sages to come to the south, the south is named after him. There is also a story about his mastery over music. It is said that Agasthya defeated even the great Ravana in a contest of playing on the veena. He gave many disciples to the world; he formulated many Vedic mantras; he wrote a learned work called 'The Grihyasuthra'; and the credit of popularizing the famous' Lalithasahasranama' (the Thousand Names of the Goddess Lalitha ) goes to Agasthya and Lopamudra.
In all the stories about Agasthya we find magnificent will power. A mountain or the ocean, what does it matter? I shall conquer all - such was the undaunted attitude of this great sage. Mountain, river or ocean - everything should be of service to the world. Human beings or rakshasas - the evil doer must be punished. That was his principle. Because of his tapas he equaled in weight all the gods; the very mountain bowed before him; all the
water of the ocean just filled his palm. Thus in every story about him we see the heroic soul of man.
It is no wonder that people devoutly believe that God, pleased with the magnificent deeds of Agasthya, trans- formed him into a star so that he might
look down from the sky on that world which he saved, guided and enriched.
May the blessings of such a great soul be on us and be our shield in life!