- (also Agasti)Agastya was one of the Vedic RISHIs (inspired poets); his name is given as the author of several hymns in the first of the 10 chapters of the RIG VEDA. He is said to be the son of both MITRA and VARUNA, both of whose seed was emitted upon sight of the celestial APSARAS URVASHI. Agastya then was born in a water jar. (A similar story exists about the conception of DRONA in a bucket.)In the MAHABHARATA and later literature Agas-tya became an important rishi. In the Mahabharata itself there are a number of stories about him. One tale frequently mentioned in Indian litera-ture relates how Agastya helped the gods destroy demons who had hidden in the ocean by drink-ing up the entire ocean. In another tale Agastya restores the world to order: the VINDHYA mountain grew jealous of mount MERU, the central mountain of our universe around which the Sun and Moon always go, so he began to raise his head in order to block the path of the celestial orbs. Agastya, GURU of the Vindhya mountain, went to Vindhya and forced him to lower his head in obeisance, and to keep his head lowered while Agastya headed in the southern direction. Agastya, however, never returned.This notion of the Vindhya’s bowing to Agastya is associated with the migration of the ARYANS and particularly the BRAHMINS to South India. Agastya is venerated in the south of India, where he is said to have been the first to organize the Tamil grammar. Tolkappiyar, the author of the oldest known Tamil grammar, is considered one of Agastya’s 12 students. Agastya was also said to have been a member of the first two Tamil Sangams or literary academies, which were inundated by the sea. (The literature of the third and last Sangam is understood to be still extant, but, of course, the Sangams are not historically verifiable.)In Tamil Nadu Agastya is mythologically asso-ciated with SHIVA, who it is said to have sent Agastya to the south. In the tantric tradition of the SRI VIDYA, Agastya is said to be the husband of LOPAMUDRA, the female founder of one of the sri vidya lineages.In the Ramayana Agastya was visited at his ASHRAM by RAMA and became an adviser to him. In the end Agastya became a star—Canopus, which shines in the southern sky in India.Further reading: G. S. Ghurye, Indian Acculturation: Agastya and Skanda (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1977); E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986); K. N. Sivaraja Pillai, Agas-tya in the Tamil Land (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.