Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Legends of Agastya

Stories From the Mahabharata

These incidents are taken from [Maha:3.96-3.109].

Long ago, the city of Manimati was ruled by a Daitya named Ilvala. He had a younger brother named Vatapi, who was capable of assuming any form at will. Both brothers were skilled in black magic. When the great sage Agastya visited their city, Ilvala said to him, "O holy one, grant me a son equal unto Indra, the lord of the celestials." However, that Brahmana did not trust the Asuras, and refused to grant the boon. From that day, the brothers became the enemy of the Brahmanas.

Whenever any Brahmana visited their city, Vatapi would transform himself into a ram. Ilvala would then order this ram to be cooked and served to the unsuspecting guest. When the guest had his fill, Ilvala would utter a magical incantation and cry out aloud, "O Vatapi, come out." Vatapi would then assume his own form and emerge from the unfortunate Brahmana's stomach, killing the poor man. In this manner, they slew a great number of Brahmanas.

Meanwhile, Agastya wandered around the country, indulging in many severe austerities and otherwise mortifying his flesh. One day, he came upon a wondrous sight. He saw that some men where hanging in a pit, with heads pointing downwards. He approached those personages and asked them, "Who are you? Why are you suspended head first into this deep pit?"

They replied, "O Agastya, we are your ancestors. Since you have not produced any offspring, we have been sentenced to this torment. If you truly love us, marry a suitable woman, and beget offspring."

Agastya said, "Ye Pitris (ancestors), I shall accomplish your desire. I shall seek out a bride worthy of our name and produce children, for children save us from the hell known as Puth." With these words, he then started searching for a suitable girl to wed. Despite his best attempts, he did not find anyone suitable.

The king of Vidarbha was childless, and was performing many penances for the purpose of obtaining offspring. When Agastya visited his realm, he was pleased by the devotion and piety of the King. By his great ascetic merit, he created a beautiful girl child and gave her to the King. The King named that girl Lopamudra and brought her up as his own.

When the princess reached puberty, the King began to think of her marriage, and started considering suitable alliances for her. Meanwhile, Agastya had still not found a suitable bride. When he heard that the princess of Vidarbha had reached a age suitable for marriage, he then went to the King and sought her hand in marriage.

The King was in a quandary. On one hand, he did not want his daughter, who was brought up in the lap of luxury to become a hermit's wife. On the other hand, he was afraid of the wrath of Agastya. He spoke his mind to his wife and they both grieved together. When Lopamudra came to know of the reason for their sorrow, she said to her father, "Sir, do not grieve. I would be very happy, nay fortunate to become the wife of such a great Rishi. Bestow me upon him without any misgivings."

The marriage was duly performed. As per her husband's orders, Lopamudra then cast off her royal robes and ornaments and dressed herself in coarse garments as befitted a Rishi's wife. The couple then repaired to the sage's hermitage on the banks of the river Ganga and began their marital life. They spent many happy days, enjoying each other's company.

When the season came, Agastya approached his wife to consummate their marriage. She lowered her eyes bashfully and said, "Dear husband, I wish that you would approach me on a bed like that I had in the palace of my father. I also desire that you should be decked in garlands and flowers, and that I should be adorned in those celestials ornaments that I used to like. It is not sinful to wear ornaments on such a occasion."

Agastya said, "Dear wife, I do not have wealth like what your father had. How am I to provide all these things that your heart desires."

She said, "Sir, I know that you possess great ascetic merit. There is nothing impossible to one of your prowess. You can create whole worlds, mere wealth should be easy."

He replied, "It is true that by my ascetic merit, I can easily create all that you desire, but it should not be used for such a base purpose. It should be used only for the good of humanity, not for selfish profit. However, seeing how much you desire it, I shall seek out a suitable King, who has surplus wealth to spare, and obtain all that you wish from him."

He then went to see a King named Srutarvan, who was regarded as extremely rich, and begged for wealth. That monarch received the sage with great respect. When the purpose of Agastya's visit was made known to him, he had his treasurer bring him the accounts of the kingdom. He then showed them to the Rishi and asked him to take whatever was a just amount. Agastya was greatly surprised to see that the income through taxes and the expenditure on public works was exactly in balance. He saw that any amount he took, would be to the detriment of the citizens of the Kingdom.

He then took Srutarvan with him, and visited another wealthy king named Vradhnaswa. Once again, the book of accounts was produced, and it was seen that even in this kingdom, income and expenditures were in balance. Vradhnaswa said, "In nearly all Kingdoms, where the rulers are just and love their subjects, you will find the same situation. However, in the city of Manimati, Ilvala, descended from Diti runs an oppressive regime. He is sure to have a lot of wealth to spare. Surely, you will obtain what you seek in that kingdom."

Accordingly, the sage and the two Kings went to the city of Manimati. Ilvala concealed his thoughts of revenge and welcomed the sage with all outward observances of delight. As usual, he then fed the sage the meat of his brother Vatapi, who had turned himself into a ram. However, by his Yogic sight, the sage discovered the design of the Daitya. Before Ilvala could utter the magical incantation to bring Vatapi alive, the sage said, "May Vatapi be digested!", and rubbed his huge belly.

Now, when Ilvala uttered the Mantras and said, "O Vatapi come out!", a large quantity of gas escaped the sage, but there was no sign of Vatapi. Frightened, he repeated these words again and again, but of course, there was no change. Agastya smiled at him and said, "Your brother has long since been digested!"

Agastya then offered to pardon Ilvala if he would make a gift of suitable wealth. The Daitya King said, "O Rishi, if you would correctly guess, what I had planned to give these two Kings who have accompanied you, and also guess what I had proposed to gift you, you may have those gifts."

By his yogic power, Agastya perceived what was in Ilvala's mind. He said, "O Daitya, you were going to give ten thousand kine and as many gold coins to each of these kings. As for myself, you were going to give me twice as much as either, and a golden chariot, yoked to a couple of horses fleet as thought."

Fulfilling his promise, the Daitya then gave away the gifts and made peace with Agastya. The sage returned with all these wealth to his wife and gratified her. Their marriage was consummated in the manner in which she wished. The sage then asked her, "Would you rather have thousand sons, or a hundred, or ten, or only one son who is equal in prowess to a thousand?"

She replied, "Let me have one son who is equal to a thousand. One good and learned son is preferable to many evil ones." Accordingly, she became with child, and bore that fetus for seven long years. At the end of that period, their child Dridhasyu was born. With the birth of this son and heir, the ancestors of Agastya were liberated from the torments of the hell-pit.

Some time after this, during the Krita age, there were a tribe of Danavas who were invincible in battle. They were known as the Kalakeyas and they used to sorely harass the immortals. Vritra was their chief, and he possessed great strength, and was incapable of being slain by even Indra the chief of the celestials.

Greatly distressed, the Devas sought counsel with Lord Brahma. He said, "If you are to defeat the Danavas, especially the all powerful Vritra, Indra must be equipped with a great weapon. There is a high souled Rishi named Dadhichi. Go to him and solicit a boon from him. Tell him, 'For the good of the three worlds, give us your bones.' He will surely yield his bones. From them a weapon capable of slaying Vritra can be forged."

Accordingly, the Devas led by Indra went to the hermitage of Dadhichi and prayed him to yield his bones for the greater good of the three worlds. That selfless sage then entered a posture of yogic meditation, and gave up his life. Vishwakarma then took the bones of the sage and crafted a great weapon known as Vajra, and gave it to Indra.

Armed with the Vajra, and supported by the host of Devas, Indra challenged the Danavas to battle. He approached the demon Vritra whose body was so huge, that it covered the entire heaven and earth and engaged him in combat. Although the Devas fought valiantly, they were decidedly getting the worst of the exchanges. Alarmed, Indra sought the protection of Lord Vishnu. The Lord then infused him with a portion of his own might. When the celestials saw that Indra was protected by Vishnu, they each gave a portion of their powers to Indra. The great Rishis also gave the portion of their ascetic merit to the king of the celestials.

Greatly encouraged, Indra fought with renewed vigor and finally hurled the mighty Vajra at Vritra. The Danava fell, slain by that shaft. The celestials and the great sages rejoiced.

[Note: This account of the slaying of Vritra is slightly different from the one in 'Slaying of Vritra']

However, the Danavas, having lost their leader, fled to the depths of the ocean in fear. In those fathomless depths, surrounded by whales and crocodiles, they held a council of war. They realized that Indra was successful because of the help provided by the great Rishis, who were Brahmanas. Besides, it was Havis from the Yagnas conducted by the Brahmanas that the celestials derived their energy. They then decided to mount a campaign to exterminate the Brahmanas and weaken the Gods. Accordingly, if any Brahmana approached the sea or any other body of water, he was slain by these fierce Kalakeyas. They also frequently emerged under the cover of darkness and attacked the hermitages of sages, killing large number of those ascetics.

The Devas were greatly alarmed. They sought refuge with Lord Vishnu. The Lord said, "I can certainly slay these Kalakeyas, but they are hiding in the depths of the ocean. Find a way to empty the ocean and expose them, and I shall slay them with my Sudarsana Chakra (discus)."

The Devas realized that only Agastya, he of great ascetic merit could accomplish this deed. They prayed to him and he granted their wish. He went to the ocean and with the help of his Yogic powers, drank all its water in a single gulp.

The Kalakeyas had no place to hide. They fought valiantly, but were no match for the great Lord Vishnu. All of them were slain in no time. The Devas then requested Agastya to fill up the ocean again. But Agastya said, "The waters have been consumed by the fire of my ascetic merit, I do not have them any more. The ocean will remain bereft of water for now. Find another way to fill it."

[Note: Later, the ocean was filled by the waters of the sacred river Ganga, when she was brought to earth by King Bhageeratha of the Ikshvaku dynasty.]

At another time, the marriage of Shiva to Parvati was going to be celebrated. Desirous of witnessing this grand spectacle, all the Gods, the great sages and many other creatures traveled to Mt. Kailasa. As a result of this huge gathering, the balance of the earth was upset. There was a real danger that it would topple. Also, the mighty Vindhya mountain, the natural dividers between the north and the south, had become jealous of the place occupied by the great Himalayas. The mountain thought, 'If I became taller, people would respect me more.' and it started growing. Its increasing height threatened to obstruct the orbit of the sun and the moon.

Lord Shiva decided to solve both these problems in a single stroke. He summoned Agastya and bade him to go south, to restore the balance of the earth. Accordingly, the Rishi then traveled south and reached the foothills of the Vindhyas, accompanied by his wife Lopamudra. He said to the mountain, "I have to travel south for a while. If you keep growing, it will be impossible for me to cross you on my return journey. Please stop growing till I get back."

The mountain promised to do so. Alas, it had been tricked, for Agastya established his residence on the south, and never went back to the north. With his presence in the south, the weight of his ascetic merit served to restore the balance of the world. He lived in the south for a long time and spread the principles of religion in that region.

Last Modified At: Thu Nov 25 16:50:28 2004