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Agastya: The Conqueror of Nature

Agastya Rishi was a very renowned sage in Hinduism. From conquering mountains to draining the seas, Agastya Rishi had immense power over nature. This was due to his highly elevated spiritual state that he had achieved due to rigorous penance and devotion.

Family

  • Father: Mitra and Varuna
  • Mother: Urvashi
  • Brother: Vashishta
  • Wife: Lopamudra
  • Son: Dridhasyu

Background: Vashishta Loses His Body

This story is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 6, Chapter 14

The birth of Agastya Rishi actually begins with an incident between King Nimi and Vashishta. King Nimi, the ruler of Videha, had appointed Vashishta as his Guru and royal priest. Nimi was a prosperous king loved by his subjects. One day, Nimi decided to perform a 5000-year long yagna to increase his fame. He invited all of the famous Brahmins and sages. Nimi then approached Vashishta and said, “I am performing a yagna, Guru. Since you are my Guru, please perform this yagna me. It will last five thousand years, and I will please Ambika Devi!” However, Vashishta responded, “Indra is also performing a yagna right now for five hundred years. He has already asked me to perform his yagna. You will have to wait until I finish Indra’s yagna. Wait until then. After I finish, I will come here.”

King Nimi grew agitated. He had already invited all of the guests, and he made all of the preparations and arrangements. How could he delay the yagna by 500 years! He implored Vashishta to forget about Indra’s yagna and do his yagna instead. However, Vashishta refused and left the palace. He journeyed to Swarga and began Indra’s yagna. Meanwhile, instead of waiting, Nimi decided to start the yagna with Gautama Rishi instead of Vashishta.

The Two Curses

After five hundred years, Vashishta completed Indra’s yagna and immediately went to Nimi’s palace. However, when he entered the palace grounds, he saw the yagna being performed by someone else. Vashishta was enraged by the king’s behavior. He confronted Nimi and cursed, “Even though I am your Guru, you abandoned me and appointed somebody else for your yagna! I curse you that your body will be destroyed today!”

Hearing Vashishta’s words, Nimi fired back with the same curse: “You are my Yajamana, and it is your duty as a Brahmin to perform my yagna for me. Yet, you chose somebody else over me. And now you are blaming me for your sins. You are cursing me when I have done nothing wrong. Since you have cursed me for nothing, I curse you that your body will be destroyed!”

Vashishta didn’t know what to do. In a couple of hours, he would become bodiless. Only his soul would remain. A desperate Vashishta approached his father Brahma for help. He narrated what had happened between him and King Nimi, and asked for help. Brahma responded, “Go enter the bodies of Mitra and Varuna. Stay there, and soon, you will be reborn.” Vashishta bowed down and went to Varunaloka. His body soon left him and his soul entered the bodies of Mitra and Varuna.

Born of Two Fathers

Once, the heavenly Apsara Urvashi went to Varunaloka with her friends. When Mitra and Varuna saw Urvashi, they immediately fell for her. They requested, “Seeing your beauty and grace, we have fallen in love with you. Please stay here with us.” Urvashi agreed to live with them. As Urvashi stayed with Mitra and Varuna, they became excited and their semen dropped in an uncovered jar. Because of this, two children were born. The first child was Agastya and the second child was Vashishta, who was adopted by King Ikshvaku and later became a famous rishi.

Lopamudra: The Perfect Woman

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 94

Agastya grew up and became a famous ascetic, devoting his life to penance and austerities. He learned the scriptures and the art of using the bow and arrow. Once, Agastya was walking in a cave and he saw his ancestors hanging upside-down in the cave. He asked them why they were hanging upside-down. “We are stuck here, hanging upside-down. We will only be liberated and be able to go to heaven if you have children,” Agastya’s ancestores replied.

Agastya had never thought of marriage and children before. But he agreed to get married and have children for the sake of his ancestors. He could not find a suitable woman to marry, but he was not disheartened. Agastya collected body parts and limbs from different beings. He put them together and created a supreme women named Lopamudra. Meanwhile, the king of Vidarbha wanted to have a child. Agastya gave Lopamudra to the king as his daughter. The king was elated and many Brahmins gathered there to bless her.

Lopamudra soon grew up to become an extremely beautiful woman. As she reached marriageable age, the king of Vidarbha began looking for a suitable groom for his daughter. At that time, Agastya approached the king and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The king was in a dilemma. He did not want his beautiful daughter to marry an ascetic who lived in the forest. But on the other hand, he was fearful of Agastya Rishi.

Lopamudra told her father that she wanted to marry Agastya. Hence, the king relented and Agastya was wedded to Lopamudra. Thereafter, Lopamudra replaced her expensive royal garments with the clothes of an ascetic. Agastya and Lopamudra went to Gangadvara and engaged in severe penance.

Agastya’s Search for Wealth

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 95-97

One day, Agastya saw Lopamudra after she had taken a bath. He wanted to have intercourse with Lopamudra so they could have a child. However, Lopamudra said, “I want us to have intercourse on a beautiful bed like the one in the my father’s palace. I want us to be garlanded and adorned in ornaments.”

“I don’t have these riches and expensive items that your father has,” Agastya protested.

“Because of the penance you have done, you are so spiritually powerful that you can conjure all of these riches with the snap of a finger,” Lopamudra said.

“Yes, but I don’t want to waste the power I have gained through my penance,” Agastya replied.

“Well then, you must find another solution to this problem and bring me these items,” Lopamudra demanded.

Agastya agreed to her request. He went to the wealthy King Shrutarvana. The king respectfully welcomed Agastya to his kingdom. Agastya then requested some money from the king. The king was ready to give away any sum of money to the renowned sage. However, when Agastya saw that Shrutarvana’s income was equal to his expenditure, he realized that if he took any amount of money, the people in his kingdom would suffer.

So he took King Shrutarvana with him and went to the land of King Vadhryashva. However, the exact same thing happened. Agastya and Shrutarvana asked for some wealth, but Vadhryashva’s income was also equal to his expenditure, so they couldn’t take any. Thus, all three of them—Agastya, Shrutarvana, and Vadhryashva—approached King Trasadasyu. And the exact same thing happened again. Trasadasyu had no extra money to give away. Agastya and the three kings all decided to approach a rich Asura named Ilvala.

Cannibalization of Vatapi

Ilvala had once approached a Brahmin and asked for a powerful son, but the Brahmin hadn’t fulfilled his request. Since then, Ilvala and his brother Vatapi hated Brahmins. Every time a Brahmin visited their kingdom, Vatapi would transform into a goat. Ilvala would then serve the goat to the Brahmin. The Brahmin would eat the goat and Ilvala would then say, “Vatapi, come out.” Vatapi would then rip open the Brahmin’s stomach and emerge. In this way, the two evil brothers had killed dozens of Brahmins.

When Agastya and the kings reached Ilvala’s kingdom, Ilvala welcomed them. He served them a scrumptious meal consisting of a goat and other foods. However, Agastya knew of Ilvala’s conspiracy. He ate the entirety of the goat. After the meal was finished, Ilvala shouted, “Vatapi, come out!” But Agastya only burped and said, “Vatapi has been digested.” With a shock, Ilvala realized that his brother was dead. Realizing Agastya’s power, Ilvala fell at the feet of Agastya and promised to give him whatever he wanted. Agastya demanded gold, horses, chariots, and cows for himself and the kings. Reluctantly, Ilvala gave these riches to Agastya and the kings.

A Son Equal to a Thousand

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 97

Thus, Agastya and the three kings returned to their residences with a lot of wealth. Agastya presented the wealth in front of Lopamudra. “I am very pleased. You gave me everything I asked for. Now I want us to have a child,” Lopamuda said to her husband.

“This is what I was thinking about our child. You can either have a thousand sons, or a hundred sons with the strength of ten each, or ten sons with the strength of a hundred each, or one son with the strength of a thousand,” Agastya said.

“I want to have one son who is equal to the strength of a thousand sons,” Lopamudra said. Agastya granted the wish and impregnated Lopamudra. Seven years later, a son named Dridhasyu was born to Lopamudra. As Dridhasyu grew up, he became very virtuous and learned. Thus, Agastya’s ancestors finally attained salvation.

Agastya Drinks Up the Ocean

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 99-104

Context to the story

If you don’t already know the story of Indra and Vritra, I suggest reading it here before you read this story. This will give context for the upcoming story.

After Indra killed the asura Vritra, he wanted to renounce his kingship because of the guilt of killing a Brahmin, but the devas convinced him to stay. Meanwhile, the Kalakeyas (Vritra’s followers) all entered the ocean and hid there. In the ocean, they plotted the destruction of the universe. They realized that the rishis were the most powerful people in the universe. Their immense austerities and penance gave them a lot of power. They decided that if they wanted to succeed, they had to kill the rishis.

Thus, every night, they would emerge from the ocean and stealthily kill the rishis. They killed hundreds of rishis in the hermitages of Vashishta, Chyavana, and Bharadwaja. Every morning, the Earth would be littered with dead bodies and the bones and remains of the rishis. Nobody knew who was killing these Brahmins. As this mysterious phenomenon continued, everyone on Earth began fearing their lives. People began hiding in caves to protect themselves. Others were so scared that they lost their lives in fear.

Indra and the Devas became distressed and approached Lord Vishnu for advice. “Every day, hundreds of bodies and bones are found throughout the Earth of dead Brahmins. We don’t know what to do. We have no idea who is killing these Brahmins or how they are dying. Please help us!”

“I know what is happening. There is a group of Asuras called the Kalakeyas. They were the followers of Vritra, so when he was killed, they hid in the ocean. They are killing the Brahmins with the intent of destroying the universe. But we cannot kill them because they are taking refuge in the ocean. The only way to kill them is to destroy the ocean. Go to Agastya Rishi. He is the only one capable of drinking up the ocean,” Vishnu said.

The Defeat of the Kalakeyas

Thus, the Devas approached Agastya and conveyed their request. Agastya agreed and together, they all went to the banks of the ocean. Agastya began drinking up the ocean, and the Devas watched in awe. When the ocean was completely bereft of water, the Kalakeyas were revealed. The Devas rushed at the Kalakeyas and began slaughtering them. The Kalakeyas could not defend themselves and they perished. The ones that remained fled to Patala loka. Thus, the Kalakeyas were vanquished and peace was returned to Earth.

Agastya scoops up the water of the ocean into his mouth

The Devas turned to Agastya and told him to release the water in his body and fill up the oceans once again. However, Agastya responded, “I have already digested this water. You will have to come up with another solution to fill up the oceans.” Saying this, Agastya vanished. The devas were astonished. They had solved the problem of the Kalakeyas, but now they were faced with another problem. They went to Lord Brahma, who said, “You must be patient. After many years, the great king Bhagiratha will fill up the oceans and bring down the river Ganga to liberate his ancestors.”

Many years later, King Bhagiratha would bring down the river Ganga to liberate King Sagara’s son. The river Ganga would fill up the oceans and Brahma’s words would come true.

The story of King Bhagiratha

If you don’t already know the story of King Bhagiratha, I suggest reading it here after you read this story. The story of King Bhagiratha directly follows the story of Agastya drinking the ocean.

Agastya Stops the Vindhya Mountain

This story is in the Mahabharata, Vana Parva, Chapter 102 and the Skanda Purana, Vaishnava Khanda, Section 1, Chapter 31

The Sun circles Mount Meru during the day. This hurt the pride of Mount Vindhya, a mountain in the middle of India. He told Surya deva, the Sun god, “The Sun always circles Mount Meru. Why can’t you circle me?”

Surya deva responded, “I didn’t choose this path. Lord Brahma, the creator of the Universe, chose this path for me.”

Mount Vindhya was angered by Surya deva’s response. He began to grow taller and taller, reaching the skies and beyond. Indra and the gods all requested him to stop growing, but he completely ignored them. The gods then went to Agastya Rishi for help, informing him of their problem. Agastya had a brilliant idea. He went to Mount Vindhya with Lopamudra and said, “I have to go to the South for some work. Please stop growing until I return from the South. After that, you can grow as much as you want.”

Vindhya agreed to the proposal. Agastya and Lopamudra crossed the mountain and reached southern India. In the South, they found a beautiful mountain with a great lake. They climbed the lake and built their hermitage on the northern bank of the lake. To this day, they have not returned from the South. Thus, Vindhya has been endlessly waiting and has not grown ever since then.

Agastya talks to the tall Vindhya Mountain

Once Agastya and Lopamudra crossed Vindhya, they walked on and eventually saw another tall mountain. They climbed up the mountain and, amazed by the beautiful scenery, decided to make this their home. This mountain became known as Agastyaśaila.

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