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Origin of Seer Agastya!

Updated on September 22, 2014
Seer Agastya
Seer Agastya

Probably Agastya is the most enigmatic seer of Rig Veda whose character alone sets him apart from the early Rig Vedic seers. First of all we have no certain etymology of his name. The forced etymology probably developed in later times to explain his name. Through a fable of later times attributed to a deed of some other Agastya that he asked mountain Vindhya to prostrate before him thus restricting ever rising height of the Vindhya, that’s why his name Agatsya. This fable is creation of later times because Vedic Sanskrit was unable to provide any etymology of this name. In Rig Veda his alternative personal names are Manya (son of Mana) and Mandarya. (Rig. 7.33.13) Agastya clearly seems to be a family name.

According to Vedic legend he was son of Mitra-Varuna and brother of Seer Vasishtha. The legend goes like this, once Mitra-Varuna had visited a sacrifice session where their sight fell on the heavenly courtesan Urvashi. Craving for her forced them to ejaculate in a earthen pot from which Vasishtha and Agatsya took birth. However the legend is to explain mystic or unknown origin of both the seers because Agatsya is certainly not considered to be contemporary of Vasishtha.

There are many mythologies associated with him in Puranas, but we shall turn to them later. Here we are mostly concerned with Rig Vedic Agatsya.

In Rig Veda there are almost 26 hymns attributed to him. The hymns of the first Mandala, considered by scholars as one of the youngest book, open with hymns to Maruts and Indra, followed by abruptly inserted dialogue between Agastya and his wife Lopamudra and ends up with a charm against poisonous animals. These hymns are peculiar in nature that stands apart from the overall style of the Rig Veda. His other hymns are incorporated in the eighth Madala.

His hymns are stylistically creative, uses puns and verbal play, intricate similes, unexpected turns of phrases, syntactic innovations and striking imagery. He is also said to have contributed to development of Vedic ritual practices. (The Rigveda:The Earliest Religious Poetry of India by Stephanie W. Jamison and Joel P. Brereton)

Agatsya of Rig Veda turns out to be Agasti in Atharva Veda. Kuiper states that the myth of Agastya and Lopamudra cannot stem out of proto-Indo-Iranian culture. The name Agatsya or Agasti itself is non-Aryan and probably points to the totemism, indicating his foreign origin, incidentally, the circumstances that the plant name Agasti is not attested in Sanskrit, but Dravidian. Further he suggests that like Kanvas Agastyas figure was not fully Aryanized in Vedic times. (Aryans in the Rigveda By Franciscus Bernardus Jacobus Kuiper)

The hymns addressed to Indra and Maruts suggest that sometime in the Vedic history the time had come of divide between Vedic people which Agatsya seems to have mytholized through the hymns in the form of struggle over offerings between Indra and his followers Maruts. Let us not forget here that Maruts also are described as children of Rudra in Rig Veda, as other class of Vedic gods. The consistency of the conflict throughout in the verses, it seems that Indra becoming more and more confident while Maruts are subdued. If mythical elements removed we can see that actually it could have been the conflict between two rival groups of Vedics in which Agastya successfully intermediated and strengthened Indra worshpers side.

Still Agastya is outsider to the Vedic tradition, no matter how highly he has been praised and revered. For example he is not included amongst seven holy sages (Saptarshi), he is not considered to be amongst Prajapatis and even is not mentioned in the Puranik list of ancient sages. Later Brahmanical texts suggest that the descendents of Agastyas, as it were, lived outside of Kurus and Panchalas.

As we have seen Agastya name itself if non-Vedic and most probably of Dravidian origin for following reasons.

  1. Though Agastya is not mentioned amongst Saptarshis or Prajapatis, still a bright southern Star Canopus is named after him, suggesting his Dravidian or south Indian origin.
  2. Agastya is foremost popular and revered figure in Tamil literature since Sangham period.
  3. He seems to have entered Vedic tradition when Vedics were already divided or were on the verge of divide. He successfully reunited them, still his foreign character is detectable in Rig Veda itself.
  4. The mythologies also suggest that one Agastya, descendent of same family, traveled to southern part of the subcontinent in Puranik times to spread Vedic religion.

Agastya who traveled to south need not to be the same Agastya who composed Rig Vedic hymns, but he could be one of his descendent of later times. The early Agastyas would have traveled from South to North-West in early Vedic times and could have become a part of that tradition by virtue of their knowledge of Vedic practices acquired from their close acquaintance with Vedic seers. Agastya of Rig Veda appears to be family name rather than individuals name as composers individual name is stated as Manya and Mandarya in Rig Veda. Being family name this solves the problem of other Agastya who traveled back to south to their family homeland to spread Vedic religion. Thus the travel of original Agastya to north and travel of his descendent to south completes a circle.

Hence Agastyas entry in south part of the country was not invasion of Aryan element but of the Vedic religious element. Agastya thus became the first missionary of Vedic religion in south India.

There are over fifty words of Dravidian origin those have found in Rig Veda. Instead of searching for these inclusions in Rig Vedic language elsewhere, rather one should credit them to the presence of Agastya family in Vedic tradition.

The individuals traveling to far distances for various reasons are not a strange phenomenon. Agastya from his poetic verses proves that he was an accomplished poet and statesman. Rig Veda itself is a proof that he was originally foreign to their culture. His charm against poisonous animals too suggest that like Kanvas he to carried non-Vedic elements even after becoming part of Vedic tradition.

Agastya-Lopamudra dialogue of Rig Veda suggests that he was rather following his ancient ascetic practice which was alien to Vedic people. The dialogue is an argument between Lopamudra and Agastya about her desire to have son through physical pleasures. The dialogue is unique in whole of the Rig Veda as all other seers seem to have fathered children without worrying for the principles of asceticism. Rather Asceticism is foreign to Vedic tradition, rather every able man is expected to father children as much as they can as his prime duty.

What does this mean? It is certain that Agastya in origin itself was a Dravidian figure. Vedic tradition named southern star in his reverence to indicate his southern origin. He seems to have played a major role when Vedic society was on the verge of divide. First Agastya’s entry in Vedic tradition most probably would have taken in middle of the Rig Vedic compositions when Sudasa clan was on the verge of the decline. His descendents in later times along with Kanvas and Bhrigus must have shifted to Gangetic regions to modify the overall language of Rig Veda and spread the religion. One of the Agastya took responsibility to take Tamilnadu as his domain and traveled back to their homeland. By southern tradition he is credited with spread of sacrificial practices in Tamilnadu. However later Agastyas seems to have embraced back the religion of the land…Shavism as there are several Shavait treaties named after him. Lopamudra of Rig Veda and Lopamudra, as a daughter of Vidarbha King, are certainly two different personalities.

Out of ten Rig Vedic seer families, like Kanvas and Bhrigus, Agastyas too originally were non-Vedic people. Hence none of them is part of Saptarshi. The original seven Vedic Seers find their place together in a constellation as a symbol. Bhrigu finds place in Prajapatis, Agastya as a southern star and Kanvas being not so prominent in later times lost their status.

The religion founded at Gandhar region in the vicinity of Harahvati (Sk. Sarasvati) was thus traveled to the Gangetic planes to further develop, modify, arrange, systemize and spread by the original non-Vedic seers of different ethnicity. Also let us not forget here that the Agastyas could easily enter south India and conduct his mission because he was not foreigner to them. Ethnically he was of Dravid origin hence the acceptance to his arrival would be but natural. Had he been ethnically of different origin, people wouldn't have made out of him a highly venerated sage!

There was no Aryan invasion or migration from either side, i.e. from India to west or from west to India. What came to India was Vedic religion in raw form which was skillfully developed and spread by the converts. There was no influx of foreign people in the country as assumed by Aryan Invasion Theory. There has been no exodus of Bharata clan from India to Iran as suggested by Shrikant Talageri. What came to India was a religion that was spread with missionary zeal by entirely new families in later course of the time. Bhrigus led the religion in north whereas Agastyas focused on south. Survived the names of other early Vedic seers but we find no practical participation of them in these activities.

The readers can now understand that these facts change entire assumed scenario and poses a serious challenges to the so far purposefully established theories. The scholars did not want to see clearly that was present before them with abundant proofs. Rig Veda never mentions or suggests any migration or invasion to either side. These are imaginary artificial derivations of the scholars to maintain superiority of either Europeans or Indians. The picture presented before us about so called Aryans and Vedas thus was distorted by sheer selfish interests of the scholars. However truth shall win!

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