Agasthya & his Presence in Literature

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Agasthya & his Presence in Literature

We have already seen that Agastya is mentioned continuously over such a long span of time, let us take a bird’s eye view of the contribution of Agastya in terms of knowledge. 

Geographically, we have instances of mountains, lakes, towns, and even a  star named after him. We have rivers and trees associated with him. 

Perhaps no Vedic sage can equal the sheer presence of Agastya in terms of timeline or geography as we have seen. Now we will explore Agastya’s presence in literature through the ages.

We had left off tracing the presence of Agastya in literature earlier with the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Let us journey further in time towards the modern era, and we see him appearing prominently in literature from 2nd century BC in plays, stories, and historical documents.

Perhaps, nowhere is Agastya more popular than in the Tamil tradition, a language said to be older than Sanskrit. Small surprise is that, considering the honor of bringing this ancient language to us is attributed to Agastya!  The story goes that Shanmuga, son of Lord Shiva gave the language to Agastya. And he in turn gave it to the world. 

From the legend, we go to actual historical references of Agastya now, as we find that he is credited with compiling the first grammatical text of the Tamil language – Agattiyam. Even though Agattiyam has not survived, the oldest surviving text of Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam refers to the first-ever compilation of Tamil grammar Agathiyam. 

Agastya’s contribution continues on legend and history in the literature of this language. The Sangam literature of Tamilnadu which boasts of three major sangams or literary conventions that stretched over hundreds of years, refer to him as the chair of the first-ever Tamil Sangam. Here again, though there are no surviving texts of the first Tamil sangam, the later sangam literature refers to his chairmanship in the ‘city under the sea’ near the modern-day Madurai. 

In the great philosophical text Thirumantiram (Tirumular) reference is made to Agastya as a sage who came from the north and settled in the south. 

A shrine to Agastya is mentioned in the Tamil epic Sillappadikaram of Ilango Adigal. Those who are familiar with the story of Kannagi will know what I am referring to. 

Another 10th-century treatise on gems and diamonds bears his signature name and is called Agastimata. 

But it is not only in Hinduism that Agastya finds mention. We see him extending borders even in religion!