Penance of Agastya
Agastya is one of the seven sages who are collectively named as the famous “Saptarishi” (Ursa Major), a constellation. He is the son of Pulastya, one of the ten “Manasa Putras” of Brahma. He is a highly revered Vedic sage who is known to be the earliest “Siddha”. Siddhas are considered to be ardent devotees of Lord Shiva and are believed to possess the “Ashta Siddhis” or the eight supernatural powers. The eight siddhis include Anima, Mahima, Garima, Laghima, Prapti, Prakamya, Ishatva and Vashatva. It is said that Lord Subrahmanya himself passed on the knowledge of “Siddha medicine system” to Agastya who later on made that knowledge available to all mankind. Agastya Muni is also credited to composing the holy and the powerful “Aditya Hridaya” (praising of Sun god) which was initiated onto Lord SriRama when he struggled to defeat Ravana.
It was after listening to this hymn that Lord Rama was able to summon all his might and thwart Ravana.
Long ago, the mountain Vindhya (central India) started growing upward in gigantic proportion due to egoism. The sage Agastya decided to subdue the pride of Vindhya. For this purpose, he came from Varanasi (Uttara Pradesh, India) and settled in South India. By the divine presence of the sage Agastya, the entire South India gradually became prosperous and pious. Eventually the Kali Yuga started (As per the tradition of India, Kali Yuga is the fourth Age, the others being Kruta, Treta and Dvapara). In spite of the severe inspection of the sage Agastya, the evil traits of the Kali Yuga started sprouting slowly. Noting this trend, the sage felt sad and proceeded on a pilgrimage. The strange and unrighteous ways of the people made him quite unhappy. There was rampant selfishness and sensuousness prevalent everywhere. “How can these people attain liberation?” – This was his nagging grief. After reaching Kanchi (Tamil Nadu – South India) he was unable to bear the burden of the grief, and performed severe penance meditating on Varadaraja (The Best of the boon givers – a synonym of Vishnu). God’s ways are mysterious! His power of illusion is incomprehensible! Vishnu appeared to the sage in the form of Hayagreeva.
Agastya asked Hayagreeva “Oh Lord! What is the path of salvation to these ignorant people”?
Hayagreeva replied “There are two paths for this. They are:
a) After renouncing everything, one can attain the knowledge of the, attributeless aspect of God. This is a very difficult way.
b) The second method is to worship the Divine Mother who is the form of Vishnu with attributes. Even a sinner can do the worship. There is another advantage in this type. The devotee can simultaneously get enjoyment and salvation by following this path”. Further, Vishnu ordered to the sage Agastya “You have to propagate this divine secret in the entire world”.
Originally, this Sahasranama is said to have been composed by eight “Vagdevatas” under the directions of the goddess herself. The eight Vagdevatas being Vashini, Kameshwari, Aruna, Vimala, Jayinee, Mohinee, Sarveshwari and Koulini. One who is familiar with the Sahasranama would be able to identify this detail in the beginning of the stotra which goes like this :
“Asya Sri Lalita Sahasranama Stotrasya Mahamantrasya Vashinyadi Vagdevata rushyah”
The sage asked, “Lord Vishnu! Kindly narrate the story of Adi Para Shakti (The Ultimate & Primodial Power, the Divine Mother) who is your aspect with attributes”.
At this stage, Vishnu asked sage Hayagreeva (born with the Lord’s aspects) to tell the detailed story to Agastya.
“The Divine Mother emanated from meditation of Brahma (the Creator). Her name then was Prakruti (The nature). Mohini Avatara. For the second time, the Divine Mother manifested as Mohini at the time of the churning the ocean by the celestials and the demons (to obtain Amruta-nectar). Let us see how it happened.
Once upon a time, Indra (the Lord of the Heaven was overpowered by the pride of his prosperity. His reverence to even Shiva gradually diminished. Observing this, Shiva asked the sage Durvasa to meet Indra in the Heaven. The sage started taking the path of Gandharvas (the celestial singers), which was very beautiful. The sage appeared uglier than a beggar. Anyway he proceeded ahead pompously. On the way the sage saw a celestial lady holding a fragrant garland of divine flowers. The ugly looking sage asked the beautiful lady, “Where did you get this garland”?
She observed him keenly and realised that he was a sage. She prostrated to him and replied humbly “Sir! I am just now returning after doing the worship of the Divine Mother, who manifested and gave me this garland as Prasadam”. Jumping joyously, the sage asked her to give the garland to him. She happily handed it over to the sage and, prostrated to him. The sage blessed her “May your devotion to the Divine mother be firm”. Taking leave of the sage, she went away. By this incident, the sage realised that it was not difficult to others to recognise him, even if he was in any ugly appearance. He was satisfied with this thought and proceeded further.
After a while, he saw Indra riding the elephant Iravata. The sage approached Indra, who did not appear to recognise and prostrate to the sage. However, the sage did not get angry and said, “Indra! This is the garland given by the Divine Mother Herself. Take it. Saying so, the sage presented the garland to Indra. Indra didn’t refuse. He received the garland with disgust and threw the same on the head of the elephant, which proceeded ahead. A little later, the elephant threw down the garland with its trunk and trampled over it. Looking at this, the sage Durvasa became very furious and cursed Indra, “Oh! Egoistic fellow! You have not recognised me. Not only that. You have not even respected the Prasadam of the Divine mother. Due to this, May your prosperity vanish!” With these words, Indra’s pride was humbled. He got down the elephant and prostrated to the feet of the angry sage Durvasa. However, the sage went away silently.
Then Indra’s troubles started one by one. He saw bad omens in the Heaven. Afraid of them, Indra asked the sage Bruhaspati (the Spiritual Master of the celestials) to reveal the cause of the bad omens. The sage replied, “The effect of your sins follows you as a shadow. Saying so, the sage narrated a fine story.
Long ago, there was a thief by name Vajra in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu, South India). He used to steal small things and gradually amassed large quantum of money. As the wealth accumulated considerably, he wanted to hide it safely and went to the nearby forest to do so. In a dense part of the forest, he dug a deep pit and secured the money there in. However, a hunter by name Veeradanta, sitting on a tall tree observed all this, quite unexpectedly. After the thief has left the place, the hunter dug out the pit and after taking only one tenth of the money, he covered the pit, without causing any doubt to anyone. The hunter’s wife saw the money and knowing how her husband got it, she said, “It is customary that many Brahmanas visit the home of my parents. Whenever they saw me, they used to forecast “You will get rich quite suddenly. Their prediction came true now”. The hunter Veeradanta planned to purchase meat and wine with the money. However his wife said, “The Brahmana visitors of my parents’ home used to tell something more. They cautioned that hard-earned money only will give durable enjoyment and that the easy money was sinful. Hence let us use this unexpected and unearned money for charities. After prolonged discussions, the wife’s opinion won. Then Veeradanta selected a place of water scarcity and arranged the digging a big water tank for public use. While the work was in progress, further plans were made and accordingly, he started the construction of temples for Vishnu and Shiva by the side of the tank. When the projects were half way, the money was exhausted. Hence Veeradanta started spying to find out the several places at which the thief Vajra was hiding the stolen wealth. Without causing any doubt to the thief, the hunter used to take out money little by little from the pits and continued the construction without interruptions. Along with this, he started to donate the money. However the hunter did not use the money for himself or his family. Thus, constantly encouraged by his wife, his charities developed. The Brahmanas of Kanchi were glad and gave the titles “Dvijavarma” and “Shilavati” to the hunter and his wife.
These titles eventually became their names in vogue. Some time later, the hunter planned and constructed a city. Instead of giving it his own name, the hunter named it as “Devaratapura”, as a mark of respect to his guru “Devarata”. After a few years, the hunter and his wife died at the same time. The messengers of Yama (The God of death and the Lord of Hell), and Shiva and Vishnu arrived to take away the Jivas (the subtle form of life of the dead). Their debate as to who can take the Jivas could not be settled. At that time, the sage Narada arrived there. He asked the three groups of messengers to stop the arguments and revealed another aspect of the code of righteousness thus, “The hunter has performed the deeds of merit (Punya) like charities, with the money stolen by him. Hence as per the rules of righteousness, he must move about in the form of a ghost until the death of all the owners of the stolen wealth. Hence none of you have the right to take away the Jiva. “Next, his wife was great. She didn’t commit any sin. As she was a devotee of Shiva, the messengers of the Lord can take away her Jiva. ”Listening to this ruling, Shilavati’s Jiva sat down obstinately, saying “I won’t go to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva, leaving my husband in the form of a ghost”. She prayed to the sage Narada, “Sir! Kindly direct me what I have to do to unburden my husband’s sins”.
Narada was very much pleased with her chastity and fidelity and gave initiation of Shiva mantra (chant) to her. By her penance, the husband and wife attained the grace of Shiva and were accepted to stay in Kailasa (Shiva’s abode). Sometime later, the thief Vajra and the persons from whom he stole the money died. All the Jivas reached the Hell, the abode of Yama, the god of death, He asked all of them to assemble and said, “Though you did not intend to do the acts of Punya (merit), they were performed with your money. Hence you are eligible to stay in Kailasa (abode of Shiva) for some time. Hence I ask you whether you choose to experience either the effect of Punya (merit) or Papa (sin) in the first instance. They replied in chorus “we opt to experience the effect of merit first. By doing so, we will have a chance of association with the pious which in turn will wipe out past sins”. Yama felt glad by their choice and sent them all as the attendants of Dvijavarma at Kailasa. By his good association, all their sins were washed off and they settled in Kailasa happily.