Agastya: The southern sage from the north

Author: 
Davis, William Spencer, Jr.
Year: 
2000

     Agastya, a mythical Hindu sage, is well-known in India in both Sanskrit and Tamil literature. For well over a millennium Agastya's identity and actions have been used in the Tamil literary tradition to grapple with the question of Tamil self-definition, particularly with respect to the role of the Sanskrit cultural register in Tamil culture. While he is closely associated with the south, the Agastya cycle emphasizes how he immigrates to the Tamil country from the north, his original home. Four general arenas in which Agastya, acts within Tamil culture can be isolated in the myths of the Agastya cycle, and in each his Sanskritic associations are discernible in myths found in Sanskrit literature as well as those in Tamil: social class highlights Agastya's status as a brahmin; geography emphasizes his northern origins; devotion and the delineation of the Tamil country as a domain of Shiva build on his status as an adept in Vedic sacrifice and asceticism; and language stirs echoes of his facility with Sanskrit. The use of the myths of Agastya in the service of Tamil self-definition is discussed with respect to each of these arenas.

Advisor(s): 
Doniger, Wendy
Department: