On Agastya and Aryanization-4

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Oct 2 06:21:33 UTC 1998

In his article, "Agastya Legend and the Indus Civilization" (Journal of Tamil
Studies, Dec. 1986, no. 50, p. 25-27), Iravatham Mahadevan says, "According to
the tradition recorded in the Matsyapurana (202, 12-13), Agastyas are
classified as 'rakshasas". Pargiter (1922, P. 241) interprets this as
indicating the association of Agastya with Non-Aryan tribes�. Even today
Tamilnadu has the largest number of Siva temples dedicated to the 'Lord of
Agstya' (Agastyezvara), a feature almost unique to Tamilnadu, as noted by
Ghurye (P.72). According to most competent scholars it is from South India
that the Agastya cult was carried to the South-East Asian countries."
Inscriptions reveal the existence of many such temples in medieval times also.

A tenth century inscription mentions "Agattiyan2 Atitta nilakaNTan2",
"Agattiyan2 caGkaranArAyaNan2 cUlapANi", "Agattiyan2 mAtEvan2 kAri" as the
members of the brahmin sabhA. The forms of the names suggest that these people
considered themselves to be of the Agastya gotra. Considering the discussion
above and that the potter-priest-warrior functions were probably performed by
an undifferentiated community in pre-Vedic times as discussed in earlier
Indology postings,  many potters of pre-Vedic tradition seem to have adopted
Aryan traditions and become brahmins in later times. According to D. D.
Kosambi, "The kazyapas have clear connection with aborigines through the
prajapati myths and also the tortoise totem which their name indicates. It is
very well known that a good many of the spurious Brahmins claim the kAzyapa
gotra. The interdict which hiraNyakezin-satyASADha (H. zraura-sUtra 10.4)
places upon the kazyapas and kaNvas at feasts to the manes is no longer
observed; but it cannot have been accidental." (The Autochthonous Element in
the mahAbhArata, in JAOS, no. 84, p.41.) It should also be noted that purANas
say that the bhArgava parazurAma gave the earth to kazyapa brahmins after he
destroyed the kSatriyas.

An interesting hero stone inscription of 7th century, ceGkam naTukaRkaL, no.
78, reads "vENATiLak kOvUr nATTu kOil paTTar vantu toRuk koNTa nAn2Ru
mERceGkai mAmmuTaiya pAratAyar makan2 toRu mITTup �". The name "pAratAyar" is
the Tamilized form of "bhAradvAja", a popular brahmin name in medieval times
and earlier. While one cannot conclude the caste affiliation by the word
"paTTar" per se, the qualifier "kOil" in the case of one and the name
"bhAradvAja" and the Sanskrit-Tamil hybrid "mAmmuTaiya" in the case of the
other suggest these were temple priests and probably brahmins. The inscription
may be translated as "When the temple priest of vENATiLak kOvUr nATu raided
the cattle, the son of my(?) bhAradvAja of western CeGkai retrieved the cattle
and�.". This behavior of cattle-raiding and cattle-retrieving are normally
associated with the warrior community of the puRam genre of the Classical
Tamil texts. Even secular brahmins have been military generals in the Tamil
areas. But brahmin priests in temples are not expected to be warrior-like as
shown here. What the inscription portrays seems to be a situation of a non-
brahmin priestly community in the process of becoming brahmins.

With respect to the question of Aryanization and Agastya, Iravatham Mahadevan
said in the article mentioned above that "the Agastya legend has preserved the
memory of the southern migration of groups of Dravidian speakers displaced
from the north after the advent of the Aryans into India and that it is
possible to trace the ultimate origin of the legend to the Indus
civilization."  While Mahadevan linked the Agastya legend to "the ruling and
the land-owning classes in the Tamil country", he has missed their affiliation
with the potter-priests. With this critical link, one can bring together data
from many fields to reconstruct a cogent scenario of possible cultural
conversion or Aryanization of early South Asia.

S. Palaniappan

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