Musings of a Spectator

Location: Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fraternal Affinity: Agastya and Agastyabhrata

The following is taken from "Studies on Ramayana" - an English translation by Sri C Sivaramamurti of the Lectures on Ramayana delivered by Sri Sribhaashyam Appalacharyulu in Tirupati in the '80s. The book is published by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

Fraternal Affinity

Fraternal Affinity is a theme of absorbing interest. The offspring of common parents share kinship of blood; this consanguinity naturally provides the urge for mutual love and attachment. But the brothers have their individual personalities. Subtle variations in attitudes and aspirations, approaches and activities, make their appearance as they grow up. Situations may arise, in some cases, when their mutual appraisal suffers a clash and threatens discord. But the innate wish to hold together helps reconcilement. But when the differences are fundamental, fraternal affinity suffers a setback. But succeeding events may clear the cloud of misunderstanding and bring about rapprochement. This may not be possible, when even one of the brothers involved, maintains an unthinking stubbornness, under a perverse sense of self-importance. Any climb-down from the chosen stance appears to him to be a terrible loss of dignity, dishonour to which death is preferable. Brothers who believe in high moral values, who adhere to truth and righteousness in conduct, attach primary importance to fraternal amity and try to maintain in it in all situations. They do not hesitate to make any sacrifice for the coherence of the family unit.

The Ramayana projects vivid picture of fraternal affinity and its functioning among the various communities and living species.

  • The Princes of Ayodhya - Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Satrughna - form an ideal brotherhood and present a model to humans to admire and emulate.
  • Anchorites and ascetics, pursuing rigorous penance for spiritual progress, get knit together into a fraternal fold. Sarabhanga and Sutikshna may not be brothers by birth; but they are closely akin in aspiration and attainment. Agastya and Agastyabhrata form another pair and come under this category.

Valmiki thus portrays how fraternal affinity, a laudable virtue functions among the various species. An attempt is made here to delve deeper into the subject to understand its worth and its workings.

[Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana, during their fourteen year exile, were travelling through the forests. They go to Sage Sarabhanga's hermitage and he directs them to go to Sage Sutikshna's hermitage. Sutikshna plays host to them and as they wish to leave for Saga Agastya's hermitage, he asks them to go, first to Agastyabhrata's hermitage, make a halt there before moving on to Sage Agastya's hermitage]

Agastya and Agastyabhrata

Sutikshna counsels Rama to pay his respects to Agastyabhrata and receive his blessings before he meets Agastya.

In common parlance, Agastyabhrata conveys the impression that the person, so referred to, has no individuality of his own, has accomplished nothing worthwhile in life, has no distinction or merit to his credit - in fact a nonentity. And so he takes shelter under his kinship with an illustrious person to get identified. Agastya, of course is a renowned Rishi of great stature, with miraculous powers, with magnificent accomplishments, and outstanding victories to his credit. His brother may not have reached similar heights to stand comparison with him. But is he to be regarded as a worthless nonentity, simply because he is not known by a name of his own but identified only as the brother of Agastya? If this is how we are to understand the nature and stature of Agastyabhrata, we have to question the propriety of Sutikshna in sending Rama to him. Sages know the value of time; they will have a definite purpose in their directions to people. Evidently, Agastyabhrata is a seasoned sage with ripe wisdom, an illumined soul with deep insight and spiritual experience, worthy to be honoured with a visit by Rama, the Lord incarnate. He is one of those sages, who love to remain in cognito, to revel in anonymity, whose time is spent wholly in discharging self-imposed spiritual tasks, whose lives are consecrated to the Lord's service, within the confines of their hermitages. This brother of Agastya has a hermitage of his own. And a name is needed only for identification of a person. But he has reached a stage of sublime self-effacement. He must have felt that no other name, however sweet and pleasant for personal identification, can equal the descriptive appellation of sanguinary kinship with Agastya. Agastyabhrata extends welcome to Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, and offers them all the courtesies of asram hospitality; but what has transpired between him and his guests is a sealed book. After a night's rest, the guests feel refreshed; they seek his blessings and leave for Agastya's hermitage. The very fact that his sage takes pride in being called Agastyabhrata, in being known only by his kinship with his more illustrious brother, proves how fondly he loves Agastya and how highly he esteems him.

And now about Sage Agastya - seer and sage with a magnificent record of glorious accomplishments and heroic exploits - be it arresting the growth of Vindhya or be it the slaying of Vataapi by digesting him in his stomach or the task of drinking all the water of the oceans. He is instrumental in Ramayana for he is the one who suggests Rama to go to Panchavati for his stay in the forests. He also helps Rama by teaching him Aditya Hridaya Stotra during the war with Ravana and thereby enabling the blessings of Sun with Rama in his bid to slay Ravana.

Agastya and Agastyabhrata are bound by a fraternal affinity which has a special flavour of its own. Both abide in the Lord; the elder one is an active participant in the workings of the Incarnation; the younger one is content to providing sustenance for the cause by his spiritual exercises. The brothers keep close in spirit and work in unison. In such a scenario, there is little scope for outward manifestation of mutual affinity.