Agastya is one of the greatest writers of the fourteenth century, best known for his epic Balabharata, which has been widely read in South India and honoured with a commentary written in the time of Krsnadeva- raya (sixteenth century). The Princess Ganga later in the fourteenth century praised him, in her own epic, as the author of 74 kavyas full of learning, meaning presumably in tradition itihasa in the first place, but also in kavya, grammar and the lexicons, as we may see from his works. Rajacudamani in the seventeenth century in his epic on Krsna again praised Agastya for his learning and his mastery of language, perhaps thinking in particular of his Krsna kavya.
With the general neglect of classical literature in modern times most of Agastya’s works seem to have been lost, but a single manuscript in grantha script has preserved his prose kavya Krsnacarita for us in the Tanjore Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati Mahal Library. Part of it was printed in the Journal of that Library about 30 years age, but we have had to wait until my colleague Professor Venkatacharya took up the work to see a complete (save for the missing initial leaves) printed text. To compensate for the delay, Agastya has been fortunate in finding a painstaking editor, skilful in emending the numerous corruptions of the unique manuscript but scrupulous in giving the actual readings in the notes, for the reader to try his own conjectures on. The restored opening sentences though perhaps copied too closely from the Harsacarita (one would expect rather an emergency session of the gods), effectively lead into the available text. The notes will also help readers over some difficult expressions, such as unusual meanings of av.
The circulation of this kavya should restore Agastya’s reputation for mastery of language among modern connoisseurs, especially from the aesthetic point of view (not merely that of virtuosity of composition). Though the matter is the legend of Krsna Agastya has apparently followed Dandin in disregarding the distinction between the biography akhyayika with a well known or historical story and the novel katha as a fiction. The form (without chapter divisions) and in part the atmosphere is that of a novel Of course, the fact that the story is set in antiquity, whereas biographies such as the Harsacarita deal usually with contemporary events, eliminates the kind of realistic description we would otherwise expect, quite apart from the (irrelevant) impression of many modern readers that the story of Krsna is fictitious anyway and may appropriately be read as a novel. Presumably this is not what Agastya intended. Rather he has followed the lead of the Harsacarita, Gadyakarnamrta and other biographies which open with a scene in Heaven, but extended a mythical and legendary narrative into a whole work. There was at least one partial precedent for this, which Agastya may have known, namely Vadibhasimha’s Gadyacintamani (eleventh century), a biography in form based on an old jaina legend instead of on recent events. To its author this legend was historical, though the modern reader will be struck rather by its resemblances to the Brhatkatha. The style of the Krsnacarita often approaches that of the flowing and delicate Kadambari rather than the bold and striking language of the Harsacarita. Yet Agastya brings out the heroic aspects of the story of Krsna instead of the tender emotions generally associated with it since the appearance of the Bhagavata Purana, probably his main source. No doubt he studied the Harivamsa and was in a way an archaiser as well as proposing an original interpretation of his own. But to explain such a style in a heroic work we may understand that Krsna accomplished his tasks with ease, unlike the serious and ascetic Harsa.
For the appreciation of the Krsnacarita in Agastya’s own time, we should bear in mind that the fourteenth century saw the climax of India’s struggle with the Turkish invaders to maintain the independence of at least the South. The theme of freeing the Earth from ‘demons’ and the desire for an incarnation of Visnu to accomplish this were thus most topical. The implications of Agastya’s kavyas interpreting tradition would be fully appreciated in Ekasila and Vijayanagara and would explain Ganga’s enthusiasm.
From the colophon at the end of the work which reads ity agastyakrtih krsnacaritam samaptam and from the two verses occurring thereafter in the Grantha Manuscript (sravassula•etc. and anadrtya etc.) it is clear that the name of the author is Agastya without any doubt. In the second verse the author refers to himself as agastyasya vidusah etc. This may mean that the author was known as Agastyavidvan or the learned Agastya that is Agastyapandita. Salva- Timmayadandanathe, the author of the commentary Manohara on the Balabharata mentions in the beginning as tatrabhavan agastyapandito nama mahakavih who is probably the same Agastyapandita as our author.
Gangadevi, the Queen of Virakamparaya, in her Madhuravijaya pays glowing tributes to one Agastya- pandita, thus
On the basis of this verse it is supposed that Agastya wrote 74 kavyas in all, which spoke volumes for the wealth of his vaidusya. Agastya was a maternal uncle of Visvanatha who mentions the fact in his Saugandhikaharana. Visvanatha was one of the teachers of Gangadevi, who is also praised by her in the Madhuravijaya. Virakamparaya (or Kampana) is said to have ruled the southern part of the Vijayanagar Empire as Viceroy from the beginning of his father Bukka 1’s reign (i.e. 1357 A.D.) Kampana is also said to have died in 1374 A.D.s Gangadevi, it is believed, had accompanied her husband Kampana in his campaigns against the Madura Sultan, which the history places between 1365-1370 A.D.4 Agaatyapandita, our author, the uncle of Visvanatha, seems to have been one of the great Poets like Vidyanatha, that adorned, the Court of Prataparudra II, the Kakatiya ruler of Warrangal (1292-1323 A.D.).
Some scholars held the view that Agastya and Vidyanatha were identical, the latter expression being the title of the author, whose original name was Agastya. This identity is surmised on the basis of the verse in the Prataparudriya, running as aunnatyam yadi varnyate etc. (II. 60), which is an illustrative verse of the agudhavyangya variety of the dhvani. In this verse, the expression jato’smyagastyah referring to the author is taken to mean that the real name of the author was Agastya. This argument of identity was not accepted by all, and it was refuted in a brief communication that appeared in the Journal of the Mythic Society (Vol. XI. 3; p. 286) in the year 1921. Subsequently to this, no further evidence seems to have been adduced either for identity or for difference between Agastya and Vidyanatha. Some scholars echoed the view of identity and some others asserted the difference between the two and in this context simply referred the readers to the refutation which appeared in the year 1921.
While preparing the material for an edition of the Krsnacarita now presented in the following pages, I was paying attention carefully to see whether I could come across any points, textual or other type that would support either the identity or the difference between Agastya and Vidyanatha. Though I did not find any specific statement dealing directly with the issues, I feel that the two are different and not identical. I should like to state below the reasons for my opinion.
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