Sage story: Agastya Muni, Illvala and Vatapi

Sage story: Agastya Muni, Illvala and Vatapi

Once Agastya Muni was walking through the forest and came to a tree

where he saw many persons hanging upside down. He asked, “Who are you?”

and they answered, “We are your forefathers. Because you have no son,

and are also not perfectly self-realized, we have to suffer in this

condition. So either you get a son now who can perform sraddha for us

and deliver us from this condition, or we’ll just have to go on like

this waiting for you to get full self-realization.”

So Agastya, deciding he should save his forefathers, went to one king

and begged for his daughter. But the king replied, “I have no

children.” So Agastya warned the king of the fate of his forefathers,

and then called all the beauty of the universe into one place, which

became a baby girl. He gave the girl to the king, saying “Here is your

daughter. You raise her up. She’ll grow to youthful maturity in just

one week – I’ll return then to take her as my wife.”

And so that came to pass. But when he had taken her to his ashram, and

proposed to her that they now produce a child, she said “If you want to

live as a grhastha with me, then you must provide suitable opulence. I

was raised by a king, so this ashrama life is not suitable for me. Of

course, I am your wife, so I will serve you in any case. But if you

wish to keep this present standard, then don’t ask me to bear you a son.

I’ll serve you as a brahmacarini.”

So then Agastya Muni went to beg charity from a king. That king took

him to the treasure-house and gave him his account book. “You look at

the earnings and expenditures – if you find any profit, I’ll give it to

you.” But Agastya, upon examing the bookkeeping, saw that this king had

no profit – all his tax collection was spent on the welfare of his


So he asked the king if there was any other king who had great wealth,

and that king told where Agastya should go. But Agastya said, “You are

also in need of extra money, so you just come with me and get some

charity from this king too.” So they both went. At this new king’s

palace, the same thing happened – that king had no extra wealth. So

Agastya and the two kings went to a third king, and found the same thing

there too. So Agastya went with the three kings to a fourth, and still

the same thing happened.

So Agastya asked the fourth king, “Please tell me who has extra wealth

that he’s not using.” That king said, “In the forest are two demon

brothers named Illvala and Vatapi. They have killed many rishis and

kings and have looted them. They do this by inviting travellers into

their house for a meal. Illvala cooks Vatapi and serves him to the

guest, saying that this is goat flesh from a sacred fire yajna. After

the guest has eated, Illvala calls “Vatapi, come out!”, and Vatapi

breaks through the stomach of the guest, killing him of course. Then

these two eat the guest and keep his wealth. In this way they’ve become

fabulously rich, and they do nothing good with their wealth.”

So Agastya went with the four kings into the forest and approached the

house of the two demons. Illvala invited them in to eat. They sat and

he served what he said was goat meat. But when he went out for a

moment, Agastya said to the four kings, “Don’t eat anything.” When

Illvala returned he inquired why the kings hadn’t eaten, and they said

“We’re following a fast. Only our guru eats.” So Illvala put all the

food before Agastya, and he ate it all. Then Agastya, rubbing his

belly, said “Vatapi, chiro bhava [Vatapi, be digested]”.

Illvala said “Vatapi come out!” But he did not. He called again and

again but to no avail. The kings told him, “This is Agastya Muni. He

knows all about you, Illvala. He knows you’ve killed many rishis and

kings. You’d better make a plan to satisfy him, because he’s angry and

will soon digest you as he has digested your brother.”

Agastya looked upon Illvala with angry eyes, declaring he would be

punished now for his sins. Illvala bowed down and pleaded, “I’ll give

anything if you spare me.” Agastya said, “Then give all your wealth to

these kings.” So then by his mystic power Agastya went with all the

wealth and the four kings to the Himalayas, to his ashrama. He called

his wife, and she saw that the whole valley was filled with gold.

Then Agastya asked the kings for charity. They gave, his wife consented

to have a child, and a son was born to them. As soon as the son

appeared from her womb, Agastya Muni left his wife and returned to the

life of a renounced sage.