Agastya was a great sage. He remained celibate all his life and spent his time in deep meditation.
One day he found some ghosts hanging from some branches of a tree with their head facing down. The sage asked them who they were. They replied. “Son, we are your forefathers. We are stuck here in this condition because of you. Only when you produce children we get release from this bondage and reach the world above”.
The king of Vidarbha had a daughter by name Lopamudra. She was exceptionally beautiful and of excellent character. Sage Agastya heard about the princess and approached the king for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
The king was in two minds. He was reluctant to give his darling daughter to a sage living in forest. At the same time, he feared the wrath of the powerful sage. Lopamudra sensed the dilemma of her father. She told the king. “Father, do not worry on my account. I shall gladly be the wife of this sage”.
Thus, Agastya got the pretty princess of Vidarbha as wife. He asked his wife to cast away all her rich clothes and precious jewellery. They were going to live in a forest where such expensive costumes would have no meaning. Lopamudra obeyed her husband without a murmur.
The two lived several years doing penance. Lopamudra took excellent care of her husband with all her heart.
But, the sage was worried that his wife did not bear any children for him. He asked her for the reason. Lopamudra replied. “Dear husband, our way of life does not suit me to bear children and bring them up. If you want children, get me a decent place to live and wealth for their upbringing”. Agastya told her of his poverty. Where could he get the money for a house and other expenses?
Lopamudra reminded her husband that he had attained great powers through penance. He could get anything he wanted with that. But, the sage feared that years of penance would be wasted, if he spent them to gain material wealth. His good wife did not want him to make such a sacrifice for her sake and continued with her ascetic life.
In search of wealth
But, the sage wanted to get children badly. So, he set out begging for money. He approached a king and pleaded for help. The king replied. “Sage, I would have been only too pleased to give you anything you ask for. But, please look at my books account. See for yourself that what I collect as taxes are spent fully for the cause of people. Nothing is saved. If you insist, I will have to collect more taxes”. But, the sage did not want ordinary people burdened on account of him.
The king suggested another monarch of great wealth. The two approached the second ruler together. They got the same reply there. Then, Agastya went to a third king with the other two who was famous for his charities. But, the condition there was no different.
Then, one of the kings suggested the name of a demon (Asura) by name Ilvala who had amassed huge ill-gotten wealth. The sage decided to approach the demon and try his luck. The three kings also accompanied the sage.
Ilvala and Vatapi
Ilvala once requested a Brahmin to bless him for getting a son as powerful as Indra, the king of gods. The Brahmin refused the request right away. That made the demon angry. He wanted to take revenge on all Brahmins because one of them refused to grant him his wish.
He had a younger brother by name Vatapi. Being demons, the two had special powers. They came up with a plan to take revenge on Brahmins. Ilvala would turn his brother into a goat. He would invite any passer by, especially Brahmins, for a grand feast at his house. He would cut his brother, turned goat, into pieces and cook a delicacy with it. He would offer the guest this special meat dish. After meal he would call his brother out, “Vatapi”. His brother would respond from the belly of the visitor and come out alive in one piece. In the process the guest would be killed. The two demons, later, would enjoy a curry made of human flesh. All the valuables in the possession of the visitor would go into their treasure.
Agastya and the kings had heard about the trick played by the demon brothers. The kings were apprehensive. But, the sage was unnerved. As usual, Ilvala offered the special dish of goat meat. Agastya ate the dish to his fill. The kings did not touch the meat.
The meal was over and the demon was ready for the kill. He called, “Vatapi”. No reply. Probably, his brother did not hear him. “VATAPI”, called the demon aloud. Still, there was no response from the belly of the sage. By then, the elder demon was in panic. He shouted aloud looking at the belly of the sage, “VATAPI, COME OUT!”.
Sage agastya smiled and said. “Whom are you calling? If you expect anything to come out of my belly, then you are mistaken. I have digested all that I have eaten!”.
Ilvala was aghast. He played his trick once too often. Not only had he lost his brother, he now had a man in front whose power was beyond his imagination. He fell at the feet of the sage and begged for mercy for his action.
Agastya said. “What has happened has happened. We have come as we are in need of money. May be, you can help us”. Ilvala was ready to do anything to get rid of his visitors. The sage asked for enough wealth to keep his wife and his companions happy and returned the way he came.Lopamudra gave birth to a son in due course. Agastya could, thus, bring salvation to his ancestors through his son.