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Pothigai Hills
Pothigai Hills Range.jpg
Highest point
Elevation 1,866 m (6,122 ft)
Coordinates 8°37′00.09″N 77°14′46.50″E / 8.6166917°N 77.2462500°E / 8.6166917; 77.2462500
Location Thiruvananthapuram district, Tirunelveli district, Kanyakumari district, India
Parent range Anaimalai Hills

The Pothigai Hills, also known as the Agasthiyar Malai are in the Ashambu Hills, part of the Anaimalai Hills in the southern part of the Western Ghats of South India. Ancient tradition holds the mountains of Pothigai to be where the sage Agastya (Akattiyan) provided the first grammar for the Tamil language. This grammar was further fine tuned by one of his disciples in the Tolkāppiyam.


The western slope is located in the Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala state, eastern slope of Pothigai hills is in the Tirunelveli District, southern slope is located in Kanyakumari District of Tamil Nadu. At 1,866 meters, it is the highest peak in the rugged Ashambu hills, which have one of the richest concentrations of biodiversity in the Western Ghats.[1] The area is known for its spectacular views, beautiful forests and waterfalls, ancient temples, and the river Tamirabarani, the lifeline of the region.


Statue of Agastya, 12th century CE. Shrines of Agastya, chairman of the first Tamil Sangam in Madurai Pandya kingdom, are worshipped at the Tamraparni river's source and in Sri Lanka, ancient Tamraparni

The Pothigai hills are mentioned as Potiyil, Potiyal, Pothikai and Potalaka in historical sources largely in relation to the river Tamraparni and the ancient Sage Agastya (Akattiyan).[2]

The Egyptian Greek cartographer Ptolemy names the mountain "Bettigo", from where three rivers rise, including Solen (Tamraparni River), meaning chank - the river was famous for its pearl fishing.[3][4]

At the mountains, Tamil was created by Agastya, according to Kamban and Villiputturar, while Kancipuranam and Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam assert Siva taught Agastya Tamil just as he had taught Panini Sanskrit.[5] Tamil Hindu tradition holds that Siva and Murugan taught Agastya the Tamil language, who then constructed a Tamil grammar, at Pothigai mountains.[6][7][8] According to the Tambraparni Mahatmyam, an ancient account of the river from its rise to its mouth, a string of red lotus flowers from sage Agastya at Agastya Malai, Pothigai hills, transformed itself into a damsel at the sight of Lord Siva, forming the river at the source and giving it its divine name, Tamraparni.[9] The shrine to Agastya at the Pothigai hill source of the Tamraparni river is mentioned in both Ilango Adigal's Silappatikaram and Chithalai Chathanar's Manimekhalai epics, in relation to blessings sought by Sugriva and his army from the Ramayana.[10]

Peraciriyar states that Agastya taught this grammar to Tolkappiyar, one of his twelve disciples, at Pothigai hills, who then wrote Tolkāppiyam, although mentions that some scholars believe Tolkappiyar based the Tamil grammar on other forms no longer extant; Agastya is not mentioned in Tolkāppiyam.[11] Paripāṭal of the Eṭṭuttokai anthology speaks of "vaynta Potiyin munivan", the famous sage of Poti".[12] In Naccinarkiniyar's commentaries, quoting lines of Nakkeerar, Agastya is associated with the Pothigai mountains and pure Tamil.[13] In Sundarar's Tevaram, the Pothigai mountains are mentioned.[14]

Following the establishment of Siddhar Gnana Koodam, and traveling the world to spread his knowledge, Agastya returned to Agastya Mala, the point on the Pothigai hills where he merged into the cosmos. A temple dedicated to him is built here, close to the Papanasam Falls, on the banks of the Thamirabarani River. Pilgrims believe Sage Agastya gives appearances to sincere aspirants and devotees.

Tamil Buddhist tradition developed in Chola literature, such as in Buddamitra's Virasoliyam , states Agastya learnt Tamil from the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara; the earlier Chinese traveler Xuanzang recorded the existence of a temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara in the South Indian hill Potala.[15][16] A Buddhist text, Tarasukkam, refers to Avalokitesvara as "Potalagirinivasini". The author of the Silappatikaram, utilizing the word "Potiyil" for the hills, hails the southern breeze that emanates from the hills that blows over the kingdom of the Pandyans of Madurai and Korkai that own it. Chithalai Chathanar's Manimekhalai describes a river flowing on the slope of Potiyil mountain where the Buddhist monks observed meditation. The author utilized the word "Potiyil" for Buddhist pallis.[17] In fellow Sangam work Kuṟuntokai of the Eṭṭuttokai anthology, a Buddhist vihara under a Banyan tree is described at the top of the mountain. A comment that God had disappeared from the mountain was found in Ahananuru, from whose inaccesible top the stream of clear waters flows down with noise in torrents, and the fact that old men assembled and played dice in the dilapidated temple is described in Purananuru.[18]

The Japanese scholar Shu Hikosaka on the basis of his study of Buddhist scriptures, ancient Tamil literature, as well as field survey, proposes the hypothesis that, the ancient mount Potalaka, the residence of Avalokiteśvara described in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra and Xuanzang’s Records, is the real mountain Pothigai (or Potiyil) situated at Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu.[19] Shu also says that mount Potiyil/Potalaka has been a sacred place for the people of South India from time immemorial. With the spread of Buddhism in the region beginning at the time of the great king Aśoka in the third century B.C.E., it became a holy place also for Buddhists who gradually became dominant as a number of their hermits settled there. The local people, though, mainly remained followers of the Hindu religion. The mixed Hindu-Buddhist cult culminated in the formation of the figure of Avalokiteśvara.[20]


  1. ^ The Hindu: Ashambu Heritage hills
  2. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  3. ^ Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya - 1980. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea & Ptolemy on Ancient Geography of India
  4. ^ Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, 1994. PILC Journal of Dravidic Studies: PJDS., Volume 4
  5. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  6. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan (2003), EARLY TAMIL EPIGRAPHY, Volume 62. pp. 169
  7. ^ Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta Sastri (1963) Development of Religion in South India - Page 15
  8. ^ Layne Ross Little (2006) Bowl Full of Sky: Story-making and the Many Lives of the Siddha Bhōgar pp. 28
  9. ^ The Indian Geographical Journal, Volume 15, 1940 p345
  10. ^ Ameresh Datta. Sahitya Akademi, 1987 - Indic literature. Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature: A-Devo. pp 115
  11. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  12. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  13. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  14. ^ Bertold Spuler. (1975) Handbook of Oriental Studies, Part 2 pp. 63
  15. ^ Iravatham Mahadevan (2003), EARLY TAMIL EPIGRAPHY, Volume 62. pp. 169
  16. ^ Kallidaikurichi Aiyah Nilakanta Sastri (1963) Development of Religion in South India - Page 15
  17. ^ G. Kamalakar, M. Veerender, Birla Archaeological & Cultural Research Institute Sharada Pub. House, 1 Jan 2005. Buddhism: art, architecture, literature & philosophy, Volume 1
  18. ^ Kisan World, Volume 21. Sakthi Sugars, Limited, 1994. pp. 41
  19. ^ Hirosaka, Shu. The Potiyil Mountain in Tamil Nadu and the origin of the Avalokiteśvara cult
  20. ^ Läänemets, Märt (2006). "Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara in the Gandavyuha Sutra". Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 

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