Vishvamitra

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Birth of Shakuntala - Vishvamitra rejects the child and mother, because they represented to him a lapse in spiritual pursuits and his earlier renunciation of domestic/king's life.[1] Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

Brahmarshi Vishvamitra (Sanskrit: विश्वामित्र viśvā-mitra "friend of the world"; Kannada: ವಿಶ್ವಾಮಿತ್ರ; Malayalam: വിശ്വാമിത്രൻ; Telugu: విశ్వామిత్ర; Tamil: விசுவாமித்திரன் Vicuvāmittiraṉ; Thai: Swamit; Burmese: Bodaw; Javanese: Wiswamitra, Malay:Nila Purba) is one of the most venerated rishis or sages of ancient times in India. He is also credited as the author of most of Mandala 3 of the Rigveda, including the Gayatri Mantra. The Puranas mention that only 24 rishis since antiquity have understood the whole meaning of—and thus wielded the whole power of—the Gayatri Mantra. Vishvamitra is supposed to be the first, and Yajnavalkya the last.

The story of Vishvamitra is narrated in the Balakanda of Valmiki Ramayana.[2] The Mahabharata adds that Vishvamitra's relationship with Menaka resulted in a daughter, Shakuntala, whose story is narrated in the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

Vishvamitra was a king in ancient India, also called Kaushika ("descendant of Kusha"). He was a valiant warrior and the great-grandson of a great king named Kusha. The Valmiki Ramayana, prose 51 of Bala Kanda, starts with the story of Vishvamitra:

There was a king named Kusha (not to be confused with Kusha, son of Rama), a brainchild of Brahma, and Kusha's son was the powerful and verily righteous Kushanabha. One who is highly renowned by the name Gaadhi was the son of Kushanabha, and Gaadhi's son is this great-saint of great resplendence, Vishvamitra. Vishvamitra ruled the earth, and this great-resplendent king ruled the kingdom for many thousands of years.[citation needed]

His story also appears in various Puranas; however, with variations from the Ramayana. The Vishnu Purana and Harivamsha chapter 27 (dynasty of Amaavasu) of Mahabharatha narrates the birth of Vishvamitra. According to Vishnu Purana,[3] Kushanabha married a damsel of the Purukutsa dynasty (later called as Shatamarshana lineage - descendents of the Ikshvaku king Trasadasyu) and had a son by name Gaadhi, who had a daughter named Satyavati (not to be confused with the Satyavati of Mahabharata).

Satyavati was married to an old Brahmin known as Ruchika who was foremost among the race of Bhrigu. Ruchika desired a son having the qualities of a Brahmin, and so he gave Satyavati a sacrificial offering (charu) which he had prepared to achieve this objective. He also gave Satyavati's mother another charu to make her conceive a son with the character of a Kshatriya at her request. But Satyavati's mother privately asked Satyavati to exchange her charu with her. This resulted in Satyavati's mother giving birth to Vishvamitra, the son of a Kshatriya Gadhi with the qualities of a Brahmin; and Satyavati gave birth to Jamadagni, the father of Parashurama, a Brahmin with qualities of a Kshatriya.

Conflict with Vashista[edit]

On one of his exploits, King Kaushika and his soldiers took rest in the ashram of Rishi Vashista. There, his whole army was well-fed and taken care of. This caused the king to doubt how it was possible for the simple ashram to handle the arrangements of feeding an entire army. He expressed his surprise to the sage. Vashista replied,

"O king, this feast that you have partaken with your kinsmen, has been provided by my calf Nandini (sometimes referred as Sabala), who was gifted to me by Indra. You must know that she is the daughter of Indra's cow Kamadhenu. She provides me with everything I need."

Kaushika was filled with wonder when he heard this. He began to think that possessing this cow would mean a lot to him; after all, the sage did not have to provide food and sustenance for a large army everyday. He expressed a desire to the sage for obtaining Nandini from him. Vashista was polite, but steadfast in his refusal. He would not be tempted by the offer of untold wealth that was made by Kaushika, for after all who can set a price on a cow, which can readily yield all the riches in the world.

The king grew exceedingly angry. He insulted the Brahmarishi with harsh words, and ordered his soldiers to seize the cow, and drive it to his kingdom. Nandini was the daughter of Kamdhenu and hence she forcefully protested against the soldiers. Using her powers, she saved the life of Vashista.

Alternative Version[edit]

Vashista destroys vishvamitra's entire army by the simple use of his great mystic and spiritual powers, breathing the Aum syllable.


Vishvamitra then undertakes a tapasya for several years to please Shiva, who bestows upon him the knowledge of celestial weaponry. He proudly goes to Vashista's ashram again, and uses all kinds of powerful weapons to destroy Vashista and his hermitage. He succeeded in the killings of Vasishtha's thousand sons but not in the former.

An enraged Vashista brings out his brahmadanda, a wooden stick imbued with the power of Brahma. It consumes Vishvamitra's most powerful weapons, including the brahmastra. Vashista then attempts to attack vishvamitra, but his anger is allayed by the Devas. Vishvamitra is left humiliated while Vashista restores his hermitage.

Tapasya[edit]

Vishvamitra and Menaka, painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

This incident made a deep impression on the King. He realized that the power obtained by penances was far greater than mere physical might. He renounced his kingdom and began his quest to become a greater rishi than Vashista. He took on the name Vishvamitra. It is very interesting to see all the challenges that Viswamitra faced in his life to become a Brahmarishi, before eventually giving up the greed to possess the cow. After many trials and undergoing many austerities, Vishvamitra at last obtained the title of Brahmarishi from Vashista himself. During this time he had a daughter named Shakuntala (who appears in the Mahabharata) with Menaka, an apsara in the court of Indra. Son of Shakuntala became a great emperor. He came to be known as Emperor Bharata, in whose name the land of India got its name Bharatha.

Alternative version[edit]

"Kaushika" seeks to attain the same spiritual power as Vashista, to become his equal, a brahmarishi. He undertakes a fierce penance for one thousand years, after which Brahma names him a Rajarishi, or royal sage.

After another long penance of thousand years, Brahma names him a rishi, thus leaving his royal lineage permanently. And Brahma suggest him to take Bramharshi grade from his guru Vashista only, as he only has the power to call you as Brahmarshi.

At this point, Indra, the king of Swarga attempts to test the tapasvin by sending Menaka, an apsara to seduce him. Kaushik then lives with Menaka for 10 years. They have a baby girl Shakuntala. Kaushik becomes angry as Menaka had destroyed his years of meditation and thus he cursed her that she won't possess her beauty, of which she was proud, in next birth.

Kaushika now goes to the banks of the river Kaushiki, which is the spirit of his own sister. After many thousands of years of penance, Brahma names him maharishi, but also tells him that he hasn't become a jitendriya yet, lacking control over his passions. This is brought to light to Kaushika when he angrily curses Rambha, an apsara sent by Indra to seduce Kaushika again, to become a stone for a thousand years.

Visvamitra is addressed as Maharishi by Brahma and other gods alarmed by his austerities

Rise to Brahmarishi[edit]

After cursing Rambha, Kaushika goes to the highest mountain of the Himalayas to perform an even more severe tapasya for over a thousand years. He ceases to eat, and reduces his breathing to a bare minimum.

He is tested again by Indra, who comes as a poor Brahmin begging for food just as Kaushika is ready to break a fast of many years by eating some rice. Kaushika instantly gives his food away to Indra and resumes his meditation. Kaushika also finally masters his passions, refusing to be provoked by any of Indra's testing and seductive interferences.

At the penultimate culmination of a multi-thousand year journey, Kaushika's yogic power is at a peak. At this point, Brahma, at the head of the Devas led by Indra, names Kaushika a brahmarishi, and names him Vishvamitra, or Friend of All for his unlimited compassion. He is also embraced by Vashista, and their enmity is instantly ended.

Vishvamitra's Characteristics[edit]

As a former king, and one over as vast a realm as he had been, Vishvamitra was known to retain a regal and often haughty bearing. He was known for his high temper and often cursed people in his anger, thereby depleting his yogic powers obtained by much penance. People feared his temper and prayed that their actions might not get misconstrued by the touchy sage.

However, as a former king, Vishvamitra also possessed great compassion for all beings. Having taken pity on Trishanku, he willingly exhausted all the punya he gained from his tapas, to enable him to ascend to the heavens. Following his attainment of the status of brahmarishi, he was known to use the power of his tapas to help anyone who was in need, whatever the cost to himself.

Kaushika's love of Menaka is considered to have been intense and passionate.

Gayatri Mantra[edit]

Vishvamitra is said to have found the Gayatri Mantra. It is a mantra found in the Rig, Yajur, and Sama Vedas. Gayathri is actually a "Chandas" or meter.

Legends[edit]

Vishvamitra is featured in many legendary stories and in different works of the Sanatana dharma.

Trisanku[edit]

Indra prevents Trisanku from ascending to Heaven in physical form-from The Freer Ramayana

Another story Vishvamitra is known for is his creation of his own version of Svarga or heaven, called Trisanku Svarga.

When a proud King Trisanku asked his guru Vashista to send him to heaven in his own body, the guru responded that the body cannot ascend to heaven. King Trisanku then asked Vashista's hundred sons to send him to heaven. The sons, believing that Trisanku should not come to them after their father had refused, took outrage and cursed Trisanku to be a Chandala, or untouchable. Trisanku was transformed into a person with body smeared of ash, clothed in black and wearing iron jewelry. Since none of his subjects could recognize him, he was driven out of the kingdom.

Trisanku came across the sage Vishvamitra, however, who agreed to help him. Vishvamitra organized a great sacrifice and ritual propitiating the Devas, pleading that they accept Trisanku into heaven. Not one Deva responded. Angered, Vishvamitra used his yogic powers and ordered Trisanku to rise to heaven. Miraculously, Trisanku rose into the sky until he reached heaven, where he was pushed back down by Indra.

Enraged even more by this, Vishvamitra commenced the creation of another Universe (including another Brahma) for Trisanku. He had only completed the Universe when Brihaspati ordered him to stop. Trisanku, however, did not fully transcend through the Trisanku Svarga created for him. He remained fixed in the sky and was transformed into a constellation.

In the process of forming a new universe, Vishvamitra used up all the tapas he had gained from his austerities. Therefore after the Trisanku episode, Vishvamitra had to start his prayers again to attain the status of a Brahma Rishi, to equal Vashista.

Ambarisha's Sacrifice[edit]

Ambarisa offers the youth Sunahsepha in sacrifice

While undertaking a penance, Kaushika helps a boy named Shunashepa who has been sold by his parents to be sacrificed at Ambarisha's yagna to please Varuna. The king's son Rohit does not want to be the one sacrificed, as was originally promised to Varuna, so young Sunashepa is taken. A devastated and terrified Sunashepa falls at the feet of Kaushika, who is deep in meditation, and begs for his help.[4]

Kaushika teaches secret mantras to Sunashepa. The boy sings these mantras at the ceremony, is blessed by Indra and Varuna, and Ambarisha's ceremony is completed.

In the Ramayana[edit]

Vishvamitra looks as Rama breaks the bow, winning the hand of Sita in marriage. Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

In the Indian epic Ramayana, Vishvamitra is the preceptor of Rama, prince of Ayodhya and the seventh Avatar of Vishnu, and his brother Lakshmana.

Vishvamitra gives them the knowledge of the Devastras or celestial weaponry [bala and adi bala], trains them in advanced religion and guides them to kill powerful demons like Tataka, Maricha and Subahu. He also leads them to the svayamvara ceremony for princess Sita, who becomes the wife of Rama.

Vishvamitra In Buddhism[edit]

In the Buddhist Vinaya Pitaka of the Mahavagga (I.245)[5] section the Buddha pays respect to Vishwamitra by declaring that the Veda in its true form was declared to the Vedic rishis "Atthako, Vâmako, Vâmadevo, Vessâmitto, Yamataggi, Angiras, Bhâradvâjo, Vâsettho, Kassapo, and Bhagu"[6] and because that true Veda was altered by some priests he refused to pay homage to the altered version.[7]

Gotras[edit]

There are a very few gotras, or lineages, which are derived from Vishvamitra. Kaushika, Lohit, Raukshak, Kamkayana, Aja, Katab, Dhananjaya, Agamarkhan, Puran and Indrakaushika are from sage Vishvamitra.[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nijhawan, A. (2009). Excusing the female dancer, South Asian Popular Culture, 7(2), pp 99-112
  2. ^ "Valmiki Ramayana". Valmikiramayan.net. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  3. ^ "Viśwamitra". Mythfolklore.net. 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  4. ^ Pargiter, F.E. (1972) [1922]. Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, p.92.
  5. ^ P. 494 The Pali-English dictionary By Thomas William Rhys Davids, William Stede
  6. ^ P. 245 The Vinaya piṭakaṃ: one of the principle Buddhist holy scriptures ..., Volume 1 edited by Hermann Oldenberg
  7. ^ The Vinaya Pitaka's section Anguttara Nikaya: Panchaka Nipata, P. 44 The legends and theories of the Buddhists, compared with history and science By Robert Spence Hardy
  8. ^ http://www.vepachedu.org/manasanskriti/Brahmins.html"Gotras derived from sage Vishvamitra"