Maharishi Vashishtha (Sanskrit: वशिष्ठ, वसिष्ठ, IAST: Vaśiṣṭha, Vasiṣṭha, Thai: Vasit, Tamil: வசிட்டர்) is one of the Saptarishis (seven great Rishis) in the seventh, i.e. the present Manvantara, or age of Manu. Vashistha is a manasputra of God Brahma. He had in his possession the divine cow Kamadhenu, and Nandini her child, who could grant anything to their owners. Arundhati is the name of the wife of Vashista. RigVeda 7:33 mentions Vashishtha rishi as son of MitraVaruṇa and Urvasi.
Vashistha, as one of 9 Prajapatis, is credited as the chief author of Mandala 7 of the Rigveda. Vashistha and his family are glorified in RV 7.33, extolling their role in the Battle of the Ten Kings, making him the only mortal besides Bhava to have a Rigvedic hymn dedicated to him. Another treatise attributed to him is "Vashistha Samhita" – a book on the Vedic system of electional astrology.
Arundhati and Maharishi Vashisht pair of stars
Mizar is known as Vashisht and Alcor is known as Arundhati in traditional Indian astronomy. The pair is considered to symbolise marriage (Maharishi Vashisht and Arundhati were a married couple) and, in some Hindu communities, priests conducting a wedding ceremony allude to or point out the constellation as a symbol of the closeness marriage brings to a couple. Since Vashisht was married to Arundhati, he was also called Arundhati Natha, meaning the husband of Arundhati.
In the Vinaya Pitaka of the Mahavagga (I.245) section the Buddha pays respect to Maharishi Vashisht by declaring that the Veda in its true form was declared to the Vedic rishis "Atthako, Vâmako, Vâmadevo, Vessâmitto, Yamataggi, Angiraso, Bhâradvâjo, Vâsettho, Kassapo, and Bhagu" and because that true Veda was altered by some priests he refused to pay homage to the altered version.
Maharishi Vashisht is believed to have narrated Vishnu Purana along with Rishi Pulatsya. He has also contributed to many Vedic hymns and is seen as the arranger of Vedas during Dwapara Yuga. He is believed to have appeased Rishi Parasara, who was proceeding to curse the Rakshasas to be non-existent.
As family priest
Maharishi Vashisht was the family priest of many kings across different yugas or ages. The notable one being king Saudasa, who once hunted down one of the two rakshasas in the form of tigers. The tiger that escaped vowed to take revenge on the king. During one of the sacred offerings to Sage Vashisht by the king, the rakshasa appeared incognito as the Sage and prepared food made out of human flesh. The Sage who came later was offered the food. Knowing that it was made of human flesh, he cursed the king and later knowing that it was because of the action of the rakshasa, he reduced the curse to twelve years as he could not take back the whole curse.
There was another king Nimi who requested the Sage to conduct sacrifice for 100 years. Maharishi Vashisht was busy at the time with a similar yadnya for Indra, the king of celestial deities and said he would return to do the yadnya. After 500 years, when he came back, he found that the king Nimi was doing the yadnya with another Sage Gautama. He cursed the king that he would cease to exist in bodily form; the king cursed the Sage the same and both curses took effect. It is believed Maharishi Vashisht was born to Mitra and Varuna.
As per one legend, Maharishi Vashisht wanted to commit suicide by falling into river Sarasvati. But the river avoided it by splitting into hundreds of channels. The geological evidence of Sarasvati getting split into multiple channels is associated with this legend.
Conflicts with Sage Vishwamitra
On one of his exploits, King Kaushika, who would later go on to become Vishwamitra, and his soldiers took rest in the hermitage of Maharishi Vashisht. The whole army was well-fed and taken care of by the sage. The king doubted the possibility and expressed his surprise to the sage as to how he was able to take care of the whole arrangements. Maharishi Vashisht replied,
"O king, this feast that you have partaken with your kinsmen, has been provided by my calf Nandini, 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."
King Kaushika was surprised and he planned to attain the cow by all means. He expressed a desire to the sage for obtaining Nandini from him. Maharishi Vashisht politely refused to give the cow to the king. Maharishi Vashisht was not tempted by the offer of untold wealth that was made by Kaushika for the cow, which can readily yield all the riches in the world.
The King grew exceedingly angry and he insulted the Brahmarishi with harsh words. He also ordered his soldiers to seize the cow, and drive it to his kingdom. Nandini was the daughter of Kamadhenu and hence she forcefully protested against the soldiers. Maharishi Vashisht saved the cow by destroying all of the king's army with his superhuman powers. The king Kaushika went on to do penance to become Brahmarishi, to match Vashisht. He was initially conferred the name Vishwamitra and the title Rajarishi.
In one of the later encounters, Vishwamitra cursed the king Harishchandra to become a crane. Maharishi Vashisht accompanied him by becoming a bird himself. There were several such instances of violent encounter between the sages and at times, Brahma, the god of creation, had to interfere.
The "Vashisht head"
A copper item representing a human head styled in the manner described for Vashisht has been dated to around 3700 BC in three western universities using among other tests carbon 14 tests, spectrographic analysis, X-ray dispersal analysis and metallography.
The head was not found in an archaeological context, as it was rescued from being melted down in Delhi, and has also been seen of questionable veracity as it bears a legible inscription and could simply have be created by recycling material from older copper.
Maharishi Vashisht temples
There is an Ashram dedicated to Maharishi Vashisht in Guwahati, India. This Ashram is situated close to Assam Meghalaya border to the south of Guwahati city and is a major tourist attraction of Guwahati. Vashisht Temple is situated in Vashisht village, Himachal Pradesh. Vashisht Cave, a cave on the banks of Ganges River at Shivpuri, 18 km from Rishikesh is also locally believed to be his winter abode, and houses a Shiva temple, also near by is Arundhati Cave.
Guru Vashisht is also the primary deity at the Arattupuzha temple known as Arattupuzha Sree dharmasastha in Arattupuzha village in Thrissur district of Kerala. The famous Arattupuzha Pooram is an yearly celebration where Sri Rama comes from the Thriprayar Sri Rama temple to pay obeisance to his Guru at the Arattupuzha temple.
A new temple and ashram are under development in the hills of Vagamon, Kerala, S. India as seat for ayurveda and other Vedic wisdom http://www.vasishtashram.org/
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- Born of their love for Urvasi, Vasiṣṭha thou, priest, art son of Varuṇa and Mitra;
And as a fallen drop, in heavenly fervour, all the Gods laid thee on a lotus-blossom
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... the seven rishis in the constellation Saptarishi (Ursa Major) ... In Vasishta (Zeta), its tiny companion star is named after Arundhati, the wife of Vashisht ... today known by their Arabic names Dubhe (Kratu), Merak (Pulaha), Phekda (Pulastya), Megrez (Atri), Benetnash (Marichi) and Mizar (Vashisht) ...
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... At this time, the pundit shows the couple the Arundhati star in the sky to suggest closeness of the married couple. ... the star Vashisht of the Big Dipper constellation (Saptarishi Mandalam) and it is the star system called Mizar ...
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