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. Vashista 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 Vashistha pair of stars
Mizar is known as Vashistha and Alcor is known as Arundhati in traditional Indian astronomy. The pair is considered to symbolise marriage (Vashistha 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 Vasishta 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 Vashistha 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.
Vashistha is believed to have narrated Vishnu Purana along with sage 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 sage Parasara, who was proceeding to curse the Rakshasas to be non-existent.
As family priest
Vashistha 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 Vashishta 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. Vahistha was busy at the time with a similar sacrifice for Indra, the king of celestial deities and said he would return to do the sacrifice. After 500 years, when he came back, he found that the king Nimi was doing the sacrifice 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 Vashistha was born to Mitra and Varuna.
As per one legend, Vashistha 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 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 sage Vashista. 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. Vashista 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."
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. Vashista politely refused to give the cow to the king. Vashista was not be 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. Vashishta 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 Vashista. 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. Vashista 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 "Vashistha head"
A copper item representing a human head styled in the manner described for Vashistha 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.
In the Nepali Gotra system Paneru, Chalise, Bhattarai, Dawadi, Bhaskar Bhandari, Suyal, Raut, Suyel, Thansinge Bharadi and Dharti Kharel come under Vasishta Gotra. Known direct descendents of Rishi Vishista in India are Chandan Brahmins clan residing in lower Shivalik Hills.
- Woodroffe, Sir John (1913). "Introduction and Preface". Mahānirvāna Tantra: Tantra of the Great Liberation. London: Luzac & Co. OCLC 6062735.
- "according to Rig Veda 7.33:11 he is the son of Maitravarun and Urvashi" Prof. Shrikant Prasoon, Pustak Mahal, 2009, ISBN 8122310729, 9788122310726. 
- "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." 
- V.Chandran. Astronomy Quiz Book. Pustak Mahal, 1993. ISBN 978-81-223-0366-7.
... the seven rishis in the constellation Saptarishi (Ursa Major) ... In Vasishta (Zeta), its tiny companion star is named after Arundhati, the wife of Vasishta ... today known by their Arabic names Dubhe (Kratu), Merak (Pulaha), Phekda (Pulastya), Megrez (Atri), Benetnash (Marichi) and Mizar (Vasishta) ...
- M.K.V. Narayan. Flipside of Hindu Symbolism: Sociological and Scientific Linkages in Hinduism. Fultus Corporation, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59682-117-0.
... At this time, the pundit shows the couple the Arundhati star in the sky to suggest closeness of the married couple. ... the star Vasishta of the Big Dipper constellation (Saptarishi Mandalam) and it is the star system called Mizar ...
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- Atreya, B L (1981) [1935)]. The Philosophy of the Yoga Vashista. A Comparative Critical and Synthetic Survey of the Philosophical Ideas of Vashista as presented in the Yoga-Vashista Maha-Ramayan. Based on a thesis approved for the degree of Doctor of Letters in the Banaras Hindu University. Moradabad: Darshana Printers. p. 467.
- Atreya, B L (1993). The Vision and the Way of Vashista. Madras: Indian Heritage Trust. p. 583. OCLC 30508760. Selected verses, sorted by subject, in both Sanskrit and English text.
- Vālmīki (2002) . The Essence of Yogavaasishtha. Compiled by Sri Jnanananda Bharati, transl. by Samvid. Chennai: Samata Books. p. 344. Sanskrit and English text.
- Vālmīki (1976). Yoga Vashista Sara: The Essence of Yoga Vashista. trans. Swami Surēśānanda. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam. p. 29. OCLC 10560384. Very short condensation.