Showing posts with label Vasistha Rishi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vasistha Rishi. Show all posts

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Vasistha Rishi

Vasistha Rishi 

Saptarishis -- the Rishi Vasistha. Vasistha is among the Seven Great Sages in the current manvantara, or age of Manu. Sage Vasistha is often pictured with Kamadhenu and her child, Nandini, the Wish-fulfilling Cow. He is married to Arundhuti, and RgVeda (7:33) states that he is the son of MitraVaruṇa and Urvasi.

One of the nine Prajapatis, Vasistha is credited as being the chief author of Mandala 7 of the RgVeda. He and his family are glorified in RV 7.33, which glorifies their role in the Battle of the Ten Kings. He is thus the only mortal besides Bhava Rishi to have a Rigvedic hymn dedicated to him.

Another treatise attributed to Rishi Vasistha is the Vasistha Samhita another source book on the science of Jyotish.

Vasistha is shown in the painting above (far right), which depicts the wedding of Sita and Rama. King Dasaratha is standing behind the groom along with Rishi Vasistha. Behind Sita is her father, King Janaka.

Vasistha Rishi is recognizable in many historical artworks by his hair, which is worn in the distinctive jata makuta style of the ascetics, piled high on his head. Lord Vishnu and Shiva are often depicted with jata makuta, meaning their conical crown. 'Jata' are the twisted locks of hair, and 'makuta' is the 'crest' or ornament of the crown/headpiece.

There is an interesting reference to the hair of great sages like Vasistha found in Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.3:

"The seven great sages [Marici, Vasistha, Atri and so on] reside on planets beneath Dhruvaloka. Well aware of the influence of the water of the Ganges, to this day they keep Ganges water on the tufts of hair on their heads. They have concluded that this is the ultimate wealth, the perfection of all austerities, and the best means of prosecuting transcendental life. Having obtained uninterrupted devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they neglect all other beneficial processes like religion, economic development, sense gratification and even merging into the Supreme. Just as jnanis think that merging into the existence of the Lord is the highest truth, these seven exalted personalities accept devotional service as the perfection of life."

Being the family priest of King Dasaratha, Vasistha Rishi is mentioned throughout the Ramayana. It was Vasistha who advised Dasaratha to perform a fire yagna in order to beget a child, thus Lord Rama manifested as his eldest son in order to kill the demon Ravana.

After the long and bitter fight between them, Ravana finally came face-to-face with Rama on the battlefield. Rama hurled his Brahmastra at Ravana, chanting the mantras Vasistha had taught him. The Brahmastra emitted scorching flames which pierced the demon's heart, killing him.

The Ramayana also tells the story of a great feud between Rishi Vasistha and Brahmarshi Vishvamitra, another great sage mentioned in Rig Veda. We will summarize some of these stories in our next segment.

The great feud between Rishi Vasistha and the sage Vishvamitra is told in both the Adi parva of Mahabharata and in the Ramayana. In the latter, the story is narrated by Satananda, King Janaka's priest, on the occasion of Rama's wedding.

The account of these events deals with not only with the pastimes of the great Rishi Vasistha, but also with the kshatriya-turned sage, Vishvamitra. The two sages took opposing sides, which resulted in the ruinous War of the Ten Kings described in the Rig Veda.

Vishvamitra is also known as the great seer who created the Gayatri Mantra, recited by the Brahmanas, and as the rescuer of his nephew, Shunahshepa from being sacrificed. As Harishachandra's priest, Vishvamitra had advised that this rare human sacrifice be performed to placate Varuna, who had afflicted the king with a physical ailment for having broken his vows.

The conflict between Vasistha and Vishvamitra, as narrated by Chitraratha, revolves around Mother Khamadhenu, the Wish-fulfilling Cow. Here are excerpts of the story, as summarized by Prof. P. Lal in a series of presentations on Mahabharata:

Vishvamitra, the king of Kanyakubja, chanced upon Vasistha's hermitage, exhausted after a hunt. The sage entertained the king and his retinue with all types of food and gifts, with the help of Khamadhenu. Vishvamitra decided that he must have Nandini, the baby cow, for himself, and he attempted to take her from Rishi Vasistha by force.

Vasistha Rishi did not wish to oppose the king with violence, and as he told Nandini,

"But what can I do? I am a Brahmin.
I must overlook Vishvamitra
though he beats you
and drags you away"…
But the maha-muni
would not give up patience,
nor would he break his vow,
though touched by Nandini's suffering.
Vashishtha said, "A Ksatriya's strength
lies in his body, a Brahmin's
lies in the spirit of fortitude.
I will not give up fortitude."
(Sambhava, Adi Parva, 177.24.27-28)

The Rishi tells Nandini that she is free to stay if she can manage to, and the moment she hears this, the cow produces myriads of Dravidas, Keralas, Kanchis, Simhalas, Pahlavas, Shakas, Yavanas, Kiratas, Paundras, Hunas, Chinas, Barbaras, Chibukas, Pulindas, and other mlechchha armies who then routed the king's forces.

Vasistha himself foiled all Vishvamitra's arrows and weaponry with his mystic powers. This impressed the king so deeply that he renounced his kingdom and began penance, hoping to win the same powers for himself as a brahmarshi. His desires are not fulfilled, however, as his envious nature overtakes him, and he arranges for an asuric spirit to possess king Kalmashapada, inspiring him to kill all of Vasistha Rishi's progeny. Still, the saintly Rishi did not strike back:

"When Vashishtha learnt
that Vishvamitra had schemed
and got his sons killed, he bore his grief
as maha-Meru bears the earth…
decided to sacrifice his life
rather than harm Kaushika-Vishvamitra."

The Rishi's desire to end his life was frustrated, however, by the intervention of two holy rivers, named Vipasha and Shatadru after the pastime. Later, although his sons were now dead, Vasistha discovered that his daughter-in-law was carrying his grandson, Parashara.

As the story continues of Rishi Vasistha's great feud with the sage Vishvamitra, after the untimely death of his sons at the hand of his nemesis, his life was renewed by the discovery that a grandson, Parashara, was to be born.

Despite his personal situation the Rishi, being of spotless character, performed many selfless deeds. Having freed Kalmashapada from the bonds of being a rakshasa, Vasistha's noble spirit became known even to Vishvamitra. And even though his own sons had been slain, Vasistha was willing to assist king Dileep, who was suffering a barren marriage.

When the king came to Vasistha for help, he explained to the king that the reason for his being childless was due to his having offended Khamadhenu, by walking past her without greeting her. The Rishi thus instructed the king that if he would serve Kamadhenu's child, the calf Nandini for 21 days, he would beget a child.

The king did as Vasistha Rishi instructed, but on the 21st day a strange occurrence took place. Nandini was attacked by a lion. King Dileep drew his bow to shoot the lion, but found that his arm was paralyzed, and he could not shoot. Realizing that the lion had some mystic powers, he begged it to let Nandini go, and to instead take him as his prey.

Just as the king was about to give up his life, the lion disappeared. Nandini then explained that this had been a test, admirably passed by the king, and that he would now beget the desired son, who became known as Raghu.

Brahmarishi Vasistha's long feud with Vishvamitra came to an end one night, when Vishvamrita came to kill the great Rishi. On reaching his ashram, Vishvamitra overheard Mahrishi Vasistha saying to his wife, "On this moonlit night, only a person like Vishvamitra can engage himself in tapas to please God." Hearing these words of praise, Vishvamitra became greatly ashamed. He repented by throwing away his weapons and falling at the feet of Rishi Vasistha.

Vasistha also had an asrama near Ayodhya, which covered over 40 acres. The King of Ayodhya at that time was King Ishvaku. When drought or famine plagued the people, the Rishi would produce rains through his tapobal (powers acquired through penance). He also caused the Saryu River to flow to the dhama, bringing needed water. And if the royal family of Ayodhya faced any difficulties, Brahmarishi Vasishta would remove them. Vasistha's Ayodhya asrama exists to this day, although now situated on just a quarter-acre of land. The asrama's well is believed to be the source of the river Saryu.

Likewise, when Bhagirath became tired in his efforts to induce Mother Ganga to pour her waters onto the Earth planet, it was Vasistha Rishi who encouraged him, giving him the requisite mantra to accomplish the deed.

Mahrishi Vasistha authored the great work, Yogvashishtha, which is a treatise on spiritual knowledge. Many of his excellent pastimes are mentioned in sastra, each one demonstrating his great nobility of spirit, loyalty, and adherence to proper dharma.