Vasistha Rishi


The Marriage of Sita and Rama
Trichinopoly, c. 1830
British Museum Collection

Sep 05, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A study of the famous Rishis and Munis of Vedic literature.

Today we look at another of the great sages in the category of the 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.


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