Sep 16, 2014 CANADA (SUN) A study of the famous Rishis and Munis of Vedic literature.
Our brief series on the Saptarishis offers only a glimpse of the many Rishis glorified in Vedic literature, what to speak of the breadth and depth of Vedic knowledge they have imparted. The Saptarishis and other Maharishis deliver the Absolute Truth in the form of mantram, and demonstrate for humanity knowledge in all areas of life, from performing yagna to varnasrama, yoga, science, cosmology, physics, ayurveda, mathematics, astrology and palmistry, samvat, vimana and space travel, and medicine.
These divine personalities appear across the ages, in the different Manvantaras. Vedic literature mentions ancient and medieval Rishis, but also 'modern' Rishis from the ancient Vedic period. We know of no definitive count of the number of Rishis -- not even an exact count of the Saptarishis, what to speak of the inconceivable number of others. As mentioned in our segment on Kratu Rishi, his sons, the Valkhilyas, alone numbered 60,000.
In general, the Rishis are distinguished by their empowerment to hear or envision, and impart Vedic mantras. Of course, each of these mantra drashtas also have attributed to them a long list of devotional potencies, achievements and pastimes. They deliver the Absolute Truth in sound vibration, and establish that Truth as it is embodied in all forms of social activity: science, medicine, household life, agriculture, etc. As described in the Mahabharata:
yugante anterhitan vedan setihasan maharshayah
tapasya lebhire purvamanugyatah swayambhuway
"Those are the rishis who brought back the Mantras from oblivion through their penance. After the deluge and at the end of a yuga, the Vedas were lost in the oblivion. They were brought back by the Maharshis who recreated them through penance at the beginning of another."
The Rig Veda 10.71.3 states:
yagyena vachah padveeyama
tamabhritya vyadadhuh purutra
tam sapta rebha abhi sam navante
'The learned or the Rishis receive the meaning of great words through their indulgence into yajna or magnanimous deeds. The words were revealed to and received by the heart of the essence-knowing Rishis. After receiving they popularised them. In this way they expressed them in the form of prayers.' ['By means of the sacrifices they (the Brahamanas) found the meaning of the speech which they found dwelling in the Rishis.']
Beginning with the original four Rishis, the four Kumaras -- Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatana, and Sanat -- countless Rishis have manifest over the ages. There exists a particular hierarchy and what might be loosely described as a 'transcendental competition' among the Rishis. There are the Munis who aspire to be Rishis, and Rishis who aspire, through prayer and penance, to be Maharshis and Brahmarishis.
There are also the divine kings who became Rishis, known as the Rajarishis, as well as the Devarishis, who travel freely among the demigods throughout the three worlds. Among the latter group, Rishi Narada is the most famous of all. And of course, Srila Vedavyasa is the spotless Rishi and deliverer of Vedanta.
It would no doubt take many lifetimes to catalog the glorious pastimes of the Vedic Rishis, who are scattered like gems on the beach of Sri Krsna's all-pervading transcendental ocean. But one could begin right here, with a list of more than 400 of these divine personalities: