Vishwamitra is a great sage. He is one of the Saptarishis of this Manvantara, Vaivasvata Manvantara (if you don’t know what a Manvantara is, visit Time in Hinduism). He is the author of most of Mandala 3 of the Rigveda.
- Father: Gadhi
- Mother: Name not Known
- Sister: Satyavati
- Wives: Haimavati, Menaka
- Sons: 104 Sons
- Daughter: Shakuntala
Kusika of the Chandravansha had a son named Gadhi, who married a beautiful woman. They had a daughter named Satyavati, who married Sage Ruchika. One day, Satyavati told Ruchika that she wanted to have a son. Ruchika said that he’d create divine rice pudding which would give her a son. Satyavati requested that he also give some to her mother, as she had only had a daughter: Satyavati. Sage Ruchika meditated on Parabrahma and created two vessels of rice. One of them would give birth to a fierce warrior and the other would give birth to a great sage. He gave Satyavati the sage one and gave her mother the warrior one. He told them to hug a fig tree and an Ashwatta tree and then consume the rice pudding. Accidentally, Satyavati’s pudding got exchanged with her mother’s pudding. When Ruchika came there, he realized that Satyavati had consumed the wrong one and became really mad.
“Please, oh great rishi. It was an accident. Please change the one I consumed to sage. I don’t want to have a warrior,” Satyavati begged.
Sage Ruchika agreed and changed the pudding Satyavati had consumed, so it would also give birth to a rishi. Satyavati and Sage Ruchika had a son named Jamadagni. Gadhi and his wife had a son named Kaushika.
Kaushika became know as Vishwamitra. When he was a child, his father Gadhi taught him combat. When he grew up, he learnt all the skills of a warrior from Kusasana, a skilled Brahmin. Vishwamitra became a great warrior.
Succeeding his Father
When Gadhi became old, Vishwamitra succeeded him. Vishwamitra was a just and righteous king. He ruled over the kingdom Kanyakubja. As a king, Vishwamitra loved to hunt in the jungle.
Conflict with Vashishta
Once, while hunting with his sons and vast army, King Vishwamitra came across the hermitage of Sage Vashishta. Vishwamitra bowed down to Vashishta.
“Welcome king, sit down. How is everything in your kingdom,” Vashishta asked.
“Everything is perfect, sage,” Vishwamitra responded.
Vishwamitra and Vashishta sat and talked for some time. After some time, Vashishta said he would like to honor the king with a feast. Vishwamitra accepted but wondered where he would get all of the food from. Vishwamitra saw Vashishta call Kamdhenu. Vashishta started naming delicacies and they emerged out of Kamdhenu. Vishwamitra was astonished and wanted to have Kamdhenu for himself.
After contentedly eating, Vishwamitra asked, “Kamdhenu should belong to me. I will give you a 100,000 cows for Kamdhenu.”
Vashishta refused and said he would never part with Kamdhenu. Vishwamitra upped the reward, saying, “I will give 14,000 elephants, 800 chariots made of gold and harnessed by 4 white horses, 11,000 thoroughbred horses harnessed in gold, 10 million cows of all colors, and as much gold as you want. All you have to do is give me Kamdhenu.”
But Vashishta still refused. In fury, Vishwamitra ordered his men to capture the cow. Kamdhenu tossed aside the soldiers and fled to Vashishta.
“O Lord, why aren’t you helping me. I am in trouble,” Kamdhenu asked Vashishta.
“Dear Kamdhenu, I can’t do anything against the vast armies of Vishwamitra, Vashishta said sadly.
“Then I will create warriors to fight his armies using your spiritual powers,” Kamdhenu said.
Intensely, she produced Pahlava warriors, who were slain by Vishwamita’s army. So she produced warriors of Shaka-Yavana lineage. From her mouth, emerged the Kambhojas, from her udder Barvaras, from her hind Yavanas and Shakas, and from pores on her skin, Haritas, Kiratas, and other foreign warriors. Together, the army of Kamdhenu destroyed Vishwamitra’s army.
The sons of Vishwamitra fiercely rushed at Vashishta. Vashishta uttered one syllable and they all turned to ashes. Vishwamitra unhappily went back to Kanyakubja. He only had one son left, whom he had given the throne to. He retired the forests and began intense austerities and penance. At last, Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared in front of Vishwamitra.
“What boon do you seek, Vishwamitra,” Shiva asked.
“Let all the knowledge of weapons and warfare be mine,” Vishwamitra asked.
Shiva granted the boon and then vanished. Vishwamitra now set off to Vashishta’s hermitage to avenge his sons. As soon as he reached the hermitage, he set it on flames using his new powers. Everybody residing in the hermitage ran away. Vashishta came out and challenged Vishwamitra.
“You evil fool, you dare destroy my spiritual hermitage. I will kill you for this!” Vashishta screamed.
Vishwamitra started throwing weapon after weapon at Vashishta, but they were all absorbed by Vashishta’s staff, even the Brahmastra. Realizing that his weapons would do nothing against Vashishta’s spiritual power, Vishwamitra fled the place. He went back to Kanyakubja.
Vishwamitra and Kalmashapada
“I want to become a Brahmarshi. We shall go south and you can help me in my penance, Vishwamitra told his wife.
His wife agreed. They set off to the south and Vishwamitra began his penances. During this time, Vishwamitra bore 4 virtuous and might sons. Finally, Brahma appeared in front of him and granted him the status of Rajarshi. But Vishwamitra wasn’t satisfied with the rank of Rajarshi. He wanted to become a Brahmarshi, the highest rank of rishis. He started doing even greater penances and austerities.
There was a king named Kalmashapada. Once, he was traveling on a narrow path that only allowed one person. While traveling on the path, he encountered Shakti rishi, who also wanted to walk on the path. They started arguing on who has the right to walk on the path. King Kalmashapada became furious and hit Shakti rishi with his horse-whip. Shakti cursed Kalmashapada to became a flesh-eating Rakshasa.
Vishwamitra was passing by and recognized both the king and the rishi. Both Vishwamitra and Vashishta had wanted the king to be their disciple. But the king never agreed. Vishwamitra took this opportunity to take revenge on the king and on Vashishta. He made it so that Shakti’s curse instantly had its effect. He made an evil spirit called Kinkara to enter Kalmashapada’s body. The rakshasa spirit now had control over Kalmashapada.
Kalmashapada returned to his palace. On the way, he met a Brahmin beggar, who begged him for food. Kalmashapada ignored the beggar. When he reached his palace, he ordered his cooks to make a mixture of human flesh and rice and feed it to the Brahmin. The Brahmin immediately realized what the food was made of. He cursed the king that he would become a man-eating Rakshasa.
Kalmashapada then returned to the place where he had first been cursed by Vishwamitra. There, he again met Shakti. Because of the curse, he devoured Shakti rishi. Vishwamitra then caused the king to devour Vashishta’s hundred sons. Vashishta was devastated and had the thought of killing Vishwamitra. He easily could’ve because of spiritual powers. But he decided not to as he only used his powers for good.
Later, Kalmashapada tried to eat Vashishta. Vashishta released the rakshasa spirit from Kalmashapada’s body and forgave him.
Sending Trishanku to Heaven
Meanwhile, a king named Trishanku of the Ikshvaku dynasty was suddenly seized by an ambition. He wanted to enter Swarga in his mortal body. He called Vashishta, his guru, to help him perform a sacrifice to achieve this. Vashishta said this was impossible. Trishanku went to Vashishta’s sons for help.
“Will you become my gurus and help me achieve this,” Trishanku asked.
“How dare you seek our aid when our father and your guru has disapproved,” they said in rage.
“Then I shall go to another sage to help me,” Trishanku said.
“How dare you. May you become a chandala (outcast),” they cursed.
And so, Trishanku became a chandala, his body transformed. But Trishanku was still determined. He went to Vishwamitra, who accepted him kindly and listened to what had happened to him. Vishwamitra promised Trishanku that he would help him perform the sacrifice. Vishwamitra told his sons to make preparations for the sacrifice. He told his disciples to go call all the pious and learned of the land for the sacrifice. Vashishta and his sons refused to come. The rites began, with Vishwamitra as high priest.
After the rites, Vishwamitra said, “O devas, come and lead this great king in his own body to Swarga!”
But no devas came. Vishwamitra was really mad. He used all his spiritual power and raised Trishanku to Swarga. When Trishanku entered Swarga, Indra and the other devas barred his way.
“You have been cursed by your guru’s sons, wretched. How dare you try to enter heaven. May you fall back to Earth,” Indra said.
Trishanku started falling down. When Vishwamitra saw this he stopped Trishanku in mid-air. Vishwamitra created 7 planets of the Saptarishis around him. He also created 27 Nakshatras (stars). But this wasn’t enough for Vishwamitra. He planned to throw Indra out of Swarga and make Trishanku the king of devas (gods). When the devas got to know of his intentions, they went before Vishwamitra.
“O sage, King Trishanku has been cursed by his guru’s sons and went against his own guru. He doesn’t deserve a place in Swarga,” Indra pleaded.
“I have promised to help him. Let him enter and stay in heaven, or Indra won’t be king anymore,” Vishwamitra said firmly.
“So be it. The king will remain suspended, head downwards, with the planets that you created surrounding him. He shall become immortal,” Indra said with a sigh.
After the devas departed, Vishwamitra thought to himself, “I have helped the king, but I have also exhausted all my spiritual powers. I must start penance again.”
“I am now going to Pushkar to continue my penances,” he told his sons and disciples.
Meanwhile, King Ambarisha of Ayodhya was performing a sacrifice. Suddenly, a messenger came and told the king that the sacrificial horse had been stolen. King Ambarisha looked everywhere, but couldn’t find the horse. The actual thief was Indra. The priest told him that there was one alternative. He could kill a human instead of a horse, or else his kingdom would be in trouble. Ambarisha started looking for a human victim. Finally, he arrived at the hermitage of Saint Richika and his wife Satyavati, Vishwamitra’s sister. Richika and Satyavati decided to send their middle son, Shunahshepa for 100,000 cows. While Ambarisha and Shunahshepa are going to Ayodhya, they pass the Pushkar forest. Here, they rested for a while. While Ambarisha rested, Shunahshepa wandered around and saw Vishwamitra. He fell at Vishwamitra’s feet and told him everything that had happened.
“Oh holy one, please help me. I want to lead a spiritual and long life. I want to attain heaven. I don’t want to die right now,” Shunahshepa begged.
“Be consoled, O virtuous son. I will never let you die,” Vishwamitra consoled.
Vishwamitra turned to his four sons. “I have promised Shunahshepa that he won’t die. One of you must take his place and go with King Ambarisha,” Vishwamitra said.
“How could you let one of your own children die for someone else’s child,” one of the sons asked.
“You arrogant sons. May you lose your caste and wander about the Earth, eating the flesh of dogs,” he cursed them.
Vishwamitra then told Shunahshepa, “Here are two mantras. You must chant these mantras at the sacrificial altar. Indra will come and save you,” Vishwamitra said and taught the mantras.
Shunahshepa then went back to King Ambarisha. At the sacrificial altar, just as Shunahshepa was about to step in the fire, he chanted the mantras. Indra appeared before him and granted him a long life.
Meanwhile, Vishwamitra was frustrated. He had saved Shunahshepa from death, but he had also exhausted his spiritual power in cursing his sons. He started doing penance again at Pushkar.
Vishwamitra and Harischandra
One day Vighnaraja, the lord of obstacles, tried to distract Vishwamitra from his penance by making an illusion. The illusion portrayed the cries of a woman. Meanwhile, King Harischandra, Trishanku’s son, was on a hunting expedition and heard the cries. He rushed over to the cries and saw Vishwamitra. When Vighnaraja saw Harischandra, he went inside Vishwamitra’s body and started abusing him. Because of this, Vishwamitra woke up from his penance.
Harischandra realized that Vishwamitra was really mad on him. “I will do anything you wish,” Harichandra begged.
“Okay, then give me everything you have, except your wife and son,” Vishwamitra ordered.
Harischandra immediately gave Vishwamitra everything he had, including his clothes. Vishwamitra then demanded another donation. Harischandra said he didn’t have anything, but would a donation within a month.
Harischandra started living in poverty with his wife, son, and subjects. Vishwamitra told Harischandra to leave his subjects behind as they were part of the donation. Harischandra then decided to leave his kingdom with his family. To make them leave faster, Vishwamitra started beating Harischandra’s wife with a stick.
Soon, Harischandra left his kingdom and wandered around with his family. They soon arrived at Kashi. Vishwamitra was already over there.
“Where is your donation. It has been a month,” Vishwamitra demanded.
“There are still a few days left,” Harischandra pointed out.
“Fine. I will come back at the next sunset. You better have your donation by then,” Vishwamitra said.
Harischandra was in a dilemma. He had nothing to give to Vishwamitra.
“Sell me to someone. Then you can gain some money,” his wife Shaivya said.
After some hesitance, Harischandra sold Shaivya to an elderly man. Since his son didn’t want to let go of his mother, it was decided that his son would go with Shaivya. Soon, Vishwamitra appeared again and asked for the donation. He gave Vishwamitra all the money he had gained from selling his wife and son. But Vishwamitra wanted more money. Harischandra decided to sell himself to a chandala (outcast). But since Harischandra was a kshatriya, he couldn’t sell himself to an outcast. He decided to sell himself to Vishwamitra.
“Since you are my slave, I can order you to do anything. My first and only order is that you become the chandala’s slave,” Vishwamitra ordered.
Harischandra started working at the chandala’s cremation ground. One day, Harischandra had a nightmare of his past sins. In this nightmare, Shaivya was crying before him. When he woke up, Shaivya was actually crying before him, holding the body of their dead son.
“Our son was bitten by a snake,” she mourned.
Harischandra was depressed by this news. He thought of committing suicide but realized that he would have to continue paying for his sins in his next life. Shaiya prepared to cremate the dead body of their son. Harischandra came and said that she would have to pay.
At that moment, the chandala turned into Yama. All the other devas and Vishwamitra appeared there and praised Harischandra. Vishwamitra told Harischandra that everything was a test. Harischandra went back to his normal lifestyle as a king.
Penance Disturbed by the Devas
Vishwamitra continued his penance at Pushkar. One day, while Vishwamitra was at the bank of Pushkar Lake, he spotted the irresistible apsara Menaka bathing in the lake. When she came out naked, he declared her immense love for her. After spending a few months together, enjoying each other’s company, they once engaged in sexual intercourse and had a girl named Shakuntala.
A few years passed before Vishwamitra realized that Menaka had been sent by the devas to distract him from his penance. He instantly told Menaka to go back to Swarga.
Vishwamitra then decided to go to the Himalayas on the bank of the Kaushiki river for his penances. This time, his penances were so severe that the gods were perturbed. They went to Brahma for help. Brahma told them that he will make Vishwamitra a Maharshi. Brahma appeared before Vishwamitra and granted him the status of Maharshi.
“All of this penance just for Maharshi. I will have to subdue my passions further,” Vishwamitra said.
“Yes, you have not yet gained mastery over your senses,” Brahma replied.
Vishwamitra made his penances and austerities even more severe. In summer, he stood on one leg in the midst of a blazing fire, living only on air. He continued through the rainy season. And in winter, he stood in the middle he stood in the middle of a cold stream.
The devas were once again perturbed. Indra sent the apsara Rambha to disturb Vishwamitra’s penances. Indra sat on a nearby branch in the form of a cuckoo. Indra started singing notes. Rambha then slowly approached Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra opened his eyes and saw the beautiful Rambha. But not for a second did he feel any attraction towards her.
“Rambha, I curse you that you will be turned into a rock. You shall remain a rock for 10,000 years till a Brahmin comes and delivers you,” he cursed.
Indra immediately fled from the scene. Vishwamitra was frustrated. He had once again used all his spiritual powers in cursing Rambha. He decided he wouldn’t eat, drink, speak, or breath till he conquers his anger.
Vishwamitra went east and began his most severe austerities. After he was sure he conquered them, he decided to eat. Just as he was about to eat, Indra came in the form of a beggar to test him. The beggar asked for food. Vishwamitra immediately gave his food to the beggar. Vishwamitra then continued his penance. The devas went to Brahma.
“If the rank of Brahmarishi isn’t given to Vishwamitra, he will destroy the Triloka. Please give him the status of Brahmarshi,” Indra begged.
“I will. He deserves it,” Brahma said.
Brahma appeared before him and granted him the status of Brahmarshi. But Vishwamitra wasn’t satisfied. He wanted Vashishta to address him as a Brahmarshi. He went to Vashishta’s ashram with the pride of being a Brahmarshi.
Vashishta addressed him as a Maharshi. Suddenly, all pride left Vishwamitra’s heart. Vashishta realized this and then called him a Brahmarshi.
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