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Vashishta Rishi sitting and reading a scripture, with various animals around him

Vashishta: The Rishi of Three Lifetimes

Vashishta is one of the most famous rishis of Hinduism. Originally born as a son of Brahma during the creation of the Universe, he was reborn twice in different ways. Each of his births has a different story behind it. Vashishta is also famous in Hindu mythology for his enmity with Vishwamitra and the many encounters that occurred between them.

Family

First Birth:

  • Father: Brahma
  • Brothers: Marichi, Atri, Pulahu, Pulastya, Angiras, Kratu, Narada, Daksha, Bhrigu
  • Wife: Arundhati
  • Sons: Chitraketu, Purochis, Viracha, Mitra, Ulbana, Vasubhrdyana, and Dyumana

Second Birth:

  • Father: Brahma
  • Wife: Aksamala, rebirth of Arundhati

Third Birth:

  • Father: Mitra and Varuna
  • Mother: Urvashi
  • Wife: Arundhati
  • Sons: Shakti and 99 others

Birth of Vashishta

This story is in the Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita, Sati Khanda, Chapter 2

During the creation of the universe, Lord Brahma created various beings to assist him with his creation and to populate the universe. Brahma created ten Manasputras (mind-born sons): Marichi, Atri, Pulahu, Pulastya, Angiras, Kratu, Narada, Daksha, Bhrigu, and Vashishta. Each of these sons was born from a different part of Brahma’s body. Vashishta was created from the prana (breath) of Lord Brahma. After that, a beautiful lady sprung from Brahma’s mind. On seeing her, Vashishta, his 9 brothers, and his father all got up, enamored by the angelic woman. However, at that moment, another man sprung from Brahma’s mind. Vashishta and the other Manasputras named the man as Kama, the god of love, and the woman was named Sandhya.

After Brahma had finished his creation, Kama decided to test his powers of love. He shot his arrows of love at Brahma, the Manasputras, and Sandhya. Soon, they started frequently staring at Sandhya. Brahma, Vashishta, and his nine brothers were completely overpowered by lust. Sandhya too started indicating her feelings from them with occasional glances. On seeing his brothers and father attracted to Sandhya, Dharma (another son of Brahma) prayed to Lord Shiva for help. Shiva appeared there and scolded Brahma and his sons for their indecent behavior. Out of embarrassment for their actions, Vashishta and the others began sweating. From their sweat, different Pitrs (ancestors) were born. From Vashishta’s sweat, the Kalin class of Pitrs were born. Brahma was enraged at Kama and cursed him, but then blessed him. After this incident, Vashishta and the others went to their respective abodes.

The Story of Vashishta and Sandhya

This story is in the Shiva Purana, Rudra Samhita, Sati Khanda, Chapters 5-7

Meanwhile, Sandhya too came out her trance and felt severely guilty for her actions. She decided that she would engage in penance to atone for her sins, and then she would kill herself. Sandhya went to the Chandrabhaga Mountain and began austere penance. Soon, Brahma came to know of Sandhya’s plan to end her life. Brahma approached Vashishta and said, “My son, Sandhya is currently performing penance at Chandrabhaga. She wishes to atone for her sins after what happened with Kama. Please go and teach her how to properly perform penance.”

Vashishta obeyed his father and journeyed to the Chandrabhaga Mountain. He assumed a disguise and respectfully approached Sandhya, who was immersed in penance. Sandhya opened her eyes and addressed the sage, asking for instruction on how to please Shiva. Vashishta taught her the mantra to propitiate Shiva, demonstrated the various rites of penance, and then vanished from the spot. Thus, Sandhya began her penance and it continued for four Yugas. Finally, Shiva appeared before her, saying, “I am very pleased with your penance. You can chose whichever boon you desire.”

Sandhya’s Boons

Sandhya said, “For my first boon, I desire that no living being is born with lust. This is what happened to me, and I don’t want that to happen again. For my second boon, I desire that no woman becomes more famous than me! Let me have the greatest husband, and any other man that looks at me lustfully will become weak”

“From now on, there will be four stages of life: infancy, childhood, youth, and old age. Humans can only become lustful after the childhood stage. They cannot be lustful at birth. As per your second wish, you will have a famous husband who will live for seven Kalpas. I know that you want to kill yourself after obtaining these boons. You must enter the fire at the yagna of Medhatithi Rishi. That way, you will become his daughter in your next birth. If you have chosen your husband for your next birth, make sure to remember him before you enter the fire,” Shiva said and then vanished. As per Shiva’s instructions, Sandhya reached Medhatithi’s yagna and entered the fire. As she immolated herself, she remembered Vashishta and wished that he become her husband.

Vashishta Marries Arundhati

When Medhatithi’s long sacrifice finally concluded, an infant girl emerged from the sacrificial fire. Medhatithi was overjoyed and adopted the girl as his daughter, naming her Arundhati, which means “one who does not hinder sacred rites”.

The years passed, and Arundhati grew up under her father’s care to become a beautiful young woman. One day, Vashishta encountered Arundhati in the forest. He instantly fell in love with her, and she fell for him as well. They expressed their feelings for each other, and they were married in a grand ceremony. Vashishta and Arundhati had seven sons named Chitraketu, Purochis, Viracha, Mitra, Ulbana, Vasubhrdyana, and Dyumana.

Daksha Yagna

Daksha conducted a grand yagna and invited all of the devas, rishis, and other important people in the Universe. Among the guests were Vashishta and Arundhati. However, because of Daksha and Shiva’s enmity, Shiva and Sati were not invited to the yagna. Sati was enraged and she went to the yagna site, committing suicide in the sacrificial fire. Hearing about this, a furious Shiva created the monster spirits Virabhadra and Mahakali from his matted hair. Virabhadra and Kali ravaged the yagna and killed many of its guests. However, Vashishta and Arundhati were spared from the wrath of the spirits. Later, after the yagna was destroyed, Shiva appeared and said that Vashishta, Atri, Pulastya, Angiras, Pulahu, Kratu, Bhrigu, and Marichi would be reborn in Chakshusha Manvatara.

Brahmayagna: Vashishta Reborn

This story is in the Brahmanda Purana, Section 3, Chapter 1

At the end of the first Manvantara (Swayambhava Manvantara), Vashishta, Atri, Pulastya, Angiras, Pulahu, Kratu, Bhrigu, and Marichi passed away. They were transported to Janaloka, the heavenly realm of sages. Vashishta and the others remained at Janaloka for many Manvataras. Finally, at the end of the Chakshusha Manvantara, Varuna performed a massive “Brahmayagna”. He invited all of the eminent devas and rishis. During the yagna, Brahma fell in love with some damsels, causing his semen to be discharged. Brahma put it in the sacrificial fire, and one by one, the eight sages were reborn from the fire. Lord Shiva’s words had come true!

Vashishta and Nimi

This story is in the Devi Bhagavata Purana, Book 6, Chapter 14

Vashishta again grew up and became a renowned sage across Bharatvarsha. He married Aksamala, an incarnation of Arundhati. King Nimi, the ruler of Videha, appointed Vashishta as his Guru and royal priest. Nimi was a prosperous king loved by his subjects. One day, Nimi decided to perform a 5000-year long yagna to increase his fame. He invited all of the famous Brahmins and sages. Nimi then approached Vashishta and said, “I am performing a yagna, Guru. Since you are my Guru, please perform this yagna me. It will last five thousand years, and I will please Ambika Devi!” However, Vashishta responded, “Indra is also performing a yagna right now for five hundred years. He has already asked me to perform his yagna. You will have to wait until I finish Indra’s yagna. Wait until then. After I finish, I will come here.”

King Nimi grew agitated. He had already invited all of the guests, and he made all of the preparations and arrangements. How could he delay the yagna by 500 years! He implored Vashishta to forget about Indra’s yagna and do his yagna instead. However, Vashishta refused and left the palace. He journeyed to Swarga and began Indra’s yagna. Meanwhile, instead of waiting, Nimi decided to start the yagna with Gautama Rishi instead of Vashishta.

Vashishta Loses his Body

After five hundred years, Vashishta completed Indra’s yagna and immediately went to Nimi’s palace. However, when he entered the palace grounds, he saw the yagna being performed by someone else. Vashishta was enraged by the king’s behavior. He confronted Nimi and cursed, “Even though I am your Guru, you abandoned me and appointed somebody else for your yagna! I curse you that your body will be destroyed today!”

Hearing Vashishta’s words, Nimi stated, “You are my Yajamana, and it is your duty as a Brahmin to perform my yagna for me. Yet, you chose somebody else over me. And now you are blaming me for your sins. You are cursing me when I have done nothing wrong. Since you have cursed me for nothing, I curse you that your body will be destroyed!”

Vashishta didn’t know what to do. In a couple of hours, he would become bodiless. Only his soul would remain. A desperate Vashishta approached his father Brahma for help. He narrated what had happened between him and King Nimi, and asked for help. Brahma responded, “Go enter the bodies of Mitra and Varuna. Stay there, and soon, you will be reborn.” Vashishta bowed down and went to Varunaloka. His body soon left him and his soul entered the bodies of Mitra and Varuna.

Vashishta’s Third Birth

Once, the heavenly Apsara Urvashi went to Varunaloka with her friends. When Mitra and Varuna saw Urvashi, they immediately fell for her. They requested, “Seeing your beauty and grace, we have fallen in love with you. Please stay here with us.” Urvashi agreed to live with them. As Urvashi stayed with Mitra and Varuna, they became excited and their semen dropped in an uncovered jar. Because of this, two children were born.

The first was Agastya, who became a famous ascetic and devoted his life to penance. The second was Vashishta, who was adopted by King Ikshvaku. King Ikshvaku knew that the child was none other than Vashishta, so he raised him with love and care. Vashishta grew up for the third and final time. He once again became very learned and became the family priest of the solar dynasty. He again married Arundhati, who had been reborn as the daughter of Kashyapa Rishi and the sister of Narada and Parvata. They had one hundred sons, the oldest of whom was Shakti Rishi.

Vashishta vs. Vishwamitra

This story is in the Ramayana, Bala Khanda, Chapters 51-56

King Vishwamitra of Kanyakubja once set out into the forest for a hunting expedition. His massive army and his sons came with him. After hours of hunting, the entire group reached the hermitage of Vashishta Rishi. Vashishta cordially welcomed them and said, “Please go for a bath. When you return, I will have food ready for all of you.” Vishwamitra and his army went for a quick bath. When they returned, they were shocked to see a grand feast in front of them. They wondered how Vashishta had prepared so much food in such a short time.

After enjoying the lavish feast, Vishwamitra asked Vashishta, “Rishi, where did you get all of this food from?”

“It came from my cow Kamadhenu,” Vashishta replied. “Kamadhenu is capable of granting you anything you want. I asked for a feast and a feast appeared!”

Vishwamitra stayed silent. If that cow was so special, why did it belong to this forest-dwelling sage. It should belong to him, a powerful king. He had his eyes set on the cow. He said, “This cow should belong to me. I will give you a hundred thousand ordinary cows in exchange for Kamadhenu.” Vashishta refused and said he would never part with Kamadhenu. Vishwamitra upped the reward to ten million cows.

The Fight For Kamadhenu

In fury, Vishwamitra ordered his men to capture the cow. Kamadhenu tossed aside the soldiers and fled to Vashishta.

“O Lord, why aren’t you helping me. I am in trouble,” Kamadhenu asked Vashishta.

“Dear Kamadhenu, 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,” Kamadhenu said. Hundreds of Pahlava warriors sprung forth from Kamadhenu’s body. They rushed at Vishwamitra’s vast army and completely destroyed it. Vishwamitra watched in horror as his army was reduced to nothing. Vishwamitra, trembling with rage, started slaughtering the Pahlava warriors. In her response, Kamadhenu created other warriors. The Kambhojas emerged from her mouth, and Shaka-Yavanas came from her udders. Kiratakas, Haritas, and Mleccha soldiers came out of her pores. The sons of Vishwamitra fiercely rushed at the army of warriors. Vashishta uttered one syllable and they all turned into ashes. This was the immense Yogic power of Vashishta. Vishwamitra was now utterly defeated, and he dejectedly returned to Kanyakubja.

Vishwamitra throws a weapon, but it is absorbed by Vashishta's staff

Vashishta Defeats Vishwamitra Again

Vishwamitra gave the throne to his only remaining son. He then retired to the Himalayas and began intense austerities and penance. At last, Lord Shiva was pleased and appeared in front of Vishwamitra. Eager to take revenge, Vishwamitra asked for the knowledge of all the weapons. 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 newly acquired weapons. Everybody residing in the hermitage ran panicked in teror. Vashishta came out and challenged Vishwamitra.

“You evil fool, you dare destroy my spiritual hermitage. I will kill you for this!” Vashishta screamed, invoking his powerful Brahma-baton weapon.

Vishwamitra started throwing weapon after weapon at Vashishta, but they were all absorbed by Vashishta’s Brahma-baton. Finally, Vishwamitra invoked the Brahmastra, the most powerful weapon in the universe. However, even this was consumed by Vashishta’s baton. Realizing that his weapons would do nothing against Vashishta’s spiritual power, Vishwamitra decided to commit his life to penance. Determined to become a Brahmarishi, he began austere penance in the south.

Vishwamitra had a long journey to becoming a Brahmarishi, with many obstacles in the way and numerous other encounters with Vashishta and Vashishta’s sons. I have detailed these encounters in my post on Vishwamitra. In the end, Vishwamitra became a Brahmarishi and Vashishta accepted him as a Brahmarishi.

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