Vishwamitra - The Divine Sage
Sage Vishwamitra is indeed one of the most revered and celebrated sages known to India. Many scriptures mention him as one of the 7 Saptarishis. He is also known for his contribution to Rigveda and is the composer of the divine Gayatri Mantra. Vishwamitra means one who is a friend to everyone and this name was given to him by Lord Brahma. His tales are all over different Hindu scriptures like Puranas, Ramayana, etc.
Vishwamitra was born as Vishwarath in the royal family of the Amavasu dynasty. They were Chadravanshi kings. He was born to Gaadhi, the son of king Kushanabha. Gaadhi had a daughter first by the name of Satyavati. Satyavati was married to a sage named Richika. Once Satyavati expressed her desire of having a sage-like son. Sage Richika with the help of Yagya and rituals prepared a divine sweet. Anyone who consumed this sweet shall bear a sage-like son declared the Gods. When Satyavati was asked to eat the sweet she demanded a similar sweet for her mother as she was the only daughter and wanted her mother to bear a son as well. Richika agreed and prepared a similar sweet. However, the sweet he prepared for her mother in law was a little different. Instead of bearing a sage-like son, anyone consuming that sweet would bear a son with warrior-like qualities. However accidentally at the time of consumption, the sweets got exchanged. Satyavati gave birth to Jamdagini who is the father of Parshuram. Satyavati's mother gave birth to the great Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra grew under the guidance of his father Gaadhi and went on to become the king of Kanyakubja. He ruled this kingdom for many years.
Encounter with Vashista
Once while hunting in the forest Vishwamitra came across sage Vashista's ashram. Vashista is another very respected and renowned sages from ancient India. He was a near-divine being with supernatural capabilities. Vashista invited Vishwamitra for a grand feast in his hermitage. Vishwamitra was bewildered as Vashista was a poor sage and how could he host a grand feast for him and his sons. He then saw Vashista's divine wish-fulfilling cow, Kamdhenu. Kamdhenu through her divine powers brought in all the different delicacies to please her master. Vishwamitra was impressed and now wanted to have this cow for himself. He forced Vashista to give away Kamdhenu in exchange for money and gold. When Vashista refused Vishwamitra and his sons attacked the sage and tried snatching Kamadhenu forcibly. However, they all were smashed to defeat by Vashista as the sage possessed some impeccable spiritual powers. Vashista killed Vishwamitra's sons as well. Vishwamitra somehow managed to escape from there. He realized that in order to compete with Vashista he will have to gain spiritual powers.
He left his kingdom and headed towards the jungle. For years he practiced severe penance. Finally, he managed to please Lord Shiva. Shiva endowed him with all the celestial weapons. With all these new heavenly weapons Vishwamitra again went back to fight Vashista. However this time as well he was defeated as Vashista was still higher in the rank of spiritual powers.
Vishwamitra now started meditating upon Brahma as he wanted to acquire the status of a Brahmarishi (Highest among all sages). His penance grew powerful day by day. His mediation was so strong that it scared the other gods. Indra the King of heaven became insecure that he decided to break Vishwamitra's penance. He sent the most beautiful nymph Menaka on Earth. He wanted Menaka to seduce Vishwamitra so that his tapasya gets broken. Menaka succeeded in breaking Vishwamitra's penance. She was so beautiful that Vishwamitra forgot everything and fell in love with her. They even had a daughter named Shakuntala after this episode. When Vishwamitra came to know that all this was done on purpose by Indra, he cursed Menaka and asked her to leave forever. He left her newborn daughter as in the jungle who later grew up in sage Kanva's ashram.
Vishwamitra went back to his penance. This time he was stronger and nothing could distract him. Indra again tried to play foul by sending another damsel Rambha to disturb him. When Rambha tried to seduce Vishwamitra he cursed her that she will turn into stone for eternity. His spiritual powers grew immensely and finally pleased Brahma. Brahma pleased with austerities gave him the title of Brahmarishi.
With new powers, he again went back to meet Vashista. It was a tradition that when two sages of equal caliber met each other they would greet each other. If a sage met someone having fewer powers they shall simply bless the person. When Vishwamitra met him, Vashista blessed him. Vishwamitra was still filled with pride to some extent and hence that made him lower in regards to Vashista's caliber. With Vashista's blessing, Vishwamitra lost all his pride instantly. He was then greeted with respect and their enmity was over that very moment.
Vishwamitra also adopted a son by the name of Shunahashepa. This happened during the reign of King Ambrisha. Ambrisha had organised a powerful Yagya for the welfare of his kingdom. During this Yagya, a horse had to be sacrificed, but somehow that horse escaped. This was a great sin and the whole kingdom's destiny was at stake. The priest then suggested that now they will have to make a human sacrifice to pacify the evil effects. Sage Richika decided to offer his son Shunashepa was for the sacrifice. When Shunashepa was being taken for this ritual he met Vishwamitra. He pleaded with the sage to save his life. Vishwamitra taught him certain mantras to please Indra and Varuna and asked him to recite them during the ritual. Shunashepa followed his instructions and hence was saved by Indra and Varuna from being sacrificed. He then adopted Shunashepa as his foster son.
Once there was a king by the name of Trishanku. Trishanku had a strange desire. He wanted to stay in heaven with his earthly body. He went to sage Vashista with this bizarre request. The sage turned him down saying that he will have to forgo his earthly body to reach heaven. Trishanku was. not convinced. He then decided to meet Vashista's sons and request them for the same. The sons were furious as Trishanku had insulted their father's decision by reaching out to them, They then cursed him to become an outcast. The handsome Trishanku suddenly turned into a ghastly looking person. Depressed with this he finally decided to meet Vishwamitra. Vishwamitra decided to help him. He performed rituals to please Indra and other gods. When none of the Gods responded Vishwamitra became angry and decided to send Trishanku upwards to Heaven through his powers. Trishanku ascended and was about to reach heaven when Indra pushed him down again with his powers. Trishanku got stuck somewhere in the middle. This made Vishwamitra even more furious. He then decided to create separate heaven for Trishanku. He was almost about to finish creating new heaven for the king when he was interrupted by Brihaspati, the lord of Jupiter who asked him to stop. Trishanku stuck got stuck in between and turned into a constellation.
Sage Vishwamitra has also been mentioned in Ramayana where he is shown as a guiding figure to Lord Ram and Lakshman. With the help, Vishwamitra Ram and Lakshman killed many demons like Maricha, Taraka, etc. Also, Vishwamitra was the one to take Ram to Sita's swyambar and helped them marry each other.
Art Credit: Unknown
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