He had a great soul which was a catalyst in changing the destiny of many while standing himself intact. He mentored Rama and groomed Rama’s personality totally. He proved Rama’s prowess to himself. Apart of Vishvamitra’s influence, Rama would have been another mortal. He is the central character, the turning point, the drama and the melodrama of the Ramayana.
When certain characters or actors come to stage, we ask:
“Why does not this man move away? Why does he come again and again? What way do his words or deeds enrich this drama?”
After the wedding of Sita with Rama, we never see Vishvamitra again. And at every alarming stage we are in disquiet: Where is Vishvamitra, why doesn’t he reappear?
Sage Vishvamitra was the great grandson of King Kusha (therefore Kaushika) and son of Gadhi. He was a powerful king and a matchless warrior too.
King Vishvamitra and his retinue, after a hunting spree, entered the periphery of sage Vasishta. The latter received the guest of honour and his huge army was given a sumptuous feast. Having partaken the feast they were very happy and content.
Vishvamitra wondered how Vasishta, a pauper saint, could arrange such vivacious varieties of delicacies within no time. Vasishta told him about his pet cow, Nandini, donated by Indra, the king of gods, who can supply any material substance instantly on demand. Nandini was the daughter of Kamadhenu, the holy cow of Indra. Kaushika (Vishvamitra) thought that such cows should be deposited with the king and a saint like Vasishta has not much use of her. The king requested saint Vasishta to donate her to him. Vasishta with humility refused to oblige. This displeased king Vishvamitra. He ordered his army to capture the cow by force. But the force of the entire military phalanx of Vishvamitra became ineffective in front of Nandini and the power amassed by Vasishta, the Brahmarshi.
Consequent to his defeat, Vishvamitra worshipped Lord Shiva and got his blessings along with all celestial weaponry. He became master of all sciences of weaponry and warfare.
With the added blessings of Lord Shiva, Vishvamitra decided to encounter Vasishta, but was still defeated.
Vishvamitra now realised that a king’s powers are very limited while that of a Brahmarshi is boundless. He decided to be a Brahmarshi. He abandoned his kingdom and went for penance. After thousand years of his rigorous penance, Lord Brahma appeared before him and conferred to him the status of a Rajarshi. Vishvamitra did not find satisfaction. His aim was to become a Brahmarshi. He, with that determination, continued his penance for another thousand years. Lord Brahma again appeared before him and endowed the title of Maharshi to him.
“O Pithamaha,” addressed Maharshi Vishvamitra to Lord Brahma:
“I am meditating on you to give me the status of a Brahmarshi. Grant me that.”
“Vishvamitra,” said the Lord: “You have to continue your tapa until sage Vasishta approves that you have reached the position of a Brahmarshi.”
Since it was his only target, Vishvamitra decided to undertake harder penances. In this process, true to his envious character, Indra persuaded Menaka, the celestial damsel to seduce Vishvamitra and deviate him from his target. Menaka succeeded in her mission. They lived together for ten years and a daughter by name Shakuntala was born out of them. It was her son Bharata that set the Bharatiya order.
After the birth of the daughter, Vishvamitra repented in his leniency in tapa and continued his meditation vigorously. Finally, Brahmarshi Vasishta appeared before Vishvamitra and approved his elevation to the top position of Brahmarshi.
There are many interesting stories around the rivalries between sage Vasishta and sage Vishvamitra. One is that of Raja Harish Chandra.
There were many strange and impossible deeds that Vishvamitra alone accomplished. He created his own Swarga for Trisanku. Vishvamitra is the author of Mandala 3 of Rig Veda including Gayatri Mantra. Our Puranas mention that only twenty-four rishis from the beginning understood the total meaning of Gayatri and thus wielded the whole power of it. In the order of these twenty-four Vishvamitra stands first and Yajnavalkya the last.
-KK Shanmukhan? ( To be concluded )