· General Introduction
· Special Introduction to Saptarshis
· Relation to Buddhism
· Birth of Angirasa Maharshi
· Brahma’s first instruction to Angirasa
· Angirasa’s penance
· Angirasa’s marriage
· Angirasa’s lineage
· Story in Mahabharata
The rishis or the sages have been rightly valued in India as supreme. They are beyond the celestial beings and have set examples of their superiority since ancient times. Sages are the embodiment of not only learning but the highest of self-control, sacrifice, supreme understanding, childlike innocence, and universal love.
Sages guide their pupils to inculcate the feeling of utmost goodwill for the entire world, animals and birds; trees and creepers; lakes, streams and rivers; hills and dales; rocks and hillocks included. The highest seers could see beyond the ordinary ken of mortals and they were the very embodiments of simplicity and contentment. That is why the Upanishads describe rishis as the highest even amongst the Vipras: ’rushirvipranam’ (Mahanarayanopanishad 12.1). ‘Vipra’ literally means the one born to a Brahmin family and eventually becoming a dvija by a sacred ceremony, namely Upanayan. The ceremony gives him the status of a Brahmacharin, i.e. worthy of study of the Vedas and profound by the study and understanding of the Vedas itself in its six limbs, i.e. shadangas, namely shiksha, vyakarana, chhandas, nirukta, kalpa, and jyotisha. Finally, the highest study that leads him to moksha dharma is Pravidya.
The Sanskrit verse of Vipra clearly says:
जन्मना ब्राह्मणो प्रोक्तः संस्कारैर्द्विज उच्यते।
विद्यते याति विप्रत्वं त्रिभिः श्रोत्रिय उच्यते॥
Thus, it can be observed that on satisfying the above conditions and reaching the stage of Vipra one automatically becomes a shrotriya. Again, a shrotriya is the one who is deeply versed in the Vedas. Even among these Vipras of whom the highest is the shrotriya, the rishi is the noblest, the one enlightened by the Vedas and ennobled by Tapas or penance.
This concept of a rishi is thus a theme reckoned high even in the earliest Vedic hymns. The idea of the Seven Rishis is already familiar in the Rig-Veda where they are conceived as our fathers.
अस्माकं पितरः आसन् सप्तर्षयः॥ (Rigveda 4.42.8)
They are enumerated as the sacrificial priests i.e. hotri, potri, neshtri, agnidhri, prashastri, adhvaryu, brahma, essentially meaning invoker, purifier, leader, kindler, director, ministering priest and praying priest respectively.
तवाग्ने तव होत्रं तव पोत्रं नेष्ट्रं त्वं अग्नदूतयतः।
तव प्रशास्त्रं त्वमध्वरीयसि ब्रह्माचासि गृहपतिश्च नो दमे॥ (Rigveda 2.1.2)
and this is continued thereafter:
सप्त जिव्हा सप्त ऋषयः धामा प्रियाणि।
Special Introduction to Saptarshis
Formed on the solid base of Puranas and Upanishads, the seven rishis forming Saptarshis are Gautama, Bhardwaja, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Vasistha, Kashyapa and Atri. All these seven rishis are renowned as the mind born sons of Brahma, the creator of the universe as per the Hindu mythology. They are called desired rather than the conceived offspring of the Lord himself. Even today the Brahmin communities are known to be the descendants of these Seven Rishis.
These rishis were transformed into stars as mentioned in the Vedic legends and other myths especially in the Vedic prose texts as “सप्तर्षिषुहस्मवैपुरारक्षाइत्याचक्षते।” (Shatapatha brahmana184.108.40.206).They thereafter formed Rikshas i.e. constellations or stars.
That is why Kalidasa refers to rishis who were invited and assembled for Rama’s Ashvamedha as the ones like luminous spheres, coming from the ends of the earth:
न भौमन्येवा दिश्यानि हित्वा ज्योतिर्मयान्यपि॥
Arundhati, the consort of Vasishta, as described in the Vedic and puranic literature especially Taittiriya Aranyaka 3.9.2., also shares an equal status with the seven principle seers (Saptarishis). Evidently, an eastern chalukya frieze of the saptarshis from the Bhimeshvara temple at Draksharama represents her along with them. She is a star like the other rishis mentioned in the Taittiriya Aranyaka.
Angirasa is a rishi (or sage) who, along with Sage Atharvana, is credited to have formulated most of the fourth Veda called Atharva Veda. Alongside, the episodes of Angirasa have also been mentioned in the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Vedas. In the scriptures he has also been referred to as one of the seven sages or Saptarshis of the first Manvantara with others. His wife’s name was Surupa. He had three sons namely Samvartana, Utatya, and Brihaspati.
Angirasa is one amongst the ten Manasputras, i.e. wish-born-sons, of Lord Brahma. Records also assert that he got married to Smriti, the daughter of Daksha with memory as her virtue.
Angirasa is closely associated with agni, being born from sacrificial fire of Varuna: “Varunasya Rutoujatahpawakadity nah shrutam”(Mahabharata 1.5.8).
Angirasa is identified with Agni:
यदंग दाषुशे त्वं, अग्ने भद्रं करिष्यसि।
Several Puranic individuals and things have been referred to as Angirasa. It is also referred to the class of Pitris and decedents of Angirasa. The mention of Angirasa in various scriptures is also noteworthy. As mentioned in the Rig-Veda, Angirasa is the one to whom Indra presents all the cows after freeing them from the captivation of demon (Vala) or several demons (the Panis). This particular legend has been described vividly in Rig Veda 3.31, 10.108, including a reference in 8.14. Again, a description on the family of Angirasa is given in the Mandala 6 of the Rig-Veda.
Relation to Buddhism
The most well known decedent of Angirasa is Lord Buddha and many Buddhist texts strongly abide by this legend. Dr. Eitel and many other scholars link it to Rishi Gautama. There were Kshatriyas of other clans from whom members descended from Angirasa, to fulfill a childless king’s wish. In the Buddhist Vinayapitaka of the Mahavagga (1.245) section Buddha pays respect to Angirasa by ascertaining that the Veda, in its original form, was decoded by the ancient seers, the rishis, “Atthako, Vâmako, Vâmadevo, Vessamitto, Yamataggi, Angiraso, Bharadvajo, Vasettho, Kassapo, and bhagu.” Since, the original Veda was manipulated and altered by few priests, they simply refuse to pay homage to the unoriginal version.
Birth of Angirasa Maharshi
As part of the Creation of this world, Lord Brahma created his sons ‘Manasaputras’ and ‘Prajapatis’ to whom he can delegate the different tasks of creation. In this process, Brahma – with his ichha (wish) and buddhi (divine intellect) – also created a Manasaputra, Angirasa. He also granted him the divine glow and inner spiritual capacity of power, wisdom and divinity. Through his Tejas, i.e. divine glow, Angirasa enlightens the whole universe.
Brahma’s first instruction to Angirasa
Lord Brahma created Sage Angirasa as his third ‘Manasputra’, the one with divine intellect. Brahma instructed Angirasa that since he was busy creating multiple universes and worlds, several humans and other species; the welfare of this whole creation is the duty of Angirasa. Brahma then instructed Angirasa to start off a long and unbroken penance so that he could bequeath its fruit to the wellbeing of the other creations. Lord also commanded the sage that he must retain himself in the same order till the former ask him to take up Grihasta Ashrama, i.e. a family life.
In return, Angirasa obeyed the word of Lord Brahma, acknowledging the fact that although it was possible for Brahma to create this world on his own, he created ‘Manasaputras’ and ‘Prajapatis’ with infinite and unconditional love. He should thus abide by the word of his master who created him with the purpose of welfare of the society.
After receiving the command from his master, Lord Brahma, Angirasa turned all his senses inward and started meditating on Para-Brahman. Remember, Para-Brahman is the only one who is regarded as the creator of the creator. On continuing his penance, Angirasa’s Tejas (Divine Glow) multiplied infinitely and helped him attain many divine qualities including riches, powers and control over many worlds. However, Angirasa remained completely oblivious to all the ‘maya’ and with his sincere and non-stop penance he attained oneness with Para-Brahman, the state of ‘Brahmarshi’. Angirasa is thus also a source of thousand of Vedic Mantras which he envisioned during his long penance and brought them down to earth, for the benefit of the humans and other creations.
After Angirasa finished his long penance, he also got married and began his Grihasta Ashrama. There is a famous legend linked to the marriage of Angirasa. Alongside the banks of Saraswati River, Kardama Prajapati and his wife Devahooti, performed a severe penance and by Lord Vishnu’s grace the couple got blessed with nine daughters – Kala, Anasuya, Gati, Kriya, Sradha, Arundhati, Shanti Harbhivu, Khyati, – and a son Kapilacharya.
When Kardama Prajapati’s daughters attained marriageable age, he went to the Nava Brahmas or Brahmarshis and prayed to them to accept his lovely daughters in marriage with them. Thereafter, the nine Brahmarshis got married to the nine daughters of Kardama Prajapati. Following is the list of who married whom during this time –
- Kala to Marichi,
- Anasuya to Atri,
- Shradha to Angirasa,
- Havribhuvu to Pulaha,
- Gati to Pulastya,
- Kriya to Kratu,
- Khyati to Bhrigu,
- Arundhati to Vashishta, and
- Shanti to Adharva.
All the couples raised themselves above all physical desires and led extremely pious lives in the path of devotion and penance. Their all five senses, limbs along with mind were devoted to the service of the Almighty.
Upon Brahma’s desire, Angirasa begot seven sons: Brihat Keerti (a.k.a Utadhya), Brihat Jyoti (a.k.a Samvarta), Brihat Brahma, Brihan Manas, Brihan Mantra, Brihat Bhanu, Brihaspati. He also had seven daughters: Bhanumati, Raka, CineeVali, Mahishmati, Ekaneka, Mahamati Archishamati. It’s in the lore that Samvarta hasn’t left his physical body till date and is still found wandering around the forests of Varanasi. It is said that he looks more like a lunatic who would pelt stones on those who try to approach him. On the other hand, those who persevere and seek his darshan would get blessings and liberation by his divine grace. All the sages falling in the lineage of Samvarta have received ‘Angirasa’ or ‘Angir’ as their last name. Sage Vyasa is the most popular sage of this lineage as he is the one who envisioned new Vedic mantras with his severe penance and passed it on to generations for their benefit.
Story in Mahabharata
Angirasa’s story in the great epic Mahabharata made him more lustrous. In the story, Agni himself asked him to function as fire. But the sage being fair and true prayed to Agni to be the real fire dispelling darkness by his blaze and he would be his chosen adopted son (Mahabharata 3.217, 16-18).
Thus, Angirasa is one of the Saptarshis of the first Manvantara with others having many reflections from Vedic era to Puranic era.