Friend to the World
(AZADI KE PANKH CREATIONS )
Om Bhoor Bhuvaha Swaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dheeyo Yo Naha Prachodayaat
Ages ago, a king named Vishwaratha was on a tour of his kingdom, accompanied by ninety nine of his hundred sons. The company was passing by the hermitage of the great sage Brahmarshi Vasishtha, when Vishwaratha felt strangely drawn to the environment and the sage. He dismounted his chariot and went to pay obeisance to the holy man. Vasishtha greeted the king warmly and they spoke at length about matters of the world.
After their discussion, the sage insisted that the king and his men dine at the hermitage. Vasishtha then summoned Nandini, his divine cow, and asked her to serve food to his guests. Nandini immediately produced the choicest of delicacies for Vishwaratha and his companions, who ate with relish.
"O noble rishi!", said the king, "this wonderful cow of yours, this Kamadhenu, is a gem and where should gems be if not with a king! I shall offer you a hundred thousand white cows in exchange for this one."
Vasishtha politely declined the offer. "King Vishwaratha, Nandini was entrusted to me by the gods. She assists me in my prayers everyday and I am spiritually tied to her. I cannot part with her under any circumstance."
Vishwaratha raised his offer but Vasishtha was adamant in his refusal. This enraged the king, who ordered his men to seize the cow by force. By Vasishtha's grace, an army appeared from Nandini's being that decimated Vishwaratha's troops in no time. Vishwaratha turned to his sons but Vasishtha reduced them all to ashes with a single syllable. The king was defeated but not humbled. He swore revenge and retreated from the hermitage. Handing over his kingdom to his only remaining son, he retired to the mountains to observe penance and propitiate Siva. Several years later, pleased with his meditation, the Destroyer appeared before an emaciated Vishwaratha and asked him what he desired.
"Grant me all celestial weapons and missiles and the knowledge of their use, o Lord!", prayed Vishwaratha and Siva obliged. Empowered with his missiles, Vishwaratha went seeking Vasishtha. His projectiles set Vasishtha's aashrama ablaze. When the furious Brahmarshi came out, Vishwaratha pelted him with missiles, intending to destroy him. However, Vasishtha's arm staff absorbed each one of the king's highly potent weapons. As a last and desperate resort, Vishwaratha released the all-powerful Brahmaastra on Vasishtha, who calmly absorbed even that missile with his staff. Now, Vishwaratha was truly dismayed. He was awestruck by the power of spirituality and decided then to pursue a life of spiritual attainment himself.
Accompanied by his wife, he settled far away from his kingdom, in a hermitage, where he used to observe harsh penance for days on end, this time to propitiate the Creator. A good many years passed by, Vishwaratha became the father of four children and his penances only intensified. Then one day, Brahma appeared before him and conferred upon him the status of a Rajarshi. A rishi among kings. Vishwaratha was greatly disappointed since his ambition was to be ordained a Brahmarshi, the highest order of rishi. He decided to further intensify his penance.
In the meanwhile, a handsome and ambitious king named Trishanku approached Vasishtha with a strange request. "Master of the learned ones! Pray, let me enter heaven in this mortal body of mine", he asked Vasishtha. The sage told him to abandon this whim since it was not possible. The king, not known to give up easily, went next to Vasishtha's sons, naively assuming that they would help him. His naivety cost him dearly as the sons of Vasishtha were enraged at the fact that he dared come to their doorstep when their father had pointedly refused to assist him. They cursed him to assume the form of a lowly and grotesque looking outcaste. Trishanku was dejected and he decided to go to Vishwaratha for help.
Vishwaratha heard his story out with patience and showed him the compassion the king was hoping for when he said he would raise Trishanku to heaven in his mortal body, no matter what. He made elaborate arrangements for a ritual to propitiate Indra and ask him to accept Trishanku in heaven. After the completion of the ritual, none of the gods appeared and Vishwaratha was greatly infuriated by their disrespect to his prayers. By the power of the spiritual prowess he had attained thus far, he willed Trishanku to rise and enter heaven. When the king did so, Indra and all the gods banished him, thinking him to be a demon. As he came hurtling down the skies, Vishwaratha stalled his motion and created an alternate heaven around him, with seven stars he called Saptarshis. He then wished for the present Indra to be overthrown from his lordship so that Trishanku's superiority could be undisputed. However, right in time, the devas, lead by Indra appealed to him to not do any such thing. In return, they promised to accept Trishanku in heaven provided he would hang upside down all the while.
The devas were humbled by a mere Rajarshi and they cautioned Brahma against ordaining this man a Brahmarshi lest he dethrone the Creator Himself. Meanwhile, down on Earth, Vishwaratha, having exhausted all his spiritual powers in extending charity to Trishanku, had to start in his penances afresh. He now moved west to Pushkara where he set up a new hermitage and began observing austerities.
Ambarisha, king of Ayodhya, was about to perform a yajna for which he needed to sacrifice a human. The chosen scapegoat happened to be Vishwaratha's nephew. While on their way to the sacrificial venue, the king halted close to the spot where Vishwaratha had set up his aashrama. The boy, while exploring the place, saw the hermitage and called on his uncle, explaining his plight. Vishwaratha took immediate pity on him. He summoned his sons and asked one of them to volunteer to be the scapegoat in place of the boy who had sought his refuge. When none of them was forthcoming, he reduced them all to flames in anger and empowered the boy with a mantra that would bestow Indra's mercy on him and thus prevent him from entering the jaws of death.
Having spent his spiritual energy in cursing his sons, Vishwaratha had to resume afresh. Little did he know he was about to be tested again. Once while strolling along the banks of the Pushkara lake, his eyes beheld the sight of the gorgeous celestial damsel Menaka taking bath. He was smitten by the desire to possess her. He proposed to her and she gladly accepted. Together, they lived happily for quite some time and she even bore him a girl named Shakuntala. However, Vishwaratha came to his senses and realized that the gods had planted the damsel in the lake just to make him stray from his path. Menaka quivered in fear of his terrible wrath when he came upon this realization, but he was gentle with the lady he loved. He bade her to take his leave and renouncing both wife and child, proceeded northward to the Himalayas. There, by the banks of the river Kaushiki, he stood in harsh penance. Then, Brahma appeared once more before him. "Vishwaratha! I am pleased with your efforts and I confer upon you the title of Maharshi". Vishwaratha was not content. "Holy father, it is the status of a Brahmarshi I seek. A Maharshi is a notch below. What is it that I lack in that I am yet not what I seek to be?" Brahma smiled at him and said, "Recognition cometh from without. Greatness lies within", and He disappeared.
Conquering the demons within became Vishwaratha's sole ambition thence. His anger and his passions needed to be controlled. He meditated standing on one leg, now in the middle of scorching flames, now drenching himself in torrential rains. He stood in freezing lakes in winter and yet his penance remained undeterred.
Indra grew worried and asked Rambha, another of his beautiful apsaras to tempt the sage. Rambha descended to where the sage was engaged in meditation and Indra accompanied her in the form of a cuckoo. He began to tweet sweet notes, to which she danced. Vishwaratha's penance was disturbed and his eyes opened in rage. He cursed Rambha to become a rock for a thousand years. Indra fled the scene immediately. Vishwaratha repented his rashness as all his efforts had gone in vain. He left the Himalayas and went to the east, where he began an endless fast until he could say with conviction that he had conquered his anger. After several years of fasting, one day he realized that his passions were subdued. He was about to break his fast when a brahmin came begging for food. Without a moment's hesitation, Vishwaratha offered his plate to the needy brahmin, who was actually Indra in disguise, come to test the sage at Brahma's bidding.
Vishwaratha continued with his fast and penance and soon, smoke and clouds began to arise from his being and the three spheres of existence were all faced with imminent suffocation. Then, Brahma came again.
"Son! Open your eyes, for I am come. Open your eyes, rishi of rishis for I am come. Vishwamitra I name you. Brahmarshi Vishwamitra. Friend to the world. May the knowledge of Brahman, the Sacred Knowledge of God, of Truth and Existence, of everything in the universe be yours. Open your eyes, son"
"Holy father, I thank Thee for instructing me in the knowledge of the Supreme. Pray, let Vasishtha acknowledge my rank!", said Vishwamitra. Then Vasishtha came to him, led by the gods and they all paid homage to the king who had risen to the stature of Brahmarshi purely on his own merit.
This was the story of Vishwamitra, the great sage who gave us the Gayatri mantra.