Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Legend of Rishyashringa

Stories From the Ramayana


This story was narrated by Sumantra, the charioteer of King Dasharatha to the king in [Rama:1.9]. A more detailed version is in [Maha:3.100-103].

Vibhandaka was a son of the sage Kashyapa. He also became a hermit and spent his days in penance in austerities. One day, while washing his mouth at the river, he beheld the celestial nymph Urvashi. Impelled by desire for her, his vitality emerged from his body. There was a female red deer, lapping the waters nearby. She was originally a celestial nymph, who had been cursed by Brahma to be born as a deer. She was impregnated by the vital fluid of Vibhandaka. In due course of time, a son was born to her, and she was freed from her curse.

This son was named Rishyashringa, for he had a horn at the crown of his head. His name can also be interpreted as 'foremost-among-Rishis'. Vibhandaka was angry with himself for yielding to desire, so he decided that his son will be brought up to be as chaste as possible. In order that the young child may never know desire, he established his hermitage in the middle of a dense forest, away from all human habitation. The young boy did not know that there were any women in the world. He believed that everyone in the world was exactly like him and his father!

During this time, the Kingdom of Anga was ruled by Romapada. This King displeased the Gods by uttering a falsehood to a Brahmana. Consequent to that, he was shunned by all the priests, for none would serve in a kingdom where falsehood reigned supreme. In anger, Indra withheld rainfall from that kingdom. The country suffered a debilitating famine. Romapada sought the counsel of his ministers.

The ministers said, "O King. Rains shall fall when the chaste Rishyashringa comes to your kingdom. He is foremost among celibates, he lives in a forest hermitage with his father Vibhandaka, having never known a woman in his life. His father will not allow him to leave the forest, but you have to find a way to bring him to our kingdom, if we are to be delivered from this drought."

The king then sent for his chief-courtesan and said to her, "Go to the forest hermitage of the sage Vibhandaka. With sweet words and many blandishments, bring the young sage Rishyashringa here. You and your fellow courtesans shall be handsomely rewarded for your service."

The chief-courtesan demurred. On one hand, she did not want to displease the king, and wanted the drought to end. However, she was also afraid of the wrath of Vibhandaka. She said, "O King, I am willing to do your bidding, provided you will do all in your power to protect us from the anger of the Rishi Vibhandaka."

The King assured them that he will take care of them. The party of courtesans set forth for the forest, equipped with a great number of costly jewels, perfumes, fruits and eatables. The chief-courtesan had a boat turned into a replica of a hermitage, and traveled this floating hermitage, accompanied by many beautiful young women. They reached the river bank close to the hermitage of the Rishi and anchored there.

After waiting for a while and making sure that the sage Vibhandaka was away from home, she sent her cleverest daughter to meet Rishyashringa. This girl, arrayed in the garbs of hermit, greeted the son of the Rishi with, "I hope, Sir, that all is well with your religious devotions. I hope that you have plentiful store of fruits and roots and that you are in good health. I hope that the practice of austerities among the dwellers of the forest is on the increase. How do your studies go?"

The young sage, who had never before seen a woman, was very much struck by the great beauty of the girl. He said, "You are shining with lusture, as if you were a mass of light. I think you are worthy of my obeisance. Allow me to offer you worship as befitting a guest, let me wash your feet and offer you a proper seat. O Brahmana! Where is your hermitage? You are perhaps a God in disguise come to visit me? I have never before seen anyone as handsome as you."

The courtesan said, "O grandson of Kashyapa, my hermitage is on the other side of these hills. It is a fair distance from this place. I am currently observing a religious vow, so it is not proper for you to offer me worship. The only worship that is permitted for me is to be clasped in my arms."

The courtesan declined offer of fruits made by the sage, but offered him delightful sweets and other such intoxicating food unsuitable for hermits. She gave him garlands of an exceedingly fragrant scent and beautiful and shining garments to wear. She offered him tasty drinks and then drank with him. She touched her body to his and clasped him in her arms repeatedly. Needless to say, the young sage was overcome with lust, (though he did not recognize it), and when she took her leave, he could not put her out of his mind.

When his father came in, he found that the sacrificial fire had not been lit, and that his son was staring absent-mindedly at space. Rishyashringa seemed to be in great distress and was observed to be sighing repeatedly.

Vibhandaka said to his son, "Why have you not lit the sacrificial fire today? Why have you not milked our cow, nor cleaned the sacrificial implements? Did something happen to make you so despondent?"

Rishyashringa replied, "While you were away, a religious student came here. He was neither short nor tall. He looked handsome and had a golden complexion, endued with eyes as large as lotuses. He looked verily like a god in disguise and his radiance was like that of the sun. A beautiful ornament was shining on his neck. Under his throat he had two balls of flesh without a single hair upon them and of an exceedingly beautiful form. His waist was slender and his navel neat, and smooth was the region about his ribs. He wore a golden ornament on his feet that made a delightful sound as he walked. He wore innumerable ornaments on his body, that enhanced his beauty to a great extent. His face was wonderful to behold and his voice gladdened my heart. His speech was pleasant like that of a bird. A divine fragrance emanated from his person. He also offered me all kinds of wonderful food to eat and taught me a unique form of religious worship, by repeatedly clasping me in his arms. It was very delightful. Having done all this, he left for his own hermitage. My mind seeks his companionship, I wish to be with him all the time. O father, let me this very moment go to him."

Vibhandaka was alarmed. He immediately realized that the danger to his son. Still, unwilling to explain about women, he said, "Son, the one who visited you is not a religious student. He must be a Rakshasa. They are of wondrous beautiful form but of evil mind. Their strength is unrivaled and great is their beauty. They seek to obstruct the practice of penances. They assume lovely forms and try to allure those who seek austerities by diverse means. You ought to have nothing to with them. They are dangerous."

Having warned his son, Vibhandaka went forth in search of the woman who had disturbed the serenity of his son. Despite searching for three days, he was not able to find her. Sometime later, when Vibhandaka had gone out to gather fruits, the same courtesan came to Rishyashringa and tempted him as before. As soon as the young sage saw her, he rushed forward and said, "My father tried warning me against you. I think that something that gives me so much pleasure could not be wrong. Let us be gone from this place before my father can return."

Glad that her purpose was so easily accomplished, the courtesan took the sage to her boat and entertained him inside. There were many more beautiful women inside, who contrived to keep the young hermit occupied while they cast off. They took him to the kingdom of Anga, where he was quartered in the palace, in the apartments meant for women.

The moment Rishyashringa set foot in the kingdom, Indra was appeased, and sent copious rainfall to send the long drought. In gratitude, the King gave his daughter Shanta to young sage in marriage. Now, the only thing to be taken care of was Vibhandaka's wrath, for the news was sure to reach him. He then ordered kine to be placed, fields to be ploughed by the road that Vibhandaka had to take to reach his capital. He ordered everyone to say, upon enquiry, that all this wealth now belongs to Rishyashringa.

Sure enough, when Vibhandaka heard the news of his son's marriage, he started traveling towards Anga, very much intending to curse the King for his deception. However, everywhere on his way, when he heard that great wealth had come to his son, his anger slowly ebbed away. Whatever remained of was completely subdued, when he entered the palace and saw his son seated on the throne, with his beautiful wife Shanta. Having come with the intention to curse his son and the king, he ended up blessing them instead.

Some time after this, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya was concerned that he did not have any children. He resolved to perform the Ashwamedha sacrifice to obtain children. He solicited the opinion of the ministers on this topic. His charioteer Sumantra narrated the legend of Rishyashringa and told him that it had been foretold that only that sage can perform the sacrifice that would procure issue for the King.

Dasharatha took the permission of his perceptor Vasishta and traveled to Anga to invite the sage to be the chief priest at his sacrifice. All the friendly Kings, including Romapada, the King of Anga were invited to the sacrifice. The sacrifice was performed at the banks of the river Sarayu, with many great sages in attendance. Rishyashringa was the Ritwik (chief-priest) of the sacrifice. As part of the ritual, the Putra Kameshti (पुत्र कामेष्टि) hymns were chanted, which pleased the Gods. From the sacrificial fire rose a divine being, known as the Prajapatya Purusha (प्राजापत्य पुरुष), and presented to King Dasharatha a pot containing a divine dessert. He said, "O King, take this dessert prepared by the gods, this blessed dessert that enriches progeny and health".

The King gave this dessert to his queens Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. After completion of the sacrifical rituals, sage Rishyashringa went back to his kingdom.

By the power of the divine dessert, Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharata and Sumitra gave birth to the twins Laxmana and Shatrughna.


Last Modified At: Wed Nov 17 22:59:29 2004