Los Rishis, ¿quienes son?


December 2012 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami—RISHIS


During my long studentship with Sri Krishnamacharya, he taught several
asanas and vinyasas normally not well known at that time. Some bore
the names of renowned sages or rishis. I had known about rishis being
associated with a few asanas even earlier but these were mostly seated
poses, basically meditative postures like Vajrasana also known as
Dadhichi asana about which I had written earlier. But Sri
Krishnamacharya taught several new asanas I had not known, not even
heard of before. These were also featured in his book Yoga Makaranda.

Some like Bhardwajasana, Marichyasana are simple seated poses but many
others are more difficult ones and one may wonder if the rishi would
be able to stay for a long time in those postures and also meditate.
Of course some of the asanas were one legged poses like Bhagiratasana
and Durvasasana but I had heard  and also read in some puranas that
such one legged standing poses were resorted to by several tapasvins
to get the blessings of the Lord. The asanas named after rishis and
taught by my Guru can be classifies into simple seated meditative
poses like Dadhichi asana (vajrasana), more involved seated poses like
Bharadvajasana, Matsyendrasana, Marichyasana and others. Then we have
a few poses which can form a group like the ‘side plank’ poses such as
Vashishtasana, Viswamitrasana, Kasyapasana and others. Then we have a
series of poses centered around ‘ekapada sirsasana’ like Kapilasana.
Krishnamacharya thus taught many asanas bearing the names of well
known rishis—many of which I had not heard of, before I came to study
with him.

These Rishis were well known though, not necessarily for their
yogasana capabilities. There is a view that the entire vedas was
called Arsha or the creation of rishis, even though Sri
Krishnamacharya would say, quoting the vedas, that the vedas are
apourusheya or not created by human beings. The view is that the vedas
were created by creator Brahma when creation took place but were
dormant. The rishis with their deep contemplation were able to tune in
with the hidden vedic mantras and then gave it to human beings for
proper use and understanding. So the rishis were known as “seers of
mantras”, as Yaska the vedic etymologist would say “Rishayah
Mantradrashtarah”. But then vedas were considered revelation of the
absolute truth so another definition of a Rishi as quoted by Sri
Krishnamacharya from a well known Sanskrit thesaurus “Amarakosa” is
that Rishis are revealers of Truth (Rishayah Satyavachasah). Of course
both the definitions could amount to the same. So we can say Rishis
are those who reveal the absolute truth after they experience the
truth through the discovery of vedic mantras. Some scholars indicate
that the words Rishi, Rtam (truth), Rju (proof), Rk( vedic mantra),
Arjava (straightforwardness) can be traced to one sanskrit root “rj’
meaning ‘to be straight’ .

Kapila was a vedic rishi, and still some Indian families carry his
name. According to Bhgavata purana he was the avatar of Lord Narayana
Himself. His discussions and advice to his mother on spiritual matters
known as “Kapila-devaahuti samvada” is very well known. He is credited
with the formalization of the Samkhya philosophy. It was also known as
Seswar Samkhya. He is also credited with the Samkhya Sutras one of the
earliest works on Samkhya even as Iswarakrishna’s Samkhyakarika became
the standard text for Samkhya philosophy. Kapila also is associated
with the story of how the Ganga was brought to earth from the lofty
heights of the Himalayas by Bhagirata. Please read the story of
Bhagirata in an earlier Newsletter.

Maharshi Kashypa is another well known vedic rishi. Reference of
Kashyapa is found in some Buddhist literature also. Rishi Kashypa is
mentioned along with the understanding of the solar system in the well
known Surynamaskara portion of the vedas. ”Kashyapaf pashyako
bhavati”. He is said to be the son of Marichi (does it ring a bell?)
who was believed to be one of the ten ‘mind children’ (manasputras) of
Brahma. Here is an interesting story about how different species were
created. Kashyapaa married 13 women and through them were born so many
offspring/progeny that the whole universe was filled different beings.
Divine beings like the 12 suns (adityas), several creeds of demons,
tigers and lions, birds like garuda (eagle), then snakes and other
reptiles all were born to these women, each set of species to
different wives. Kashyapa thus became the father of all beings and all
beings of the universe were considered to be related to one another
(not just the human beings) through a common forefather Kashyapa. Thus
not only other human beings but all the beings belonging to all the
species were considered kith and kin. Many families in India still
carry his name.

Sage Bharadwaja is another renowned vedic rishi. He is considered to
be a great vedic scholar and teacher. An episode found in the Kaataka
portion of the Taittiriya sakha of Yajur Veda would be of interest.
Bharadwaja was so much concentrating in studying the vedas that even
as the life was coming to an end  he was still continuing with his
studies. Indra, the Lord appeared before him and reminded him that it
was almost the end of his life. He told Bharadwaj, “Bharadwaja!! If I
give you another human life what would you like to do?” Back came the
reply, “I will study the Vedas further”. Upon that, the Lord asked him
to look at the three huge mountains the Lord created and took out from
each one of them a handful of earth and placed them before Bharadwaja
and said, “These mountains represent the three vedas and the three
handfuls of dirt in front of you represent the vedas you have studied
so far. You see the vedas are innumerable and infinite (ananta vai
vedaH) and any number of births would not be sufficient to exhaust all
the vedas. You try to understand the essence of the vedas, the source
of all the Universe, the Brahman.” And Bharadwaja became a great
spiritual teacher of the vedas. Again many families carry the
Bharadwaja name.

Vasishta and Viswamitra are two renowned vedic rishis. I have already
written about these two in an earlier article “Yogagate”. Viswamitra
is credited with revealing one of the most important mantras of the
vedas, the Gayatri which is used by thousands everyday and is the
mantra used lifelong by many. Viswamitra also is credited with
teaching a pair of important mantras to Lord Rama (and Lakshmana),
known as balaa and atibalaa mantras in the Ramayana. If one masters
the bala mantra one would not tire during a war and the atibala would
protect the disciple from thirst and hunger while on the battlefield.
Again many families still carry the name of Vasishta and Viswamitra’s
earlier name Kausika.

These are some of the stories of rishis well known to yogis through
the asanas that bear their names. There are many more rishis whose
lives, discoveries and service to mankind in the spiritual path are
very significant and can be found in vedas, puranas, itihasas, smritis
and various other ancient works.

Usually mantra meditation(japa) is well organized. When one wants to
use a mantra she/he should associate the mantra with the author rishi
of the mantra, the meter in which it is constructed and the devata or
the divinity it addresses. If you take the gayatri mantra, you first
say the rishi of gayatri mantra is Viswamitra and touch your head
(nyasa) with the finger tips as head(brain) is the thinking instrument
the rishi used to discover the mantra. One touches the nose(instead of
the mouth) and mentions the name of the meter in which the mantra
occurs and then one touches the heart and mentions the deity that the
mantra represents. In the case of the Gayatri mantra the meter is
(nichru)gayatri and the devata is  savita the bright sun and of course
the rishi is   Viswamitra.  There is another interesting procedure for
the  Gayatri meditataion. Prior to Gayatri meditation one has to
welcome or imbibe/invoke into oneself Goddess Gayatri and there is a
mantra called  ‘gayatri  avaahana mantra ‘.  the rishi of this vedic
mantra is Vamadeva and the meter is anushtub and the devata is of
course Gayatri. Likewise when one uses the pranava, the rishi in this
case is Brahma the creator Himself– it is said in the vedas that
Brahma created the Universe chanting “OM”. “Om iti brahma prasauti”
say the vedas. Then in the daily Sandhya routine the seven vyahritis
mantras are used while doing pranayama. The seven vyahritis are bhuH,
bhuvaH, suvaH etc. These are important mantras next only to pranava
and gayatri. Which are the rishis associated with these seven mantras?
They are the seven rishis (sapta rishis) who are Atri, Bhrugu, Kutsa,
Vasishta, Gautama, Kashyapa and Agirasa. What are the seven main
meters found in the vedas? They are gayatri (6 syllables per line),
ushnik (7 syllables), anushtup, the most common meter (8 syllables),
brihati (9 syllables), Pankti (10 syllables) tushtup (11 syllables)
and jagati (12 syllables). And the devatas or divine beings
represented by the mantras and meditated on in the heart would be
agni, vayu, arka, vageesa, varuna, indra and visvedevaH.

When I was young I used to do the rishi asanas with reverence. One day
I started wondering how the sages could stay in these postures like
viswamitrasana, durvasasna for a long time and still meditate. Maybe
some yogis gave the names of rishis for some of the postures. Maybe
asanas with rishi names can be found in older texts like puranas and
smritis, I do not know. It is one of the million questions I did not
ask my Guru. Many postures are named after objects like
catushpadapeetam or table pose, Some were given the names representing
the effects the posture has like paschimatanasana (posterior stretch
pose) or sarvangasana (whole body benefiting asana) and some were
named after rishis I guess. The rishi poses are majestic,  great fun,
but the mantras and philosophies of the rishis are very profound
indeed. Rishis are known  and remembered more for the mantras and
philosophies and not so much for their yoga poses.

Srivatsa Ramaswami




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