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Sage Viswamitra was the composer of Mandala III of Rig Veda.

the Aitareya Brahmana and Brihaddevata mentions Sage Viswamitra as the king turned Sage, having 101 sons.

However, his rivalry with Sage Vasistha was narrated in the Bala Kanda of Ramayana.

Can anyone throw light on where this story of Sage Viswamitra's rivalry with Sage Vasistha came from?

  • I can add more information later, but in short this rivalry is another one of Puranic accounts that are hard to trace and align with The Vedas. It is not only in The Ramayana, but also in The Markandeya Purana one can find some references. There are many Puranic extensions that speak of this rivalry - even as far as saying The sage Vasishta and The sage Viswamitra cursed each other. Personally I do not subscribe to any such stories, and am of the view this is not respectful for our Vedic seers. – Vidyarthi Jan 13 at 12:39
  • @Vidyarthi: I have read Ramayana and Puranas. And, I don't want references from them please. – Srimannarayana K V Jan 13 at 12:41
  • okay sure, so you want references from texts other than, and older than, The Puranas? Like I mentioned in my comment, this rivalry is a Puranic account (to the best of my knowledge, and given you have read the scriptures, I guess you know that as well). If you are asking specifically if this rivalry is mentioned anywhere in The Vedas, then my answer is no, not that I know of. As far as I know, this is purely a Puranic construct. – Vidyarthi Jan 14 at 0:06
  • Yes, I too understood that. Only for getting clarification from better known person, I had posted this question @Vidyarthi – Srimannarayana K V Jan 14 at 0:49
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In Ṛgvedic Legends Through the Ages, H. L. Hariyappa discusses this topic in great detail. According to him, the earliest reference to their supposed rivalry is found in Taittirīya Saṃhitā (Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda) III 1.7:

iii. 1. 7.

The Adhvaryu is he that brings trouble on the sacrificer, and he that brings trouble himself is ruined before the trouble. 'From the formula spoken, guard me, from every execration'--(with these words) he should pour a libation before the morning litany (of the Hotr). So the Adhvaryu girds himself in front with a protection, to avert trouble.

For entry thee, for rest thee, for the overcoming of the Gayatri, of the Tristubh, of the Jagati, hail! O expiration and inspiration, protect me from death, O expiration and inspiration forsake me not.

They contend as to the deities and to expiration and inspiration, whose Soma (offerings) compete. 'For entry thee, for rest thee', he says; entry and rest are the metres; verily by the metres he appropriates his metres. The Ajya (Stotras) have the word 'forward' in them, for conquest. The beginning verses are addressed to the Maruts, for victory. Both the Brhat and the Rathantara (Samans) are used. The Rathantara is this (earth), the What yonder (sky); verily he cuts him off from these two. The Rathantara is to-day, the Brhat to-morrow; verily he cuts him off from to-day and to-morrow. The Rathantara is the past, the Brhat the future; verily he cuts him off from the past and the future. The Rathantara is the measured, the Brhat the unmeasured; verily he cuts him off from the measured and the unmeasured. Viçvamitra and Jamadagni had a quarrel with Vasistha. Jamadagni saw this Vihavya (hymn), and by means of it he appropriated the power and strength of Vasistha. In that the Vihavya is recited, the sacrificer appropriates the power and strength of his enemy. 'He who performs more rites of sacrifice', they say, 'appropriates the gods.' If the Soma (sacrifice) on the other side is an Agnistoma, he should perform an Ukthya; if it is an Ukthya, he should perform an Atiratra; verily by means of rites of sacrifice he appropriates his deities; he becomes better.

Followed by Bṛhaddevatā which says the Vasiṣṭhas shouldn't read RV III. 53, 21-24 and if they do, their heads will break into a hundred pieces:

  1. Viśvāmitra and Vāc Sasarparī. Spells against the Vasiṣṭhas.

...

  1. And then going home he deposited (them there) in person (svaśarīreṇa). But the four stanzas which follow (RV III. 53, 21-24) are traditionally held to be hostile to the Vasiṣṭhas.

...

  1. They were pronounced by Viśvāmitra; they are traditionally held to be 'imprecations' (abhiśāpa). They are pronounced to be hostile to enemies and magical (abhicārika) incantations.

  2. The Vasiṣṭhas will not listen to them. This unanimous opinion of their authorities (ācāryaka): great guilt arises from repeating or listening (to them);

  3. By repeating or hearing (them) one's head is broken into a hundred fragments; the children of those (who do so) perish: therefore one should not repeat them.

However, as R. L. Kashyap clarifies in his commentary, there is nothing in the Ṛgveda that supports this notion:

The hostility between Viśvāmitra before becoming a rishi and Vasiṣṭha is mentioned in Bālakāṇḍa of Rāmāyaṇa (51.15). We are not concerned with Brāhmaṇa books or epics or later books like Bṛhaddevatā or Nirukta (of Yāska). Our question is, 'is there any specific evidence of this hostility between them in Rig Veda?' Usually the four verses (3.53.21-24) dealing with the curses uttered by Viśvāmitra and all the mantras of (7.104) uttered by Vasiṣṭha are quoted.

In 3.53.21-24, there is no mention of Vasiṣṭha; similarly in (7.104), (due to Vasiṣṭha), there is no mention of Viśvāmitra. There is no doubt that these mantras call for the destruction of their foes. But how one can say that (3.53) is directed against Vasiṣṭha? Recall Rig Veda mantras are prior to Rāmāyaṇa or Brāhmaṇa books by at least a thousand years or so. See our comments on (3.53.21-24).

[Commentary:]

Verses: 21-24

Sāyaṇa declares that verses 21-24 deal with the proverbial enmity between Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra clans, and states that 'Vasiṣṭhas should not read these mantras'. However, the word Vasiṣṭha does not appear in these mantras. Similarly (7.104), the sukta due to Vasiṣṭha, is said to have curses against Viśvāmitra, even though the word Viśvāmitra does not appear there. The mantras both here and there in (7.104) refer to symbolic battles against the hostiles (or the battles against the human supporters of hostiles).


Hariyappa concludes by saying the elaborate revengeful stories involving the two great personalities, found in the two epics and various purāṇas are concoctions and distortions by later authors:

SUMMARY

  1. The first and only mention of a discord between them in the later Saṃhitās is in the TS. It was a dispute between Vasiṣṭha on the one part and Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni on the other, regarding a 'conflicting call (vi-hava) of the gods', as Bloomfield puts it. The text however says that in that dispute, Jamadagni saw the "vihavya" hymn (RV X 128) and drew away all the strength of the adversary. The TS also records, for the first time about Vasiṣṭha's bereavement caused by the death of his son or sons (hataputraḥ) and about his desire to wreak vengeance against the Saudāsas. On the other hand, the importance of both the sages for the sacrifice is stressed. The SV and AV do not bear any sign of the rivalry; the latter simply praises them uniformly.

  2. ...It is remarkable that nowhere does any Brāhmaṇa say or suggest that Viśvāmitra was responsible for Vasiṣṭha's misfortune.

  3. Yāska does not refer to any hatred between Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra...It is in the Bṛhaddevatā that the first reference is made to the Vasiṣṭha-dveṣiṇyaḥ (Vasiṣṭha-haters) and an injunction that they should neither be recited nor heard on pain of the head splitting into hundred parts etc...

  4. In the conception of the Epics and the Purāṇas, the belief in the Vasiṣṭha-Viśvāmitra hatred has been firmly established. The Rāmāyaṇa describes only the process of Viśvāmitra's elevation to the status of a Brahmarṣi. All revengeful stories are elaborated in the Mbh. and further in the Purāṇas. Such inveterate hatred is fancied that Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra curse each other to become Āḍi and Baka (a kind of birds of portentous height) and then fight as such for years when only Brahmā could come and pacify them with suitable admonition. General impression would be that Vasiṣṭha patiently bore all the insults and onslaughts of Viśvāmitra, whereas the latter prompted by jealousy at Vasiṣṭha's greatness always sought an opportunity to attack him. He even tried to kill him; only the River Sarasvatī tricked him at the risk of being cursed. Finally Viśvāmitra's cruel treatment of Hariścandra is phenomenal. If all that did happen, it is hard to develop any sense of reverence to the Sage.

    But a perusal of the above historical investigation will prove that later literature does not reflect the truth. There has been so much of concoction and distortion. There is no doubt that all that was done, by whomsoever that was responsible, with bad taste and unworthy motive...

Conclusion:

  • Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra, already sages of high repute, in the comprehension of the RV, were not enemies of each other. Both of them, being eminent priests of the foremost kings of the day, had common enemies to contend with in the course of their expansion in India.
  • There have been definite instances of their co-operation for common good. Witness the system of sacrifices which they perfected. Should there have been any differences between them, they must relate to some sacrificial technique or to a too personal jealousy at each other's success in their support to kings. But it was never such as to cause rivalry and hatred between clans and races.
  • It lacks vedic authority to say that Viśvāmitra was a Kṣatriya elevated to Brāhmanhood. Apart from orthodox tradition, researches point to the fact that the caste held sway over the people during a very late period of the Ṛgvedic Age. As Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra belonged to the hoary past even at the time of Ṛgvedic compilation, it will be short-sighted to attribute any varṇa to them. In the words of Bloomfield, the RV presupposes 'a long antecedent activity' and represents 'the mixed final precipitate of a later time.' Even if in that remote age they did observe the distinction of varṇas, it was only one of profession and not of birth (Mbh. XII 181.10).
  • To make Viśvāmitra responsible for Vasiṣṭha's misfortune is unjust, in the absence of any tangible evidence. In later fabrications they have been allowed to wreak vengeance against each other, sufficiently. They are quits.
  • Vasiṣṭha is saintly, is an embodiment of all that is best in man and god; therefore he is Vasiṣṭha. Viśvāmitra is brilliant, an embodiment of Human Endeavour (Puruṣakāra), a self-made Yogin and friend to all...
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  • Your statement - Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra, already sages of high repute, in the comprehension of the RV, were not enemies of each other - is accepted. Up voted @sv. – Srimannarayana K V Jan 30 at 3:41

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