Matanga, born as Chandala, does penance to become a Brahmana. Indra tells him that he will not become a Brahmana and explains the birth cycles and durations to become a Brahmana. Indra says it's not possible to become a Brahmana by doing penance.

As answered in this question, Skanda Purana says he succeeded and becomes Brahmana. Also read that (related topic) reciting Shiva Nama 25000 times one can become a higher order.

My question is in what's said in Mahabharata. Indra saying penances can not make one Brahmana. If so, how did Vishwamitra became a Brahmana? Is it purely that he was destined to become a Brahmana (related to his birth)?

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    We have seriously mixed the concept of Varna and Jaati. One if not born of Brahmin parents can't be Brahmin ever in a given life to be Brahmin by Jaati but surely can be became a Brahmin by Varna.
    – Ubi.B
    Oct 4, 2021 at 15:33
  • Viśvāmitra was born with Brahmateja, he is an extremely exceptional case, he was born as the son of Kṣatriya by mistake, due to the switching of carus b/w Satyavatī (wife of Ṛcīka) and her mother. He was supposed to be born through the womb of Satyavatī herself. His case shouldn't be taken as an example that anyone can 'become' Brāhmaṇa in the same lifetime, as a result of tapas.
    – Bingming
    May 22 at 8:09

4 Answers 4


Mothers of sage Jamadagni and vishwamitra exchanged the charus given by Sage Ruchika which resulted to the birth of Brahmin Vishwamitra from kshatriya mother. Even though his parents were kshatriya, we can't say that he was not a brahmin by birth.

O excellent lady, thou hast not done well in exchanging the charu as will soon become apparent. It is also clear that thou hast changed the trees. I had placed the entire accumulated energy of Brahma in thy charu and Kshatriya energy in the charu of thy mother. I had so ordered that thou wouldst give birth to a Brahmana whose virtues would be famous throughout the three worlds, and that she (thy mother) would give birth to an excellent Kshatriya. But now, O excellent lady, that thou hast reversed the order (of the charu) so, thy mother will give birth to an excellent Brahmana and thou too, O excellent lady, will give birth to a Kshatriya terrible in action.

Anushasana Parva Chapter IV


Indra is deceptive by nature and, generally, his words should not be taken at face value.

Still, he is technically right that it is impossible to become a Brahmana by penance (tapas). That can be seen Yakṣa Praśna, where Yudhiṣṭhira says

The Yaksha asked,—“By what, O king, birth, behaviour, study, or learning doth a person become a Brahmana? Tell us with certitude!” Yudhishthira answered,- “Listen, O Yaksha! It is neither birth, nor study, nor learning, that is the cause of Brahmanahood, without doubt, it is behaviour that constitutes it. One’s behaviour should always be well-guarded, especially by a Brahmana. He who maintaineth his conduct unimpaired, is never impaired himself. Professors and pupils, in fact, all who study the scriptures, if addicted to wicked habits, are to be regarded as illiterate wretches. He only is learned who performeth his religious duties. He even that hath studied the four Vedas is to be regarded as a wicked wretch scarcely distinguishable from a Sudra if his conduct be not correct. He only who performeth the Agnihotra and hath his senses under control, is called a Brahmana!”

From that, it can be implied that yajña, not tapas, is needed to become a Brahmana and Indra is just being unhelpful not pointing it out.

Basically, it is like the saying you can't fill a glass that is already full. You need to sacrifice things (false knowledge, false ideas, senses, wood, etc.)



If so, how did Vishwamitra became a Brahmana?

There is a provision for a kshatriya to become a brahmana as per aitareya brahmana book 7 ch.5 :

The priests may take any one of the three portions (which are to be left), either Soma, or curds, or water. When they take the Soma, which is the portion allotted to Brahmanas, then thou wilt favour the Brahmanas by it.’ Thy progeny will be distinguished by the characteristics of the Brahmana ; for they will be ready to take gifts, thirsty after drinking (Soma', and hungry of eating food, and ready to roan? about everywhere according to their pleasure. When there is any fault on the Ksattriya (who, when sacrificing, eats the Brahmana portion), then his progeny has the characteristics of a Brahmana ; but in the second or third generation he is then capable of entering completely the Brahmanaship, and he will have the desire of living with the Brahmanic fraternity.

kshatriyas like kaushika, etc. became brahmana using the above ritual which might be a form of tapasya as indicated by mahabharata, vana parva, Section LXXXVII :

At Kamyaka, Kusika's son had quaffed the Soma juice with Indra. Then abandoning the Kshatriya order, he began to say, I am a Brahmana.'

In the above chapter of aitareya brahmana, only kshatriyas / their progeny have an option to become a brahmana during the lifetime. Sudras and vaishyas don't have this option which is indicated by Indra in mahabharata.


There is no difference between them. The difference is opinion of Indra which is invalid since he is just a demi god without true knowledge. It's not just Vishwamitra there are lots of examples of Varna change & its sanction in Mahabharat. For example:

Saptrishi Brighu made King Vitahavya, a kshatriya, into a brahmin (Mahabharata 13, Section XXX)

The supreme lord, Shiva, himself says: Conduct is the only ground. A Sudra, if he is established on good conduct, is regarded as possessed of the status of a Brahmana. The status of Brahma, O auspicious lady, is equal wherever it exists. (Anushasan Parv SECTION CXLIII)

Saptrishi Pulastya - "...the excellent tirtha of Brahma. Bathing there, a person, of the (three) inferior orders, obtaines the status of a Brahmana... Without doubt, by vows, by investiture of the sacred, by fasts, by rites and by Mantras, one becometh a Brahmana. O bull among men, it hath been seen, however, by learned persons of old that even one destitute of rites and Mantras, by only bathing in that tirtha becometh learned and endued with the merit of vows." (Mahabharata, Tirth-Yatra Parva LXXXIII)

Yudhishtira says birth is totally irrelevant due to race-mixing, and people in his kingdom are being declared Brahmin from any of the castes (Mahabharata Vana Parva SECTION CLXXIX). This means hundreds of thousands of people

Puranic rishi Markandeya says Shudras can become Brahmins (Mahabharata Vana Parva SECTION CCXI)

Devapi, Kusika's son, Arshtishena, Vishwamitra AND Sindhudwipa .... all of them became Brahmins from non-Brahmins (Mahabharata Book 9: Shalya Parva, Chapter 40)

So demi-god Indra's opinion was wrong. That's the only difference. Otherwise Matanga may have been doing penance in wrong way.

  • I cannot accept this as answer for two reasons. It doesn't explain the importance of penance in becoming Brahmana. Also the answer dismisses Indra as demi-god but then quotes Yudhistira and others to justify the answer (if Indra can be dismissed, so the others quoted in the answer). Now that whatever Indra said is quoted by Bhishma who was instructed by Krishna; so one has to agree that Bhishma's words are that of Krishna.
    – Kanthri
    Oct 4, 2021 at 4:45
  • @Kanthri You still get supreme lord Shiva, Saptrishis (mind-born sons of Brahma) & Puranic rishi.... and these are only few examples. Others are only saying what supreme lord teaches. Indra is demi-god son of saptrishi... so we have more authoritative people than Indra......... Even Srimad Bhagavatam has many examples of Varna change this Puran is the EMBODIMENT of Vishnu/Krishna..... so we have many more & better authorities than Indra who was giving anti-God opinion
    – R. Kaushik
    Oct 4, 2021 at 4:59
  • I beg to differ Indra is an authentic even if not perfect source of authority and his response is consistent with Vedic lore. It is very hand except by force for one to go against his/her nature and change Varna.
    – Haridasa
    Feb 25 at 22:57
  • True Varna is based on Gunas and conduct (how one behaves), but it was how Matanga behaved that showed his mixed Varna. So....
    – Haridasa
    Feb 25 at 22:59

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