Who is a RISHI

Rishi is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The word ‘rishi’ means sage, but it is necessary to see the origins of this word. This is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.  


The word ‘rishi’ has been derived from the root word rish, which means to flow, flow quickly, glide, move with a quick motion, go, move, push, thrust, stab, or kill. The sense of going has to be taken in the context of the word ‘rishi’. A suffix is added to the root word rish following the unadi sutra, ‘Igupadhat kit; if the penultimate letter of a word is an ik letter, then the suffix kit will be added.’ The t and i of the suffix get dropped. The word rish becomes ‘rishi’, which means a person, who has attained all that is worth attaining. A rishi attains knowledge of the Self, using a mantra and also authors a mantra. A rishi sees the truth everywhere and crosses the transmigratory cycle of repeated births and deaths called the samsara. ‘Rishi’ also denotes a person, who has attained mastery in a field of knowledge. The word ‘rishi’ could also mean the author of any scripture. Any person expert in any subject is also called a ‘rishi’. This word denotes a person, who speaks only the truth. A ‘rishi’ is also one, who has curse as one’s weapon. 


The word ‘rishi’ denotes a person, who has seen a mantra. Though, generally seeing a mantra means realising the essence of a mantra, there are accounts of rishis even physically seeing mantras. There are seven kinds of rishis: maharishi, paramarishi, devarishi, brahmarishi, shrutarishi, rajarishi, and kandarishi. There are seven rishis, who form a group, and those belonging to this group change in every manvantara, aeon. The word ‘rishi’ can also denote the Vedas. It can also mean rays of light. The meaning of going of the root word rish can give the meaning of a person engaged in practising truthfulness, austerities, and trying to attain knowledge. A person in whom truthfulness, knowledge, scriptures, and austerities come together as a group, can be called a ‘rishi’. One, who leads a life of renunciation and seeks Self-knowledge, can be also called a ‘rishi’. A ‘rishi’ is one who is moving towards the Supreme.


The Vedas contain numerous references to women rishis. In the Rig Veda, more than twenty-five women rishis are mentioned. ‘Rishi’ can thus mean any of the many rishis talked of in the Vedas, Puranas, and other texts. A child of a rishi cannot automatically become a rishi by birth, but can become a rishi only by performing austerities. Rishis might live for hundreds or thousands of years. They can dwell in any world they wish. An advent of a rishi is preceded by the birth of many sincere spiritual aspirants.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata

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This article was first published in the May 2018 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To know more http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription 

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