- A rishi in its most ancient Vedic sense was a seer and an inspired poet. The original rishis were those who saw or called forth the eternal verses of the VEDAS. The Vedas were not seen as writ-ten by anyone; the rishis were conduits for them. Most of the Vedic MANTRAS include the name of the rishi who recorded them. Seven of these ancient rishis are seen as the starting points for the orthodox BRAHMIN lineages: Kashyapa, Atri, K 366 RishabhaVasishtha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, and Bharadvaja.In the later epics and Puranas, or mythical lore, rishis inhabited ASHRAMS or retreat places in the wilderness, where they performed their aus-terities. These rishis were sages, not necessarily connected with the transmission of the Vedas. Some of them were composers or compilers of the epics, such as the rishi VALMIKI who compiled the RAMAYANA, and the rishi VYASA who gave us the MAHABHARATA. The rishis encountered in this later literature often are known for the frighten-ing curses they imposed upon those who had not treated them with due deference and respect.Rishi today is an honorific term, for instance, in the case of MAHARISHI (great rishi) Mahesh Yogi, who founded the TRANSCENDENTAL MEDITATION movement. Few such people today are considered comparable to the great rishis of the past.See also sapta rishi.Further reading: John Dowson, A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History, and Literature, 12th ed. (Ludhiana: Lyall Book Depot, 1974); John E. Mitchiner, Traditions of the Seven Rsis (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982); C. Sivaramamurti, Rishis in Indian Art and Literature (New Delhi: Kanak, 1981).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.