Rāmāyaṇa - Bāla-kāṇḍa - Part 7 -The Story of Viśvāmitra

After listening to the story of the city of Viśālā, the brothers along with Sage Viśvāmitra received Sumati’s hospitality and spent the night there. The next morning, they arrived at the outskirts of the magnificent city of Mithilā. Looking at a desolated but resplendent āśrama, Rāma sought to know who it belonged to. Viśvāmitra started narrating –

“This āśrama belonged to Sage Gautama, who performed tapas for many years with his wife Ahalyā. Once, Indra, approached Ahalyā when her husband was away. Driven by lust, he disguised himself as the sage and made advances towards her. Knowing well that he was Indra in disguise, the dull-witted Ahalyā agreed, flattered by the attention she received from the king of the devas. Her desire fulfilled, she hurriedly sent away Indra, lest her husband should notice. However, Gautama, who was like blazing fire spotted Indra in disguise and cursed him – “You shall immediately lose your organ of enjoyment!” He cursed his wife, Ahalyā, as well – “You shall live here for thousands of years, invisible to all creatures. Feeding on air, starved for food, and repenting your actions, you will lie on ashes. Only when Rāma arrives here, you will be purified and will regain your old self.” Uttering this curse, Gautama went to the Himalayan peaks to perform tapas. Indra was in great pain due to the curse and got his organ replaced with that of a ram.

The brothers entered the āśrama with Viśvāmitra and spotted Ahalyā, who looked like a brilliant flame enveloped by smoke. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa fell to her feet and she offered them arghya and pādya. Relieved of her curse, Ahalyā reunited with Gautama.


Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa guided by Viśvāmitra entered the yajña-bhūmi on the outskirts of Mithilā and were graciously welcomed by the King Janaka and his purohita Śatānanda. Viśvāmitra introduced the lads to quench the curiosity of the king, upon hearing which,  Śatānanda, the eldest son of Sage Gautama was thrilled. He asked Viśvāmitra if his mother, Ahalyā was now redeemed and reunited with his father. He also enquired if Rāma was offered hospitality from his parents. Viśvāmitra assured him that everything was now fine. Supremely pleased, Śatānanda thanked his divine fortune for having seen Rāma and started narrating the glorious story of Viśvāmitra –

Kauśika[1], the son of Gādhi, was a very noble king. He once went on a royal tour of his kingdom, accompanied by his four-fold army. He chanced upon the āśrama of Sage Vasiṣṭha, who welcomed him with affectionate hospitality. After enquiring about the dhārmic welfare of his kingdom, Vasiṣṭha called his divine cow Śabalā. He said, “O dear Śabalā, quickly manifest all kinds of food and drinks that Kauśika and his large army might desire.” Accordingly, in no time, the Kāmadhenu produced delicious food of all six tastes, to the contentment of all the guests. Pleased, Viśvāmitra wished to procure the cow and requested Vasiṣṭha to send her to him in exchange for a hundred thousand cows. Vasiṣṭha would not part with her, but Viśvāmitra insisted offering larger quantities of wealth. When Vasiṣṭha refused saying that Śabalā was his very life, Viśvāmitra started dragging away the cow with force. Immensely pained, Śabalā manifested a powerful army, upon the behest of Vasiṣṭha which vanquished Viśvāmitra’s army and sons in no time. Viśvāmitra was ashamed of himself with his pride and strength quenched by the cow. Leaving his only remaining son in charge of the kingdom, he retired to the Himālayas and performed tapas.

Mahādeva – Śiva appeared before Viśvāmitra and upon his request granted him the power of all invincible weapons. His pride now overflowed with arrogance. He went to Vasiṣṭha’s āśrama and set it on fire, scaring all beings around. Enraged, Vasiṣṭha held up his staff (Brahma-daṇḍa), which was like Yama’s daṇḍa with an intention to vanquish Viśvāmitra. Hoping to defeat him, Viśvāmitra hurled various peerless weapons at him, but were all consumed by Vasiṣṭha’s staff. Finally, Viśvāmitra invoked the all-powerful Brahmāstra which was consumed by the staff as well. Then Vasiṣṭha turned fierce – from the pores of his body, issued forth smoky tongues of flame like sparks of fire and the Brahma-daṇḍa, which he held up appeared to consume the world. The devas and ṛṣis were stunned and requested Vasiṣṭha to hold back his power. Viśvāmitra utterly subjugated declared – “Fie upon the kṣatriya power. The brāhmic power is the real power.[2]” Seeing that the  Brahma-daṇḍa alone could defeat every weapon, Viśvāmitra decided to perform tapas to attain Brahmatva.

After a thousand years of tapas, Brahmā appeared before him and said, “Kauśika, you have won the world of the rājarṣis – royal sages, out of your tapas.” With these words Brahmā vanished, leaving Viśvāmitra crestfallen. He thought, “It appears like the devas and ṛṣis do not see anything more than a rājarṣi in me; my tapas is futile!” He made up his mind to perform an even more intense tapas.


In the meantime, King Triśaṅku, who belonged to the Ikṣvāku race, wished to perform a yāga, which could take him embodied to svarga. He approached Vasiṣṭha with his request, who told him that his wish was impossible to attain and against the cosmic order. Being turned down by the guru, he approached Vasiṣṭha’s children, who admonished him as well. Seeing his audacity, Vasiṣṭha’s children also cursed Triśaṅku to turn into a Caṇḍāla. By the next morning, the King had been transformed into a Caṇḍāla – clad in black, his body hard and rough, he wore a garland from the crematorium, and his body was smeared with ashes from the dead. His ministers and men fled looking at his disgusting appearance.

Burning with grief, Triśaṅku approached Viśvāmitra, who was moved by pity. Viśvāmitra gave his word to send Triśaṅku with his body to the svarga. Upon his summon, all munis came from around the world to participate in his yāga, except for Vasiṣṭha and his children; enraged, they had declared that no ṛṣi or deva would partake of the offerings made by a Caṇḍāla. Infuriated, Viśvāmitra cursed Vasiṣṭha and his children to be destroyed. Out of fear for Viśvāmitra, the rest of the sages started the yāga, under his direction. After a long time, even upon his invocation no deva appeared to receive his share of offerings. Angered, he gathered all his powers and made Triśaṅku rise bodily to the svarga. Indra, refused to allow him, who had been cursed by his guru and Triśaṅku started falling down. Viśvāmitra, stopped him mid-air and decided to create a second svarga – he created a second set of saptarṣis and a galaxy of other stars. He decided to create another Indra or to do without one.[3] The devas, rṣis, and asuras pleaded with Viśvāmitra to stop the process, who refused to break his promise to Triśaṅku. Thereafter, Triśaṅku remained in a svarga created for him.


In the meantime, King Ambarīśa of Ayodhyā started a yāga. While he was engaged in it, Indra abducted the sacrificial animal. Upon the advice of his upādhyāya, the king went in search of a man who could be offered in the place of the lost animal. He arrived at the Sage Ṛcīka’s āśrama and request him to part with one of his sons, in exchange for a hundred thousand cows. The father said he would not part with the eldest son and the mother said that the youngest was her dearest.[4] Then, the second son, Śunaśśepha, offered himself to be sold. Delighted, the king got on to his chariot quickly and escorted Śunaśśepha.

As they arrived at Puṣkara and rested awhile, Śunaśśepha spotted his uncle Viśvāmitra and sought his help to save his own life. Giving his word to his nephew, Viśvāmitra instructed his sons to sacrifice themselves by entering fire instead of Śunaśśepha for the completion of the yāga. Madhucchandas and the other sons were shocked and answered arrogantly – “Why would you sacrifice your sons to save another’s? It is like preferring dog’s flesh when there is good meat!” Furious upon their disobedience, Viśvāmitra cursed his sons to live for a thousand years subsisting on dog’s meat. He then preached two gāthās to Śunaśśepha, which he chanted when tied to the yūpa-stambha by Ambarīśa. Pleased with the secret stuti performed by the boy, Indra granted him a long life and Ambarīśa too got the fruit of his yāga.

Viśvāmitra continued his tapas at Puṣkara and once, happened to spot the iMenakā bathing in the lake. He fell for the damsel at the first sight and overpowered by lust, welcomed her to his āśrama. He spent a decade in her company, which felt like a single day and then, wisdom blossomed in him. Overcome with shame, he decided that the devas had sent her as an impediment to his tapas. He sent her away with kind words and resumed his tapas with his fervour amplified. Indra tried to distract him again by sending Rambhā to seduce him.  Viśvāmitra was enraged and cursed her to turn into a stone. In a moment’s time, he realised that he was overcome with lust in the past and now by anger. Making up his mind to bring his emotions and senses under control, he performed intense tapas again. After a thousand years, pleased with him, the devas along with Brahmā appeared before him and declared him a Brahmarṣi. Sage Vasiṣṭha too honoured him and declared him a great brāhmaṇa.”

To be continued...
[The critically constituted text and the critical edition published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara is the primary source. In addition, the Kannada rendering of the epic by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sri. N. Ranganatha Sharma and the English translation by Sri. N. Raghunathan have been referred.]


[1] the former name of Viśvāmitra

[2] Here, the famous declaration occurs dhig-balaṃ kṣatriya-balaṃ brahma-tejo-balaṃ balam

[3] Here occurs the famous saying – anyam-indraṃ kariṣyāmi loko vā syād-anindrakaḥ

[4] The purāṇas name his sons as –  Śunaḥpuccha, Śunaśśepha, and Śunolāṅgūla.




Visionary sage and the author of the fifth Veda, the Rāmāyaṇa



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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