Who is a Rishi? How many types of Rishis?


Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Research article No.1339; Dated 10th October 2014.

The word Rishi means a man to whom Vedic hymns are revealed, an author of sacred hymns, a poet; a priestly singer of those hymns, a saint or sage of ancient India.

Definition of a Seer(Rsi):

In the earliest Vedic text like the Rig-Veda, the word Rsi occurs several times. There are various interpretations:
The Rig-Veda Sarvanukramani 1-4 explains the word Rsi as one who recites the mantra form of the sentence – yasya vaakyam ca rsih.
Sayana derives Rsi from rs ‘to go’. In the introduction to his commentary of the Rig-Veda he connects the word Rsi with drs ‘to see’ and explains how the Veda which is beyond the scope of perception is revealed first of all to the sages through the favour of god.

In the Nirukta 2-11 Yaska quotes the opinion of Aupamanyava, ‘rsir darsanat stoman dadarsa iti aupamanyavah’. This means that the Veda is eternal and it has not been created by any agency. The Nirukta further informs us that the mantras are directly revealed to the Rsis through their meditation and prescience. So the Rsis are called ‘sukta drastarah and not sukta kartarah.

The Satapatha Brahmana derives the word Rsi from rs ‘to toil hard’, ‘to suffer from’.

The Taitriya Aranyaka explains Rsi as abhi+aa+rs ‘ to go forward’, ‘to appear’.
Besides the etymological meaning of the word Rsi, it carries the ideas relating to poetic and prophetic vision, super sensuous knowledge, righteousness and ecstasy.
(Source: Bhrgus – A Study by Jayanti Panda)

Rishis are inspired poets. The seven Rishis are mind born sons of Brahma, the creator. The seven Rishis are represented in the sky by the seven stars of the Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation.


“The seven great sages of old, and four elders and the Manus also are of My nature and born of My mind and from them are all these creatures in the world “ – (10-6 – Bhagavad Gita )

Atri, Brhu, Kutsa, Vasistha, Gautama, Kasyapa and Angirasa are Sapta Rishis (Seven Sages) now. They change during every Manvantara (Life of one Manu is one Manvantar. There are 14 Manus).
Four Elders: Sanakar, Sanandanar, Sanadanar and Sanatkumarar
Saptarishis showed Pravruti Marga and the Four showed Nivruti Marga.

“Thus transmitted from father to son, Arjuna, this yoga remained known to the Rajarsis (royal sages). It has, however, long since disappeared from this earth”. (4-2 – Bhagavad Gita)

Rama ,Krishna, Buddha and Janaka were all kings —Raja Rsis– who taught the highest wisdom.


The Seven Sages have the following seven virtues or criteria for being a Saptarishi:

1.Long life: A rishi lives for a longer period than the normal life span of a human being
2.Mantra Drshta: Like Radio boxes receive the radio wavelengths one tunes in, they receive certain mantras by fine tuning their minds. Like TV boxes they can see anything from a distance. They can see present, past and future. It is like rewinding, watching or fast forwarding a video tape. Everything is recorded already.
3.Divinity: They are almost like Gods. They have all the powers of Gods, but they don’t use it for themselves.

4.High Status: This is what differentiate them from other Rishis. They are high by virtue of their good qualities, Vedic education/studies and age.
5.Practice: They preach what they practise. They practise what they preach. Thought, Word and Deed are one and that is known as Tri Karana Suddhi.
6.Divine Vision: Perspective outlook. Always work for the uplift of the society.
7.Gotra Pravardha: The human race evolved from these seven Rishis. So each one must be in charge of one clan and devise ways for his clan based on their Time, Place and Circumstances. They can change the rules considering the above three.

( I have taken the seven virtues from Anna’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and expanded with additional points).

rishi shishya

Types of Rishis (seers)

How many types of Rishis (seers) are there in our scriptures? In fact the English word seer itself came from the Sanskrit word Rishi. Seer is the mirror image of Rsi.
Of the ten Mandalas of the Rig Veda, eight are attributed to eight Rishis or his family:
Rig Veda
Mandala 2: Grtsamada (Brigu)
Mandala 3: Visvamitra
Mandala 4: Gautama (Vamadeva)
Mandala 5: Atri
Mandala 6: Bharadwaja
Mandala 7:Vasistha
Mandala 8: Kanva
Mandala 9: Angira
Mandala 1 and 10 are attributed various Rishis.


Baudhayana Dharmasutra Gives a list of different types of seers:

Sruta rsi = One who hears Vedas from their teachers
Kanda rsi = Rishis of different Kanadas (sections) of the Vedas
Tapa rsi = Those who do severe penance
Satya rsi = Those who are truthful learners
Deva rsi = Equal to devas; divine
Sapta rsi = Seven Great Sages
Maha rsi = Great/ Exalted position
Parama rsi = Supreme/ Exalted position
Brahma rsi = Rsi of Brahmana community
Raja rsi = Rsi of Kshatriyas community (Kings)
Jana rsi = Common man becoming a Rsi

Patanjali, author of Mahabhasya on Panini’s Ashtadyayi, affirmed two new categories of Rsis:
Mantrakrit = the revealers or composers of Vedic hymns
Mantrakritsama = a writer of Vedangas like Kalpasutra.

agastya in nepal,bharatkalyan97.blogspot

Ten Types in the Ramayana and Mahabharata:

Grihasthasramis = Householder but Rsis
Urdhvaretas = who have no wives or children; celibates
Asramavasis = Hermit dwellers
Yayavaras = Continuous wanderers
Purohita- vrittikas = Priestly saints
Sadharana vrittikas = Usual type rsis
Saastras adyapakas = Teacher rsis
Sastras adhyapakas = Rsis who give arms training
Ugra tapasvis = Practising severe penance
Sadharana tapsvis = Practising ordinary austerity
Majority of the seers were householders.

Source: Rsis in Ancient India by C B Pandey 1987.

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