The Indian subcontinent is blessed with many great sages and saints, compilers of all Vedic knowledge, rituals, mantras, and ideas. One of the most popular and reputed Vedic Sage is Atri or Attri. He is considered to be a Brahmarshi, one who is Brahmajnani.
According to Hindu scriptures, there are three types of rishi; Brahmarshi, Devarshi, and Rajarshi. Brahmarshi is the highest class of rishis who were born from the mind of Lord Brahma. Devarshi is the sage of all deities whereas, Rajarshi is the king turn sages.
Brahmarshi Atri is one of the Manasa Putra (mind-born son) of Lord Brahma. Atri Rishi is among the seven great sages of the first manvantara, Saptarishi, including other rishis like Marichi, Angiras, Kratu, Pulastya, and Vashistha.
Many ancient Vedic scriptures like Rig Veda, Puranas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata have mentioned Atri Rishi and even dedicated the fifth mandala of Rig Veda in his name. The fifth mandala of Rig Veda includes eighty-seven hymns ascribed to rishi Atri and his lineage.
In Hindu dharma, there is a concept of Gunas, which refers to quality, property, aspect, or attribute. Moreover, they are of three types; Sattva (virtue, optimistic, peaceful), Rajas (desire, action, neither good nor evil, self-centered), and Tamas (destruction, disparity, sinful, damaging). Everything in this boundless universe contains these gunas in varying proportions. However, Brahmarshi Atri is believed to have been freed from the influence of these gunas.
Rishi Atri and Anusuya
Rishi Atri was the last Saptarishi to be born from the mind manifestation of Lord Brahma. Most Vedic texts indicate that he originates from the tongue. In Hindu Dharma, the tongue often relates to knowledge and wisdom. Thus, Atri rishi has the power of speech or sound.
Rishi Atri married Devi Anasuya, the daughter of sage Kadama and Devahuti. Devi Anasuya is one of the seven pativratas (Chaste) women of the Hindu religion. After many years of intense austerity, rishi Atri received boons from the holy trinity – Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh to be born in his family. Anasuya (Anusuya) gave birth to Lord Dattatreya, a manifestation of the Holy Trinity.
Another story related to their children’s birth tells that the power of Devi Anasuya helped to free the three gods. So, to return the favor, the holy trinity was born as her children, where Brahma as Chandra, Vishnu as Dattatreya, and Mahesh as Durvasa.
Some ancient texts even mention that in the second life of sage Atri and Anusuya Devi, they had a son, Aryaman (virtue), and a daughter, Amala (pure).
The family lineage of Rishi Atri and Devi Anusuya is called Atri Gotra. The family tree of Atri rishi consists of numerous deities, kings, rishis, brahmins, Prajapati, and vaishya. Chandra or Soma is the first king of the Lunar dynasty, Chandravansh, home to kings like Purava, Aayu, Nahusha, Yathi, Yayati, Samyati, Aayati, Viyati, and Kriti.
Atri Gotra also includes warrior clans like Turvasu of Yavanas, Drhyu of Bhojas, Anu of Mlecchas, and Puru of Pauravas (King Poros). Apart from that, Atri rishi’s descendants include great sages like Savasva, Avistir, Purvatithi, Mudgala, Shakalayani, and Chandogya.
Rishi Atri in Mahabharata
Rishi Atri had played a significant role in the great battlefield of Mahabharata. He was the one to stop and counsel Dronacharya to give up his weapons and follow the Dharma.
In the war, Guru Dronacharya was madly slaughtering thousands of Pandavas ‘ armies. As a result, the Kurukshetra battlefield was filled with a flood of blood, and injured soldiers’ crying resonates from all directions. So, seeing this mass carnage, Atri rishi along with rishi Gautama, came to the battleground, where rishi Atri advised Dronacharya that;
Dear Friend, Drona. Till now, you have been doing everything against the dharma. This war in which you have participated is the ultimate evidence. This is enough and ends it now because you are a wise man. These actions do not suit your status, and you are the learner of Vedanta par excellence. You have been a Brahmin and follow the dharma. These acts won’t profit you. So, surrender your weapon and heal your mind through Sanathana Dharma. I am sad that you have used this destructive Brahmaastra on those innocent people. Thus, putting an end to this massacre.
After realization, Guru Dronacharya put his weapon down and meditated until his soul left out for the journey to almighty.
Contribution of Rishi Atri
After Deva Guru Brihaspati, rishi Atri is the one who created the sacred system of thread called Poonal or Janivara or Jandhyam. The three strands of yarn represent letters A, U, and M, which signifies Creation (Brahma), Maintenance (Vishnu), and Dissolution or Destruction (Shiva). The first strand is given to the Brahmins as Brahma Vrata (represent bhu Loka), the second strand after the marriage ceremony (means bhuva Loka), and the final strand for Diksha (represent Suwa or swarga Loka).
Maharishi Atri has a different mandala in Rig Veda called Atri Mandala. He is the first to visualize and create hymns for many deities like Indra, Agni, Aswini Kumar, and even demigods. All those 87 hymns in Atri Mandala honors Atri Rishi and his descendants.
Atri Rishi has also contributed to the field of medical and astrology. He has developed rules, methods, and muhurat to perform rituals, yajnas, prayers, and meditation. For Ayurveda, sage Atri has written various texts and formulations.
Rishi Atri even created the Atreya Mandala of Rig Veda, Kalyan Sukta, and Swasti Sukta.
The Vaikhānasam or Vaikhanasas is one of the primary traditions in Hinduism. They attribute their theology to four great sages; Atri, Marichi, Bhrigu, and Kashyapa. One of the ancient texts under this tradition is Atri Samhita, which talks about various types of Yogas and morals to live a peaceful and joyful life such as;
- Self-control: To control oneself and not bother with problems created by others.
- Donation: Giving something to others, even if you do not have enough wealth.
- Compassion: Treating and loving everyone equally as you do to yourself.