Indian culture has evolved over the ages by India’s ancient Rishi-s, who meditated on the banks of its holy rivers. The term ‘Rishi’ apples to a sage to whom the Gods revealed the Veda-s. The Veda-s are the very foundation of Indian civilization. The Veda-s include the knowledge of the eternal truths about the Creator, His creation and means to preserve it.
The chief classes of Rishi- are Brahma-rishi (God Brahma’s manas-putra or born from his mind during the creation of the universe); Devarishi (Narada), Rajarishi (kings who became Rishi-s through their acscetic knowledge and tapasya, like Janaka).
The 2 most popular Hindu sages are:
The famous poet-author of the epic Ramayana. One of his ashrama-s was at present-day Bithoor near Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh state, where Luva and Kusha were born to Seeta.
Maharishi Veda Vyasa is the most important Rishi in the Hindu pantheon, as he organized the Veda-s and many Purana-s. He is also the author of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. His ashrama was at Kurukshetra in present-day Haryana state.
Some of the other great Rishi-s (sages) of India are:
He was one of the ancient Sapta Rishi-s (meaning ‘seven sages’). Kashyapa was the son of Brahmarishi Marichi. In this manvantara (era), Kashyapa was the father of the Deva-s, Asura-s and all humankind.
Vasishtha possessed the divine cow known as Kamadhenu. Vashishtha was the Guru of many illustrious kings like Harishachandra, Samvarna and God Rama. There is a Vasishtha-kunda even today in Ayodhya.
Ancient Rishi Markandeya was a devotee of both God Vishnu and God Shiva. Markandeya is one of the chiranjeevi – the immortals in Hinduism. On the basis of various Hindu scriptures, Markandeya lived through more yuga-s (ages). He is the author of important Hindu scriptures like the ‘Devi Saptashati’ (700 shlokam) on the virtues of the Divine Goddess. His ashrama was at the Shakti-peetha near Nashik.
Rishi Kapil was born to the illustrious sage Kardam and Devahuti. He gifted the world with the Saankhya school of thought at Siddhpur in Gujarat. His pioneering work spoke about the nature of the ultimate Soul (Purusha) and primal matter (Prakruti). Prakruti is the mother of cosmic creation and all energies.
Bharadwaja was a descendant of Rishi Angira. In the epic Ramayana, God Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana met Rishi Bharadwaja at his hermitage in the holy city of Prayagraj in present-day Uttar Pradesh. Acharya Bharadwaja authored the ” Yantra Sarvasva ” which includes astonishing and outstanding discoveries in aviation science, space science and flying machines. He has described 3 categories of flying machines: (1) One that flies on earth from one place to another. (2) One that travels from one planet to another. (3) And one that travels from one universe to another.
Born to Rishi Vishwamitra, Sushruta was a Shruta-rishi i.e. author of shastra. He is the author of the book “Sushruta Samhita” in which he describes the foundation of Ayurveda. He is the father of surgery. Innumerable years ago, he described over 300 complicated surgical procedures like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, Rhinoplasty (restoration of a damaged nose), 12 types of fractures, 6 types of dislocations, urinary stones, even plastic surgery, and brain surgery. Sushruta lists 125 surgical instruments including scalpels, lancets, needles, and catheters. He has also described a number of stitching methods with the use of horse’s hair as thread and fibres of bark.
Some of the other sages were:
- Agastya (a legendary scholar). One of his ashrama was in Parnashala in Telangana.
- Atri (a son of Brahma and a sapta Rishi). His ashrama was near Chitrakoot
- Bhrigu (one of the sapta-rishi-s) and writer of the Bhrigu Samhita
- Gautama whose ashrama was on the banks of River Godavari near Nashik and at Ahalya-sthana near Bhagalpur in Bihar state
- Matanga whose ashrama was near Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh and Hampi in Karnataka
- Parashara was an author of many ancient Indian texts. He was the grandson of Vasishtha
- Pulatsya (one of the 10 Prajapati-s – sons of Brahma, and one of the sapta-rishi-s)
- Brihaspati, the son of Angiras, and the Guru of the Deva-s
- Shukra (son of Bhrigu)
There are several notable female Rishika-s who contributed to the composition of the Vedic scriptures. The Rig Veda mentions Romasha, Lopamudra, Apala, Kadru, Visvavara, Ghosha, Juhu, Vagambhrini, Paulomi, Yami, Indrani, Savitri, and Devajami. The Sama Veda adds Nodha, Akrishtabhasha, Sikatanivavari and Gaupayana.
Colonel James Todd (British East India Company) said of India:
“Where else can we look for sages like those whose systems of philosophy were prototypes to whose works Plato, Thales & Pythagorus were disciples? Where do I find astronomers whose knowledge of planetary systems yet excites wonder in Europe as well as the architects and sculptors whose works claim our admiration, and the musicians who could make the mind oscillate from joy to sorrow, from tears to smile with the change of modes and varied intonation?“
Rishi-s from around Kaliyuga and thereafter
An ancient Rishi, a great philosopher of the Mimansa school. He was the disciple of Veda Vyasa. Jaimini is also called a Kaanda-rishi, related to karma-kaanda (rituals).
This legendary ancient sage was a pupil of Vaishampayana (the original teacher of the Krishna Yajur Veda). Yagnyavalkya was author of the great ashtanga Yoga classic “Yoga Yagnyavalkya”, wherein he describes its 8 limbs viz.: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, Dharna and Samadhi (the ultimate bliss). Yoga is one of several unique contributions of India to the world. Yogic postures effectively enhance the efficiency of the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, digestive and endocrine systems and many other organs of the body. He prescribed the control of prana (life breath) as the means to control the body, mind and soul. This subsequently rewards one with good health and inner happiness.
Founder of the Atomic Theory wherein he classified all the objects of creation into 9 elements namely: earth, water, light, fire, wind, space, time, mind and soul. Acharya Kanad was the first expounder of “Vaisheshika Darshana” – one of the 6 Hindu philosophies. He says, “Every object of creation is made of atoms which in turn connect with each other to form molecules.” His statement ushered in the Atomic Theory for the first time ever in the world, thousands of years before the west. Kanad has also described the dimension and motion of atoms and their chemical reactions with each other. He is believed to have been born in Prabhas Kshetra near Dwaraka in Gujarat.
The eminent historian, T.N. Colebrook said:
“Compared to the scientists of Europe, Kanad and other Indian scientists were the global masters of this field.“
Panini is known for the formulation of the 3,959 rules of Sanskrit syntax and grammar known as Ashtadhyayi (“eight chapters”). It is the foundational text of the grammatical branch of the Vedanga-s, the auxiliary scholarly disciplines of Vedic religion.
Vishnu Gupta or Chanakya (named after his village Chanu) or Kautilya (his gotra) was a teacher to the first Maurya Emperor Chandragupta who ruled the complete Indian Subcontinent. Chanakya authored the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthasastra. Chanakya’s thoughts on economics and political science is an important precursor to Classical Economics. Chanakya’s works predate Machiavelli’s by thousands of years. Chanakya was a teacher in Takshashila, an ancient centre of learning.
Acharya Charaka has been crowned as the Father of Medicine. His renowned work, the “Charaka Samhita”, is considered as an encyclopedia of Ayurveda. The genius revealed the facts on human anatomy, embryology, pharmacology, blood circulation and diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis, heart disease, etc. In the “Charaka Samhita” Charaka has described the medicinal qualities and functions of 100,000 herbal plants. He has emphasized the influence of diet and activity on mind and body. He has proved the correlation of spirituality and physical health contributed greatly to diagnostic and curative sciences. He has also prescribed an ethical charter for medical practitioners two centuries prior to the Hippocratic oath.
Born in the village of Baluka in Madhya Pradesh, his dedicated research produced inventions in chemistry and metallurgy, like “Ras Ratnakar”, “Rashrudaya” and “Rasendramangal”. As the author of medical books like “Arogyamanjari” and “Yogasar,” he also made significant contributions to the field of curative medicine. He was appointed as Chancellor of the famous University of Nalanda.
Acharya Patanjali hailed from the district of Gonda (Ganara) in Uttar Pradesh. The Science of Yoga seeks to discover and realize the ultimate Reality through yogic practices. He also wrote a treatise on Sankrit Grammar.
He calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the sun: 365.258756484 days. This was hundreds of years before the western astronomerers. Born in the village of Vijjadit (Jalgaon) in Maharastra, Bhaskaracharya’s mathematical works called “Lilavati” and “Bijaganita” are considered to be unparalleled. In his treatise “Siddhanta Shiromani” he writes on planetary positions, eclipses, cosmography, mathematical techniques and astronomical equipment. Hundreds of years before Newton, Bhaskara made a note on the force of gravity: “Objects fall on earth due to a force of attraction by the earth. Therefore, the earth, planets, constellations, moon, and sun are held in orbit due to this attraction.”
Was a master Astronomer and Mathematician, born in Kusumpur in Bihar. He wrote a text on astronomy and an unparallel treatise on mathematics called “Aryabhatiyam”. He formulated the process of calculating the motion of planets and the time of eclipses. Aryabhata was the first to proclaim that the earth is round, it rotates on its axis, orbits the sun and is suspended in space – thousands of years before Copernicus published his heliocentric theory.
He is also acknowledged for calculating p (Pi) to four decimal places: 3.1416 and the sine table in trigonometry. Centuries later, in 825 CE, the Arab mathematician, Mohammed Ibna Musa credited the value of Pi to the Indians, “This value has been given by the Hindus.“
Varahamihira’s book “Panch Siddhanta”, noted that the moon and planets are lustrous not because of their own light but due to sunlight. In the “Brihad Samhita” and “Brihad Jatak”, he has revealed his discoveries in the domains of geography, constellation, science, botany and animal science. In his treatise on botanical science, Varahamihira presents cures for various diseases afflicting plants and trees.
India’s other contributions to the world:
- India’s greatest gift to Humanity – Mathematical innovations include ZERO; use of DECIMAL NUMBERS and DICE.
- Baudhayana explained in the 6th century, the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem, long before the European mathematicians.
- Algebra, trigonometry and calculus came from India; Quadratic equations were by Sridharacharya in the 11th century CE; The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were (10 to the power of 6) whereas Hindus used numbers as big as (10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 BCE during the Vedic period. Even today, the largest used number is Tera 1012 (10 to the power of 12).
- Ancient Indians used figures like square, circle, rectangle, angles, triangle, fractions, algebraic formulae and astronomy and metaphysics.
- The art of Navigation was born thousands of years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word NAVGATIH. The word navy is also derived from Sanskrit ‘Nou’.
- The earliest reservoir and dam for irrigation was built in Saurashtra. A beautiful lake called ‘Sudarshana’ was constructed on the hills of Raivataka during Chandragupta Maurya’s time (as per Rudradaman I’s inscription).
- Originated in India – Pharmacology, brain surgery, medicine, artificial colors and glazes, metallurgy, re-crystallization, chemistry, textile production, hydraulic engineering, water powered devices, etc.
- There are several success stories like CV Raman (1930 Nobel prize for Raman effect). USA-based IEEE reported that the pioneer of microwave wireless communication was JC Bose in 1895, and not Marconi.