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Vasishtha


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South and Central Asia

This Hindu sage was the possessor of a sacred cow, called Nandini, which had the power to give him anything he might desire. The rival rishi, Viswamitra, failed in his attempt to seize this wondrous animal, and the enmity between these two holy men is central to the themes of several texts. It has been suggested that their contentions reflect the struggle of their two castes for social superiority: Vasishtha the brahmin and Viswamitra the kshatriya.

Another legend sets forth a conflict involving the rishi Gotama. King Nimi of Mithila requested that Vasishtha officiate at a sacrifice which was to last for 1,000 years. The seer explained how an engagement to Indra for 500 years meant he could not undertake the ceremony immediately, but it seemed agreed by both parties that at a future date Vasishtha would be the priest. When Vasishtha discovered that the Nimi had engaged Gotama to perform the sacrifice, he cursed the King to lose his body. The latter returned the compliment and both departed their physical forms. At length Mitra and Varuna furnished Vasishtha with a new body, but Nimi was too distressed for rebirth and the gods agreed that he could become a part of the eyes of all living creatures. Hence, nimisha, the wink of an eye, became a general habit.

Subjects: Religion.


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