Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Atri included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Atri

The son of Brahmā.

Atri Maharṣi was one of the mānasaputras of Brahmā. The mānasaputras were: Marīci, Aṅgiras, Atri, Pulastya, Pulaha, and Kratu (Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 65, Verse 10).

One of the Saptarṣis.

Brahma’s sons, Marīci, Aṅgiras, Atri, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Vasiṣṭha are known as the Saptarṣis (seven sages). (Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, Chapter 208).

Creator of the pracetases.

The sage Prācīnabarhis was born in the family of Atri Maharṣi. Ten Pracetases (Prajāpatis) were born as the sons of this Muni. (Mahābhārata, Śakti Parva, Chapter 208).

Citra Śikhaṇḍī.

Among the seven Munis known as Citra Śikhaṇḍīs, we see Atri Maharṣi as one of the Aṣṭaprakṛtis which form the basis of the Universe.

Important events.

(1) How Mahāviṣṇu became Atri’s son. Kaśyapa had a son named Kaśipu. He was a very mighty ruler and carried on his reign in an ungodly manner. In a terrible battle which took place at that time between the Devas and Asuras Kaśipu was killed. Prahlāda became the Asura King. Then there was a battle between Indra and Prahlāda. After six years' war, Prahlāda withdrew, defeated. Later Mahābali, the son of Virocana (grandson of Prahlāda) became emperor of Asuras. War broke out again between Mahābali and Indra. In this war, Mahāviṣṇu helped Indra. The Asuras were utterly defeated. They sought refuge with Śukra, the Asura guru. Śukra promised to help them. He set out to the Himālayas to receive a powerful mantra from Śiva. The Asuras kept waiting for Śukra’s return.

At this stage, Mahāviṣṇu who was the protector of Indra, came to Śukra’s āśrama and killed Śukra’s mother, Kāvyamātā. Seeing this impudence of Mahāviṣṇu, Bhṛgu Maharṣi was enraged and cursed him that he should be born many times in human wombs. It is on account of this that Mahāviṣṇu had to take many avatāras (incarnations). It was in this way that Mahāviṣṇu incarnated as Dattātreya, the son of Atri. (Devī Bhāgavata, 4th Skandha).

Atri and Parāśara.

It was a time when Vasiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra were in a state of mutual ill-will. Once King Kalmāṣapāda was going about in the forest on a hunting expedition. He met Śakti, the eldest son of Vasiṣṭha in the forest. The King did not respect him properly. Śakti transformed Kalmāṣapāda into a Rākṣasa by his curse. The Rākṣasa who was also a cannibal, first swallowed Śakti himself. Viśvāmitra offered whatever help he could, to destroy Vasiṣṭha’s family. Kalmāṣapāda ate successively all the 100 sons of Vasiṣṭha. Vasiṣṭha, in great sorrow and Sakti’s wife, Adṛśyantī lived in an āśrama. Adṛśyantī was pregnant at the time of Śakti’s death. In due course she gave birth to a boy who was called Parāśara and who later on became the father of Vyāsa. when Parāśara grew up, he came to know that his father Śakti was eaten by the Rākṣasa. Enraged at this, he started a yajña to annihilate the whole race of Rākṣasas. As the yajña gained intensity and force Atri Muni arrived there with certain other Maharṣis and dissuaded Parāśara from the yajña. (Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 181).

Atri’s dispute with Vainya.

Atri Maharṣi and his wife once got ready to go for Vanavāsa. At that time the poor Maharṣi’s wife was in great distress because they had no money to be distributed to their disciples and children. She requested her husband to go to King Vainya and to beg for some money. Accordingly the Maharṣi visited King Vainya at his yāgaśālā (The shed where a yāga is held). He began to flatter Vainya by saying that he was the first among kings and so on. Vainya did not like it. He began to dispute with Atri. Vainya remarked that Indra was the first King. To settle the dispute they went together to Sanatkumāra Muni. Sanatkumāra sent them away reconciled. After that Vainya gave Atri much wealth. After distributing all this wealth among their sons and disciples Atri and his wife set out to the forest to perform penance.

How Atri became Sun and Moon.

Once there was a fierce battle between Devas and Asuras. Owing to the shower of arrows from the Asuras, the Sun and Moon became dim. Darkness spread everywhere. The Devas began to grope in the dark. They requested Atri Maharṣi to find a remedy for this. Moved by their distress, Atri suddenly transformed himself into the Sun and Moon. The Moon gave light to the Devas. The Sun burnt up the Asuras by his intense heat. Thus the Devas were saved. This story was told by Vāyu Bhagavana, to Arjuna. (Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 156).

Atri and King Vṛṣādarbhi.

In the Mahābhārata we find a story about a difference of opinion between King Vṛṣādarbhi and some Maharṣis. This story was told by Bhīṣma to Yudhiṣṭhira about the kind of persons from whom Brahmins may accept gifts. Once the Munis, Kaśyapa, Atri, Vasiṣṭha, Bharadvāja, Gautama, Viśvāmitra, Jamadagni, and Paśusakhā, with Arundhatī and Gaṇḍā, who were the wives of two Munis, travelled round the world. Their object was to go to Brahmaloka. At that time there was drought in the world. King Vṛṣādarbhi, the son of Śibi, suggested that the above-mentioned Munis should be called and given wealth. They refused to accept it. Vṛṣādarbhi became angry. He performed Homa in Āhavanīyāgni and from the agnikuṇḍa, the Rākṣasī Yātudhānī (Kṛtyā) arose. Vṛṣādarbhi sent Yātudhānī to destroy Atri and all other Munis. As Yātudhānī was guarding a lotus pond in the forest, the munis led by Atri happened to come that way. The Maharṣis were able to recognize Yātudhānī. They beat her with their tridaṇḍu (Trident or a kind of magic wand) and reduced her to ashes. After satisfying their hunger by eating the lotus flowers the Maharṣis went to Brahmaloka. (Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 93).

Atri and Śrāddha.

There is a passage in the Mahābhārata in which Atri gives advice to the emperor Nimi who belonged to Atri’s family. The story of how Śrāddha originated in the world which Bhīṣma had told Dharmaputra was retold by Atri. A son named Dattātreya was born to Atri, the son of Brahmā. Dattātreya became King. Nimi was his son. Nimi’s son died after one thousand years. Nimi who was in deep grief at the death of his son, ordained a Śrāddha in memory of his son. On that occasion Atri Maharṣi came there and explained to Nimi the importance of Śrāddha. (Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 91, Verses 20-44)

How Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara (Śiva) were born as sons of Atri.

There is no other woman in the Purāṇas who surpasses Śīlāvatī in her fidelity to her husband. In order to enable Ugraśravas, her husband, to satisfy his passion, she once carried him on her own shoulders to a prostitute’s house. On the way, Māṇḍavya Muni pronounced a curse that Ugraśravas should die before sunrise. The grief-stricken Śīlāvatī pronounced a counter-curse that the sun should not rise on the next day. As the sun failed to rise, the Trimūrtis (Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva), accompanied by Anasūyā, Atri’s wife, went to Śīlāvatī. Anasūyā persuaded Śīlāvatī to withdraw her curse. The Trimūrtis who were happy at the success of their mission (of bringing about the Sunrise) asked Anasūyā to demand any boon she wanted. Anasūyā expressed her wish that the Trimūrtis (Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva) should be born as her sons and they agreed.

Mahāviṣṇu, under the name of Dattātreya, was born as the son of Anasūyā. Śiva was born to her under the name of Durvāsas. There is a story about it in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. Once Śiva got angry with the Devas. They began to flee for life. But Brahmā alone did not run away. Śiva who became more furious at this, pinched off one of the heads of Brahmā. Still he was not pacified. Pārvatī who was alarmed, approached Śiva and begged him to suppress his anger. At her request, Śiva’s fury was transferred and deposited in Anasūyā, Atri’s wife. Durvāsas is the embodiment of that element of Śiva’s fury.

According to the promise, Brahmā also took his birth as the moon from Anasūyā, the wife of Atri. (For that story, see PURŪRAVAS). There is a story about that also in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa. Once when Brahmā was performing the task of creation, he experienced carnal passsion. Sarasvatī was the offspring of that passion. When Brahmā saw her, he fell in love with her also. This made him feel angry towards Kāmadeva. He pronounced a curse that Kāmadeva should be burnt up in the fire from Śiva’s eye. (This is why Kāmadeva was later burnt to death by Śiva). Although Kāma had retreated from Brahmā his passion had not been suppressed. Brahmā transferred his passion to Atri Maharṣi. The Maharṣi gave it to Anasūyā, his wife. Since she was unable to bear such a violent passion, she gave it back to her husband. That passion emerged from Atri’s eye in the form of the Moon. This is why lovers experience strong passion for each other at the time of the rising of the moon. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapters 39-43).

Atri and Gaṅgā Devī.

Once, while Atri Maharṣi was performing penance in Kāmada forest, there was a terrible drought in the country. At that time, his wife Anasūyā made a Śivaliṅga of sand and offered worship to it. Then Atri asked her to give him a little water. There was no water anywhere. Suddenly Gaṅgā Devī appeared there and said to Anasūyā: "There will be a hole here. Water will come out of it in a torrent."

Pure water began to flow from the place pointed out by Gaṅgā Devī. Anasūyā begged Gaṅgā Devī to stay there for a month. Gaṅgā Devī agreed to do so on condition that Anasūyā would transfer her Tapaśśakti to her for one month.

Atri was pleased by drinking the water. He asked Anasūyā where she got such nice fresh water. She explained to him all matters. Atri expressed his desire to see Gaṅgā Devī. She appeared before him at once. Anasūyā prayed to her that Gaṅgā should continue to exist in the world always. Gaṅgā Devī answered that she would do so if Anasūyā was prepared to give her the fruit of one year’s Tapaśśakti and of devoted service to her husband. Anasūyā agreed to that condition. Suddenly Śiva appeared there in the shape of a Liṅga. At the request of Atri and Anasūyā Śiva took his seat there permanently assuming the name of "Atrīśvara". (Śiva Purāṇa).

Other Details.

1. Besides Dattātreya, Durvāsas and Candra. Atri had another son, Prācīnabarhis. (Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, Chapter 208, Verse 6).

2. Many Pāvakas had been born in Atri Vaṃśa. (Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, Chapter 222, Verses 27-29).

3. When the Kaurava-Pāṇḍava war was raging with great fury, many Maharṣis went to Droṇa and advised him to stop the battle. Atri Maharṣi was one of them. (Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parva, Chapter 190, Verse 35).

4. On another occasion, a King named Soma performed a Rājasūya (Royal sacrifice). Atri Maharṣi was the chief priest at this yāga. (Mahābhārata, Śalya Parva, Chapter 43, Verse 47).

5. Atri was also among the Maharṣis who had gone to witness Paraśurāma’s tapas. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapter 64).

6. Ṛgveda, 5th Maṇḍala was composed by Atri. (Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, Preface).

7. Once the Asuras put Atri Maharṣi into the Śatadvāra yantra (a machine of torture with a hundred holes). Ṛgveda, 1st Maṇḍala, 16th Anuvāka, Sūkta 51).

8. Once the Asuras tried to burn Atri alive. (Ṛgveda, 1st Maṇḍala, 16th Anuvāka, Sūkta 112).

9. The Asuras at another time made Atri lie down in a machine with a large number of holes and tried to burn him alive in it. At that time he prayed to the Aśvins and they liberated him. (Ṛgveda, 1st Maṇḍala, 17th Anuvāka, Sūkta 116).

10. Atri was among the Maharṣis who visited Śrī Rāma, on his return to Ayodhyā after the war with Rāvaṇa. (Uttara Rāmāyaṇa).

11. From the navel lotus of Viṣṇu Brahmā was born, Atri from Brahmā, Soma from Atri, and Purūravas from Soma were born. (Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 12).

12. Atri begot by Anasūyā, Soma, Durvāsas and Dattātreya yogī. (Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 20).

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