Vishwa Rath was a king of the Kaushika lineage, one with many generations of kings. He loved to hunt and usually a large army would accompany him on these hunts. It was on one of these hunts that he realized that he was in the vicinity of the Ashram of the great Guru Vashisht, one of the oldest and most revered Brahmarishis, and, one of the Saptarishis (seven great Rishis) of India. Keen to seek the renowned Guru’s blessings, he stepped off his horse and walked towards the ashram where he was met by Guru Vashisht.
Guru Vashisht insisted that Vishwa Rath and his army relax, and offered to provide them with a meal at the ashram. Initially embarrassed by the exceptional offer from a humble rishi with meagre means, the king finally accepted upon Vashisht’s insistence. A delicious meal was served and Vishwa Rath was amazed by the elaborate variety and quantity, and the speed at which the exceedingly tasty meal was served by the disciples of Guru Vashisht.
Vishwa Rath then asked Guru Vashisht, how he was able to serve such a feast without any prior preparation. In reply, Guru Vashisht told him that he will introduce the king to his daughter who was responsible for the meal. He then took him to meet Nandini, the calf of his divine cow Kamadhenu – gifted to him by Lord Indra. Nandini, like her mother, was a wish fulfilling cow, capable of yielding all manner of riches. It was through this ability that she had been able to swiftly cater the elaborate banquet for the king and his army.
This got King Vishwa Rath thinking – why would a simple rishi need such a cow? Certainly, the king could feed his entire kingdom and do much more good for the people of his kingdom with Nandini’s aid. Explaining this rationale to Vashisht, the king requested the Guru for Nandini, offering many more cows and even treasures in return.
Vashisht denied the request, saying that he loved her like a daughter and he had no need for wealth.
This enraged King Vishwa Rath and he ordered his army to take Nandini by force.
However, Nandini, who loved Vashisht as a father, refused to go and used her power to create a huge army to fight Vishwa Rath’s forces. There was a pitched battle and eventually the King’s army was vanquished. The King’s sons then attacked Vashisht in an attempt to gain advantage. Vashisht uttered a mantra to defend himself and all but one of the King’s sons turned to ashes.
This is when King Vishwa Rath realized that the divine power of a single mantra was far greater than all his armies combined. Filled with anger and a need for revenge, he renounced his kingdom to his son and embarked upon a mission to master this power. -He performed intense tapasya andprayed to Lord Shiv for the mastery of all spiritual weapons or astras. Shiv, pleased with the king’s penance, granted him the boon of mastery over the astras.
With his new power in hand, Vishwa Rath went back to ashram of Guru Vashist and used the astras to burn the ashram to a cinder. Vashisht called out to him and stated that he was making a mistake. In response Vishwa Rath attacked Vashistht with multiple astras. Vashisht put up his staff, a Brahma Dand comprising of spiritual energy and power, and all the astras were absorbed by the staff without harming Vashisht.
Vishwa Rath realized that the only way to defeat Vashisht was to attain equal status to the Guru by becoming a Bramharishi himself. He continued his penance and Lord Bramha appeared and granted him the boon of becoming a Rajarishi. It is said that this is when Vishwa Rath came to be known as Vishwamitra.
However since he wanted to ascend to a Bramharishi, he continued with his tapasya. His spiritual ascent took many twists and turns as he lost, regained and multiplied his spiritual powers. Vishwamitra, after a very severe and long penance, was eventually granted the status of a Brahmarishi by Lord Brahma.
Armed with his new status he once again returned to Guru Vashisht’s ashram, this time to meet the Guru with the objective of being acknowledged as a Bramharishi. As he was entering, he overheard Vashisht telling his wife that he had so much of love for Vishwamitra that he could not address him as a Brahmarishi. This was because there was still some spiritual growth possible for Vishwamitra.
Upon hearing this Vishwamitra was overwhelmed by the compassion from someone he felt he had wronged. He entered the ashram and fell at the feet of Guru Vashisht.
Guru Vashisht blessed him and said, “you are now a Brahmarishi having conquered all your senses and emotions”.
It is said that with these blessings Vishwamitra’s consciousness expanded and the Mahagayatri Mantra was realized by him. When he realized the potency and the good the Mahagayatri Mantra could do for mankind, he decided to share it freely with others. Soon others also recognized the immense possibilities of the Mahagayatri and a few rogue elements started to misuse it. Seeing this, Guru Vashisht divided the Mahagayatri Mantra into two parts. To reduce the potency he made the second part available only by means of a Guru to a Disciple after the Guru had assessed the caliber of the disciple.
The first part is what we commonly known today as the Gayatri Mantra.