Viswamithra (Friend of the world) was one of greatest Vedic sages of India. He was a king belonging to Chandra vamsa(moon clan to which King Santhanu belonged in later years). His great grand father was the great king Kusa. His grand father was Kusanabha and his father’s name Was Gadhi. Gadhi married and begot a daughter called Sathyavathi. Sathyavathi married a sage called Ruchaka. When Sathyavathi and her mother wanted to have sons, Ruchaka gave a Charu(cooked rice offering) each to Sathyavathi and her mother. The Charu given to Sathyavathi was the characteristic of a Brahmin and that given to her mother was the characteristic of a royal lineage. The mother and daughter without knowing this exchanged the charus and , Sathyavathi’s mother gave birth to a son called Kausika(Great grand son of Kusa) and Sathyavathi gave birth to sage Jamadagni.
Kusa grew up learning all Vedas and became a great king after his father. Once he went for hunting in the forest along with a vast army. He lost his way and was stranded at night fall. He saw a light at a great distance and it turned out to be the hermitage of sage Vasishta. Vasishta welcomed him along with his army and offered them food. King Kausika pointed out that a huge army was with him. Vasishta summoned his cow Nandini who was the daughter of the celestial cow Kamadhenu. She provided sumptuous food for all of them. King Kaushika thought that the possession of a cow like Nandini should rest with the king , because he can wipe out the hunger of his subjects. When he requested for it, sage Vasishta refused to part with the cow. King Kaushika wanted to take away Nandini from Vasishta and tried to wage a war against him. Sage Vasishta simply planted his staff in front of him. None of the weapons of Viswamithra and his army could cross the staff. King Kaushika realized that sagehood was much more powerful than him .He gave his kingdom to his sons and started doing thapas addressed to lord Brahma. After 1000 years, Brahma came before him and made him as Rajarishi(Royal sage) . When Viswamithra wanted the title of Brahmarishi , Brahma told him that he was not mature enough for that . After another 1000 years ofd Thapas, which was interrupted by Indra by sending an Apasaras called Menaka, of whom Viswamithra got a daughter Shakuntala, he was awarded the title of Maharshi. Brahma pointed out to him that still he had not attained the detachment necessary to become a Brahma rishi and awarded the title of Maharshi. Kaushika continued his thapas. At this time a king called Trisanku , to whose clan sage Vasishta was the Guru was cursed by the son’s of Vasishta to become a Chandala, for wanting f to go to heaven along with his body. Sage Kaushika took great pity on him and gave all his Thapasya to Trisanku and lifted him up to the heavens. But Indra pushed him down from there. Sage Kaushilka started constructing a new heaven for Trisanku. Lord Brahma appeared before sage Kaushika and dissuaded him from his job and trisanku was made in to a star of the sky. Sage Kaushika had to recommence his thapas. This time Indra send an apasaras called Rambha to disturb his penance. Sage Kaushika cursed her to become a stone. Lord Brahma came before him and gave him the title of Brahmarishi. Sage Vasishta also recognized him as a Brahma rishi. Sage Kaushika was given the status of one of the saptha rishis. (Seven great sages). At this time he authored one chapter of the great Rig Veda , in which the greatest gift to Human beings viz Gayatri Mantra occurs. Since this revelation helped the universe in their march towards greater realization , later on he was referred to as sage Viswamithra(The friend of the world).
Viswamithra and king Harischandra
The enmity between Vasishta with sage Viswamithtra continued even then. At that time , in the Sun dynasty for which Vasishta was a Guru, there a king called Harischandra. Harischandra married a princess called Chandramathi . Since they did not have children ,as per their advice of Guru Vasishta, he did penance addressed to Varuna. Varuna blessed them to have a son but demanded that the son so born should be given to him for being used as the animal of sacrifice for the Yaga that he was doing. The king and queen agreed and they got a son called Lohithaksha. Whenever Varuna asked their son for being used as animal for sacrifice, The king told some reasons and postponed it. Vasishta then advised them , that a son can be bought with the willingness of a father and given for sacrifice .Harischandra bought a Brahmin boy called Soonasaphan , who was very sad about his fate. Viswamithra happened to see him and taught him the Varuna manthra, by chanting which the Brahmin boy escaped. Viswamithra then decided to trouble king Harischandra. He approached the king and asked him for a dhana(Charitable offering) . the king gladly agreed. Viswamithra asked all his riches as well as his kindom. The king agreed. But along with a dhana to a Brahmin, a Dakshina(cash offering) need to be given. Viswamithra insisted on this. Since king Harischandra did not have money, he was first forced to sell his wife and later himself. His master employed him to guard the cremation ground that he owned.
One day Lohithaksha , his son died of snake bite and Chandramathi who was a slave somehow brought his body for cremation. Harischandra was forced to reject the cremation of the body of his son as his wife did not have any money. Gods appeared before them and gave life to Lohithaksha. They also blessed Harischandra and his wife. Sage Viswamithra returned his kingdom to him.
Viswamithra and Menaka
It was at the time when Viswamithra was doing great penance that Indra became scared of his great power. So he sent one of the pretty dancer in his court called Menaka to tempt sage Viswamithra. She succeeded in her endevour and became pregnant with his child. That Menaka then gave birth to a pretty female child , whom she left at the banks of river Malini. Some birds called Shaakunthas took care of the baby for some time.Sage Kanva who came that way took that baby to his ashram and brought her up there. When she grew up , she fell in love with king Dushyantha and became pregnant of his child. Due to some curse king Dushyantha forgot about his relation with Shakunthala. Sage Kanva also disowned her. Shakunthala brought up her son Bharatha in the forest .When Dushyantha got redemption from his curse, he recognized both of them and took them back to his kingdom.That son Bharatha became the king after him and conquered the entire India. Because of that India was called Bharata varsha .
Viswamithra and sri Rama
Viswamithra did many Yagas for the betterment of the world. The ogress called Thadaka and her two sons with their retinue did not allow Viswamithra to carry his yagas. So Viswamithra went to Ayodhya and requested king Dasaratha to send hisson Rama with him , to kill the Rakshasas , so that he can carry out the Yaga in peace. Initially Dasaratha was reluctant but as her the advice of his Guru Vasishta , he sent the Boys Rama and Lakshmana to help sage Viswamithra. Viswamithra taught them two manthras called Bala and Athibala , by chanting which Rama and Lakshmana were able to live without hunger and sleep. He also taught them several divine astras. Rama killed Thadaga as well as her son Subahu and protected the yaga.After the Yaga was completed Viswamithra took both of them to Mithila , where Rama broke the bow of Shiva and got married to Sita. On the way Viswamithra also made Rama to step on a stone and gave redemption to Ahalya from the curse of her husband.
Viswamithra and Rambha
Rambha was another celestial dancer who came to to disturb the penance of Viswamithra. However she could not entice Viswamithra. Viswamithra cursed her to become a stone. When she begged his pardon, he told her the curse would be lifted after her being a stone for ten thousand years and at that time a Brahmin called Bhoorithejas will touch the stone and she will regain her original form.
Viswamithra and Vidhyuthprabha
Once Viswamithra started a penance to get the position of Khubera. Disturbed by this Khubera sent an apsaras called Vidhyuthprabha to disturb his penance. When with her pretty form she was not able to disturb the penance of Viswamithra, she took a horrible and fearful form of a rakshasi and started disturbing him. Viswamithra became very angry and cursed her to permanently assume that form. When she begged his forgiveness , he said to her that the curse will be lifted when Sridatha, the son of Kalanemi catches hold of her hair..After several years Kalanemi was born to a Brahmin called Yajnasena in the Malawa kingdom. When his son Sridatha caught hold of her hair , she regained her original form.
Viswamithra curses Vasishta
In the aftermath of the happenings to Harischandra , once Vasishta met Viswamithra who was walking in the form of an imposter. Vasishta told Viswamithra , that like a crane doing penance to catch fish, he deceived king Harischandra and so Vasishta cursed Viswamithra to become a crane. In turn Viswamithra cursed Vasishta to become a golden dear as long as he was a crane. They both went to Manasaras and started living there. They daily fought with each other, Lord Brahma , who was the father of Vasishta intervened and made both of them assume their original form.
Viswamithra and river saraswathi
Once sage Viswamithra ordered river saraswathi to rise and flood and drag in her tide sage Vasishta and bring before the place he himself was doing penance. Though river Saraswathi was reluctant to do this, fearing the curse of Viwamithra, she rose in to a flood and dragged sage Vasishta down in to the river. Being not willing to offer sage Vasishta to sage Viswamithra , she increased her speed when nearing the hermitage of Viswamithra and went below the earth. Viswamithra got very angry and cursed her to become reddish.All the devas were very disturbed by this and talked to both of them. They made that place where river saraswathi turned red in to a holy spot called Vasishtapaham.
Viswamithra and Galava
Sage Galava was the son of sage Viswamithra himself . He did not want to have any other Guru but studied under Viswamithra himself. Once Lord Yama came as a guest to Viswamithra’s house . When Viswamithra came with food to be given to the guest, Lord Yama disappeared. Sage Viswamithra stood at that place for one hundred years expecting the return of the guest. He came after one hundred years. Sage Galava stood by the side of Viswamithra doing him service all these years. Viswamithra was greatly pleased and told him , that Galava has learned everything that needs to be learned. Galava then asked for the Guru dakshina. After several refusals Viswamithra asked him for eight hundred horses with only one black coloured ear. After great struggle sage Galava could get only six hundred such horses. When he was not knowing what to do, Garuda advised him to give six hundred horses and a princess Madhavi , on whom he had absoulute control. Sage Viswamithra accepted this. He got a son called Ashtaka from her.
Viswamithra and Arundathi
Once for a Sradha in Vasishta’s home , Viswamitrhra was invited as a Brahmin. However he put a condition that he would come provided 1008 vegetables are cooked. Arundathi, the wife of Vasishta agreed . On the day of Sradha she served, Plantain, colocasia(Chembu), Banana pseudo stem(Vazhai thandu), lab lab beans(Avarai kkai), cluster beans, snake gourd, Agathi leaf,bitter gourd, amaranthus stem, jack fruit and pirandai(bone vine or adamant creeper).When Viswamithra asked how they are 1008 vegetables,Arundathi told that bitter gourd is equal to 100 vegetables, the jack is equal to 600 vegetables and pirandai is equivalent to 300 vegetables.So these 3 become equivalent to 1000 vegetables and along with eight other vegetables they constitute 1008 vegetables. Viswamithra agreed with her and blessed her.
Viswamithra and rig Veda
Sage Viswamithra is the author of the third Mandala of the fourth anuvaka of Rig Veda. It is in this section that , the great Gayatri manthra was given to the human beings for their welfare. Even in this section Viswamithra has berated sage Vasishta in the last part of this section. The particulars of sage Viswamithra of the Vedas are slightly different from that of the Sage given in the Puranas. But The enmity between Viswamithra and Vasishta is found there also.
Viswamithra Gothra and Kaushika Gothra
There are two separate major Gothras which exist in the name of this great saint. The pravara rishis for these gothras are Vaiswamithra, Devaratha(soonasapha whom he rescued from Harischandra) , Oudhala and Vaiswamithra and Vaiswamithra, Agamarshana and Kaushika respectively. Viswamithra is also a pravara rishi for more than 40 gothras. Among the important one is Aghamarshana gothra , which also has the same pravara as Kaushika gothra.
It is interesting to note that Kaushika gothra is common among the Kshatriyas of India also.