Atri (Samskrit : अत्रिः) is one of the Saptarshi rshis and one of the Brahmamanasa putras. Mahabharata mentions another maharshi named Atri as the son of Shukracharya (MB Adi Parva 65 chap verse 27). Atri has been a mantra drashta mentioned in the Rigveda (Mandala 1 Suktas 51, 112, 116 etc). He is also the rshi for the fifth mandala of Rigveda.
He was one of the rshis who visited Sri Rama after his return to Ayodhya, after the death of Ravana. He accompanied by many other sages who went to Drona to counsel him to stop hostilities between the warring Kauravas and Pandavas. He was also the chief priest at a yajna called rajasuya yajna, which was initiated by Raja Soma. He was one of the sages who witnessed Parashurama's austerities.
Birth and Family
जन्म ॥ Birth
Atri is one of the Brahma manasaputras (mental creation of Brahma) and was significant among the Saptarshis. Another reference to Atri maharshi is that he is the son of Shukracharya. Brahmanda Purana mentions about the birth of Atri during the Homa performed by Brahma by means of his semen.
अहं तृतीय इत्यत्रिस्तस्मादत्रिः स कीर्त्यते ॥ २,१.४४ ॥ ahaṁ tr̥tīya ityatristasmādatriḥ sa kīrtyate ॥ 2,1.44 ॥ (Brah. Pura. 2.1.44)
The third was born saying "I am the third (अहं तृतीय)" hence he is named as Atri.
दक्षप्रजापतिः ॥ Daksha Prajapati
According to Mahabharata Shanti parva (Adhyaya 208) ten Prajapatis names Prachetas arose from Barhi who belonged to Atri vamsha. The ten Prajapatis had one son known as Daksha or Ka.
अत्रिवंशसमुत्पन्नो ब्रह्मयोनिः सनातनः। प्राचीनबहिर्भगवांस्तस्मात्प्राचेतसो दश॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.208.6)
atrivaṁśasamutpanno brahmayoniḥ sanātanaḥ। prācīnabahirbhagavāṁstasmātprācetaso daśa॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.208.6)
दशानां तनयस्त्वेको दक्षो नाम प्रजापतिः। तस्य द्वे नामनी लोके दक्षः क इति चोच्यते॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.208.7)
daśānāṁ tanayastveko dakṣo nāma prajāpatiḥ। tasya dve nāmanī loke dakṣaḥ ka iti cocyate॥ (Maha. Shan. 12.208.7)
Daksha Prajapati is well known as the father of Sati Devi who married Shiva and as the father-in-law of Chandra (who married the 27 nakshatras).
Wife : Anasuya (अनसूया)
Sons : Prachinabarhi (प्राचीनबर्हिः), Dattatreya (दत्तात्रेयः), Soma (सोमः | Chandra) and Durvasa (दुर्वासा)
Daughter : Apala (अपाला)
Atri's wife was Anasuya (one free from malice), who was one of the daughters of Devahuti and Kardama Prajapati. When Brahma instructed Atri to further creation by fathering children, he began rigorous austerities and meditation. For a prolonged period, Atri underwent with faith the most drastic penances and meditations. Pleased with his tapas, the Trimurtis - Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshvara - appeared and roused him. With devotion Atri bowed to them. After mulling over the immensity of their grace, he asked the boon to have the three deities incarnate as his three sons.
The story of Atri and Anasuya bringing forth their sons has variant versions. Silavati, reputed for her chastity, was once carrying her husband Ugrasravas (who though a leper desired to visit the brothel house) to a prostitute's house, and on the way disturbed the penance of Animandavya muni (Mandavya) who cursed Ugrasravas to die before sunrise. With the power of her chastity, Silavati countered it by stopping the sunrise. When chaos prevailed as sun did not rise, devatas and rshis request Anasuya, the chaste wife of Atri maharshi to talk to Silavati. Anasuya prevails upon Silavati to withdraw her words and let the sun rise. Due to this the devatas were pleased and bless Anasuya to choose a boon of her desire. It was then that she prayed that the Trimurtis be born as her sons. Atri and Anasuya are famous as the father of Dattatreya (amsa of MahaVishnu), Chandra (amsa of Brahma) and Durvasa (amsa of Shiva) according to one version (Brahmanda Purana Adhyayas 39 to 44).
According to another anecdote, once the wives of the Trimurtis (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati being jealous of the greatness of Anasuya decide to test her devotion to her husband. Towards this end they request their husbands to test Anasuya. The three of them visit the ashrama of Atri, at the time of absence of Atri and request Anasuya to serve food to them with a condition of being divested of clothes. At that instance, Anasuya transforms the trimurtis into babies by her power and feeds them fulfilling their precondition. Seeing them as babies, the wives of Trimurtis accept defeat and request Anasuya to transform them back into their real forms. At that time Anasuya requests the Trimurti's to be her son and they take the form of Dattatreya (with three heads one each of the Trimurtis).
Apala, the daughter of Atri, suffered from leprosy and hence was forsaken by her husband. Rig veda (8.91) mentions the story of Apala where she did great penance to appease Indra. Apala tasted the Soma to be offered to Indra and offered it back to him when he appeared before her. Please with her he cured her of the disease and she reunites her with her husband.
Atri in Vedas
The earliest reference to Atri is as a Vedic seer, found in the mantras of the Rig Veda, along with Agni, Indra, etc. The fifth mandala (section) of the Rig Veda is ascribed to him. In the Rig Veda, it is described how asuras try to burn him by putting him in a machine called Shatadvara Yantra. He prayed to the twin gods, the Ashvinis, who released him (Rig. Veda. 1.51 and 116).
In a mystic meditation on prana, the vital breath, the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (2.2.4), after describing the other six sages, depicts Atri, the seventh, thus: 'The tongue is Atri, for through the tongue food is eaten. He is called Atri because he eats (Atti). He who knows it as such becomes the eater of all things, and everything becomes his food’.
वागेवात्रिर्वाचा ह्यन्नमद्यतेऽत्तिर्ह वै नामैतद्यदत्रिरिति । सर्वस्यात्ता भवति सर्वमस्यान्नम्भवति । य एवं वेद । १४.५.२. (Shata. Brah. 184.108.40.206)
vāgevātrirvācā hyannamadyate'ttirha vai nāmaitadyadatririti । sarvasyāttā bhavati sarvamasyānnambhavati । ya evaṁ veda ।- 14.5.2. (Shata. Brah. 220.127.116.11)
Atri and Parashara
Mahabharata discusses the story of Kalmashapada a raja from the Iksvaku dynasty returning from the forest and gets into a fight with Shakti the eldest son of Vasishtha (Adi Parva Adhyaya 175-181). In the ensuing fight Shakti curses Raja Kalamashapada to become a cannibal rakshasi. At the same time observing all the incidents Vishvamitra (who had hostility towards Vasishtha) created another rakshasa (called Kinkara) to take over Raja Kalmashapada. In that state Kalmashapada totally loses his senses and eats all the hundred sons of Vasishtha. Inspite of knowing the cause of his sons death, Vasishtha remains calm. Vasishtha's grandson (son of Shakti) Parashara was born and he comes to know of his father's death. In a fit of rage he decides to eliminate the race of rakshasas and intends to perform Raksasasatra yaga. At that time Atri maharshi dissuades Parashara and other seers from performing the kamyayajna.
Atri and Ganga Devi
The Shiva Purana tells the story of how Maharshi Atri and Anasuya were responsible for getting the holy river Ganga to flow down to earth. Atri maharshi was performing penance in Chitrakuta when a severe drought prevailed for many many years. All the rshis and disciples left the ashram and Anasuya continued her service to her husband. Seeing their devotion Shiva and Gangadevi arrived and stayed with them.
स्वामिनः सेवनं दृष्ट्वा शिवस्य च परात्मनः ।। साध्वि धर्मं च ते दृष्ट्वा स्थितास्मि तव सन्निधौ ।।९।। (Shiv. Pura. 4.4.9)
svāminaḥ sevanaṁ dr̥ṣṭvā śivasya ca parātmanaḥ ।। sādhvi dharmaṁ ca te dr̥ṣṭvā sthitāsmi tava sannidhau ।।9।।
Once Atri woke up from his meditation and asks for water. Anasuya with an intention goes out to fetch the water knowing well that there was drought. Ganga appears before her to help her and Anasuya requests her for water. Dig a pit and take the water she says. Happily Anasuya takes the water and gives it to Atri. Surprised at getting water, he asks to see the water pit. Gangadevi asks Anasuya to part with one year's merit accrued by worship of Shiva when the couple ask her to permanently stay in their ashram. Anasuya for the welfare of the world passed on one year's merit to Ganga. Pleased with them, Shiva appeared in the form of a linga, and at their ardent request took his seat there permanently by assuming the name Atrishvara (Shiva Purana. Kotirudrasamhita. Adhyaya 3 and 4. Page 1265)
Atri assumes the forms of Surya and Chandra
Another episode, related by the Vayudeva to Kartaviryarjuna in the Mahabharata (Anushasana Parva, Adhyaya 156), goes thus: During a pitched battle between the devatas and asuras, the latter were winning. The asuras shot off a shower of arrows, obscuring the sun and the moon. The devatas broke ranks and began groping in darkness. Some of them approached Maharshi Atri and begged him to help them.
दृष्ट्वा नातिप्रभं सोमं तथा सूर्यं च पार्थिव। प्रकाशमकरोदत्रिस्तपसा स्वेन संयुगे। जगद्वितिमिरं चापि प्रदीप्तमकरोत्तदा॥ (Maha. Anush. Parv. 13.156.9-10)
dr̥ṣṭvā nātiprabhaṁ somaṁ tathā sūryaṁ ca pārthiva। prakāśamakarodatristapasā svena saṁyuge। jagadvitimiraṁ cāpi pradīptamakarottadā॥
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- Shiva Purana (Samhita 4 (Kotirudrasamhita) Adhyaya 4)
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- Pt. Ramnarayandatt Shastri. Mahabharata, Volume 6, Anushashana, Asvamedhika, Ashramavasika, Mausala, Mahaprasthanika and Svargarohana Parvas. Gorakhpur : Gita Press. (Adhyaya 156 Page No 6064)