Vyasa (/ˈvjɑːsə/; Sanskrit: व्यास, literally “Compiler”) is the legendary author of the Mahabharata, Vedas and Puranas, some of the most important works in the Hindu tradition. He is also called Veda Vyāsa (वेदव्यास, veda-vyāsa, “the one who classified the Vedas”) or Krishna Dvaipāyana (referring to his dark complexion and birthplace).
The festival of Guru Purnima is dedicated to him. It is also known as Vyasa Purnima, the day believed to be both of his birth and when he divided the Vedas. Vyasa is considered one of the seven Chiranjivins (long-lived, or immortals), who are still in existence according to Hindu tradition.
Vyasa appears for the first time as the compiler of, and an important character in, the Mahabharata. It is said that he was the expansion of the God Vishnu, who came in Dwaparayuga to make all the Vedic knowledge from oral tradition available in written form. He was the son of Satyavati, adopted daughter of the fisherman Dusharaj and the wandering sage Parashara, who is credited with being the author of the first Purana, Vishnu Purana. He was born on an island in the river Yamuna. Due to his dark complexion, Vyasa was also given the name Krishna, in addition to the name Dwaipayana, meaning “island-born”.
According to the Vishnu Purana, Vyasa was born on an island of the Yamuna at Kalpi.
According to legend, in a previous life Vyasa was the Sage Apantaratamas, who was born when Lord Vishnu uttered the syllable “Bhu”. He was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Since birth, he already possessed the knowledge of the Vedas, the Dharmashastras and the Upanishads. At Vishnu’s behest, he was reborn as Vyasa.
Vyasa was the son of Sage Parashara and great grandson of Sage Vashistha. Prior to Vyasa’s birth, Parashara had performed a severe penance to Lord Shiva. Shiva granted a boon that Parashara’s son would be a Brahmarshi equal to Vashistha and would be famous for his knowledge. Parashara begot Vyasa with Satyavati. She conceived and immediately gave birth to Vyasa. Vyasa became an adult and left, promising his mother that he would come to her when needed.
Vyasa acquired his knowledge from the four Kumaras, Narada and Lord Brahma himself.
Vyasa is believed to have lived on the banks of Ganga in modern-day Uttarakhand. The site was also the ritual home of the sage Vashishta, along with the Pandavas, the five brothers of the Mahabharata.
Role In Mahabharata
According to the Mahabharata, the sage Vyasa was the son of Satyavati and Parashara. During her youth, Satyavati was a fisherwoman who used to drive a boat. One day, sage Parashara was in a hurry to attend a Yajna. Satyavati helped him cross the river borders. On this account, the sage offered her a mantra which would result in begetting a son who would be a sage with wisdom and all good qualities. Satyavati immediately recited the mantra and thus Vyasa was born. She kept this incident a secret, not telling even King Shantanu.
After many years, Shantanu and Satyavati had two sons, named Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Chitrangada was killed by Gandharvas in a battle, while Vichitravirya was weak and ill all the time. Satyavati then asked Bhisma to fetch queens for Vichitravirya. Bhishma attended the swayamvara conducted by the king of Kashi (present-day Varanasi), and defeated all the kings. He abducted three princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. Amba, later was a source of trouble to Bhishma. Amba was in love with the prince of Shalva and when Bhishma learnt about this, he allowed her to go to Shalva, who rejected her. She came back to Bhishma and asked him to marry her, which he could not due to his vow. She shuttled between Bhishma and Shalva with no success. Due to this she vowed to kill Bhishma. During the wedding ceremony, Vichitravirya collapsed and died. Satyavati was clueless on know how to save the clan from perishing. She asked Bhishma to marry both the queens, who refused, as he had taken a vow and had promised her and her father never to marry. He, therefore, could not father an heir to the kingdom. Later, Satyavati revealed to Bhishma, secrets from her past life and requested him to bring Vyasa to Hastinapur.
Sage Vyasa had a fierce personality and a bright, glowing spiritual aura around him. Hence upon seeing him, Ambika who was rather scared shut her eyes, resulting in their child, Dhritarashtra, being born blind. The other queen, Ambalika, turned pale upon meeting Vyasa, which resulted in their child, Pandu, being born pale. Alarmed, Satyavati requested that Vyasa meet Ambika again and grant her another son. Ambika instead sent her maid to meet Vyasa. The duty-bound maid was calm and composed; she had a healthy child later named Vidura.
While these are Vyasa’s sons, another son Shuka, born of his wife Pinjalā (Vatikā), daughter of the sage Jābāli was his true spiritual heir. Shuka appears occasionally in the story as a spiritual guide to the young Kuru princes.
Vyasa is also credited with the writing of the eighteen major Purāṇas, which are works of Indian literature that cover an encyclopedic range of topics, such as myths and histories. His son Shuka is the narrator of the major Purāṇa Bhagavat-Purāṇa.
The Yoga Bhashya, a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is attributed to Vyasa.
The Brahma Sutras are attributed to Badarayana — which makes him the proponent of the crest-jewel school of Hindu philosophy, i.e., Vedanta. Vaishnava Acharyas acknowledge that Badarayana is indeed Vyasa and he is known as Badarayana as he had his ashram in Badari kshetram. Others believe the name to be because the island on which Vyasa was born is said to have been covered with badara (Indian jujube/Ber/Ziziphus mauritiana) trees. Some modern historians, though, suggest that these were two different personalities.
There may have been more than one Vyasa, or the name Vyasa may have been used at times to give credibility to a number of ancient texts. Much ancient Indian literature was a result of long oral tradition with wide cultural significance rather than the result of a single author. However, Vyasa is credited with documenting, compiling, categorizing and writing commentaries on much of this literature.
In Brahm Avtar, one of the compositions in Dasam Granth, the Second Scripture of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh mentions Rishi Vyas as an avatar of Brahma. He is considered the fifth incarnation of Brahma. Guru Gobind Singh wrote brief account of Rishi Vyas’s compositions about great kings— Manu, Prithu, Bharath, Jujat, Ben, Mandata, Dilip, Raghu Raj and Aj and attributed to him the store of Vedic learning.