Salutations to Sage Atri who desires the welfare of all beings, who is the embodiment of penance, who is verily the truth (the Brahman) and who is the cause of the well-being of all the Yogīs!
Since time immemorial, there have been great souls who have revealed to the world the eternal transcendental wisdom and enlightened us through various means. They are the immortal beings with divine wisdom, who appeared in the past and live up to the present age through the priceless knowledge that they have imparted to the beings in the world. They are the Saptaṛṣis, the seven seers. Sage Atri was one among them, who was the Mānasa Putra (mind-born son) of Lord Brahmā. He was the one who revealed to the world some of the sacred Mantras mentioned in the Vedic scriptures.
The glory and the greatness of Sage Atri has been extolled by the Vedic scriptures. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which is the most celebrated work on the glories of Lord Kṛṣṇa, has portrayed Sage Atri as an enlightened soul. Once King Pṛthu performed one-hundred Aśvamedhá Yajña with the help of Sage Atri. Lord Indra decided to disrupt the Yajña, and stole the horse that was kept for the Yajña. Holding the horse in his hands, he ascended towards the sky. Pṛthu’s son shot an arrow upon Lord Indra that wounded him, but Lord Indra remained undeterred and became invisible. When Sage Atri realized that Lord Indra was causing obstacles to the Yajña, he decided to punish him. Using his divine powers, he made Lord Indra visible, so that Prithu’s son could charge at him effortlessly and seize the horse. Eventually, the horse was recovered and the Yajña went on successfully. Pleased by this act of the sage, the king thanked him by bowing to him in respect.
The wise sage married Anusūyā who is known for her Pātivratya (being devoted to one’s husband, considering him as the embodiment of the Supreme) and who earned the praises of the Devas and the sages alike. The Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa, one of the 18 Mahā Purāṇas, describes how she obtained the Trimūrtis — Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva — as her sons.
Once there was a Brāhmaṇa named Kauśika who was was born as a leper owing to the consequences of his misdeeds in his previous lives. He had a dutiful wife named Śāṇḍilī who attended to all his needs even though he was ill-tempered. Once, he beheld a courtesan on a highway and was so enamoured by her charm that he longed to spend time with her. He then commanded his wife to fulfil his desire by taking him to the courtesan. Honouring his words, Śāṇḍilī carried him on her shoulders and headed towards the highway in the night, where Kauśika inadvertently pushed away a sage, fearing that he might attack them. Enraged by this, the sage cursed them to die before the sunrise the following day. Upon hearing the curse, Śāṇḍilī prayed that the sun should never rise, so that her husband wouldn’t lose his life. Her prayers were answered, and for many days the sun never rose, following which everything in the universe came to a standstill. The Devas feared that this would lead to the destruction of the universe.
Hence, they sought refuge in Lord Brahma who told them to propitiate Anusūyā who was known for her Pātivratya. The Devas hence approached Anusūyā and sought her help. Assuring them that she would resolve their problem, Anusūyā went to Śāṇḍilī and requested her to withdraw her curse. She promised her that she would restore their lives. Heeding to her request, Śāṇḍilī withdrew her curse and thereafter lived a harmonious life with her husband. The Devas were immensely delighted by the act of Anusūyā and asked her to choose a boon, and the noble woman requested them to let the Trimutis be born as her sons. The Devas fulfilled her request, and in due course of time, Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva took birth as her sons, who came to be known as Soma, Dattātreya and Durvāsa. Such was the power of her Pātivratya.
The Śiva Purāṇa elaborates on how Lord Śiva as Atrīśvara blessed Sage Atri and his wife Anusūyā. Once there was a severe drought in the country while Sage Atri was performing penance in the Kāmada forest. He and his wife Anusūyā made a Śivaliṅga out of sand and worshipped it. One day when Mahaṛṣi asked Anusūyā for water, she couldn’t find it anywhere. She then sought help from Gangā Devi (River Ganga) who manifested before her and pointed to her a hole from which the water flowed. Sage Atri was gladdened when Anusūyā told him that she obtained the water by the grace of Gangā Devi. He then expressed his desire to see Gangā Devi who manifested before him instantly and told him that she would stay there in the hermitage if Anusūyā could give her the fruits of one year’s Tapaśśakti (the power of penance). When Anusūyā agreed to this, Gangā Devi stayed there. Also, Lord Śiva appeared in the form of a Liṅga and stayed there as ‘Atrīśvara’.
These are some of the Purāṇas which depict Sage Atri as a great sage with immense knowledge. The sage was thus a devout follower of Dharma and was known for his compassion towards the people.