There are many terms that describe Men of Wisdom,Spiritual Teachers,Sages, Saints in Hinduism.
Many of these terms are used without understanding the connotation of these terms.
Munis,Rishis, Raja Rishis,Yogins are some these terms.
Let us see what the Scriptures say about these terms.
We shall see about the term Rishi.
This term is usually translated as ‘Seer’, who has seen.
This comes close to the meaning, but Rishi is more than seeing.
“Rishi Darsanaath’-Yakasha in his Niruktam 2.11
One who has seen Mantras (Mantra Drishtaa)
Rishi is one who can see with superior vision what others cannot.
Mantras, the mystically locked sounds are those that express an aspect of Reality.
Some Mantras the Reality itself, Gayatri Mantra.
These Mantras were grasped from the Ether by some people, who follow spiritual discipline.
These were grasped intuitively, ‘Seen’
‘Rishati jnaanEna samsaarapaaram’ -Paninini in Vachaspatikosam.
‘one who crosses and reaches the other shore of the Sea of Samsara’
The purpose of Life, according to Hinduism , is to transcend the cycle of Births and Deaths, Samsara.
The Mantras help one to cross the endless Cycle of Births and Deaths.
Rig Veda 1.31.16 and 9.96.18 describe Rishi as ‘one who lights the flame of knowledge, one who stimulates thinking.’
This is a corollary to the definition we have seen already.
The Rishis are associated with the element of fire (Agni).
Krishna Yajur Veda, 2nd Khaanda 5th Prasna, 8th Anuvaka calls a Rishi ‘Saamitheni, one who can kindle fire properly for performing Homa.
Different Types of Rishis
Rishi is a general term.
Definition of Rishi.
According to Indian tradition, the word may be derived from two different meanings of the root ‘rsh’ (ṛṣ). Sanskrit grammarians derive this word from the second meaning: “to go, to move”.V. S. Aptegives this particular meaning and derivation, and Monier-Williams also gives the same, with some qualification.
Another form of this root means “to flow, to move near by flowing”. (All the meanings and derivations cited above are based upon Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams). Monier-Williams also quotes Tārānātha who compiled the great (Sanskrit-to-Sanskrit) dictionary named “ṛṣati jñānena saṃsāra-pāram” (i.e., “one who reaches beyond this mundane world by means of spiritual knowledge”).
More than a century ago, Monier-Williams tentatively suggested a derivation from drś “to see”. Monier-Williams also quotes the Hibernian (Irish) form arsan (a sage, a man old in wisdom) and arrach (old, ancient, aged) as related to rishi. Monier-Williams also conjectures that the root drish (to see) might have given rise to an obsolete root rish meaning “to see”.
Following is the classification of Rishis.
Daanava Rishis and
Those who were priests by virtue of their birth as Brahmins are Vipra Rishis? , Uthanga.
Those who had realized Brahman?, The Reality through intense Tapas are Brahma Rishis, Vasishta, Atri, Viswamitra, Aaangirasa.
Sage Naarada is known as Deva Rishi belonging to the Devas.
Sukrachariar is Daanava Rishi due to his alignment with Asuras.
Amarakosa classifies Seven types of Rishia.Shrutarshi, Kāndarshi, Paramarshi, Maharshi, Rājarshi, Brahmarshi and Devarshi.
Though generally Rishis were Brahmins, there were a number of Kshatriyas or rulers who also achieved the status of Rishi by their Tapas.
And, they were known as Taja Rishis, Sage Viswamitra, Ambareesha, Trasadayu, Sibi Chakravarthi and Maandaata were in this category.
King Janaka was a Raja Rishi.
From which Caste, Community do they come from?
Rishis are drawn from all the four Ashramams viz., Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vaanaprasta and Sannyaasa
Attributes , Characteristics of Rishi.
Priyapraayaa vrittir Vinaya madurO vaachi niyama:
Prakrutyaa kalyaaNee matiranavageeta: parichaya: /
PurO vaa paschaad vaa tadidama viparyaasitara rasam
Rahasyam sadoonaam anupadhi visuddham vijayatE // Bhavabhooti-Uttara Rama Charitra.
‘ Universal love and affection, extreme sweetness in speech, utter humility, genuine consideration for the common good, an elegant dignity in demeanor.