Ancient seer-poets, or ‘sages’, to whom the hymns of the Ṛg Veda were said to have been revealed. According to Brahmanical theology, they constitute the third group, alongside the pitṛs and the devas, to whom a debt (in the ṛṣis' case, Vedic studentship) is owed by all twice-born men. They appear in the Veda, and especially in the Epics and Purāṇas in various groupings, such as the legendary, but variously identified, ‘seven seers’ (the saptarṣis, also known as the maharṣis), and the brahmarṣis or ‘brahminical sages’. The word is also used in various other compounds, such as rāja(ṛṣi), ‘a sage who is a king’, and deva(ṛṣi), ‘a divine seer’. More generally, the term may be applied to any ancient sage. In Epic and Purāṇic sources, such ṛṣis make frequent appearances as powerful and sometimes irascible figures, renowned for the intensity of a tapas which threatens the gods.
From: ṛṣi(s) in A Dictionary of Hinduism »