In Indian tradition, the word has been derived from the two roots 'rsh'. Sanskrit grammarians derive this word from the second root which means 'to go, to move' (- Dhātupāṭha of Pānini, xxviii). V. S. Apte gives 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 derivation from drś "to see". Monier-Williams also quotes Hibernian (Irish) form 'arsan' (a sage, a man old in wisdom) and 'arrach' (old, ancient, aged) as related to rishi. In Sanskrit, forms of the root 'rish' become 'arsh-' in many words, e.g., arsh. Monier-Williams also conjectures that the root 'drish' (to see) might have given rise to an obsolete root 'rish' meaning 'to see'.
However, the root has a close Avestan cognate ərəšiš "an ecstatic" (see also Yurodivy, Vates). Yet, the Indo-European dictionary of Julius Pokorny connects the word to a PIE root *h3er-s meaning "rise, protrude", in the sense of "excellent, egregious".
Modern etymological explanations such as by Manfred Mayrhofer in his Etymological Dictionary leaves the case open, does not prefer a connection to ṛṣ "pour, flow" (PIE *h1ers), rather one with German 'rasen' "to be ecstatic, be in a different state of mind" (and perhaps Lithuanian aršus).
- 1: A holy seer; a saint; spec. one of the holy poets or sages believed to have composed the hymns and other sacred writings forming the Vedas.
Rishi (Sanskrit: ṛṣi, Devanagari: ऋषि) denotes the composers of Vedic hymns. However, according to post-Vedic tradition, the rishi is a "seer" to whom the Vedas were "originally revealed" through states of higher consciousness. The rishis were prominent when Vedic Hinduism took shape, as far back as some three thousand years ago.
Many of ancient rishis were in fact women, rishikas in sanskrit. According to the late Vedic Sarvanukramani text, there were as many as 20 women among the authors of the Rig Veda known as rishika. According to modern teachers Deepak Chopra and Swamini Mayatitananda, this number could be as high as 35.
One of the foundational qualities of a ṛṣi is satyavāc (one who speaks truth) when composing Vedic hymns. According to tradition, other sages might falter, but a ṛṣi was believed to speak truth only, because he existed in the Higher World (the unified field of consciousness). Ṛṣis provided knowledge to the world which included the knowledge of Vedas.