The Rishi and the Society
It is difficult to assess the immensity of the influence that the Vedic rishis exercised over the people in the midst of whom they lived and with whom they had direct or indirect contact. But there is no doubt that the Vedic rishis were held in highest esteem by people of all categories and that their advice was sought and implemented so readily that they were able to cast the early forms of social life in some flexible mould so as to secure progressive unfoldment and development of culture on some sound and original lines over the centuries and millennia.
Three important points may, in this regard, be noted.
I. In the first place, the image and ideal of rishihood was so strongly impressed upon the society that the rishi has been held throughout the ages as the object of the highest reverence. The word of the rishi, whether of the past or of the present, has had always an authority greater than that of any other leader of the society. Even the law of the state was very often obeyed and accepted by the people only when it received sanction from the rishi. Often, the word of the rishi had an automatic authority of the law of the state. Many rapid changes in society were effected in certain important periods of Indian history, not by any struggle of the people or by any legislative process, but simply by what the rishi said or advised.
II. There was an explicit recognition in the society of a distinction between the rishi and the priest. The mark of the rishi is that he has lived in fullness the human life and experienced the true truth of man and the universe. He lives in the truth and hears the truth and reveals the truth and the limitations of time and space do not apply to him. At the highest, the rishi has the knowledge of the past, of the present and the future, possessed of trikalajnana and trikaladrishti (the knowledge of the three times, past,