The story of the ascetic Ṛṣyaśṛṅga (ऋष्य-शृंग, “deer-horned”) occurs in the Puranic literature. His father brought him up in an atmosphere of innocence, and he had never seen a woman. (Later, in the Rāmāyaṇa, he officiates at Daśaratha’s sacrifice for children, and it is thus through his grace that Rāma is born.) Pollock:
The Ṛśyaśṛṅga episode appears also [i.e, besides the Ramayana] at MBh 3.110-13, PadmP, Bengali recension, Pātālakhaṇḍa, 13 (reprinted in Lüders 1897), Bhāratamañjarī 3.758-95, Bhadrakalpāvadāna 33, Avadānakalpalatā 65, Alambusā and Naḷanikā Jātakas, etc. The episode is clearly of great importance to traditional India…
Here is the story from the Vana Parva in the Mahabharata (taken from GRETIL), accompanied by a pleasant translation in simple rhyming verse, by Arthur W. Ryder. (Scroll horizontally to read the English text and/or compare. Or to read just the English text, click here.)
lomaśa uvāca eṣā devanadī puṇyā kauśikī bharatarṣabha viśvāmitrāśramo ramya eṣa cātra prakāśate āśramaś caiva puṇyākhyaḥ kāśyapasya mahātmanaḥ ṛśyaśṛṅgaḥ suto yasya tapasvī saṃyatendriyaḥ tapaso yaḥ prabhāvena varṣayām āsa vāsavam anāvṛṣṭyāṃ bhayād yasya vavarṣa balavṛtrahā mṛgyāṃ jātaḥ sa tejasvī kāśyapasya sutaḥ prabhuḥ viṣaye lomapādasya yaś cakārādbhutaṃ mahat nivartiteṣu sasyeṣu yasmai śāntāṃ dadau nṛpaḥ lomapādo duhitaraṃ sāvitrīṃ savitā yathā yudhiṣṭhira uvāca ṛśyaśṛṅgaḥ kathaṃ mṛgyām utpannaḥ kāśyapātmajaḥ viruddhe yonisaṃsarge kathaṃ ca tapasā yutaḥ kimarthaṃ ca bhayāc chakras tasya bālasya dhīmataḥ anāvṛṣṭyāṃ pravṛttāyāṃ vavarṣa balavṛtrahā kathaṃrūpā ca śāntābhūd rājaputrī yatavratā lobhayām āsa yā ceto mṛgabhūtasya tasya vai lomapādaś ca rājarṣir yadāśrūyata dhārmikaḥ kathaṃ vai viṣaye tasya nāvarṣat pākaśāsanaḥ etan me bhagavan sarvaṃ vistareṇa yathātatham vaktum arhasi śuśrūṣor ṛṣyaśṛṅgasya ceṣṭitam lomaśa uvāca vibhāṇḍakasya brahmarṣes tapasā bhāvitātmanaḥ amoghavīryasya sataḥ prajāpatisamadyuteḥ śṛṇu putro yathā jāta ṛśyaśṛṅgaḥ pratāpavān mahāhrade mahātejā bālaḥ sthavirasaṃmataḥ mahāhradaṃ samāsādya kāśyapas tapasi sthitaḥ dīrghakālaṃ pariśrānta ṛṣir devarṣisaṃmataḥ tasya retaḥ pracaskanda dṛṣṭvāpsarasam urvaśīm apsūpaspṛśato rājan mṛgī tac cāpibat tadā SIMPLE DEER-HORN saha toyena tṛṣitā sā garbhiṇy abhavan nṛpa 0543_01 sā puroktā bhagavatā brahmaṇā lokakartṛṇā I 0543_02 devakanyā mṛgī bhūtvā muniṃ sūya vimokṣyase Young Deer-horn was a pious youth amoghatvād vidheś caiva bhāvitvād daivanirmitāt Devoted to religious truth, tasyāṃ mṛgyāṃ samabhavat tasya putro mahān ṛṣiḥ A hermit innocently good ṛśyaśṛṅgas taponityo vana eva vyavardhata Who grew to manhood in the wood. tasyarśyaśṛṅgaṃ śirasi rājann āsīn mahātmanaḥ tenarśyaśṛṅga ity evaṃ tadā sa prathito 'bhavat His mother left him at his birth; na tena dṛṣṭapūrvo 'nyaḥ pitur anyatra mānuṣaḥ He only knew one soul on earth, tasmāt tasya mano nityaṃ brahmacarye 'bhavan nṛpa His austere father; therefore he Grew up in natural piety. etasminn eva kāle tu sakhā daśarathasya vai Now in a kingdom near at hand lomapāda iti khyāto aṅgānām īśvaro 'bhavat No rain had fallen on the land, 0544_01 premoṣitāpacāreṇa tasya rājño yudhiṣṭhira Prevented by the magic skill tena kāmaḥ kṛto mithyā brāhmaṇebhya iti śrutiḥ Of priests the king had treated ill. 0545_01 daivopahatasattvena dharmajñenāpi bhārata sa brāhmaṇaiḥ parityaktas tadā vai jagatīpatiḥ purohitāpacārāc ca tasya rājño yadṛcchayā na vavarṣa sahasrākṣas tato 'pīḍyanta vai prajāḥ sa brāhmaṇān paryapṛcchat tapoyuktān manīṣiṇaḥ An aged priest advised the king: pravarṣaṇe surendrasya samarthān pṛthivīpatiḥ “Propitiate the clergy; bring kathaṃ pravarṣet parjanya upāyaḥ paridṛśyatām Pure-minded Deer-horn from the wood, tam ūcuś coditās tena svamatāni manīṣiṇaḥ That hermit innocently good. tatra tv eko munivaras taṃ rājānam uvāca ha kupitās tava rājendra brāhmaṇā niskṛtiṃ cara “He dwells in purity afar; ṛśyaśṛṅgaṃ munisutam ānayasva ca pārthiva He does not know what women are: vāneyam anabhijñaṃ ca nārīṇām ārjave ratam Fetch him, and then the rain will fall; sa ced avatared rājan viṣayaṃ te mahātapāḥ Of this I have no doubt at all.” sadyaḥ pravarṣet parjanya iti me nātra saṃśayaḥ etac chrutvā vaco rājan kṛtvā niskṛtim ātmanaḥ The counsel pleased the king; he planned sa gatvā punar āgacchat prasanneṣu dvijātiṣu To entertain the hermit, and rājānam āgataṃ dṛṣṭvā pratisaṃjagṛhuḥ prajāḥ Invited women of the town 0546_01 sa ca tāḥ pratijagrāha piteva hitakṛt sadā To go and bring young Deer-horn down. tato 'ṅgapatir āhūya sacivān mantrakovidān ṛśyaśṛṅgāgame yatnam akaron mantraniścaye so 'dhyagacchad upāyaṃ tu tair amātyaiḥ sahācyutaḥ śāstrajñair alam arthajñair nītyāṃ ca pariniṣṭhitaiḥ tata ānāyayām āsa vāramukhyā mahīpatiḥ veśyāḥ sarvatra niṣṇātās tā uvāca sa pārthivaḥ ṛśyaśṛṅgam ṛṣeḥ putram ānayadhvam upāyataḥ lobhayitvābhiviśvāsya viṣayaṃ mama śobhanāḥ 0547_01 niyojayām āsa ca tās tasya bālasya lobhane tā rājabhayabhītāś ca śāpabhītāś ca yoṣitaḥ But they refused the royal plan, aśakyam ūcus tat kāryaṃ vivarṇā gatacetasaḥ Fearing to meet a holy man; tatra tv ekā jaradyoṣā rājānam idam abravīt At last an aged crone’s ambition prayatiṣye mahārāja tam ānetuṃ tapodhanam Drove her to undertake the mission. abhipretāṃs tu me kāmān samanujñātum arhasi “If you will give me what I ask;’ tataḥ śakṣye lobhayitum ṛśyaśṛṅgam ṛṣeḥ sutam She said, “I can fulfill the task; But I require a rich reward Of gold and gems, my royal lord.” tasyāḥ sarvam abhiprāyam anvajānāt sa pārthivaḥ With royal bounty richly laden, dhanaṃ ca pradadau bhūri ratnāni vividhāni ca She took her child, a youthful maiden tato rūpeṇa saṃpannā vayasā ca mahīpate More known as beautiful than good, striya ādāya kāś cit sā jagāma vanam añjasā And so departed to the wood. lomaśa uvāca II sā tu nāvyāśramaṃ cakre rājakāryārthasiddhaye She waited till the coast was clear, saṃdeśāc caiva nṛpateḥ svabuddhyā caiva bhārata And then she sent her daughter dear nānāpuṣpaphalair vṛkṣaiḥ kṛtrimair upaśobhitam To interview the hermit who nānāgulmalatopetaiḥ svādukāmaphalapradaiḥ Had never learned what women do. atīva ramaṇīyaṃ tad atīva ca manoharam cakre nāvyāśramaṃ ramyam adbhutopamadarśanam tato nibadhya tāṃ nāvam adūre kāśyapāśramāt cārayām āsa puruṣair vihāraṃ tasya vai muneḥ tato duhitaraṃ veśyā samādhāyetikṛtyatām The maiden found the lad and said: dṛṣṭvāntaraṃ kāśyapasya prāhiṇod buddhisaṃmatām “I trust your pious life is led sā tatra gatvā kuśalā taponityasya saṃnidhau Without offense, and that your food āśramaṃ taṃ samāsādya dadarśa tam ṛṣeḥ sutam Of roots and fruits is sweet and good. veśyovāca kaccin mune kuśalaṃ tāpasānāṃ; kaccic ca vo mūlaphalaṃ prabhūtam “I trust your father’s heart is blest kaccid bhavān ramate cāśrame 'smiṃs; tvāṃ vai draṣṭuṃ sāṃpratam āgato 'smi With deep religious peace and rest; kaccit tapo vardhate tāpasānāṃ; pitā ca te kaccid ahīnatejāḥ For I am hither come to see kaccit tvayā prīyate caiva vipra; kaccit svādhyāyaḥ kriyate ṛśyaśṛṅga Your unpretending piety.” ṛśyaśṛṅga uvāca And Deer-horn answered: “Sir, you are ṛddho bhavāñ jyotir iva prakāśate; manye cāhaṃ tvām abhivādanīyam As radiant as a beaming star; pādyaṃ vai te saṃpradāsyāmi kāmād; yathādharmaṃ phalamūlāni caiva I never saw a man like you; Then tell me, sir, what shall I do kauśyāṃ bṛsyām āssva yathopajoṣaṃ; kṛṣṇājinenāvṛtāyāṃ sukhāyām “To make you happy? Here are roots, kva cāśramas tava kiṃ nāma cedaṃ; vrataṃ brahmaṃś carasi hi devavat tvam Water, a couch of skins, and fruits. What vows are yours, most holy sage? Where is your pious hermitage?” veśyovāca mamāśramaḥ kāśyapaputra ramyas; triyojanaṃ śailam imaṃ pareṇa “My hermitage,” the maid replied, tatra svadharmo 'nabhivādanaṃ no; na codakaṃ pādyam upaspṛśāmaḥ “Is three long leagues from here, beside 0548_01 bhavatā nābhivādyo 'ham abhivādyo bhavān mayā The river; there I practice now 0548_02 vratam etādṛśaṃ brahman pariṣvajyo bhavān mayā A fearfully ascetic vow. ṛśyaśṛṅga uvāca phalāni pakvāni dadāni te 'haṃ; bhallātakāny āmalakāni caiva “For I have sworn that I will greet parūṣakānīṅgudadhanvanāni; priyālānāṃ kāmakāraṃ kuruṣva Such other hermits as I meet; 0549_01 gṛhāṇa kāmād dhi mamopakārāt And I must clasp and kiss you too— 0549_02 kuruṣva kāmaṃ yad abhīpsitaṃ me So my religion bids me do.” lomaśa uvāca She spurned the fruits that he had offered, sā tāni sarvāṇi visarjayitvā; bhakṣān mahārhān pradadau tato 'smai And in their stead to him she proffered tāny ṛśyaśṛṅgasya mahārasāni; bhṛśaṃ surūpāṇi ruciṃ dadur hi Confectionery sweet and good That she had brought into the wood. dadau ca mālyāni sugandhavanti; citrāṇi vāsāṃsi ca bhānumanti She gave him fragrant garlands too, pānāni cāgryāṇi tato mumoda; cikrīḍa caiva prajahāsa caiva And brilliant garments, clean and new; She offered wine; and while he quaffed, She played and swayed and danced and laughed. sā kandukenāramatāsya mūle; vibhajyamānā phalitā lateva She played about him with a ball, gātraiś ca gātrāṇi niṣevamāṇā; samāśliṣac cāsakṛd ṛśyaśṛṅgam And oft coquettishly would fall sarjān aśokāṃs tilakāṃś ca vṛkṣān; prapuṣpitān avanāmyāvabhajya Upon his bosom, until he vilajjamāneva madābhibhūtā; pralobhayām āsa sutaṃ maharṣeḥ Took fire from her immodesty. atharśyaśṛṅgaṃ vikṛtaṃ samīkṣya; punaḥ punaḥ pīḍya ca kāyam asya At last she saw the deed was done, avekṣamāṇā śanakair jagāma; kṛtvāgnihotrasya tadāpadeśam That she had charmed the hermit’s son; And, gazing o’er her shoulder, fled, To make her sacrifice, she said. tasyāṃ gatāyāṃ madanena matto; vicetanaś cābhavad ṛśyaśṛṅgaḥ When she had left him, peace and joy tām eva bhāvena gatena śūnyo; viniḥśvasann ārtarūpo babhūva Departed from the luckless boy; Sadly he sighed, by love distressed, An aching void within his breast. tato muhūrtād dharipiṅgalākṣaḥ; praveṣṭito romabhirā nakhāgrāt His father, while he sighed, returned, svādhyāyavān vṛttasamādhiyukto; vibhāṇḍakaḥ kāśyapaḥ prādurāsīt Whose eyes with fire ascetic burned, Whose life was one devoted prayer, Whose nails were overgrown with hair. so 'paśyad āsīnam upetya putraṃ; dhyāyantam ekaṃ viparītacittam When he beheld his son distressed viniḥśvasantaṃ muhur ūrdhvadṛṣṭiṃ; vibhāṇḍakaḥ putram uvāca dīnam With eye upturned and heaving breast, With longing written on his face And passion in contentment’s place, na kalpyante samidhaḥ kiṃ nu tāta; kaccid dhutaṃ cāgnihotraṃ tvayādya “What troubles you, my dearest son?” sunirṇiktaṃ sruksruvaṃ homadhenuḥ; kaccit savatsā ca kṛtā tvayādya He asked, “and are your duties done? na vai yathāpūrvam ivāsi putra; cintāparaś cāsi vicetanaś ca Who has been here with you today?” dīno 'timātraṃ tvam ihādya kiṃ nu; pṛcchāmi tvāṃ ka ihādyāgato 'bhūt And Deer-horn answered him straightway. III ṛśyaśṛṅga uvāca “A hermit youth with hanging hair, ihāgato jaṭilo brahmacārī; na vai hrasvo nātidīrgho manasvī Not short, nor very tall, but fair suvarṇavarṇaḥ kamalāyatākṣaḥ; sutaḥ surāṇām iva śobhamānaḥ And bright as gold, with lotus-eyes, Some child of heaven, wondrous wise. samṛddharūpaḥ saviteva dīptaḥ; suśuklakṛṣṇākṣataraś cakoraiḥ “He came in beauty like the sun, nīlāḥ prasannāś ca jaṭāḥ sugandhā; hiraṇyarajjugrathitāḥ sudīrghāḥ Black eyes, sweet voice, his hair undone And hanging soft, dark, fragrant, and Encircled by a golden band. ādhārarūpā punar asya kaṇṭhe; vibhrājate vidyud ivāntarikṣe “A relic on his neck was seen dvau cāsya piṇḍāv adhareṇa kaṇṭham; ajātaromau sumanoharau ca That danced like flashing lightnings keen; Below it, two soft swellings white That thrilled me with a strange delight. vilagnamadhyaś ca sa nābhideśe; kaṭiś ca tasyātikṛtapramāṇā “Large hips he had, but slender waist tathāsya cīrāntaritā prabhāti; hiraṇmayī mekhalā me yatheyam Which I could see was close embraced By a golden belt; I saw it shine And it was not at all like mine. 0550_01 anyac ca tasyādbhutadarśanīyā “And on his ankles something stirred 0550_02 vibhāti mālā kanakaprabhāsā That jingled like a cooing bird, 0550_03 kaṇṭhe sthitā vakṣasi ghūrṇamānā While on his wrist there tinkled free 0550_04 yathākṣamālā bhavatā nibaddhā A novel kind of rosary. anyac ca tasyādbhutadarśanīyaṃ; vikūjitaṃ pādayoḥ saṃprabhāti “And as he moved, the beads would sing pāṇyoś ca tadvat svanavan nibaddhau; kalāpakāv akṣamālā yatheyam Like gay flamingoes in the spring; His pious robe was wondrous fair, And quite unlike the garb we wear. viceṣṭamānasya ca tasya tāni; kūjanti haṃsā sarasīva mattāḥ “His face was beautiful to see; cīrāṇi tasyādbhutadarśanāni; nemāni tadvan mama rūpavanti His speech was kind and gladdened me; vaktraṃ ca tasyādbhutadarśanīyaṃ; pravyāhṛtaṃ hlādayatīva cetaḥ His voice was like the nightingale; puṃskokilasyeva ca tasya vāṇī; tāṃ śṛṇvato me vyathito 'ntarātmā It made me sigh and yearn and pale. yathā vanaṃ mādhavamāsi madhye; samīritaṃ śvasanenābhivāti “And as in spring the forest trees tathā sa vāty uttamapuṇyagandhī; niṣevyamāṇaḥ pavanena tāta Wave beautifully in the breeze, So, father, when the wind blew, he Shed fragrance like a flowering tree. susaṃyatāś cāpi jaṭā vibhaktā; dvaidhīkṛtā bhānti samā lalāṭe “His hermit locks— I wondered how karṇau ca citrair iva cakravālaiḥ; samāvṛtau tasya surūpavadbhiḥ They parted on his noble brow; And dangling from each ear, there stirred And danced what seemed a brilliant bird. tathā phalaṃ vṛttam atho vicitraṃ; samāhanat pāṇinā dakṣiṇena “A round, elastic fruit he had tad bhūmim āsādya punaḥ punaś ca; samutpataty adbhutarūpam uccaiḥ That bounded from the earth like mad When he would strike it merrily— 'Twas very wonderful to see. tac cāpi hatvā parivartate 'sau; vāterito vṛkṣa ivāvaghūrṇaḥ “He moved and swayed with graceful ease— taṃ prekṣya me putram ivāmarāṇāṃ; prītiḥ parā tāta ratiś ca jātā I thought of wind among the trees: A wonderful delight and joy Came when I saw the godlike boy. sa me samāśliṣya punaḥ śarīraṃ; jaṭāsu gṛhyābhyavanāmya vaktram “He held me in a tight embrace; vaktreṇa vaktraṃ praṇidhāya śabdaṃ; cakāra tan me 'janayat praharṣam I felt his hair; he pressed his face Against my face and made a noise That waked in me the strangest joys. na cāpi pādyaṃ bahu manyate 'sau; phalāni cemāni mayāhṛtāni “Our simple fruits he did not think evaṃvrato 'smīti ca mām avocat; phalāni cānyāni navāny adān me Were good, or water that we drink; He gave me other fruits and rare, And said: ‘This is my humble fare.’ mayopayuktāni phalāni tāni; nemāni tulyāni rasena teṣām “They were not like the fruits we eat, na cāpi teṣāṃ tvag iyaṃ yathaiṣāṃ; sārāṇi naiṣām iva santi teṣām But tasted wonderfully sweet; They had a different sort of skin, And different was the pulp within. toyāni caivātirasāni mahyaṃ; prādāt sa vai pātum udārarūpaḥ “A strange, sweet kind of water he pītvaiva yāny abhyadhikaḥ praharṣo; mamābhavad bhūś caliteva cāsīt Offered with noble piety; It filled me with an odd delight, And earth grew wobbly to my sight. imāni citrāṇi ca gandhavanti; mālyāni tasyodgrathitāni paṭṭaiḥ “Sweet garlands with a careless mirth yāni prakīryeha gataḥ svam eva; sa āśramaṃ tapasā dyotamānaḥ He wove, and scattered on the earth; Then, glorious as an ancient sage, Departed to his hermitage. gatena tenāsmi kṛto vicetā; gātraṃ ca me saṃparitapyatīva “And since he went, I feel distressed; icchāmi tasyāntikam āśu gantuṃ; taṃ ceha nityaṃ parivartamānam My limbs are burning and my breast; I long to go to him today Or have him here with me alway. gacchāmi tasyāntikam eva tāta; kā nāma sā vratacaryā ca tasya “Yes, I will tread the path he trod icchāmy ahaṃ carituṃ tena sārdhaṃ; yathā tapaḥ sa caraty ugrakarmā And learn the way he worships God; With him I long to make a trial Of holy life and self-denial. 0551_01 cartuṃ tathecchā hṛdaye mamāsti “I find no peace from him apart; 0551_02 dunoti cittaṃ yadi taṃ na paśye Religious yearnings fill my heart.” IV vibhāṇḍaka uvāca “It was a devil, dear my son; rakṣāṃsi caitāni caranti putra; rūpeṇa tenādbhutadarśanena By foes like these we are undone; atulyarūpāṇy atighoravanti; vighnaṃ sadā tapasaś cintayanti They walk the earth in conquering charm And work religious men much harm. surūparūpāṇi ca tāni tāta; pralobhayante vividhair upāyaiḥ “They win us with their cunning wiles, sukhāc ca lokāc ca nipātayanti; tāny ugrakarmāṇi munīn vaneṣu Their wondrous beauty and their smiles, Then show themselves as demons fell And plunge us in the pit of hell. na tāni seveta munir yatātmā; satāṃ lokān prārthayānaḥ kathaṃ cit “The man who seeks religious peace kṛtvā vighnaṃ tāpasānāṃ ramante; pāpācārās tapasas tāny apāpa Should keep himself from such as these; To ruin us is their delight, My pious boy. Forget the sight. asajjanenācaritāni putra; pāpāny apeyāni madhūni tāni “And those sweet waters that you had mālyāni caitāni na vai munīnāṃ; smṛtāni citrojjvalagandhavanti Are tasted only by the bad; And we ascetics never wear A perfumed garland on our hair. lomaśa uvāca “Resist the devil, boy”; he said rakṣāṃsi tānīti nivārya putraṃ; vibhāṇḍakas tāṃ mṛgayāṃ babhūva And then he hunted for the jade; nāsādayām āsa yadā tryaheṇa; tadā sa paryāvavṛte ''śramāya Three days he sought without success And ceased for very weariness. yadā punaḥ kāśyapo vai jagāma; phalāny āhartuṃ vidhinā śrāmaṇena Meantime, the tempting minx returned, tadā punar lobhayituṃ jagāma; sā veśayoṣā munim ṛśyaśṛṅgam And seeing her, young Deer-horn burned; dṛṣṭvaiva tām ṛśyaśṛṅgaḥ prahṛṣṭaḥ; saṃbhrāntarūpo 'bhyapatat tadānīm “Come quick,” he said, “and let us roam; provāca caināṃ bhavato ''śramāya; gacchāva yāvan na pitā mamaiti You see my father’s not at home. tato rājan kāśyapasyaikaputraṃ; praveśya yogena vimucya nāvam “Your hermitage I fain would view”; pralobhayantyo vividhair upāyair; ājagmur aṅgādhipateḥ samīpam So, hand in eager hand, they flew And found a boat and floated down The river to the royal town. No sooner did the hermit gain saṃsthāpya tām āśramadarśane tu; saṃtāritāṃ nāvam atīva śubhrām The royal palace than the rain tīrād upādāya tathaiva cakre; rājāśramaṃ nāma vanaṃ vicitram Fell, drenching every thirsty part antaḥpure taṃ tu niveśya rājā; vibhāṇḍakasyātmajam ekaputram And gladdening the sovereign’s heart. dadarśa devaṃ sahasā pravṛṣṭam; āpūryamāṇaṃ ca jagaj jalena 0552_01 samāyāte ṛṣyaśṛṅge 'tha rājan The joyful monarch to the brave, sa lomapādaḥ paripūrṇakāmaḥ; sutāṃ dadāv ṛśyaśṛṅgāya śāntām Bewildered young ascetic gave— Lest he should ever seek release— A princess—and her name was Peace.