Vishvamitra was very fond of hunting. One day he went into the jungles with a large number of attendants. He spent an exciting day hunting various kinds of animals. By evening the kind and his companions were very tired. They started their journey back. They were hungry and thirsty. They longed to have some water and food. On their way they saw a hermitage. It was a small place and the king was not sure if they could get even water there. Perhaps, he thought, the sage in the hermitage would show them the way to some pond or river where they could quench their thirst. The king went and met the sage.
The sage was the great Vasishta, one of the greatest saints and teachers of the world. But to the king he looked an ordinary sage. Even so, the king requested him for help to find water for his party.
“You must all be hungry too,” said the sage. “I shall try to help you.”
Soon Vasishta produced a large quantity of milk, enough for the king and his companions. He also produced the most delicious food that Vishvamitra and party had ever tasted. “Amazing,” said the king to his friends. “How could the sage produce all this in such a short time? And without any preparations.” He could not see any other human being. There was only a cow and her calf at the hermitage.
Night had already set in when the hunting party finished their meal.
Vasishta said, “Your Majesty, you must be very tired. I think you should all rest before you start for your capital.”
Vishvamitra’s curiosity was further aroused. Having given them plenty of milk and food, did Vasishta now plan to provide sleeping facilities for all of them? How? He asked himself. He could not see any place to sleep and he did not like to embarrass his kind host. So he thanked the saint for all his kindness and said that he would like to continue his journey with his people.
“Please don’t worry,” said Vasishta, “I have enough cots and bedding for all of you.” This was interesting, thought Vishvamitra. How and from where would Vasishta get those things? But in a few minutes Vasishta produced the most comfortable beds and bedding for Vishvamitra and his men. Being too tired the king and his party gave no more thought to this miracle and spent the night in sound sleep.
Early next morning everybody was given fresh milk. Vishvamitra could not hold his curiosity any longer.
“May I ask you a question?” asked Vishvamitra.
“Yes, yes, any number of questions,” replied Vasishta.
“I wonder how you are able to produce all these luxurious things in a lonely place like this. I find no other human being except you. How could you do all these miracles?”
“Not much of a miracle,” said Vasishta. “Look at that cow. Is there anything strange about her?”
“It is a beautiful cow,” said Vishvamitra. “I was admiring her the moment I saw her and lovely calf.”
“Well,” said Vasishta, “She is not an ordinary cow. She is a wonderful cow. She is Nandini, daughter of Kamadhenu. She can give anything you ask of her.”
That was really wonderful, Vishvamitra thought, but what was much a cow doing in a hermitage. She ought to be with the king of the land.
“Your Holiness,” said the king, “I was wondering why such a cow is kept in a lonely place like this. You are a saint. You don’t need Nandini. She should be with the king. Won’t you be pleased to give her to me as a gift.”
“She cannot be given away like that,” said Vasishta. “She is here to look after my needs.”
“I shall give you a thousand cows,” said Vishvamitra, “if you will give this cow to me.”
“What do I do with your thousand cows?” said Vasishta. “I am not a cowherd to look after a thousand cows,”
“Why do you want to keep this cow?” asked Vishvamitra. “She is being wasted here. If she is with me the world will benefit from her presence.”
“I am sorry, Your Majesty,” said the saint. “Nandini remains here and you cannot have here.”
“I am being very polite to you,” said the king, beginning to get annoyed. “As King Vishvamitra, I demand the cow, but I shall be kind to you. I shall give you in return anything you desire.”
“I desire nothing,” said Vasishta. “I have regard for you as a king but a king cannot have all he wants.”
Vishvamitra felt that he was being disobeyed. He was not the one to take any humiliation lying down. He wanted Nandini and he decided to have her.
“Take that cow and follow us,” he ordered two of his men. The men until Nandini and tried to take her along with them. But Nandini had no intention of going with them. King or no king, she was Vasishta’s. She broke loose and Vishvamitra’s men could not hold her. The men then untied the calf and tried to march it along, hoping the cow would follow. This was too much for Nandini. She became ferocious and charged Vishvamitra’s men with such force that they had to run for their lives.
Vishvamitra then told Vasishta that he would not be thus insulted. Just then he had to go but he would come back to take Nandini.
Vishvamitra returned to the palace and ordered his army to be ready. Soon he was on his way to Vasishta’s hermitage with a large force. But there he had a surprise waiting for him. At the hermitage they were met by a larger army.
A fierce battle was fought. Vishvamitra’s forces were completely defeated. The king was puzzled. Even though he had fought against Vasishta, yet he decided to meet him.
The king asked the sage how he was able to achieve victory.
Vasishta said, “This is all Nandini’s doing. I have already told you that the cow is not an ordinary one. One can have anything from her if one wants nothing for myself but for somebody else.”
Vishvamitra felt that he was after all not as great as sage Vasishta. The sage commanded greater powers than a king’s army or wealth. He decided then and there that he would also attain a position equal to, if not better than, that of Vasishta.
He said to admitted defeat and he was leaving.
“No your Majesty, you shall go back with all the soldiers you brought with you.”
And lo and behold! All those who had fallen in the field of battle arose as if they had just been asleep.
As a parting shot Vishvamitra said to Vasishta, “I am taking leave of you, great sage, but I am not going to sit idle. I will do everything in my power to attain a position better than yours. And then we shall meet again.”
Vishvamitra returned to his palace. He immediately gave up his kingdom and all his wealth and went to the deepest jungle to do meditation. It took him many, many, years to be an equal of Vasishta and when he attained that position his only ambition was to oppose Vasishta in anything he said and try to defeat him in every possible way.