From the accounts of vedic tradition the bhR^igu-s were the foremost of the R^iShi-s. It appears that they were the founders of the fire ritual which is at the heart of the vedic religion. They are not authors of many mantra-s of the R^ig veda, though their surrogate clan, the shaunahotra-s, have a maNDala to themselves (RV2). Nevertheless, bhR^igu or the bhR^igu-s are mentioned 27 times by name in the RV. A single ancient member of the main-line bhR^igu clan ushanA kAvya, the grandson bhR^igu, through his son kavi bhArgava, is mentioned by that name in 15 times in the RV. Another much latter main-line bhR^igu, jamadagni, is mentioned as contemporary by two of the great RV R^iShis, vishvAmitra (who was an ally jamadgni) and vasiShTha. He is mentioned 9 times in the RV. Other bhR^igus are fleetingly mentioned by name, like apnavAna (at least 2 times) and aurva, and, like ushanA kAvya are clearly historical figures even for most of the RV composers.
bhR^igu/s are mentioned by name by most major clans of the RV from all three dvija varNas:
13 times by the other ancient brahminical clan the A~Ngirasa from whom most mainstream brahmins descended. 3 times by vasiShTha-s. 3 times by vishvAmitra-s. 2 times by kShatriya hymn composers. 2 times the by ancient vaishya sages vatsapri and bhAlandana. 1 time by atri-s. 1 time by the shaunahotra-s 1 time by the later bhR^igu-s. bhR^igu may also be refered to by his generic name atharvan. The name atharvan in used 14 times in the RV. Seven (7) of these occurences are directly used in the sense of bhR^igu/s in connection to their ancient kindling of fire or ancient sacrifice. 4 occurences are in the sense of a contemporary atharvan priest performing a rite.
Many important themes emerge by examining the hymns mentioning bhR^igu-s in the RV:
1) A persistant motif which appears to be common knowledge amongst the vedic composers is that of mAtarishvAn (vAyu) bearing agni to bhR^igu-s.
2) agni is often discovered by the bhR^igu-s hidden cave or is brought to them from a hidden cave by mAtarishvAn.
3) The bhR^igu-s are associated with the kindling of fire and the two births of agni, one of which appears to be within water. The fire within water is also a major theme with other bhR^igu sages like aurva. Several bhR^igu-s have fiery names: bhR^igu= cognate of fiery, phleugai etc; aurva- the fire in water; jamadagni- the feeder of fire.
4) The bhR^igu-s make a car for the gods.
The observation that most clans mention bhR^igu-s as the promulgator of the fire rite, suggests that they were ancient predecessors of the vedic rite. This is well-supported by the subheShaja hymn and the sAmidhenI rite. However, this role might have even been performed by the later bhR^igu-s as the term ‘gR^iNAna’ (gR^iNAti=teach) is used 5 times with jamadagni bhArgava, suggesting he proclaimed the fire rite to many even in his period.
RV 1.58.6 nodhA gautama
dadhuSh TvA bhR^igavo mAnuSheShvA rayiM na chAruM suhavaM janebhyaH |
hotAramagne atithiM vareNyaM mitraM na shevaM divyAya janmane ||
The bhR^igus established you among the people, for the descendents of manu, like a beautiful treasure, pleasing to invoke; You, agni, as a messenger and and excellent guest, like an auspicious friend to the gods.
RV 1.60.1 nodhA gautama
vahniM yashasaM vidathasya ketuM suprAvyaM dUtaM sadyo artham |
dvijanmAnaM rayimiva prashastaM rAtiM bharad bhR^igave mAtarishvA ||
mAtarishvA brought, as a friend, to bhR^igu, the famed agni, the light of rituals, the protector , the swift messenger, with two births, (to be to him) as it were precious wealth.
RV 1.071.04 parAshara shAktya (vasiShTha)
mathId yadIM vibhR^ito mAtarishvA gR^ihe-gR^ihe shyeto jenyo bhUt |
AdIM rAj~ne na sahIyase sachA sannA dUtyaM bhR^igavANo vivAya ||
When the all-pervading mAtarishvA , incites agni, he becomes bright and manifest in every house; I, following [the method of] bhR^igu, invoke agni to be messenger, as an ambassador to the emperor.
pra yA ghoShe bhR^igavANe na shobhe yayA vAchA yajati pajriyo vAm |
pra iShayur na vidvAn ||
The great is the chant that was uttered by ghoShA, like that of bhR^igu, the chant with which the pajras worship you, who is like a mighty intelligent one.
RV 1.127.7 paruchChepa daivodAsi
dvitA yadIM kIstAso abhidyavo namasyanta upavochanta bhR^igavo mathnanto dAsA bhR^igavaH | agnirIshe vasUnAM shuchiryo dharNireShAm |
priyAnapidhInrvaniShIShTa medhira A vaniShIShTa medhirah ||
bhR^igus, lauded him (agni) in both his forms, glorifying him, and saluting him, proclaim his praises; the bhR^igus, rubbing (the fire) for the oblation. The shining agni, who is the guardian of treasures, with power, the receiver of oblations, the wise one, may the wise one be pleased.
RV 1.143.04 (dIrghatama auchAthya)
yamerire bhR^igavo vishvavedasaM nAbhA pR^ithivyA bhuvanasya majmanA |
agniM taM gIrbhir hinuhi sva A dame ya eko vasvo varuNo na rAjati ||
Bring to his own abode with hymns that agni th all-knowning, whom the bhR^igus obtained from the navel of the earth; for, like varuNa, he reigns sole over wealth.
RV 2.004.02 gR^itsamada shaunahotra
imaM vidhanto apAM sadhasthe dvitAdadhur bhR^igavo vikShvAyoH |
eSha vishvAnyabhyastu bhUmA devAnAm agnir aratir jIrAshvaH ||
The bhR^igus, extracting agni, have twice made him manifest; (once) in the abode of the waters, and (once) among men; may that agni, with a fast horse, messenger of the gods, be the lord.
RV 3.002.04 vishvAmitra gAthina
A mandrasya saniShyanto vareNyaM vR^iNImahe ahrayaM vAjam R^igmiyam |
rAtiM bhR^igUNAm ushijaM kavi kratum agniM rAjantaM divyena shochiShA ||
Desiring gain, we seek from the adorable, the benefactor excellent and vigorous; the wealth of bhR^igus, willing, of sagely deeds, agni shining forth with light that comes from heaven.
RV 3.005.10 vishvAmitra gAthina
ud astambhIt samidhA nAkam R^iShvo.agnír bhavann uttamo rocanAnAM |
yadI bhR^igubhyaH pari mAtarishvA guhA santaM havyavAhaM samIdhe ||
The mighty agni, the best of the heavenly lights, sustained the heaven with radiance, when mAtarishva bore the bearer of oblations, (who was concealed) in a cave from the bhR^igus.
RV 4.7.1 vAmadeva gautama
ayam iha prathamo dhAyi dhAtR^ibhir hotA yajiShTho adhvareShv IDyaH |
yam apnavAno bhR^igavo viruruchur vaneShu chitraM vibhvaM vishe-vishe ||
Here by ordainers was this god appointed the first hotar, and the adhvaryu who worships at the rites; whom apnavana, and the bhR^igus caused to shine bright and colored in the wood, spreading from home to home.
RV 4.7.4 vAmadeva gautama
AshuM dUtaM vivasvato vishvA yash charShaNIr abhi |
A jabhruH ketum Ayavo bhR^igavANaM vishe-vishe ||
vivasvAn’s messenger, men have taken as their flag, swift; the ruler over all peoples, moving in each home as [invoked] by bhR^igu.
RV 4.016.20 vAmadeva gautama
eved indrAya vR^iShabhAya vR^iShNe brahmAkarma bhR^igavo na ratham |
nU chid yathA naH sakhyA viyoShad asan na ugro .avitA tanUpAH ||
Hence we offer to the mightyIndra, the showerer, the acts of brahman and ritual, as the bhR^igus made the chariots, that he may never withdraw his friendship from us, and he the fierce one protect us.
RV 6.015.02 bharadvAja bArhaspatya
mitraM na yaM sudhitaM bhR^igavo dadhur vanaspatA vIDyam UrdhvashochiSham |
sa tvaM suprIto vItahavye adbhuta prashastibhir mahayase dive dive ||
Like a friend to the bhR^igu-s, who established the benevolent agni, with upward flames in wood; be pleased with vItahavya, since you are magnified by his praise day after day.
RV 7.018.06 vasiShTha maitrAvaruNi
puroLA it turvasho yakShurAsId rAye matsyAso nishitA apIva
shruShTiM chakrur bhR^igavo druhyavashcha sakhA sakhAyamatarad viShUchoH
RV 8.003.09 medhyAtithi kANva
tat tvA yAmi suvIryaM tad brahma pUrvachittaye
yenA yatibhyo bhR^igave dhane hite yena praskaNvamAvitha
RV 8.003.16 medhyAtithi kANva
kaNvA iva bhR^igavaH sUryA iva vishvamid dhItamAnashuH
indraM stomebhirmahayanta AyavaH priyamedhAso asvaran
ya indra yatayastvA bhR^igavo ye cha tuShTuvuH
mamed ugra shrudhI havam
RV 8.035.03 shyAvAshva Atreya
vishvair devais tribhir ekAdashair ihAdbhir marudbhir bhR^igubhiH sachAbhuvA
sajoShasA uShasA sUryeNa cha somaM pibatam ashvinA
RV 8.043.13 virUpa a~Ngirasa
uta tvA bhR^iguvachChuche manuShvad agna Ahuta |
a~Ngirasvad dhavAmahe ||
agni one, to whom oblations are offered as by bhR^igu and by manu; we invoke you as the a~Ngirasas.
RV 8.102.04 prayoga bhArgava
aurvabhR^iguvachChuchimapnavAnavadA huve |
agniM samudravAsasam ||
Like aurva, bhR^igu and like apanvAna, I invoke the pure Agni, dwelling in the midst of the sea.
RV 9.101.13 prajApati vaishvAmitra
pra sunvAnasyAndhaso marto na vR^ita tad vachaH |
apa shvAnam arAdhasaM hatA makhaM na bhR^igavaH ||
Let no mortal hear the sound of the effused Soma; away with the dog that offers no rituals, as the bhR^igu-s drove off makha (also seen the mantras of the bhR^igu sage iTant bhArgava).
a~Ngiraso naH pitaro navagvA atharvANo bhR^igavaH somyAsaH
teShAM vayaM sumatau yaj~niyAnAmapi bhadre saumanasesyAma
RV 10.039.14 ghoSha kAkShitvatI
etaM vAM stomamashvinAvakarmAtakShAma bhR^igavo na ratham
nyamR^ikShAma yoShaNAM na marye nityaM na sUnuntanayaM dadhAnAH
RV 10.046.02 vatsaprI bhAlandana
imaM vidhanto apAM sadhasthe pashuM na naShTaM padairanu gman
guhA chatantamushijo namobhiriChanto dhIrAbhR^igavoavindan
RV 10.046.09 vatsaprI bhAlandana
dyAvA yamagniM pR^ithivI janiShTAmApastvaShTA bhR^igavo yaM sahobhiH
ILenyaM prathamaM mAtarishvA devAstatakShurmanave yajatram
RV 10.092.10 shAryAta mAnava
te hi prajAyA abharanta vi shravo bR^ihaspatirvR^iShabhaHsomajAmayaH
yaj~nairatharvA prathamo vi dhArayad devAdakShairbhR^igavaH saM chikitrire
RV 10.122.05 chitramahA vAsiShTha
tvaM dUtaH prathamo vareNyaH sa hUyamAno amR^itAyamatsva
tvAM marjayan maruto dAshuSho gR^ihe tvAM stomebhir bhR^igavo vi ruruchuH