Atri is a well-known ṛṣi or sage often mentioned in the sacred literature of the Hindus. The fifth maṇḍala of the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā mentions Atri and Ātreyas (descendants of Atri) as the ṛṣis through whom it was revealed. His name occurs in other places also (ibid 10.137.4).
Atri is one of the ten mind-born sons (‘mānasaputras’) of Brahmā the Creator, and classified as a ‘maharṣi’ (great sage). Hence he is one of the Prajāpatis or progenitors of mankind too. He is said to have protected the sun against the eclipse-demon, Svarbhānu, (the Rāhu of post-Vedic mythology) by composing a ‘Fourth’ prayer, the other three being the usual liturgy of prayers against an eclipse. He is also said to have been the purohita or priest of the pañcajanas (five clans or tribes of the Vedic Āryans). He was tortured by the Asuras (demons) but protected and rescued by the Aśvins (the twin deities).
He is listed among the Saptarṣis or the Seven Sages. Astral myths refer to him as one of the stars of the Saptarṣimaṇḍala or the constellation of the Great Bear.
Atri’s wife was Anasūyā (lit., ‘one who has no jealousy’), the daughter of Kardama Prajāpati. She was the paragon of wifely virtues and chastity. Pleased by the austerities of Atri, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva were born in Anasūyā as Atri’s sons: Candra, Datta or Dattātreya and Durvāsas.
Rāma, while living in the forest Daṇḍaka, visited his hermitage and learnt about the secrets of dharma (Rāmāyaṇa, Araṇyakāṇḍa, 117) from him.
Ancient writers on dharmaśāstras have held Atri in high esteem. Manusmṛti (3.16) and Mahābhārata (Anuśāsanaparva 65.1) have quoted his views. There is an Ātreya Dharmaśāstra attributed to him. It is in nine chapters and treats of dāna (gifts), japya (prayers) and tapas (austerities).
There are several other works styled ‘Atri Smṛti’ or ‘Atri Saṁhitā’ in manuscripts. One Atri Saṁhitā now available in print, contains 400 verses and deals with most of the topics generally dealt with in the dharmaśāstras.