Sage Rishyasringa was the son of Sage Vibhandaka and apsara Urvashi. Once Urvashi was sent by Indra to seduce Vibhandaka and disturb his penance which could bring him powers that Indra perceived would be dangerous to the gods. Having broken Vibhandaka’s penance, Urvashi managed to seduce the sage, and from their union, was born a child who strangely, was born with a horn on his head. (Another version says that the child was born out of a doe, who had consumed the life-giving fluid of Vibhandaka which fell into the river on seeing Urvashi, and thus the horn) The child was thus named Rishyasringa (rishi – sage, shringa – deer horns).
Soon after giving birth to the child, Urvashi left for the heavens, her task accomplished. Vibhandaka was very bitter about the role she had played in the entire episode and took a dislike to all woman-kind. Since, his penance had been broken by a woman, and he was left with a motherless child, he decided to bring up his son without any woman’s help or presence. Vibhandaka set up his hermitage in the midst of a jungle and brought up his son, Rishyasringa, educating him on all the scriptures and Vedas, but in complete isolation. Rishyasringa had not seen any human being (read women) besides his father.
Now there came about a famine in the nearby kingdom of Anga (present day Bihar) which was ruled by Lomapada. The king was advised that it would rain in Anga only if a Brahmin who had observed absolute chastity visited the kingdom. After much discussion, the king was told that the person he needed was Rishyasringa.
The king sent beautiful damsels to the forest to entice Rishyasringa who was taken by complete surprise as he had never seen women and that too of such beauty in his entire life. Fortunately, Vibhandaka was not in the hermitage at the time and Rishyasringa was easily convinced by the beautiful women to accompany them to their kingdom. No sooner had he stepped on to the grounds of Anga, there was heavy downpour. The king was pleased and so were his subjects.
The king decided to offer his daughter Shanta to Rishyasringa as his wife. Later when Vibhandaka came to know about the entire episode, he was extremely angry. But it was too late to do anything and he accepted everything as part of his son’s fate and concluded that this was inevitable and that the principle of male and female forces can never be separated, no matter what. Rishyasringa and Shanta got married and stayed on at Anga, till it was time for their vanaprashtha, retirement to the jungles.
But there are tales within tales. It is said, that King Dasharath of Ayodhya and Kaushalya, the first wife of the King (and Lord Ram’s mother) had a daughter who was born with a defective pair of legs, much before they had four sons. The medics of the times could not do anything till Sage Vasishtha suggested that the daughter be ‘donated’ or given for adoption to some other couple. Kaushalya’s elder sister Vershini, was married to King Lomapada of Anga. Shanta was given to the King and Queen of Anga, who too had no children after many years of marriage.
The famine in Anga was also partly blamed on Shanta. Once when Shanta and King Lomapada were busy talking, a Brahmin approached the King as he wanted some help to see him through the coming monsoon season. The king was too busy to speak to him, which infuriated the Brahmin, who left the palace. This angered Indra, who decided to withhold the rains!
It was also said that when Dasharath was advised to perform a Putra-kameshti (for begetting a son) Yagna, they decided to invite Sage Rishyasringa to perform the yagna. It was after this yagna, that Dasharath was blessed with four sons, Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan.
Though Valmiki has not mentioned Shanta in any detail, many local and folk versions of Ramayana have Shanta as one of the women who have an important say in many issues.