Hrishikesh is the most ancient pilgrim place. It is an abode of Gods, a place of worship and penance of the sages and saints. The celestial stream of Ganges decends down here from the Himalayas. Hence it regarded as the most pious pilgrim place. The mystical powers of the earth and water of this place, the penance of the sages and gods make it spritual holy pilgrim place.
There are legends about this holy pilgrim place in the scriptures. Lord Vishnu Appeared before sage Raibhya in penance under the mango tree and told him to ask a boon. The great sage Raibhya Muni prayed Lord Vishnu to dwell in this place for ever. Lord Vishnu was pleased to be present here forever as Hrishikesh and said "O sage ! Lord Bharat will reinstall me here in Treta Yuga and I shall be known as Bharat in Kaliyug. Adi Guru Shankaracharya will install me here in due course of time."
The root words Hrishik and ish join together to make Hrishikesh (हृषीकेश). Hrishik means Senses and ish means master or Lord. Hence the word means Lord of Senses or Lord Vishnu. The sage Raibhya conquered his senses and attained Vishnu, the conqueror of senses. Hence the place is known as Hrishikesh (हृषीकेश). However, later on it was pronounced as Rishikesh (ऋषिकेश).
Another legend says that fierce fire broke out here. Lord Shankar was angry with Lord Agni and cursed him. Then Lord Agni prayed here for the expiation of his sins. Hence it is also known as Agni Tirth - The holy place to penance of Lord Agni or Fire God.
In Medieval period very few people lived here. The pilgrim visited here during pilgrimage session. Only few poets and sages lived here. It was surrounded by mango groves and shurbs of bamboo. Many temples were here during the eighth century. The floods in Ganges, earthquackes and iconoclasts demolished many of them.