Saturday, September 17, 2016

Story of Nachiketa (Kathopanishad) Part 1

Upanishads, the great philosophical and Spiritual Scriptures of ancient India, contain many great practical and immortal lessons for our day to day life; regardless of time or place – in the form of stories or dialogues between teacher and a student or between some learned people or sages. 

One of such great Holy Scripture is Kath Upanishad - pronounced as one word ‘Kathopanishad’. It tells the story of a young boy named Nachiketa. It starts with a short conversation between Nachiketa and his father and then rest of the Upanishad is dedicated to the dialogues in form of questions and answers between Nachiketa and the god* of ‘Death’.

This is how the story begins:

Nachiketa’s father, Ushan Vaajshravas (son of Vaajshrava) was performing a Vishwajit Yajna (Yagna); a Vedic ritual. 
Nine-year-old boy Nachiketa was playing outside when he noticed a thousand cows sitting in the field. He went to his father and asked what was going on. The king was busy talking to his ministers and advisors about the details of the Yagna and did not want to be disturbed. So he told Nachiketa to go away and not to disturb him. The boy was curious – he walked around and found out that those thousand cows were being given in alms to the poor Brahmans /priests. He looked at the cows closely and thought:

              पीतोदका - जग्धतृणा - दुग्धदोहा  - निरिन्द्रियः 

(Peetodka - jagdhTrina - Dugdhdoha -Nirindriyah)

“These cows have drunk all the water they could, have eaten all the grass they could, have yielded all the milk they could and are barren; cannot produce any more offspring.”

He went back to his father and said: These cows are so weak and frail that they have no energy to even drink the water or eat the grass on their own. They are too old – can neither produce milk nor any offspring. 

      'अनन्दा नाम ते लोकास्तान्स गच्छति ता ददत '

‘Anandaa naam te Lokastaans Gachhati Ta Dadat’

“Joyless are the worlds which he attains who gives such dakshina – gifts or alms (to the priests or poor)”. 

The father did not like his nine-year-old son to preach him what is right and what is not. He angrily said “I am giving all what I have” and shooed him away. 

But the boy kept coming back to his father asking the same question over and over again. 
Each time, the father was getting angrier. 

“Sa hovaach Pitram - tat kasmai maam daasyateeti?”

                स होवाच पितरं तत कस्मै मां दास्यतीति 

“Tell me father, (if you are giving away all that you have) then - to whom will I be given to?” Nachiketa asked. 

After being asked second time and third time - the father lost his temper and shouted “unto Death I will give thee”.

Nachiketa quietly leaves his palace in search of the house of ‘Death’ to offer himself unto Him. When he finally meets with Yama-deva*, the angel or god of death, they end up in a deep philosophical conversation about the purpose and secrets of life and death. 

Before going further with the story of Nachiketa’s meeting and conversation with ‘Death’, let’s pause here and ponder upon what lessons the author of Kathopanishad is trying to teach us so far.

                   'Rajan Sachdeva' 

                                                (To be continued)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Rajanji for your deep and inspirational thoughts.


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