Friday, December 16, 2016

Story of Nachiketa Part 7 (Kathopnishad)

Knowing this, Nachiketa fearlessly embarks on his journey to meet ‘Yama’, the Lord of death.

There is a missing link here in the story. The author of the Kathopanishad does not tell what happened between the sixth and the seventh shlokas. In the previous shloka, Nachiketa decides to embarks on his journey to meet the Yama, and in the next - after meeting Nachiketa, Yama, the Lord of death is scolding his servants.

The same story is also narrated elsewhere in the Vedas, where we find a little more detail.  When Nachiketa arrived at Lord Yama’s palace, he was told that the Lord was ‘out of town’ and will not be back for three days. Nachiketa sat in front of the house and waited for three days and nights – without any food or drink. 

The Upanishad, without mentioning the above occurrence, picks up the story from the point when Lord Yama comes back and finds a pale young boy sitting at the front door of his house – hungry and thirsty. 

However, many questions arise in mind at this point. 
How did Nachiketa arrived at Lord Yama’s place? 
What route and mode of transportation did he take?
Did he meet Lord of death in body or in spirit? 
Spirit does not need any food or drink. Since, according to the story, Nachiketa was very weak from hunger and thirst, he must have gone there with his physical body. Is it really possible for someone to visit ‘Lord of Death’ in the physical body?

Why Lord of death was ‘out of town’… and how could he come back after three days? So many people die at every moment in the different parts of the world, and supposedly, the Lord of death takes the souls of everyone to the next world. How can he come back to his home and rest even for a second? But in this story, he does come back after three days and has all the time in the world to answer Nachiketa’s questions and teach him the ways of spirituality and immortality.

The Upanishad does not answer any of these questions. 

Many will say “This is just a story and should not be taken literally. We should simply focus on the lesson it is trying to teach.” 
Others would say “anything and everything is possible” 

I believe, over the period of time, the concept of ‘Yam-Raj’ also known as ‘Dharam-Raj’ has been changed and distorted. 

According to the Sanskrit dictionary, Yam means ‘self-control’ and may also be used for ‘the means of achieving self-control’.  Patanjali Yoga Shastra talks about five Yams; good conducts to acquire, and five ‘Niyams’ (opposite of Yam) or prohibitions to be given up.
Since Raj means king, Yam-Raj means the one who is the king of self-control. Since the king is supposed to protect and take care of his subjects, 'Yam-Raj' could also mean the one who teaches and helps others to achieve ‘self-control’. Similarly, Dharam-Raj means the king or the highest authority of the Dharma. 

Both these definitions, in fact, define the personality of ‘The True Guru’. Who else - other than the Guru - can be the highest authority of Dharma and self-control? Guru, not only teaches dharma and self-control, but also takes care and helps each disciple to achieve his or her goal personally, on ‘one-to-one’ bases - as we will see in Nachiketa’s encounter with Yam-Raj.

Later, it seems the concept of ‘Lord of death’ was also added and made synonymous to the words Yam-Raj or Dharam-Raj. Which, in fact, is another function of the Guru; to take the disciple from 'this world to the next world'...that is from  ‘the physical and materialistic world to the spiritual world’. 

Somehow, over the period of time, the picture of ‘Yam-Raj or Dharam-Raj as a kind, gentle and loving Guru got distorted and disappeared. And instead, a very scary picture of Yam-raj as a cruel lord of death - with big teeth, and long horns, who comes riding on a buffalo to pull the soul out of the body- became popular.

As the next part of the story unfolds, we will find out that the Yam-Raj, whom Nachiketa visited, was not really a scary ‘Lord of death’ who cruelly pulls the souls out of bodies. In fact, he must have visited a very gentle, loving, kind and benevolent Guru who taught Nachiketa the ways of spirituality and how to become free from fear of death and achieve immortality. 

               ‘Rajan Sachdeva’

 To be Continued ……. 


  1. Thank you so much. Such a great explanation of Yam and it all make sense.
    Keep blessing.

  2. I love your explanation and discourse of this story. Very detailed and full of true life examples. I find myself looking forward to the next chapters.


Bhakti -- With Fear? Or Without Fear

There is a verse in Gurubani that is usually quoted by many:                             भय बिनु भक्ति ना होय राम                       ...