Monday, May 02, 2005

Who is Nachiketh

Who is Nachiketh (¿º¢§¸ò)

Blame this post on my favorite writer Sujatha. After all, it was his weekly column (¸üÈÐõ ¦ÀüÈÐõ) in Ananda vikatan (¬Éó¾ Å¢¸¼ý) that sent me on a chase after ‘Nachiketh (¿º¢§¸ò)’.

Unfortunately, Dr.Google did not come to my rescue this time but Uncle Venkat Swamy (VNS) did. I sent him an email after having exhausted my sources locally and on the net. Here is what VNS taught me…

We come across the character Nachiketh in Kathopanishad (Katha + Upanishad). He stands out for his perseverance and passion for seeking the real truth.

Once Nachiketh’s father Vajashrava was performing a huge Yagna and ‘sacrifices’ were part of it. These sacrifices vary and are a important part of Yagna. The sacrifice that Vajashrava was attempting to give meant that he ‘gives up’ everything he possessed. But Vajashrava was miserly and wanted to ‘have the cake and eat it too’. So, he gave away only his blind, lame old cows as sacrifice. Nachiketh saw this and was perturbed by this behavior of his father, so he went to his father and said, "And to whom will you give me?" The father did not answer the boy, and the boy asked a second and a third time, when the father got annoyed and said, “I will give you unto Yama, thee I give unto Death".

Nachiketh went straight to the kingdom of death. Yama was not at home, so Nachiketh waited for three days for the God of Death to arrive. Yama came to him, "O Brahmin, thou art my guest, and thou hast been here for three days without any food. I salute thee, and in order to repay thee for this trouble, I will grant thee three boons."

The boy asked the first boon, "May my father’s anger against me get calmed down," and the second boon was that he wanted to know about a certain sacrifice. For the last boon, Nachiketh dropped a bombshell in the form of a question "When a man dies, the question arises: What becomes of him? Some people say he ceases to exist. Others say that he exists. Please answer – What happens after death?”

The God of Death, Yama replied "The gods in ancient times tried to unravel this mystery; it is so fine that it is hard to know. Ask for some other boon: Ask for a long life of a hundred years. Ask for cattle and horses, ask for great kingdoms. Do not press me to answer this. Whatever man desires for his enjoyment, ask all that and I will fulfill it, but not this".

Nachiketh stood firm and said "No, sir.. Man is not to be satisfied with wealth; if wealth were wanted, we should get it.. but, Which decaying mortal, living in the world below and possessed of knowledge, having gained the company of the un-decaying and the immortal, will delight in long life ? Therefore, tell me this secret.., I do not want anything else”

Yama was pleased. "Here are two ways," he said, "one of enjoyment, the other of blessedness. These two in various ways draw mankind. He becomes a sage who, of these two, takes up that which leads to blessedness, and he degenerates who takes up the road to enjoyment. I praise you, Nachiketh; you have not asked for desire. In various ways I tempted you towards the path of enjoyment; you resisted them all, you have known that knowledge is much higher than a life of enjoyment."

The net of the story is that Nachiketh wanted to unravel the mystery of death. Now that I knew who Nachiketh was, I was able to relate to what Sujatha was saying and enjoy his article better. After all, he was reflecting on his own life and was wondering what happens after death on his 70th birthday.

Dear Sujatha:
Many happy returns of the day (May 3, 2005)..À¢È󾿡û ¿øÅ¡úòÐìû.