Home Page Of Nachiketa


Here is a story of ancient times. People then were really religious, they were very thoughtful in all their actions. One was fully conscious of one's duties and responsibilities. Life was so lived as to result in the maximum benefit to the maximum number of persons.

It was a well-knit society which existed in those days, each member playing his part in the roost proper manner. Thus a father considered it a dereliction of his duty to be careless about his children, while a husband considered it unworthy of him to be unkind to his wife, and so on down to the last rung of the ladder, all performed their duties to the best of their abilities. The guiding motto before all in those days was: the well-being and happiness of the majority.

Making donations was regarded as a great religious act at that time. There were so many ways in which to donate. One was to give half of one's total wealth; another was to donate all of one's wealth; still another way was to give all and not to keep anything even for food and clothing, and to beg for the sake of sustaining life. There was, however, one condition : that none should knew what a person had donated. This meant that the egoistic attitude was not to be developed. This was the way the people lived in ancient India.

At this time there lived a great sage by name Uddalak. He was not wealthy like other people but he had many cows. Being broad-minded he thought; "Why not donate my cows to sages and spend my life in meditation?" Uddalak had one litte son named Nachiketa, who was seven years old. The great sage decided to hold a function and at the end of it to donate his cows. He invited great spiritual teachers, sages and saints from all over the land for the function. As the function drew to a close and Uddalak started donating the cows one by one, his little son Nachiketa came and stood by his fathers side. As soon as Uddalak saw his son, he became greedy; he thought. "If I donate all the cows to the sages and saints, then who will look after my son?"

Uddalak counted the saints and sages and the cows and found that there more cows than the saints; so he thought. "Why not give only the old cows to the saints and keep the good cows for my son?" So Uddalak began donating the old cows. those which were not able to walk properly and those which gave hardly any milk.

Nachiketa understood the motive of his father's action and could not tolerate the wrong act, especially on such a sacred occasion. He realised that he was the cause of it all and decided to stop such wrong acts. He stood before his father and asked "To whom are you giving me?" The father did not pay heed, being too busy donating the old cows. Nachiketa again asked the same question; he repeated his question three or four times.

Uddalak could not control himself; he became angry and hastily said that he was giving the boy to Yama Raj, King of Death. When the people heard this, they were surprised that Uddalak should speak evil words at such a sacred time. Nachiketa was prepared to go to hell and in a happy mood he started walking on the path to Hell to meet the God of Death. But the people rushed and stopped him; Uddalak also realised his mistake and he began persuading his little son to stay back. He said. "My son, you should not mind what I said you; as you know I have become old; please do not leave me: How will I spend my life without you? In a bad temper I spoke harshly to you, but you should not take it seriously. Please return home and for- give me; I had no knowledge at that time of what I was sayng. Without you how can I carry on in my old age? Remember, it is your duty to obey de- but please forgive my hasty words." And Uddalak began to weep.

But Nachiketa was firm. He could not be persuaded to stay back. Folding his hands Nachiketa said to his father: "My revered father, I was told by you that for the past twenty one generations, our ancestors never went back on then word. I would like you also to be true to your word and thus continue this sacred tradition. 0 my father. I do not want to disobey your orders under any circumstances. Let me follow this order and please remember that you should also be true to your own word and to go to the God of Death peacefully. I need your blessings."

Nachiketa was firm in his resolve; his father could not dissuade him with all his requests. Uddalak said, "0 my dear son, how can I allow you to go to death? It is so horrible. I am unable to give you my blessings for such a thing. You are a part of my heart; I am ready for death; see my body is old and trembling and I cannot send you there. You are so young and tender and only eight years old ! Death is very vicious and cruel. 0 my dear son; I did a wrong thing! I am willing to suffer whatever punishment comes to me, but I can never allow you to go to the God of Death!"

When the boy raised his head and saw that tears were flowing down the old man's cheeks, he wiped the tears with hand and said : "0 my father! I am not afraid of Death. Why are you so afraid? You should not think about me, do not worry about what will happen to me. At this moment you should remember your ancestors and how they did their sacred duty and honoured their oaths. As you know, unbecoming acts are done only by selfish people and such people can not be loved or respected. Therefore, by my action. I will prove the sanctity of your words.

"0h my learned father, I do not have the Knowledge and the courage to teach and preach to you but please remember what you told me the other day about Birth and Death. There is no such thing as permanency. Whatever we see today, to" morrow it will not be. Everything changes its shape" and takes on another. The beautiful setting sun cannot remain for a Tong time; within seconds, it disappears and the evening sets m. But this too cannot remain. Again the powerful sun rises; with all its heart it stays but for a short time; then follows evening and then night. This Law of Change is the eternal law of Nature. You yourself were a hand some and fascinating boy once, but you could not remain long in the same condition. You were a boy, a youth and now you are an old man without knowing how at all happened. Nature does its work and we should also do our work.

I do not think Death is so frightful. Death is- the means to change the body and to acquire a new form. I, was told man became immortal only through his actions. The actions of men should be such that after their death they should be remembered for their goodness. There arc two way- of acting. When a man makes a personal sacrifice for the good of the people, it is remembered by them with happiness. When he acts for selfish reason--. only, the people remember his action with sadness,

Therefore, my father! We are both in such -a predicament! If we act in one way, it is full of selfishness and if we act in another way it is fulfillment of duty. We must do our duty. so please do not check me,"

After hearing the words of his little son, the old sage could not say anything more. Nachiketa touched the feet of his father and started along the path to the Kingdom of Death. Every person present was struck with awe and wonder at the faith and courage of this little boy who was only eight years old. Nachiketa was full of joy as he walked away, because he had prevailed upon his father, but with every step the road became more and more difficult. There were furious animals and demons who tried to stop the boy and send him back, but he did not pay heed to them, nor was he afraid. When he reached the door of Yamaraj's castle, the watchman told him that Yama Raj had gone out. Yama's guards would not allow anyone to enter the palace in his absence, so it was better for the boy to return home. But Nachiketa was determined to wait. He waited for many days; he did not eat or drink or sleep.

After many days Yama Raj came back. As he was about to enter his castle he saw the brave and fearless lad. Nachiketa was impressed by Yama Raj's shining face. Yama Raj was also attracted towards the boy. He asked with a smile, "0 boy ! who are you and for what purpose have you come here ?" Without waiting for Nachiketa's answer, one of the watchmen said, "Sire this little boy spent many days waiting for your return; he did not eat or drink or sleep."

Yamaraj's heart was touched; he rushed to the boy and embraced him saying, "Oh my dear boy! who are you ? For what have you come here?

Please tell me immediately, I will not have any food or drink until I have attended to your needs- Nachiketa was pleased to hear these words of Yama Raj. He had been told that the king of Death was cruel and furious. On the contrary, the boy found him kinder than most other gods and goddesses.

Nachiketa explained everything about his father and the purpose of his coming. "I have been given to you by my father in the sacred ritual as a donation. I request you to accept me and bless my father. Let him complete his sacred way of life and allow me the opportunity of serving you." Yamaraj became very pleased on hearing about the behaviour of the father and the son. He thought, "This is the first time in my life that a son has been donated to me by his lovely father and the son is of the same high standard to come to me. Both these souls are noble to me."

Then Yamaraj said loudly, "0, my dear little boy! I am very sorry you found great difficulty at my door because of my absence. But I am pleased by your brave behaviour and I would like to give you a gift. Whatever you require, tell me with- out any hesitation." The lad did not speak for some time and then he said, "0 Sir, I am your servant, I do not have much ability. You should not give me a gift unless I do some worthy act." But again Yamaraj said, "0 my boy you are not wanting in anything. This is the reason why you deserve the gift. You must ask for whatever you want, because I am bound to give it to you."

Now Nachiketa had to ask for something. He said, "0 Sire! I was the only son of my father. There is nobody else to help him, no one to serve him. He is very old and decrepit; his body becomes weaker and weaker day by day; therefore the first gift I would like from you is that you give my father good health so that he would never become sick and would always be mentally and physically strong, He must cease worrying about me and he must not be angry with me."

Yamaraj said : "So be it. so be it! Your dear father will get whatever he wants to make his life peaceful. You should now ask or something else.*'

This time Nachiketa said : "0 Sire! I have heard that life in heaven is very pleasant and you have the knowledge of Heaven. It is this knowledge that I would like to learn." Yamaraj thought that Nachiketa was the real and ideal student to whom he could teach the knowledge of Heaven. The boy had deep interest for the right knowledge. He had the good sense to respect his father, mother and the older people. This was the first time that Yamaraj had such a capable student whom he could teach the knowledge of Heaven. He said to the boy, "0! My dear Nachiketa, you will learn this knowledge from me slowly. But in the meantime you may ask for another gift. When the boy was told to ask for a third gift he said, "Sire, I have a wish for only one more gift I have a keen desire to know the reality of life.'

After hearing of the third gift of Nachiketa, the God of Death became very surprised because he had never even dreamt that this type of gift would he asked for by this little boy who knew nothing about worldly affairs. Then Yamaraj tried to persuade him- '0 my dear boy, as you know I am the god of Death. but not a god of life; I do not know anything about life. I do not think this subject is worthy of you. It is a worthless thing; please ask for another gift. Something I can give you. The gift you asked for is beyond my power and my knowledge. The subject is not connected with me.

The boy, however, remained firm on his request and would not change. Yamaraj said, "If you want wealth I can make you rich; if you want health 1 can make you strong and the mightiest of the mighty. If you want intellectual power I can make you intelligent in respect of all kinds of knowledge, but ask not for the knowledge of Life."

But young Nachiketa persisted and so Yamaraj had to yield in the end. The God of Death taught him the knowledge of Life.

After teaching him the knowledge of Life Yamaraj said to Nachiketa, "Now I am pleased with you, you can go back to your home and help your father and make him satisfied with you and happy."

A spoken word, it is said is as good as an oath. To break a given word is considered unbecoming of a man of character. Though a lad of seven summers, Nachiketa was well aware of this truth. Indian tradition gives pride of place to this virtue. There are cases in which people have sacrificed their lives for being true to their word. A name that comes easily to one's mind is that of Karan, the hero of the Mahabharata. Coming to Nachiketa, we see how he practised this virtue with a thoroughness which earned him such rich rewards as would be envied by many.



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