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
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
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
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
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.