Kathopanisad – Story of Nachiketa (1)

We all percieve death differently. Nobody likes to invite it before time! Instead we all try to postpone it as much as we can! The concepts of eternal youth, etc also stems from the fact that we hate old age, we hate looking old, because it  reminds us of unavoidable existence of death! Death has remained; in a way, a mystery! You need to die to understand death and;  you and only you alone will experience it once in your lifetime or say end of it, but won’t live to tell the tale!! The reason for this discussion, I want to tell you a story from ancient Hindu philosophy ( Upanisad, Vedas), in which a nine year old boy not only goes to meet Death-God (Yama), waits for him for three days in his absence and when on his return, offered all wealth, worldly pleasures by the Death-God, he denies wealth and kingdom instead chooses truth, knowledge about death and our journey beyond death! Here Yama, the death God is represented as a great source of knowledge, he is learned, scholarly and answers all questions asked by that wonderful boy, his name is Nachiketa!
Nachiketa has been my childhood hero! A nine year old boy, who for his firm belief in truth, questions his father. Also helps him to rectify his deeds by offering himself as a daan( gift). And when his angry father offers him to Yama, Lord of death, he uses this as an opportunity to gain knowledge, so here is a story of Nachiketa!
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Nachiketa was filled with ‘Sraddha’- Which is a mental attitude constituted primarily of sincerity of purpose, humility, reverence, and firm faith that never wavers in doubts.’Sraddha’ is considered as one of the basic virtues necessary for the development of spiritual life. It is told in the beginning that Nachiketa had the requisite ‘Sraddha’ that enabled him to go to Yama and get instruction on the higher mysteries of spiritual life!

स होवाच पितरं तत कस्मै मां दास्यसीति।
द्वितीयं तृतीयं तं होवाच मृत्यवे त्वा ददामीति।। ४ ।।

He said to his father: ‘ Father to whom wilt thou give me? He repeated thus a second and a third time. (Then)the father replied( angrily): Unto Death I shall give thee!’

Seeing that attitude of the father in making presents of such useless cows, Nachiketa understood that he had no mind to fulfil his vows strictly by giving away all his possessions at the sacrifice; and so he thought that it was his duty as a son to save his father from this terrible sin of lying. The vow required that his father should give away all his possessions, and he being the son- and so a possession of the father-strictly speaking, he should also be given away to the priests; hence he wanted to press his father indirectly to keep his vow, and he asked to whom he would give him. Here the ‘Sraddha’ assumed the form of zealous devotion to truth in the mind of Nachiketa.
The father did not reply at first; but when Nachiketa pressed his question twice and thrice persistently, he got angry at the impudence of the young boy and replied that he would deliver him unto Death.

Nachiketa’s father, realising the glory of truthfulness, at last sent Nachiketa to Yama; but Yama was not at home then; so Nachiketa, in expectation of his arrival, waited for three days without food.

तिस्त्रो रात्रीर्यदवात्सीर्गृहे
मेडश्र्नन् ब्रह्मन्नतिथिर्नमस्यः।
नमस्तेडस्तु ब्रह्मन् स्वस्ति मेडस्तु
तस्मात् प्रति त्रीन् वरान् वृणीष्व।। ९ ।।

O Brahmana, as thou, a venerable guest, has dwelt in my house three nights without meal, choose therefore (now) three boons for that. Obeisance to thee. O Brahmana, and welfare be to me!

When Yama, the Death God insisted Nachiketa to choose three boons,…
In his first boon; Nachiketa said, O Death, as the first of the three boons I choose that Gautama (my father) be cheerful and free from anxiety, and may have his anger pacified; and that he may recognise and welcome me when I shall be back home by thee.

We shall continue ….

( Sansrit translation and explanation based on the book ‘ Kathopanisad’ by Swami Sarvanand, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras 1981)