Nachikta was unhappy with his father. His honesty could not tolerate the fact that his father Uddalaka (a great sage) has donated the useless cows to the Brahmins who performed a ‘Great Yagya’ for him. Uddalaka, one of the most respected sages of the time performed the Vishwajit Yagya and donated all his wealth to the Brahmins. Some of the cows he donated were of no use to the Brahmins as they were aged, incapable of progeny and could not produce milk. Nachiketa did not like this act of his father.
Wishing for best of his father, he asked, “Father, I am also part of your wealth. To whom you are donating me?” Uddalaka did not respond. Nachiketa asked second time but did not get any answer from his father. When he asked third time, Uddalaka angrily answered to Nachiketa, “I am giving you to the God of Death, Yama.”
His father’s answer did not disturb Nachiketa. He said to his father, “This body is going to tear away one day. But good actions (karma) are going to last forever. Hence, to keep your word, please grant me the permission to go to the house of Yama, the god of death.”
Repentant father granted Nachiketa the permission to go to Yama.
Yama was surprised to see such handsome boy sitting at his doorsteps. He very well knew the power of truthful souls and effects of any disgrace to them. He went to welcome Nachiketa with the gold bowl in his hand with warm water. He washed his feet and said, “You have been waiting at my doorsteps for last three nights. I am ashamed that you had to fast for three days and I could not take good care of my guest. I am guilty of you as I failed in my responsibility to honor my guest. So, please ask three boons as a gift from me for each night you waited.”
Nachiketa said, “O’ lord of death, my father should lose his anger at me and should develop compassion for me in his heart. When I go back from you, he should welcome me with the love and respect.”
Yamaraj granted the boon.
Secondly, Nachiketa said, “O’ god of death, Yama, you very well know that the god of fire (Agni) is the medium of reaching the heaven. I want to know more about Agni, the fire god!”
Yama said, “Agni is no doubt the medium to attain the heaven. The fire in its biggest form itself is the root cause of sustenance of this universe. You can say that it resides in the cave of knowledge of learned people”
Yamaraj described about how the yagya should be performed. What types of bricks to be used to construct the fire pit, what other items should be used to make the place of fire worship, the yagya. What type of fire should be selected to perform the yagya and so on…
The Yamraj said, “Nachiketa, I am so pleased with you that the fire for yagya will be named after you. Also please wear this mala of special beads which I want to gift you”.
Nachiketa was pleased.
Yamaraj then asked Nachiketa to ask the third boon.
Nachiketa said, “O’ Yama, you are god of death. Atman, ‘The soul’ which resides in the body of a human being to keep it alive cannot be experienced through senses. Hence I would like to know more about the ‘Nature of Atman’.
Yamaraj was surprised with this question. He firstly tried to deviate nachiketa from this query and said I have power to offer you many other beautiful things. He said, “I can offer you beautiful women with whom you can spend your life. I can grant you long life. I can grant you all resources of pleasure”
Nachiketa was unmoved with these offers. He said, “I would like to know about the Atman, The nature of the Soul.”
Yamaraj praised Nachiketa. He said, “I appreciate your determination and sense of detachment. I appreciate your ascetic and non-possessive mindset. A person who is so detached from the worldly attractions only is eligible and capable of understanding true nature of the Atman, The Soul. Hence I answer you.”
He further said, “Atman is the life force. It has no birth or death. It is not born of anything nor does any other thing originate from it.”
“Brahman, the supreme being, the wider expression of the Atman, is eternal. It is always there. It remains there even after leaving the body it wears. It is in all living things. But it is still. It is in every living and non living thing. The whole universal cycle is directed, guided and controlled by it. All the five elements manifest as per its wish.”
Yamaraj says further, “Human beings, who know this nature of Brahman before leaving the body, liberate the soul form the cycle of rebirth. They do away the sufferings and enjoy the bliss of ultimate knowledge.”
“This ultimate knowledge, The Truth is attained by only those, who have controlled their desires, whose heart is pure and mind is unwavering. More importantly, the Truth is experienced by those who have strongest urge to ‘Know.”
Nachiketa was blessed with such knowledge. He thanked Yama and returned to his father’s house.
He was welcomed with honor by his father and the most learned sages with great respect.
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