Saturday, June 6, 2009


Nachiketa is the main character of the Katha Upanishad.

Once when his father Vajasravasa was donating cows to gain religious merit, Nachiketa, who was just a teenage boy, asks him - "What merit can one obtain by giving away cows that are too old to give milk?" His father does not pay heed to his questions, and is irritated that his young son is seeing through his hypocrisy, and spelling it out too. To make his father realize the meaninglessness of this false ritual, he asks, "To whom will you offer me?" He asks this again and again. Angered, his father blurts out ,"To death I give you!"

So the obedient Nachiketa goes to meet Yama, the God of Death, and waits until he gets an audience with him. All of Katha Upanishad is the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa - the latter answering the questions on life and death, posed by the young, respectful, but clear-thinking, intelligent young boy.

Read it in Eknath Eswaran's words - " ...As for the student, we can only pause in admiration of this ancient civilization whose hero is a teenager who has not learned the rudimentary grace of civilized existence - to hold his peace in the presence of hypocrisy. Nachiketa is an attractive character who cannot go along with sham; but he is not an obstreperous rebel: he is more sincere about convention than his father (including the convention of obedience to a father, even when the latter has lost his temper) and his first wish [Yama grants him 3 boons] is for reconciliation with him.

At no point does he lack respect. But that is just the point; he forces the issue by taking the demands of religion seriously when the majority have long since allowed external observance to paper it over, making of it a dead letter that no longer communicates anything about personal struggle. But by poking holes in society's shroud of complacency, he represents, again, what it would take to awaken any and all of us.

..........Then follows the encounter of Nachiketa with Death, and its dramatic reversal when he passes Death's severe test and changes him from a gruff and off-putting deity to a delighted teacher." *

* 'The Upanishads', by Eknath Eswaran, Penguin Books

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