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  • Writer's pictureanjali mohapatra

Nachiketa- the symbol of determination! (Katha Upanishad)

Katha Upanishad is a remarkable story (Katha) of a young boy named Nachiketa and Lord of Death (Yama Deva). The young boy was determined to know the hidden mystery of Soul! His inquisitive mind became unstable in his quest for Truth to know what lies beyond death. The questions he put to the God of Death were highly spiritual and philosophical. Thus, Katha Upanisheda is a dialogue between the young boy Nachiketa and Yama Deva. Let us verify what was the dialogue! 

Once Vajasrava (Gautama or Auddalika- son of Uddala Rishi- Aruni) had performed Viswajit sacrifice to get a reward for his next life! He had a young son named Nachiketa. During the sacrifice, he gave away all his wealth. He distributed the possessions he had. Nachiketa who was still very young, didn't like the things that were given by his father. He thought to himself, ‘What credit shall my father obtain by giving the old cows who are no more capable of giving milk or producing any calf!’ 

Thus, he went to his father and asked, ‘O father! To whom shall you give me?’ This same he asked for two or three times. Out of anger, his father told him, ‘I will give you to the God of Death.’ That pinched a bit to the young mind of Nachiketa and he took it seriously. He became very emotional. He thought, ‘Am I so worthless? Why did my father wish to give me to Yamadev?’ 

However, he was ready for Yama’s abode. Looking at his son in the very next moment, Gautama told that out of anger only he uttered that word. He didn't mean it seriously. But, Nachiketa who was always truthful reminded his father that his words should not be falsified. A person loses all his merits in this life and the next if his promise becomes futile! He consoled his father saying, ‘O father! Everything in this mortal world is transitory! All will perish in due course of Time! So, if I go or not go makes no difference. Then, why will you not benefit from following the truth!’

Thus, consoling his father, Nachiketa set out for Yam’s abode. When he reached there, Yamadeva was not there. Nachiketa determined to see Lord Yamadeva waited there for three days and nights without any food and water. When Yama Deva came, he was informed by his minister or wife that a young Brahmin boy was waiting for him for three days and nights fasting. Yama Deva was perplexed by this news! According to the scriptures, no guest should be neglected by the householder. All the merits of that person would be futile and it would be a great sin! Thereafter, Lord of Death approached Nachiketa with humility addressing, ‘O Nachiketa! O reverend Brahmin! I pay my salutations to thee! I am pleased with your determination and patience! Ask me three boons for your three nights of fasting! I am ready to grant you whatever you wish!’

Having heard his words, Nachiketa said, ‘O Lord of Death! Grant me the boon that my father will be free from anger. He will not suffer from stress and he will become happy. When you will send me, he will greet me cheerfully.’

Yama Deva said, ‘So it be!’ Now ask me the second boon.

Nachiketa said, ‘ O Yama Deva!  There is no fear in the heavenly abode! No one is afraid of old age or death. All are roaming around cheerfully and rejoice in Heaven. O Lord, you know the fire-sacrifice which leads to Heaven. Tell me in detail what this fire-sacrifice is! I am desirous to hear this from you! This is my second boon.’

Lord Yama Deva said, ‘O Young Brahmin! I know this fire-sacrifice which supports the universe and it is hidden in the hearts of the wise! I will explain it to you. Listen to me carefully!’

Thereupon, Yama explained fire-sacrifice to Nachiketa. After listening to it, Nachiketa repeated it before the God of Death. He was so pleased with the young boy, that he added another boon to him saying, ‘O Nachiketa! This fire-sacrifice will be named after you as Nachiketa fire sacrifice. People will obtain supreme peace after performing this sacrifice. Not only that, they will overcome grief and rejoice in heaven realizing their self as the Virat! Now, choose the third boon.’

Very humbly Nachiketa said, ‘O Lord! I have a doubt which can only be removed by you. What happens when a man is dead? Some say that he exists; others say, that he does not exist. Remove my doubt, O Lord of Death!’

Hearing his third boon, Yama was perplexed! He tried to divert his mind saying, ‘O Nachiketa, even the gods doubt this. It is very difficult to understand. And the nature of the Soul is very subtle! Ask me thousands of questions, and I will explain. But, make me free from this question.’


Thus, Yama Deva tried to lure him showing various objects and offering unlimited valuable gifts like celestial nymphs, immortality, kingship, anything but he was not ready to answer that question.

After hearing all these, Nachiketa said, ‘O Lord! You have declared right now that even the gods doubt it. And is there any other preceptor better than you who can explain this? Do not attempt to lure me. Whatsoever things you have offered me are transitory!  Everything will perish in due course of Time! Even the longest life is short. Keep everything for yourself! I want to gain knowledge and only knowledge- what is there beyond death? What is Atman!’


Beholding the strong determination of Nachiketa, Yama Deva smiled and said, ‘You are a true disciple, O young Brahmin! I was testing you. Now listen——

The good is one thing and the pleasant is another. Both these the good and the pleasant serving different needs bind the man. They both have two different ends - opposite qualities. These two depend upon the act a man performs. The intelligent man examines both and follows good while the ignorant choose the pleasant out of greed and no avarice. O Nachiketa, how intelligent you are that even after my repeated temptation, you have renounced the objects of desire! It seems you deserve the true knowledge!’

Thus, Lord Yama explained about Atman to a young boy- Nachiketa. 

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