Mahabharata - Aranyaka Parva Adhyaya - Araneya Parva
Click here for SANSKRIT version of this story in Devanagari Script.
This episode is found in the Aranya Parva of the epic, the Mahabharata. The sons of Pandu along with their wife Draupadi are nearing the end of their twelve-year exile in forests. They are due to begin the thirteenth and final year, which they are required to spend undiscovered.
In ancient days, it was the practice of certain brahmins to do homas and havanas as a part of their daily rituals and worship. One of the most essential tools needed in this practice is, of course, the device that can generate fire. This consists of two wooden pieces, a rod and a bow, the latter producing a churning action of the rod supported on a firm base of stone or wood. The churning action results in friction and heat at the support and any fibrous material at the base of the support catches fire, ready for use in a ritual.
One day one such brahmin, an agnihotri, came rushing to the Pandavas and begged for help. He had, it seems, hung the fire-drilling sticks in a tree. A passing stag happened to stop and rub his body on the trunk of this tree and, in the process, the sticks got entangled in the articulated horns of the animal. The stag fled, struggling in vain to rid himself of this unwanted burden; and the more he shook his head, the more firmly did the fire-sticks get wedged in his antlers. The poor brahmin now wanted the Pandavas to pursue the fleeing animal and recover the sticks.
The Pandavas believed that it was the duty of kshatriyas to provide any and all help and protection to those who practiced their dharma. Therefore they proceeded forthwith fully armed in pursuit of the stag. While they soon caught sight of the stag, their attempts to stop the animal failed and more running and more huffmg and puffing ended in the tiring of the party. Not only had the quest failed, they ended up hungry, thirsty, tired, angry and frustrated.
The brothers sat down finally to rest under the cool shade of a large tree and naturally began to fret over the outcome of this relatively simple, uncomplicated task. Greater battles with their cousins lay ahead of them and yet they had not been able to help a brahmin even in such simple circumstances. Yudhishthira instructed Nakula to climb a tree nearby to locate any sources of water in the vicinity so that they could quench their thirst. Nakula did so and informed Yudhishthira that there was indeed a cluster of trees not too far off and that he could hear the cries of water cranes. Yudhishthira suggested that Nakula go to the pond and fetch some
water in a quiver.
Nakula, after walking a short distance, located a beautiful spot, a crystal clear lake, surrounded by trees, flowers and birds. Nakula was overjoyed. His first instinct was to enjoy a cool drink himself, as long as he was already there. So he descended to the waters edge and prepared to scoop up some refreshing water. As he was about to do so he heard a strong and clear voice of warning:
"Ma tata sahasam karshirmama purva parigrahah prashnanuktva tu madreya pibasva ca harasva ca"
"Do not dare to touch that water, my dear child. You must first answer my questions. . ."
Nakula thought that he must be hearing things due to sheer fatigue and so he ignored the warning, drank the water and immediately fell dead.
When Nakula did not return within a reasonable time, Yudhishthira suggested that Sahadeva go and take a look at what was delaying him. Sahadeva arrived on the scene and was shocked to see Nakula lying as though asleep. Before doing anything, he thought he could quench his thirst. He heard the same warning, ignored it and, upon attempting to drink, also fell dead.
Now it was Arjuna's turn to determine what had happened. He proceeded with his Gandiva bow in his hand, suspecting some trouble. Upon arriving at the lake he was stunned to see his brothers lying as though dead. Again, he tried to quench his thirst and heard the same warning. But Arjuna did not ignore the warning. Instead he challenged the being to show himself and shot several arrows in the direction from which the voice came. He only received further and more stern warning. Arjuna challenged the voice by saying, "Stop me if you can," proceeded to drink the water and fell down dead. Some short time later, Bhima arrived and had the same fate.
Now Yudhishthira was clearly worried. Wondering about the possibilities of harm befalling his dear and powerful brothers, he decided to go in search of them. When he arrived at the lake, he could not believe the dreadful sight before him. All four brothers dead on the ground! Yudhishthira sat beside them and lamented. All his hopes were shattered now. How would he ever be able to recover his lost kingdom without the help of his able, powerful brothers? He grieved for a while and then began to look around to determine the reason for these deaths. He said to himself,
"Naisham shastra praharos ti padam nehasti kasyacit bhutam mahadidam manye
bhrataro yena me hatah"
(There are no signs of violence on their bodies, no foot-prints anywhere. The
killer must be a supernatural being.)
He wondered if Duryodhana had had the pool poisoned. He ruled it out because the faces of the dead brothers looked calm and serene. Convincing himself that it must have been some supernatural being, he approached the water's edge to fetch some water to begin the last rites for his brothers. Then he heard a sudden voice: "Tavanujah maya preta vasham nita. . . (I am the cause of your brothers' death), Na chet prashnan prcchato vyakaroshi tvam pancamo bhavita. . . . (You shall be the fifth victim if you do not answer my questions. . . .)"
Yudhishthira asked, "Who are you? Are you a rudra, vasu, or marut? You must be strong to be able to put to death these powerful brothers of mine. Your feat is remarkable because neither gods, antigods, gandharvas nor rakshasas could stand up to my brothers. But why? What do you want? Noble one! Why are you here? Who are you?"
The voice replied: "I am a Yaksha, Yudhishthira. May you prosper." As he heard these words, Yudhishthira saw before his eyes a form developing. A massive tall body with grotesque eyes, burning like the fire of the sun, and a voice like thunder: "I warned your brothers. But they would not listen to me. So now they are dead. This pool belongs to me and unless you answer my questions you shall not even touch this water."
Yudhishthira replied, "Na caham karnaye yaksha tava purva parigraham (I have no desire to take what is yours), "Yatha prajnam tu te prashnan prati vakshyami prccha mam (Ask me and I will answer as best as I can)."
The Yaksha then said, What is it that makes the Sun rise? Who keeps him company? Who causes him to set? And in whom is he established?
Yudhishthira answered, Brahma makes the Sun rise: the gods keep him company: Dharma causes him to set: and he is established in truth.
The Yaksha asked, By what does one become learned? By what does he attain what is very great? How can one have a second? And, O king, how can one acquire ntelligence?
Yudhishthira answered, It is by the Srutis that a person becomes learned; it is by ascetic austerities that one acquires what is very great: it is by intelligence that a person acquires a second and it is by serving the old that one becomes wise.
The Yaksha asked, What constitutes the divinity of the Brahmanas? What even is
their practice that is like that of the pious? What also is the human attribute of the Brahmanas? And what practice of theirs is like that of the impious?
Yudhishthira answered, The study of the Vedas constitutes their divinity: their asceticism constitutes behaviour that is like that of the pious; their liability to death is their human attribute and slander is their impiety.
The Yaksha asked, What institutes the divinity of the Kshatriyas? What even is their practice that is like that of the pious? What is their human attribute? And
what practice of theirs is like that of the impious?
Yudhishthira answered, Arrows and weapons are their divinity: celebration of sacrifices is that act which is like that of the pious: liability to fear is their
human attribute; and refusal of protection is that act of theirs which is like that of the impious.
The Yaksha asked, What is that which constitutes the Sama of the sacrifice? What the Yajus of the sacrifice? What is that which is the refuge of a sacrifice? And what is that which sacrifice cannot do without?
Yudhishthira answered, Life is the Sama of the sacrifice; the mind is the Yajus of the sacrifice: the Rik is that which is the refuge of
the sacrifice; and it is Rik alone which sacrifice cannot do without.
The Yaksha asked, What is of the foremost value to those that cultivate? What is of the foremost value to those that sow? What is of the foremost value to those that wish for prosperity in this world? And what is of the foremost value to those
that bring forth?
Yudhishthira answered, That which is of the foremost value to those that cultivate is rain: that of the foremost value to those that sow is seed: that of the foremost value to those that bring forth is offspring.
The Yaksha asked, What person, enjoying all the objects of the senses, endued with intelligence, regarded by the world and liked by all beings, though breathing,
is not yet alive?
Yudhishthira answered, The person, who does not offer anything to these five, viz., gods, guests, servants, Pitris, and himself, though endued with breath, is not yet alive.
The Yaksha asked, What is weightier than the earth itself? What is higher than the heavens?' What is fleeter than the wind? And what is more numerous than grass?
Yudhishthira answered, The mother is weightier than the earth; the father is higher than the heaven; the mind is fleeter than the wind; and our thoughts are
more numerous than grass.
The Yaksha asked, What is that which does not close its eyes while asleep; What is that which does not move after birth? What is that which is without heart? And what is that which swells with its own impetus?
Yudhishthira answered, A fish does not close its eyes while asleep: an egg does not move after birth: a stone is without heart: and a river swells with its own impetus.
The Yaksha asked, Who is the friend of the exile? Who is the friend of the householder? Who is the friend of him that ails? And who is the friend of one about to die?
Yudhishthira answered, The friend of the exile in a distant land is his companion, the friend of the householder is the wife; the friend of him that ails is the physician: and the friend of him about to die is charity.
The Yaksha asked, Who is the guest of all creatures? What is the eternal duty? What, O foremost of kings, is Amrita? And what is this entire Universe?
Yudhishthira answered, Agni is the guest of all creatures: the milk of cows is amrita: Homa is the eternal duty: and this Universe consists of air alone.
The Yaksha asked, What is that which sojourns alone? What is that which is re-born after its birth? What is the remedy against cold? And what is the largest field?
Yudhishthira answered, The sun sojourns alone; the moon takes birth anew: fire is the remedy against cold: and the Earth is the largest field.
The Yaksha asked, What is the highest refuge of virtue? What of fame? What of heaven? And what, of happiness?
Yudhishthira answered, Liberality is the highest refuge of virtue: gift, of fame:
truth, of heaven: and good behaviour, of happiness.
The Yaksha asked, What is the soul of man? Who is that friend bestowed on man by the gods? What is man's chief support? And what also is his chief refuge?
Yudhishthira answered, The son is a man's soul: the wife is the friend bestowed on man by the gods; the clouds are his chief support; and gift is his chief refuge.
The Yaksha asked, What is the best of all laudable things? What is the most valuable of all his possessions? What is the best of all gains? And what is the best of all kinds of happiness?
Yudhishthira answered, The best of all laudable things is skill; the best of all possessions is knowledge: the best of all gains is health: and contentment is the best of all kinds of happiness.
The Yaksha asked, What is the highest duty in the world? What is that virtue which always bears fruit? What is that which if controlled, leads not to regret? And who are they with whom an alliance cannot break?
Yudhishthira answered, The highest of duties is to refrain from injury: the rites ordained in the Three (Vedas) always bear fruit: the mind, if controlled, leads to no regret: and an alliance with the good never breaks.
The Yaksha asked, What is that which, if renounced, makes one agreeable? What is that which, if renounced, leads to no regret? What is that which, if renounced, makes one wealthy? And what is that which if renounced, makes one happy?
Yudhishthira answered, Pride, if renounced, makes one agreeable; wrath, if nounced
leads to no regret: desire, if renounced, makes one wealthy: and avarice, if renounced, makes one happy.
The Yaksha asked, For what does one give away to Brahmanas? For what to mimes and dancers? For what to servants? And for what to king?
Yudhishthira answered, It is for religious merit that one gives away to Brahmanas: it is for fame that one gives away to mimes and dancers: it is for supporting them that one gives away to servants: and it is for obtaining relief from fear that one gives to kings.
The Yaksha asked, With what is the world enveloped? What is that owing to which a thing cannot discover itself? For what are friends forsaken? And for what does one fail to go to heaven?
Yudhishthira answered, The world is enveloped with darkness. Darkness does not permit a thing to show itself. It is from avarice that friends are forsaken. And it is connection with the world for which one fails to go to heaven.
The Yaksha asked, For what may one be considered as dead? For what may a kingdom be considered as dead? For what may a Sraddha be considered as dead? And for what, a sacrifice?
Yudhishthira answered, For want of wealth may a man be regarded as dead. A kingdom for want of a king may be regarded as dead. A Sraddha that is performed with the aid of a priest that has no learning may be regarded as dead. And a sacrifice
in which there are no gifts to Brahmanas is dead.
The Yaksha asked,--'What constitutes the way? What, has been spoken of as water? that, as food? And what, as poison? Tell us also what is the proper time of a Sraddha, and then drink and take away as much as you liked!
Yudhishthira answered, They that are good constitute the way. Space has been spoken of as water. The cow is food. A request is poison. And a Brahmana is regarded as the proper time of a Sraddha. I do not know what you may think of all
this, O Yaksha?
The Yaksha asked, What has been said to be the sign of asceticism? And what is true restraint? What constitutes forgiveness. And what is shame?
Yudhishthira answered, Staying in one's own religion is asceticism: the restraint of the mind is of all restraints the true one: forgiveness consists in enduring enmity; and shame, in withdrawing from all unworthy acts.
The Yaksha asked, What, O king is said to be knowledge? What, tranquility? What constitutes mercy? And what has been called simplicity?
Yudhishthira answered, True knowledge is that of Divinity. True tranquility is that of the heart. Mercy consists in wishing happiness to all. And simplicity is equanimity of heart.
The Yaksha asked, What enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease for man? What sort of a man is called honest and what dishonest?
Yudhishthira answered, Anger is an invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes an incurable disease. He is honest that desires the weal of all creatures, and he is dishonest who is unmerciful.
The Yaksha asked, What, O king, is ignorance? And what is pride? What also is to be understood by idleness? And what has been spoken of as grief?
Yudhishthira answered, True ignorance consists in not knowing one's duties. Pride is a consciousness of one's being himself an actor or sufferer in life. Idleness consists in not discharging one's duties, and ignorance in grief.
The Yaksha asked, What has steadiness been said by the Rishis to be? And what, patience? What also is a real ablution? And what is charity?
Yudhishthira answered, Steadiness consists in one's staying in one's own religion, and true patience consists in the subjugation of the senses. A true bath consists in washing the mind clean of all impurities, and charity consists in protecting all creatures.
The Yaksha asked, What man should be regarded as learned, and who should be called an atheist? Who also is to be called ignorant? What is called desire and what are the sources of desire? And what is envy?
Yudhishthira answered, He is to be called learned who knows his duties. An atheist is he who is ignorant and so also he is ignorant who is an atheist. Desire is due to objects of possession, and envy is nothing else than grief of heart.
The Yaksha asked, What is pride, and what is hypocrisy? What is the grace of the gods, and what is wickedness?
Yudhishthira answered, Stolid ignorance is pride. The setting up of a religious standard is hypocrisy. The grace of the gods is the fruit of our gifts, and wickedness consists in speaking ill of others.
The Yaksha asked, Virtue, profit, and desire are opposed to one another. How could things thus antagonistic to one another exist together?
Yudhishthira answered, When a wife and virtue agree with each other, then all the three you have mentioned may exist together.
The Yaksha asked, Who is he that is condemned to everlasting hell? It behooves you to soon answer the question that I ask!
Yudhishthira answered, He that summons a poor Brahmana promising to make him a gift and then tells him that he has nothing to give, goes to everlasting hell. He also must go to everlasting hell, who imputes falsehood to the Vedas, the scriptures, the Brahmanas, the gods, and the ceremonies in honour of the Pitris, He also goes to everlasting hell who though in possession of wealth, never gives away nor enjoys himself from avarice, saying, he has none.
The Yaksha asked, By what, O king, birth, behaviour, study, or learning does a person become a Brahmana? Tell us with certitude!
Yudhishthira answered, Listen, O Yaksha! It is neither birth, nor study, nor learning, that is the cause of Brahmanahood, without doubt, it is behaviour that constitutes it. One's behaviour should always be well-guarded, especially by a Brahmana. He who maintains his conduct unimpaired, is never impaired himself. Professors and pupils, in fact, all who study the scriptures, if addicted to wicked habits, are to be regarded as illiterate wretches. He only is learned who performs his religious duties. He even that has studied the four Vedas is to be regarded as a wicked wretch scarcely distinguishable from a Sudra (if his conduct be not correct). He only who performs the Agnihotra and has his senses under control, is called a Brahmana!
The Yaksha asked, What does one gain that speaks agreeable words? What does he gain that always acts with judgment? What does he gain that has many friends? And what he, that is devoted to virtue?
Yudhishthira answered, He that speaks agreeable words becomes agreeable to all. He that acts with judgment obtains whatever he seeks. He that has many friends lives happily. And he that is devoted to virtue obtains a happy state (in the next world).
The Yaksha asked, Who is truly happy? What is most wonderful? What is the path? And what is the news? Answer these four questions of mine and let your dead brothers revive.
Yudhishthira answered, O amphibious creature, a man who cooks in his own house, on the fifth or the sixth part of the day, with scanty vegetables, but who is not in debt and who stirs not from home, is truly happy. Day after day countless creatures are going to the abode of Yama, yet those that remain behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more wonderful than this? Argument leads to no certain conclusion, the Srutis are different from one another; there is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by all; the truth about religion and duty is hid in caves: therefore, that alone is the path along which the great have trod. This world full of ignorance is like a pan. The sun is fire, the days and nights are fuel. The months and the seasons constitute the wooden ladle. Time is the cook that is cooking all creatures in that pan (with such aids); this is the news.
The Yaksha asked, You have, O repressor of foes, truly answered all my questions! Tell us now who is truly a man, and what man truly possesses every kind of wealth.
Yudhishthira answered, The report of one's good action reaches heaven and spreads over the earth. As long as that report lasts, so long is a person to whom the agreeable and the disagreeable, weal and woe, the past and the future, are the same, is said to possess every kind of wealth.
The Yaksha said, You have, O king truly answered who is a man, and what man possesses every kind of wealth. Therefore, let one only among your brothers, whom you may wish, get up with life!
Yudhishthira answered, Let this one that is of darkish hue, whose eyes are red, who is tall like a large Sala tree, whose chest is broad and arms long, let this Nakula, O Yaksha, get up with life!
The Yaksha rejoined, This Bhimasena is dear unto you, and this Arjuna also is one upon whom all of you depend! Why, then, O king do you, wish a step-brother to get up with his life! How can you, forsaking Bhima whose strength is equal to that of ten thousand elephants, wish Nakula to live? People said that this Bhima was dear to you. From what motive then do you wish a step-brother to revive? Forsaking Arjuna the might of whose arm is worshipped by all the sons of Pandu, why do you wish Nakula to revive?
Yudhishthira said, If virtue is sacrificed, he that sacrifices it, is himself lost. So virtue also cherishes the cherisher. Therefore taking care that virtue by being sacrificed may not sacrifice us, I never forsake virtue. Abstention from injury is the highest virtue, and is, I ween, even higher than the highest object of attainment. I endeavour to practise that virtue. Therefore, let Nakula, O Yaksha, revive! Let men know that the king is always virtuous! I will never depart from my duty. Let Nakula, therefore, revive! My father had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Let both of them have children. This is what I wish. As Kunti is to me, so also is Madri. There is no difference between them in my eye. I desire to act equally towards my mothers. Therefore, let Nakula live?
The Yaksha said, Since abstention from injury is regarded by you as higher than both profit and pleasure, therefore, let all your brothers live..!