Legacy YM

Chapter 36 - Ashtavakra

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WHILE the Pandavas were wandering among holy places in the forest, they came one day to the hermitage of the personages immortalized in the Upanishads. Lomasa told Yudhishthira the story of that place.

Udalaka, a great sage and teacher of Vedanta, had a disciple named Kagola, who was virtuous and devoted but had no great learning. So, the other disciples used to laugh and mock at him.

Uddalaka, however, attached no great weight to his disciple's lack of erudition but really appreciated his virtues, devotion and good conduct and gave his daughter Sujata in marriage to him.

The couple was blessed with a son. A child generally inherits the characteristics of both the parents. But fortunately the grandson of Uddalaka took after his grandfather rather than his father and knew the Vedas even while he was in his mother's womb.

When Kagola made mistakes, as he often did in reciting the Vedas, the child in the womb would twist his body with pain, and so it came to pass that he had eight crooked bends in his body when he was born.

These crooked bends earned him the name of Ashtavakra, which means "Eight crooked bends." Kagola, one ill-fated day, provoked a polemical contest with Vandi, the court scholar of Mithila, and, having been defeated, was made to drown himself.

Meanwhile Ashtavakra grew up to be a towering scholar even in his boyhood, and at the age of twelve he had already completed his study of the Vedas and the Vedanta.

One day, Ashtavakra learnt that Janaka, the king of Mithila was performing a great sacrifice in the course of which the assembled scholars would, as usual, debate on the sastras.

Ashtavakra set out for Mithila, accompanied by his uncle Svetaketu. On their way to the place of sacrifice at Mithila, they came across the king and his retinue.

The attendants of the king marched in front shouting: "Move away. Make way for the King." Ashtavakra instead of moving out of the way said to the retainers:

"O royal attendants, even the king, if he is righteous, has to move and make way for the blind, the deformed, the fair sex, persons bearing loads and brahmanas learned in the Vedas. This is the rule enjoined by the scriptures."

The king, surprised at these wise words of the brahmana boy, accepted the justness of the rebuke and made way, observing to his attendants: "What this brahmana stripling says is true. Fire is fire whether it is tiny or big and it has the power to burn."

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Ashtavakra and Svetaketu entered the sacrificial hall. The gatekeeper stopped them and said: "Boys cannot go in. Only old men learned in the Vedas may go into the sacrificial hall."

Ashtavakra replied: "We are not mere boys. We have observed the necessary vows and have learnt the Vedas. Those who have mastered the truths of the Vedanta will not judge another on mere considerations of age or appearance."

The gatekeeper said: "Stop. Have done with your idle brag. How can you, a mere boy, have learnt and realised the Vedanta?"

The boy said: "You mean I am not big like an over-grown gourd with no substance in it? Size is no indication of knowledge or worth, nor is age. A very tall old man may be a tall old fool. Let me pass."

The gatekeeper said: "You are certainly not old, nor tall, though you talk like all the hoary sages. Get out."

Ashtavakra replied: "Gatekeeper, Grey hairs do not prove the ripeness of the soul. The really mature man is the one who has learnt the Vedas and the Vedangas, mastered their gist and realised their essence. I am here to meet the court pandit Vandi. Inform King Janaka of my desire."

At that moment the king himself came there and easily recognized Ashtavakra, the precociously wise boy he had met before.

The king asked: "Do you know that my court pandit Vandi has overthrown in argument many great scholars in the past and caused them to be cast into the ocean? Does that not deter you from this dangerous adventure?"

Ashtavakra replied: "Your eminent scholar has not hitherto encountered men like me who are proficient in the Vedas on Vedanta. He has become arrogant and vain with easy victories over good men who were not real scholars. I have come here to repay the debt due on account of my father, who was defeated by this man and made to drown himself, as I have heard from my mother. I have no doubt I shall vanquish Vandi, whom you will see crumple up like a broken-wheeled cart. Please summon him."

Ashtavakra met Vandi. They took up a debatable thesis and started an argument, each employing his utmost learning and wits to confound the other. And in the end the assembly unanimously declared the victory of Ashtavakra and the defeat of Vandi.

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The court pandit of Mithila bowed his head and paid the forfeit by drowning himself in the ocean and going to the abode of Varuna.Then the spirit of Kagola, the father of Ashtavakra, gained peace and joy in the glory of his son.

The author of the epic instructs us through these words put in Kagola's mouth: "A son need not be like his father. A father who is physically weak may have a very strong son and an ignorant father may have a scholarly son. It is wrong to acesess the greatness of a man on his physical appearance or age. External appearances are deceptive."  Which shows that the unlearned Kagola was not devoid of common sense.


Chapter1 - Ganapati
Chapter2 - Devavrata
Chapter3 - Bhishma's Vow
Chapter4 - Amba And Bhishma
Chapter5 - Devayani And Kacha
Chapter6 - The Marriage Of Devayani
Chapter7 - Yayati
Chapter8 - Vidura
Chapter9 - Kunti Devi
Chapter10 - Death Of Pandu
Chapter11 - Bhima
Chapter12 - Karna
Chapter13 - Drona
Chapter14 - The Wax Palace
Chapter15 - The Escape Of The Pandavas
Chapter16 - The Slaying Of Bakasura
Chapter17 - Draupadi's Swayamvaram
Chapter18 - Indraprastha
Chapter19 - The Saranga Birds
Chapter20 - Jarasandha
Chapter21 - The Slaying Of Jarasandha
Chapter22 - The First Honor
Chapter23 - Sakuni Comes In
Chapter24 - The Invitation
Chapter25 - The Wager
Chapter26 - Draupadi's Grief
Chapter27 - Dhritarashtra's Anxiety
Chapter28 - Krishna's Vow
Chapter29 - Pasupata
Chapter30 - Affliction Is Nothing New
Chapter31 - Agastya
Chapter32 - Rishyasringa
Chapter33 - Fruitless Penance
Chapter34 - Yavakrida's End
Chapter35 - Mere Learning Is Not Enough
Chapter36 - Ashtavakra
Chapter37 - Bhima And Hanuman
Chapter38 - I am No Crane
Chapter39 - Wicked Are Never Satisfied
Chapter40 - Duryodhana Disgraced
Chapter41 - Sri Krishna's Hunger
Chapter42 - The Enchanted Pool
Chapter43 - Domestic Service
Chapter44 - Virtue Vindicated
Chapter45 - Matsya Defended
Chapter46 - Prince Uttara
Chapter47 - Promise Fulfilled
Chapter48 - Virata's Delusion
Chapter49 - Taking Counsel
Chapter50 - Arjuna's Charioteer
Chapter51 - Salya Against His Nephews
Chapter52 - Vritra
Chapter53 - Nahusha
Chapter54 - Sanjaya's Mission
Chapter55 - Not a Needle-Point Of Territory
Chapter56 - Krishna's Mission
Chapter57 - Attachment and Duty
Chapter58 - The Pandava Generalissimo
Chapter59 - Balarama
Chapter60 - Rukmini
Chapter61 - Non-Cooperation
Chapter62 - Krishna Teaches
Chapter63 - Yudhishthira Seeks Benediction
Chapter64 - The First Day's Battle
Chapter65 - The Second Day
Chapter66 - The Third Day's Battle
Chapter67 - The Fourth Day
Chapter68 - The Fifth Day
Chapter69 - The Sixth Day
Chapter70 - The Seventh Day
Chapter71 - The Eighth Day
Chapter72 - The Ninth Day
Chapter73 - The Passing Of Bhishma
Chapter74 - Karna and the Grandsire
Chapter75 - Drona in Command
Chapter76 - To Seize Yudhishthira Alive
Chapter77 - The Twelfth Day
Chapter78 - Brave Bhagadatta
Chapter79 - Abhimanyu
Chapter80 - The Death Of Abhimanyu
Chapter81 - A Father's Grief
Chapter82 - The Sindhu King
Chapter83 - Borrowed Armor
Chapter84 - Yudhishthira's Misgivings
Chapter85 - Yudhishthira's Fond Hope
Chapter86 - Karna And Bhima
Chapter87 - Pledge Respected
Chapter88 - Somadatta's End
Chapter89 - Jayadratha Slain
Chapter90 - Drona Passes Away
Chapter91 - The Death Of Karna
Chapter92 - Duryodhana
Chapter93 - The Pandavas Reproached
Chapter94 - Aswatthama
Chapter95 - Avenged
Chapter96 - Who Can Give Solace?
Chapter97 - Yudhishthira's Anguish
Chapter98 - Yudhishthira Comforted
Chapter99 - Envy
Chapter100 - Utanga
Chapter101 - A Pound Of Flour
Chapter102 - Yudhishthira Rules
Chapter103 - Dhritarashtra
Chapter104 - The Passing Away Of The Three
Chapter105 - Krishna Passes Away
Chapter106 - Yudhishthira's Final Trial

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