Katha Upanishad

Part One

Valli 1

uśan ha vai Vājaśravasa sarva-vedasa dadau:  
tasya ha Naciketā nāma putra āsa. (1)

uśan = being desirous  
ha and vai =  'once upon a time' or 'the story goes'
Vājaśrava = he whose is famous, (srava = heard of, famous)
dadau = gave away ;
sarva-vedasam = all (his) wealth;
tasya = of him;
āsa = there was ; like this
naciketā nāma= by the name of Naciketa
= a son  


Out of desire, so goes the story, the son of Vajasrava gave away all his wealth. He had a son named Nachiketas.


 Once upon a time, desiring rewards, Vajasravasah performed a sacrifice as prescribed by the scriptures wherein one has to give away everything. He had a son by the name Nachiketas."


 Dsirous of future fruition, Bajushrubusu performed the sacrifice Vishwujit, at which he distributed all his property. He had a son named Nuchiketa

Vājaśravasa, desiring rewards, performed the Viśvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property. He had a son named Nachiketā.

"The author attempts to distinguish between Vājaśravasa, the protagonist of an external ceremonialism, and Naciketas, the seeker of spiritual wisdom. Vājaśravasa represents orthodox religion and is devoted to its outer forms. He performs the sacrifice and makes gifts which are unworthy. The formalism and the hypocrisy of the father hurt the son."

Vājaśravasah = One who has fame for giving of food. Vāja = food. śrava = glory, fame. Vājaśrava is the father of Vājaśravasah.

(Dr. Radha Krishnan)

NACIKETAS = (Na + Cit = No + Knowledge) = Idiot


Vajasravasah: Uddala Aruni

Aruni or Uddalaka or Uddalaka Aruni   was a philosopher whose teachings are recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad. He was of the lineage of Gowthama.  He taught that everything in the universe (including all living things) is made of three elements: heat (or light), water, and food (or plants), and furthermore that all of these were manifestations of the universal Self or Ātman.  Aruni hailed from the country of Panchala and was known as Aruni of Panchala.  His son was Svetaketu.


Aruni was one among the disciples of sage Ayodha Dhaumya, along with Upamanyu and 'Veda' (Mbh 1.3). As per Mahabharata (MBh 1.3), on one rainy night Aruni's preceptor Dhaumya Muni asked him to supervise water flowing through a certain field. Aruni went there and found that water had breached the field and was moving away from its designated path. Aruni tried to stop water by all means but was unsuccessful. Left with no other way, Aruni lay down on the breach and prevented the water flow using his body. Due to this Aruni did not return to the hermitage in the night. Later in the morning, Dhaumya Muni came to the spot in search of Aruni with other disciples. Upon seeing the dedication and sincerity of Aruni, Dhaumya was very pleased upon Aruni and gave him the title Uddalaka. Later Aruni became very famous under the name Uddalaka Aruni.


Several other scriptures have references to the sage Uddalaka Aruni.

In the Katha Upanishad, Uddalaka Aruni has been portrayed as a very learned sage who had performed numerous yajnas and sacrifices. Uddalaka Aruni was also called Vajashravas because he organized innumerable community feeding programs. Vajashravas had one negative quality as he had no control over his anger and flew into uncontrollable rage at trifles. His wife was Vishwavaradevi. The son of Vajashravas was the great young seeker Nachiketa. In a heat of rage Vajashravas had given Nachiketa to Yama, the death.


Many Mahavakyas are ascribed to sage Uddalaka Aruni. Among those,  


 "That is in You"

"Tat Tvam Asi"  is central to Chāndogya Upanishad, which is a part of the Sama Veda. This great utterance is repeated nine times in this Upanishad as the ultimate Truth, which reveals itself as the conclusion of each inner experiment. In that context The teacher is Uddalaka and the student is Svetaketu, his son.  It appears at the end of a section, and is repeated at the end of the subsequent sections as a refrain. The meaning of this saying is that the Self - in its original, pure, primordial state - is wholly or partially identifiable or identical with the Ultimate Reality that is the ground and origin of all phenomena.


Major Vedantic schools offer different interpretations of the phrase:

·        Advaita - absolute equality of 'tat', the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, and 'tvam', the Self, Atman.  However  the nine examples that are given by Uddalaka to Shvetaketu speak of the differences and dependency and definitely permit the interpretation of identity in that statement.

·        Shuddhadvaita - oneness in "essence" between 'tat' and individual self; but 'tat' is the whole and self is a part.

·        Vishishtadvaita - identity of individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat', Brahman.

·        Dvaitadvaita - equal non-difference and difference between the individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.

·        Dvaita of Madhvacharya - Sa atmaa-tat tvam asi in Sanskrit is actually Sa atma-atat tvam asi or Atman, thou art not that. In refutation of Mayavada (Mayavada sata dushani), text 6, 'tat tvam asi" is translated as "you are a servant of the Supreme"

·        Acintya Bheda Abheda - inconceivable oneness and difference between individual self as a part of the whole which is 'tat'.


If these relations are reliable Rishi vAjashravasaH, is also known as Uddalaka, and is the great teacher of Shvetaketu in the Chandogya Shasta DhyayaH Upanishad.. Then he had two sons  - Shvetaketu and Naciketas. Chandogya Upanishad deals with Uddalaka and his son Shvetakertu; Katha deals with Uddalaka an his son Nachiketa

H.C. Raychaudhuri (1972), Political History of Ancient India, Calcutta: University of Calcutta, pp.4152 and Ben-Ami Scharfstein (1998), A comparative history of world philosophy: from the Upanishads to Kant, Albany: State University of New York Press, pp.56-62.  estimates Aruni's date as approximately the 7th or 8th century BC.  However the Classical Sanskrit in which these upanishads are currently available could not have been possible earlier than 150 AD. If the teaching existed orally in the 7th century BC it would have to be in a different language probably in Vedic Sanskrit viz .Persian  Avestan.


It would be safe to assume the first writing down of the Upansihad to sometime after the second century.  During the course of history it has undergone several redactions as any discerning student could understand from a casual look at the contents in the series of Valli in the progress of the book.  In that process most of the major portions were either deleted or lost.  What we have today is just the outline of the teaching, yet profoundly indicates the significance of the subject area.


When I took the study of the Upanishad, I had no idea of what to expect until I saw the intense parallel of the treatment with the recent Christian presentation of the subject as "The Four Spiritual Laws" which are widely in circulation.  This then is my reconstruction of the Upanishadic teaching based on that assumption.  It again consolidates the historical fact of the presence of Christianity all over India, both North and South by that time and to the Ministry of St.Thomas the Apostle.


Yagna or Quorban

Yagna means sacrifice, which in the South Indian and Eastern Churches is known as Quorban. In the Chrisitain thought of the early period, the Quorban was the means of creation.  God gave himself or sacrificed himself to create the Cosmos.  If God was all that was, there is nothing outside of Him and so if he has to create anything he has to create a space where He relinquishes his total power and give freedom.  This was the greatest sacrifice of God:  He gave ups his body and He gave up his authorithy and power to create beings with freedom of will.  That is how God created Sons of God in His own image. "In the beginning God created."  Creation is the physical manifestation of yajna (quorban). Even today creation of a family implies sacrifice on the part of the husband and wife.  Yet there is joy in the creation. The whole universal principle of sowing reaping are implied in the yajna.


Principal elements of yajna


Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Yajna contains three significant elements:


·        Praise and Worship as an act of gratitude,

·        Communion with fellow beings in all dimensions of existence

·        Sacrifice, daan or giving as a way of life.


The Indian ritualistic traditions yajna is considered as a science of sowing and reaping -give to receive - to obtain a desired objective through the sacrifice.  Since in the Hindu tradition there are several gods each with their own circle of authority, these gods as invoked and given the seed sacrifice for the fulfilment of specific desires. These form the sakama yajna. 


Indra, the god of nourishment is invoked in order to gain power, wealth and prosperity.

Prajapati is propitiated to beget worthy offspring.

The Sun god replenishes cosmic energy.

Goddess Aditi brings delicious food and heavenly bliss.

Mother Earth is propitiated to provide nourishment to all living beings.

This eventually led to the worship of idols in all the various forms.


Viswajit yagna


Viswa means universe and jit means victory.  Hence this yagna was for the purpose of being victorious over the universe.  Since it involves the universe, the total yaga was needed.  The fruit corresponds to the seed.


He desired to go to heaven. "What shall I do to get salvation, go to heaven?"  "How am I going to conquer the universe?" The verse clearly indicates that he knew the Scriptures and all its laws and in accordance with the scripture, he decided to do a yagnam in which he has to give away all that he has.  This sacrifice is known also as Visvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property.The name of the sacrifice as Viswajit is not clearly stated in the verse.  It is an assumption of the commentators.  At any rate it was for some gain. 


This sacrifice is performed as a kamya karma, (action for desired result) trying to go for results. He doesn't do it properly according to some interpreters and according to others he is so poor that all he had was not worth anything.


The vedas say the sakara karma must be performed perfectly. NishkAma can give results even when performed defficiently, sakama Karma must be performed properly with proper angas to get the results desired. Nachiketa means  "one who does not know".  Thus Nachiketa stands for a spiritual seeker.  He goes beyond the rituals and externals into the heart of the religious performance.So, Nachiketas means one who does not know but one who is intelligent.


If on the other hand if we assume Johnston's interpretation, the ParaBrahman desiring to regain contact with the scattered individual souls of man who lost their contact with the Parabrahman as the individual soul took control of the reign of the heart over the indwelling Holy Spirit the Atman, (as distinct from Jivatma) sends His only begotten Son into the world with the simple technique of Naciketa Fire to reclaim the Universe.  Then that indeed was the  Viswajit Yagna. Prabrahma sacrifices himself to regain his own.


 ta ha kumāra santa dakiāsu nīyamānāsu
śraddhā-viveśa, so
manyata. (2)


tam = into him, into Naciketā;
santam = while still a mere boy:
śraddhā = faith (in the verity of the  Scriptures),
āviveśa  =  entered; 
iāsu nīyāmāsu  =  when gifts were being brought in accordance with the regulations,  
= he, (Naciketā);
amanyata = thought. 


When the presents were being given in accordance with the regulations of the sacrifice, faith entered into the heart of Nakiketas, who was still a boy, and he thought:


Śrāddha-vivesa has the meaning concentrated attention. Shraaddha is a Sanskrit word which literally means anything or any act that is performed with all concentration. Some give it the meaning: sincerity and faith  . In the Hindu religion, Sraddha is the ritual that one performs to pay homage to ones 'ancestors' (Pits), especially to ones dead parents. Conceptually, it is a way for people to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks towards their parents and ancestors, for having helped them to be what they are and praying for their peace. It also can be thought of as a "day of remembrance."  


Most commentators interpret it simply as faith.  In this case Naciketa was thinking about the welfare of his father during the sacrifice as is evident from his thought mentioned in the next stanza. His concern was for the welfare of his father and he watched the procedures with concentrated attention.


pītodakā jagdha-tṛṇā dugdhadohā nirindriyā
anandā nāma te lokās tān sa gacchata tā dadat. (3)

pītodaka:  pītam = drunk; dakam = water,
ṛṇā:     jagdham = eaten; tṛṇam = grass,
:   dugdhah = milked;  doha = milk, 
= without senses; those that are devoid of the power of their organs, incapable  of breeding; 

dadat = giving ;
= those,
gacchati =  goes;
tān = to those (worlds);
anandā = unhappy.

'Unblessed, surely, are the worlds to which a man goes by giving (as his promised present at a sacrifice) cows which have drunk water, eaten hay, given their milk, and are barren.'

He said to himself: sorrowful, surely, are the worlds to which my father goes who gives away cows that are worthless which are no longer able to drink, to eat, to give milk, or to calve.

 These have drunk water, they have eaten grass, they have been milked of their milk, they are without strength. Joyless, verily, are those worlds; to them he goes, giving these.

Water has been drunk (for the last time by these cows), grass has been eaten (for the last time); they have yielded all their milk, and are devoid of (the power of) the organs. Those worlds are indeed joyless where he goes who offers these.

 Evidently there was something wrong with the intentions of the sacrificer, since he is giving away worthless possessions.  He cannot certainly take care of the Universe if he gain Viswajit - the Kingdom.  Not only that with such offering as these defective cows, Naciketa realized that his father will not only will not achieve his viswajit aim, but will condemn himself to the unhappy world of pain and sorrow.

Johnston of the Theosophical Society looks upon this in a totally different way.  He proposes that this is the story of the Father in Heaven who discovered that all what he had hoped for from his creation has gone bad and wants to restore it by sending His own Son to die and building the bridge back.

sa hovāca pitaram, tāta kasmai mā dāsyasīti;

dvitīya ttīyam; ta hovāca: mtyave tvā dadāmīti. (4)


sa,  =  he,  approached  his  father  ;   
uvāca  ha  =  said; 
pitaram  =  to  the  father. 
Tāta  =  O  father;
kasmai = to whom
mām dāsyasi = will you offer me  
dvitīyam= Twice
 trtīyam= thrice
 uvāca = he spoke  
uvāca ha tam == said to him,
tyave = to Death,
dadāmi = I give away;
tvā = you,
iti = thus.


He (knowing that his father had promised to give up all that he possessed, and therefore his son also) said to his father: 'Dear father, to whom wilt thou give me?'

He said it a second and a third time. Then the father replied (angrily): 'I shall give thee unto Death.'

Naciketā being the property of his father, even though he is the loved one, he also should be given away if the Viswajit is to be perfect.  Hence he asks this question.  Apparently Vājaśravasa did not wanted to do this.  Hence the hesistation and the angry giving.  "go to hell"

Most commentators interpret this three repetition to imply the three dimensions of existence: Body, Soul and Spirit.  The name Yama is not clearly stated in this verse, indicating it was an angry outburst and not a considered reply.

" The boy earnestly wishes to make himself an offering and thus purify his father's sacrifice. He does not discard the old tradition but attempts to quicken it. There can be no quickening of the spirit until the body die."

Cp. St Paul 'Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.'

mtyave: unto Death Mtyu or Yama is the lord of death. When Vājaśravasa gives away all his goods, Naciketas feels that this involves the giving away of the son also and so wishes to know about himself. When the father replies that he will give him to Yama, it may mean that, as a true sanyāsin, personal relations and claims have henceforward no meaning for him. Naciketas takes his father's words literally He in the course of his teaching points out that the psychophysical vehicles animated by the spirit are detennmed by the law of karma and subject to death. He who knows himself as the spirit, and not as the psychophysical vehicle is free and unmortal. "  (Dr.Radhakrishnan)

Yama, the god of Death

 Yama is the god of death, belonging to an early stratum of Vedic mythology. In Sanskrit, his name can be interpreted to mean "twin".

In the Zend-Avesta he is called "Yima".

According to the Vishnu Purana, Yama is the son of the sungod Surya and of Sanjna, the daughter of Visvakarman, sometimes called "Usha" the dawn. He is the brother of the current Manu Vaivasvatha and of his older sister Yami, According to Harivamsa Purana her name is Daya.(Mercy) implying that death was brought in to existence because of the mercy of God.  Only the Buddhist influence represented it as wrath of God.


Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic  by W.J. Wilkins [1900] CHAPTER X. gives the following details of the Indian concept of Yama.

"Yama, the judge of men and king of the unseen world, was the son of Vivasvat (the sun) and Saranya, the daughter of Tvastri. He was born before his mother had become afraid of her glorious husband. He was twin-brother of Yami, and, in the opinion of Professor Roth, they were regarded as the primeval pair from whom the human family has sprung.

 In another verse of the Rig-Veda they are described as the offspring of the heavenly choristers, the Gandharvas. As there were no others to perpetuate the race, Yami entreated Yama to become her husband. She urged the fact that Tvastri had formed them as man and wife in the womb; and therefore it was useless for him to refuse her request, as none can act contrary to the ordinances of Tvastri. But Yama was firm, and resisted her overtures on the ground that it was monstrous for those who are preachers of righteousness to act unrighteously. .....

"Yama was the first of mortals who died, and, having discovered the way to the other world, is the guide of those who depart this life, and is said to conduct them to a home which is made secure for them for ever. He is a king, and dwells in celestial light in the innermost sanctuary of heaven. He grants bright homes to the pious who dwell with him.

"In the Rig-Veda, Yama is nowhere represented (as he is in the later mythology) as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked. Nevertheless he is still to some an object of terror. He is said to have two insatiable dogs, with four eyes and wide nostrils, which guard the road to his abode, and which the departed are advised to hurry past with all possible speed. These dogs are said to wander about among men as messengers, no doubt for the purpose of summoning them to the presence of their master, who in another place is identified with; death, and is described as sending a bird as the herald of doom."  

"When the remains of the deceased have been placed upon the funeral pile, and the process of cremation has commenced, Agni, the god of Fire, is prayed not to scorch or consume the departed, not to tear asunder his skin or his limbs, but, after the flames have done their work, to convey to the fathers the mortal who has been presented to him as an offering. Leaving behind on earth all that is evil and imperfect, and proceeding by the paths which the fathers trod, invested with a lustre like that of the gods, it soars to the realms of eternal light in a car, or on wings, and recovers there its ancient body in a complete and glorified form; meets with the forefathers who are living in festivity with Yama; obtains from him, when recognized by him as one of his own, a delectable abode, and enters upon more perfect life, which is crowned with the fulfilment of all desires, is passed in the presence of the gods, and employed in the fulfilment of their pleasure."

"In this kingdom, over which Yama reigns, friends meet with their departed friendshusband with wife, children with parentsand together live in a state of blessedness, free from the evils and infirmities that belong to the present life. As the gods are described as enjoying the pleasures common to men on earth, the kingdom of Yama, the abode of the departed, is not at all less sensual than the present world; and when mortals have been privileged to enter this happy land, they become objects of veneration to their descendants still living, and joyfully partake of the oblations they offer to them.

In the following lines Dr. Muir * has given an epitome of the teaching of the Vedas respecting Yama:

"To great King Yama homage pay, Who was the first of men that died,

That crossed the mighty gulf and spied For mortals out the heavenward way.


"By it our fathers all have passed; And that same path we too shall trace,

 And every new succeeding race, Of mortal men, while time shall last.


"The god assembles round his throne A growing throng, the good and wise

 All those whom, scanned with searching eyes, He recognizes as his own.


"Departed mortal, speed from earth By those old ways thy sires have trod;

 Ascend, behold the expectant god  Who calls thee to a higher birth.


"And calmly pass without alarm The four-eyed hounds that guard the road

 Which leads to Yama's bright abode; Their master's friends they dare not harm.


"All imperfections leave behind: Assume thine ancient frame once more

 Each limb and sense thou hadst before, From every earthly taint refined.


"And now with heavenly glory bright, With life intenser, nobler, blest,

 With large capacity to taste  A fuller measure of delight,


"Thou there once more each well-known face  Shalt see of those thou lovedst here;

Thy parents, wife, and children dear, With rapture shalt thou soon embrace

"The father, too, shalt thou behold, The heroes who in battle died,

 The saints and sages glorified, The pious, bounteous kings of old.


"The gods whom here in humble wise Thou worshippedst with doubt and awe,

 Shall there the impervious veil withdraw Which hid their glory from thine eyes.


"The good which thou on earth hast wrought. Each sacrifice, each pious deed,

 Shall there receive its ample meed; No worthy act shall be forgot.


"In those fair realms of cloudless day, Where Yama every joy supplies,

 And every longing satisfies, Thy bliss shall never know decay."


In the Purānas Yama is called the judge of men, and is said to rule over the many hells in which the wicked are made to suffer. Thus the "Padma Purāna" says: "Yama fulfils the office of judge of the dead, as well as sovereign of the damned; all that die appearing before him, and being confronted with Chitragupta the recorder, by whom their actions have been registered. The virtuous are then conveyed to Swarga (Indra's heaven), whilst the wicked are driven to the different regions of Naraka (hell)."

 In the "Vishnu Purāna" the names of the different hells are given, and it is there stated that " there are many other fearful hells which are the awful provinces of Yama, terrible with instruments of torture and fire." In the same Purāna  it is said that all men at the end of their existence (life) become slaves to the power of Yama, by whom they are sentenced to painful punishments." Inquiry is then made as to how men can be free from his authority. The answer is that "Yama is the lord of all men, excepting the worshippers of Madhusūdan (Vishnu). Worship him in one of his many forms, and Yama can exert no authority over you."

Amongst the many names by which Yama is known, the following are the most common:
Dharmarāja, "King of righteousness."

Pitripati, "Lord of the fathers."

Samavurti, "He who judges impartially."

Kritānta, "The finisher."

Samana, "The leveller."

Kāla, "Time."

Dandadhara, "He who carries the rod."

Srāddhadeva, "The god of funeral ceremonies."

Vaivasvata, "The son of Vivasvata."

Antaka, "He who puts an end to life."

In art, Yama is depicted with blue skin and red clothes and rides a water buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse. His Greek counterpart is Hades and Thanatos. His Egyptian counterpart is Osiris.

Perhaps other than Indra, no other Vedic character has undergone so large a transformation by the time of the Puranas. In the Rig Veda, he is the son of Saranyu (daughter of Tvashta, the artisan God) and Vivasvant (associated with the sun).

Depart by the former paths by which our forefathers have departed. There shall you behold the two monarchs Yama and Varuna rejoicing in the Svadha." (RV:10.14.7)

"Be united with the forefathers, with Yama, and with the fulfillment of your wishes in the highest heaven. Discarding iniquity, return to your abode, and unite yourself to a luminous body." (RV: 10.14.8)

Rigveda 10.13.4 states, for the benefit of the mankind who refused immortality and embraced death? In the Yajna of Bruhaspati, Yama sacrificed his beloved body. He entered into another dimension and created a new world of joy.


In the epic Indian poetry of the Mahabharata the heaven of Yama is described as:

Being neither too hot nor too cold. Where life is without sorrow, where age does not bring frailty, tiredness or bad feelings. Where there is no hunger or thirst, where everything that one would seek is found there. Where the fruits are delicious, the flowers fragrant, the waters refreshing and comforting; where beautiful maidens dance to the tunes of celestial musicians, and where laughter blends with the strains of heavenly music."

Thus the heaven was created by Yama by  sacrificing his own body.

"The Pavilion of Yama was fashioned by the divine carpenter Tvashtri, it shines like burnished gold with a radiance equal to the sun. Here the attendants of the Lord of Dharma measure out the allotted days of mortals. Great sages (rishis) and ancestors wait upon and adore Yama, who is the King of the Fathers (pitris). Sanctified by holiness, their shining bodies are clothed in swan-white garments, and adorned with jeweled bracelets, golden earrings, exquisite flower garlands and alluring perfumes, which make that building eternally pleasant and supremely blessed. Here hundreds of thousands of saintly beings worship Yama, the illustrious King of the Pitris.

By the time of the Puranas, Yama is said to be the son of Surya and Sangya (who is the daughter of Vishwakarma), and is the brother of the planet Shani. He is one of the eight guardians of directions, responsible for south. He is the lord of the dead, and all mortals go to his court to be judged. His scribe Chitragupta, keeps a record of all the deeds of men. Yama sentences the soul to either heaven or hell based on the balance of Karma. In his role as the judge, Yama is also referred to as Dharmaraja, the lord of justice. His knowledge of the scriptures is immense and and he is the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsehood.

It would  be  easy  to  draw  parallels  with  the  traditions  of  Egypt, where Ra is the Sun, while Amen-Ra, the hidden Sun, the sun after sun-set, is the Lord of the realm of Death. 

So also Osiris, the great sacrificial victim,  is  Lord of  the realm  of  Death and Judge  of  the dead, and is,  at the same time, Lord of the hidden  wisdom, Lord of Initiation.

He resides in Yamapuri and is a staunch devotee of Vishnu. His servants are called Kinkaras, who perform the duty of bringing the mortal soul to judgment. He rides a buffalo and is himself dark in color. He carries a noose in his hand, the Yama Paasa, with which he sunders the soul from its mortal cage.


Johnston's interpretation of Christian Symbolism in Katha continues:

"There is  one point of symbolism  still  to be considered  in  the passage translated: namely,  the sacrifice of cattle,  which  preceded  the sacrifice  of the  Son.  And  it  happens  that  we  can  once  more  find  the  clue  of  the symbol  in  the  deeply  mystical  Epistle  of  Paul  to  the  Hebrews,  and especially  in  the  tenth  chapter:

"For the  law  having a  shadow  of good  things to come,  and not the very  image  of  those  things,  can  never  with  those  sacrifices,  which  they offered  year  by  year  continually,  make  the  comers  thereunto  perfect.

For then would they not have ceased to be  offered?  .  .  ,  For it  is  not possible  that  the  blood  of  bulls  and  of  goats  should  take  away  sins.

Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou  wouldest not, but a  body hast thou  prepared me:  in  burnt offerings and sacrifices  for  sin  thou  hast  had  no  pleasure.  .  .  Then said  he, Lo,  I come to do  thy will,  0  God.  He taketh a~ay the first, that he may establish  the  second.  By the  which  will  we  are  sanctified  through  the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once  for all  .  "

Here, we  have exactly the same sequence as in  the Upanishad:  first the  sacrifice  of  cattle,  an  imperfect  and  ineffectual  sacrifice;  then  the sacrifice  of  the  Son,  made  once  for all.

What then  is  the  significance  of  this  sacrifice  of  cattle?  We  may find  the clue in the Upanishad itself, in the verse which  may be  translated thus:

"Those of  old  have called  the powers  of  sense  the  horses, and  the objects of these  powers the pastures, or the roadways."

The cattle,  then,  are the  bodily  senses,  the  natural  powers  of  perception  and  action,  while  the  things  which  they  perceive,  the  things upon  which  they act,  are the  pastures  in  which  the  cattle graze,  or the roads on  which  the horses  travel.

The  sacrifice  of  cattle  symbolically  represents  a  stern  asceticism which  restrains  the natural senses  and  powers, holding them  back  from objects  of  sense;  yet  without  the  full  sacrifice  of self,  without  the  true subjection of the heart to the divine law, expressed in the words:  "I come to do thy· will."  For the motive of this asceticism  may well be  spiritual ambition,  the  desire  that oneself  may  excel,  that power  may  be  gained for  oneself; an ambition  full  of  vanity and  evil.

Therefore there is  but  one  perfect and effectual  sacrifice:  the  sacrifice  of  the  personal  will  to  the  divine  Will,  the  offering  of  the human heart to the supreme Heart, the sacrifice of the Son to the  Father.

As  Nachiketas  says,  the  imperfect  sacrifice  of  asceticism  can  gain only  joyless  worlds;  as  Paul  says,  it  is  not  possible  that  the  blood  of bulls and of goats should take away sins.  Sin lies  in  the will, and can be taken  away  only  by  complete  obedience  to  the  divine  Will,  through  the absolute offering up  of all  the wills of self."






bahῡnām emi prathama, bahῡnām emi madhyama;

ki svid yamasya kartavyam yan mayādya kariyati. (5)


bahūnām = among many ;
emi = I;
= as first,  
emi = middling one;
Kim svit = what;
kartavyam = duty or purpose;
yamasya = of Death-can there be;  
adya = today;
yati = will achieve;
mayā = through me?

Nachiketas thought: What is the business of Yama that is  being achieved through me? Why should I go to him?  I may be the first among many or may be the middle one. What is the purpose  of my being offered  to Yama? 

The youth then said to himself, In the discharge of my duties as a son, I hold a foremost place among many sons or pupils of the first class, and I am not inferior to any of the sons or pupils of the second class: whether my father had a previous engagement with Yumu, which he will now perform by surrendering me to him, or made use of such an expression through anger, I know not.

 (Nachiketas speaks): Of many, I go the first; of many, I go the midmost. What is this to be done of Yama, which through me he will today accomplish?


anupaśya yathā pῡrve pratipaśya tathāpare,
sasyam iva martya
pacyate sasyam ivajāyate puna. (6)

anu  =  next, 
paśya  =  consider; 
yathā  =  how;
pūrve  =  forebears,  etc.
Tathā = in the same way; 
apare = others   
prati-paśya = again consider; 
martyah  =  humans; 
sasyam  iva  = like the vegetation, 
pacyate  =  decays  and  dies;  
= again;
sasyam iva jāyate = vegetation reappears (is born) again.  

Consider those who have gone before; and consider those who came later. As it was with those, so it is with these. Like the vegetation man decays and dies; and like the vegetation he is born again.

Śankara says "Thus addressed, the father sent his son to Yama in order to keep his word.."

The Upanishad does not mention what happened to  Nachiketas or his father after this conversation. The  Taittiriya Brahmana says that the boy went to the hall of  Yama. There is only one way to get the hall of Yama.  That is by the gates of death.  How did Nachiketa die?  Was he sacrificed by his father?  Did he commit suicide?  These are open questions that are not answered.  Probably it is only a Katha - a story to hang the teachings.

However in many sacrifices narabali (Human Sacrifice) or Purushamedha was part of the sacrifice.   "The owner of the flock was, of course, the nearest and the most precious to himself, and his children, the next after him, and accordingly would be deemed the most appropriate to be offered as a sacrifice; though generaly speaking, the main object of woship, in early times, having been the temporal good of the worshipper, it was by means convenient for him to offer himself as a sacrifice for it.  Children particularly when there happened to be several in the family, could be more readily spared, and they would accordingly more frequently given up for the purpose."

'"The following summary of the conclusions which may be fairly drawn from the facts cited above:....

2nd.  That the Sunahsepha hymns of te Rik Sanhita most probably refer to human sacrifice.

3rd.  That Aiterya Brahman refers to an actual and not a typical human sacrifice.

4th  That the Purushamedha originally required the actual sacrifice of men.

5th.  That the Satapatha Brahmana sanctions human sacrifice in some cases, but makes the Purushamedha emblematic

6th.  That the Taittiriya Brahmana enjoins the sacrifice of a man at the Horse sacrifice.

7th.  That the Puranas recognize human sacrifice ...

8th.  That the Tantras enjoin human sacrifice...."

 (On Human Sacrifices in Ancient India: Raja Rajendra Mitra, Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol XLV, Part 1, 1976)

A 1933 journal of the Assam Research Society says that living people were sacrificed until the reign of King Gaurinath Singha between 1780 and 1796.  Records of earlier periods at the Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies indicate that the practice was widespread in Assam. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1908706.stm)

Satapatha Brahmana Part V (SBE44), Julius Eggeling tr. [1900], at sacred-texts.com

13:6:2:12-13 states "By means of the Purusha Nârâyana (litany), the Brahman priest (seated) to the right (south) of them, praises the men bound (to the stakes) with this sixteen-versed (hymn, Rig-v. X, 90, Vâg. S. XXXI, 1-16), 'The thousand-headed Purusha, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed --thus (he does) for the obtainment and the securing of everything, for everything here consists of sixteen parts, and the Purushamedha is everything: in thus saying, 'So and so thou art, so and so thou art,' he praises and thereby indeed magnifies him (Purusha); but he also thereby speaks of him, such as he is. Now, the victims had had the fire carried round them, but they were not yet slaughtered. Then a voice  said to him, 'Purusha, do not consummate (these human victims ): if thou wert to consummate them, man (purusha) would eat man.' Accordingly, as soon as fire had been carried round them, he set them free, and offered oblations to the same divinities , and thereby gratified those divinities, and, thus gratified, they, gratified him with all objects of desire."

Brahmanas came later to the Vedic ritualistic period.  Hence most scholars consider that as evidence to prevalent human sacrifice.

One can see a pinch of Abram Isaac story in this especially in the  Satapatha Brahmana intervention through a voice forbidding killing the person.


"During the Vedic period

The injunction in the Shatapatha Brahmana to release the victims is another reason why scholars have speculated that the Purushamedha originally involved actual killing of humans. Alfred Hillebrandt, writing in 1897, claimed that the yajna involved real human sacrifices, which were suppressed over time. Albrecht Weber, writing in 1864, came to a similar conclusion. Julius Eggeling, writing in 1900, could not imagine that actual human sacrifices occurred. Hermann Oldenberg, writing in 1917, claimed that the Purushamedha was simply a priestly fantasy, but that sacrifices may have occurred nonetheless. Willibald Kirfel, writing in 1951, claimed that an early form of Purushamedha must have preceded the Ashvamedha. According to Jan Houben, the actual occurrence of human sacrifice would be difficult to prove, since the relevant pieces of evidence would be small in number.


However, in a late Vedic Brahmana text, the Vadhula Anvakhyana 4.108 (ed. Caland, Acta Orientalia 6, p. 229) actual human sacrifice and even ritual anthropophagy is attested: "one formerly indeed offered a man as victim for Prajāpati," for example Karājāya. "Dhārtakratava Jātūkari did not wish to eat of the ida portion of the offered person; the gods therefore exchanged man as a sacrificial animal with a horse." References to anthropophagy are also found in Taittiriya 7.2.10 and Katha Samhita 34.11.


Unless we assume that this is just a story, the best assumption will be that Nachiketu submitted himself to his father's commitment and he was sacrificed along with the cows.  The animal sacrifice is still prevalent in Assam, Nepal and Tamil Nadu as part of the Sakthi worship.  In a Visvajit Sacrifice, a Son would be perfectly appropriate.

Here is the reconstruction of the story:

 "Nachiketa understood the motive of his father's action and could not tolerate the wrong act. He realised that his father was keeping the healthy cow for his son and so decided to stop such wrong acts. He stood before his father and asked "To whom are you giving me?" The father did not pay heed, being too busy donating the old cows. Nachiketa again asked the same question; he repeated his question three or four times.

Uddalak could not control himself; he became angry and hastily said that he was giving the boy to YamaRaj, King of Death.

Uddalak realised his mistake and pleaded him to forgive, when Nachiketa started going away in the woods. But Nachiketa was firm. He could not be persuaded to stay back. Folding his hands Nachiketa said to his father: "My revered father, I was told by you that for the past twenty one generations, our ancestors never went back on their word. Father I do not want to disobey your orders under any circumstances. I need your blessings."

Nachiketa argued with conviction and quoted philosophical treaties against his father who had no answer to his argument. He explained how Death was not frightful but just the means to change the body and to acquire a new form. He explained a man became immortal only through his actions. Nachiketa touched the feet of his father and started along the path to the Kingdom of Death. Every person present was struck with awe and wonder at the faith and courage of this little boy who was only eight years old. Nachiketa was full of joy as he walked away, because he had prevailed upon his father, but with every step the road became more and more difficult. There were furious animals and demons, who tried to stop the boy and send him back, but he did not pay heed to them, nor was he afraid. When he reached the door of Yamaraj's castle, the guard told him that Yama Raj had gone out. Yama's guards would not allow anyone to enter the palace in his absence, so it was better for the boy to return home. But Nachiketa was determined to wait. He waited for many days; he did not eat or drink or sleep.


After many days Yama Raj came back. As he was about to enter his castle he saw the brave and fearless lad. Yama Raj was attracted towards the boy and asked for the purpose of his visit. One of the watchmen briefed Yamraj as how Nachiketa was waiting to meet him and has spent many days without eating or drinking. Yamaraj's heart was touched; he rushed to the boy and embraced him saying, "Oh my dear boy! Who are you? For what have you come here? " (http://susanskrit.org/qnq-for-nachiketa.html)

Nachiketa in the House of Death

vaiśvānara praviśaty atithir brāhmao ghān:

tasyaitā śānti kurvanti, hara vaivasvatodakam. (7)


brāhmaa = a Brāhmin; 
= guest;
praviśati = enters,
= as though fire itself; the universal fire
hān = the houses;
tasya = for his sake - for the guest;
kurvanti = accomplish:
etām = this kind of;
śāntim = propitiation  
vaivasvata  =  O  Death; 
hara  =  carry, 
udakam  =  water  -  for  Nāciketa  for washing his feet.


Verily, when, like fire a brahmin guest enters a house; the householder pacifies him by giving him water and washing his feet, bring him water. O Death!

"I entered  into thine house,  thou gavest me  no  water for my  feet." The implication is that the  youth Nuchiketa, in accordance with the wish  of his father, went to the habitation of Yama. Yama was not at home.  Yet Nachiketa remained there for three days without food or refreshment.  When Yama returned to his dwelling, his family advised him thus: A Brahman entering a house as a guest is like fire; good householders, therefore, extinguish his anger by offering him water, a seat, and food. Do thou, O Yama, present him with water.

Vaiśvānara refers to the universal fire that is in every person. Vaiśvānara is a Sanskrit word literally meaning relating to all men and by extension omnipresent. implying the presence of the divine element in every man.  This epithet is later applied to Agni (fire). Agni. the life energy in every living being.  Vaiśvānara is regarded as the author of Ṛg Veda 10. 79 and 80.  The term is then applied in Vedānta to the waking state of human beings, one of the four states, the others being deep sleep, dreaming, and sublimity (turīya). It was the name of one of the sacred fires mentioned in Rig Vedic hymns and, thus, another name for Agni, the Hindu god of fire. Helena P. BLAVATSKY states that in the psycho-metaphysical symbolism it is the SELF, in the sense of non-separateness, i.e., both divine and human (SD II:568 fn.).

This is recognized by the greeting Indians give when they meet each other as "Nama Aste" " I worship that is in you".  In every human being there resides the Holy Spirit the sakthi or energy that is of God which alone can give life.


āśā-pratīke sagata sῡn ceṣṭāpῡrte putra-paśῡś ca sarvān

etad vṛṅkte puruasyālpamedhaso yasyānaśnan vasati  brāhmao ghe. (8)

āśā = thus
a = in expectation
gatam = the fruit derived from the association with  spiritual  people; 
ta  =  joy ,  
ṣṭam  =  fruit  produced  by  sacrifice, 
pūrtam  =  fruit  resulting  from  such  charitable  works   
śca  =  sons  and  cattle;
sarvān  etat  (sarvam  etat)  =  all  this;  
ṛṅkte = excludes (from)
asya alpa-medhasa = from (i.e. of) a person of little intelligence; 
yasya  =  in  whose; 
he  =  house; 
a  =  a  Brāhmana; 
anaśnan  =  not-eating, 
vasati = abides.  

Hopes and expectations, the rewards of respecting the saints, the merit of his kindness of words and deeds, the results of worthy sacrifices  and wealth of  cattle and children,  are all destroyed in the case of the ignorant man, in whose house a Brahmin guest stays without taking food.

Hope and expectation, friendship and pleasant words, sacrifice and good deeds, sons and cattle, this destroys, of the man of little wisdom in whose house a sacred guest dwells without eating.

 A man deficient in wisdom suffers his hopes, his sanguine expectation of success, his improvement from associating with good men, the benefit which he might derive from his affable conversation, and the fruits produced by performance of prescribed sacrifices, and also by digging of wells and other pious liberal actions, as well as all his sons and and cattle, to be destroyed, should a Brahman happen to remain in his house without food.

Three Boons Offered to Nachiketas

tisro rātrīr yād avatsīr ghe menaśnan brahman atitthir namasya.

namaste’ṡtu brahman; svasti mestu tasmāt prati trīn varān vṛṇīva. (9)

brahman = O Brāhmaa;
yat = since;
= you have stayed;
grhe me = in my house;
rātrī =  for  three  nights; 
anaśnan  =  without  eating, 
  =  a  guest;  
  =  worthy  of  being saluted  (venerable)  as  you  are; 
  te  astu  Brahman =  salutations  be  to  you;  O Brāhmaa; 
svasti  me =  let  there  be  good  fortune for  me;   
tasmāt  =  therefore,   
ṛṇīśva = ask for;
trīn varān = three boons  
prati trīn varān v
ṛṇīva.= one in respect of each night you have spent  

Yama said to Nachiketas: O Brahmana, you have fasted in my house for three nights. I make obeisance to you! Ask from me three boons, for the three nights you starved here, so that I may be blessed and do not incur the sin of not giving to my guest. May  all be well with me! 

(Yama greets Nachiketas): Because thou hast dwelt three nights in my house without eating, a sacred guest, worthy of reverencereverence to thee, holy one, and may it be well with metherefore, in return do thou choose three wishes.

Yumu being thus admonished by his family, approached Nuchiketa and said to him; As thou, O Brahmun, hast lived in my house, a revered guest, for the space of three days and nights without food, I offer thee reverence in atonement, so that bliss may a tend me; and do thou ask three favours of me as a recompense for what thou hast suffered while dwelling in my house during these days past.

We are given the hint of the story which is not directly said.  Nachiketa went to the domains of  Yama and had to wait for three days before Yama appears to him.  He remained without food or water for those three days.

 One can interpret these three days of fasting but it appears that they are imposed on the Upanishad and not directly stated.

Nachiketass First Wish

The first boon: Resurrection from the dead


śānta-sakalpa sumanā yathā syād vīta-manyur gautamo mābhi mtyo,

tvat-prasṛṣṭam mābhivadet-pratīta, etat trayāām prathama vara vṛṇe. (10)

mrtyo = O Death;
syāt = may become;
santa samkalpa sumana yathā = in calm mind and gracious,
= free from anger;
mā abhi  =  towards  me; 
me  abhivadet  =  may greet  me; 
ṛṣṭam  =  freed  by  you  -  sent  home;
pratītah = recognising me,
ā = of the three boons;
ṛṇe = I ask
etat prathamam = this is the first boon;

As the first gift, O Lord, offer this to me: when I return, released by you to the world of my father, may he (my father) receive me with a calm mind, free from anger, recognising me as I have been before; not thinking that I am dead.

(Nachiketas answers): That the descendant of Gotama, my father, may be of quiet heart, well-minded, without resentment towards me, O Death, when I am sent forth by Thee; that he may address me gladly this I choose as the first wish of my thre

Nuchiketa then made this as his first request, saying, Let, O Yama! my father Gotams apprehension of my death be removed, his tranquility of mind be restored, his anger against me extinguished, and let him recognise me on my return, after having been set free by thee. This is the first of three favours which I ask of thee.

This is very clever way of asking several boons tucked in one boon.

This implies that Nachiketas will be resurrected, and he will be the son of his father as the same person, the father will recognize him and that he will be pleased by the son's return. This is not reincarnation where you will take up a new body and gets a new start. 


yathā purastād bhavitā pratīta auddālakir āruir  matprasṛṣṭa,

sukha rātrīś śayitā vītamanyus tvā dadśivān  mtyumukhāt pramuktam. (11)


yathā purastāt = as before  

bhavitā = in that very same way

pratīta = having recognised (you);:

Uddalaka and Auddalaki refer to the same (person). And he is auddalaki may not add any meaning to the original word uddalaka, or it may signify the son of Uddalaka. In the latter case, he becomes a scion of the Uddalakas as also of the Arunas. This was possible when a brotherless girl was given in marriage with the stipulation that her son would be counted as belonging to either family, so that the offering of rice balls etc. to the departed of both the lines might be guaranteed.

mat-prasṛṣṭah = being permitted  by  me;  (your  father) 

śayitā  =  will sleep;

during rātrī  =  nights  other  (future)  nights  too;

sukham = in comfort 
= free from anger;
dadśivān = having seen you;
tyu-mukhāt pramuktam = as having been freed from the grasp of Death.


Yama said: Through my favour, your father, Auddilaki Aruni, will recognise you and be again toward you as he was before. After having seen you freed from the  death, he will sleep peacefully at night and bear no anger against you.


Nachiketass Second Wish:
Understanding of the  way to Eternal Life

svarge loke na bhaya ki ca nāsti na tatra tva na jarayā bibheti.

ubhe tīrtvā aśanāyā pipāse śokātigo modate svarga-loke. (12)

svarge  loke  =  in  the  heavenly  world: 
bhayam  kiñcana  na  asti  =  there  is  no  fear   
tvam  =  you,    
na  tatra  =  are  not  there  
jarayā = because of old age;
na bibheti = nobody fears;
 ubhe aśanāyā-pipāse-tīrtvā = having transcended both hunger and thirst;
= having beyond sorrow
modate = rejoices; |
svarga-loke = in the heavenly world.

Nachiketa said: In the Heavenly World there is no fear. You, O Death, are not there and no one is afraid of old age. Leaving behind both hunger and thirst and out of the reach of sorrow, all rejoice in Heaven.

This immediately defines what heaven is and how is it different from the no-heaven.  Everything dies and grow again in the material kingdom.  But in heaven, beings do not die. The law of decay and death as applicable in this world does not apply to Heaven.  What Nachiketa asking was the way of salvation, eternal redemption and eternal life.  Eternal life in itself is not desirable since life with pain and suffering is nothing but hell. 

In the Indian thought there are two heavens. The Indra-loka where there is no eternal life, but sensual pleasures in galore. This is obtained as a reward for good works.  But they will also have to return to the ordinary world of sorrow when the reward period is over.  This is not heaven really.

The higher heaven is Brahma Loka which is simply eternal life with eternal joy without pain and suffering.  Nachiketa is asking the secret of eternal life and joy.  He is asking "How do we attain theosis?"


sa tvam agni svargyam adhyei mtyo, prabrῡhi ta  śraddadānāya mahyam

svarga-lokā amtatvam bhajanta, etad dvitīyena vṛṇe varea.  (13)


mrtyo  =  O Death;  
tvam = such as you are;
i  =  know;
agnim svargyam = the Fire that is the means for the attainment of heaven
tvam = you;
prabrūhi  = speak;
mahyam śraddadānāya = to me who am full of faith,   
svarga-lokā  =  the dwellers of heaven, those who have reached heaven,
bhajanta  = get ;
tatvam  = immortality
etat = this;
ṛṇe  = I seek for;
dvitīyena varena  = through the second boon.

O Yama, you know the secret of the performance of this mysterious universal fire- sacrifice, by which one can attain heaven. Teach this to me, who has come with faith. I am honest. I have heard that they become immortal, who reach that abode. This I choose as my second boon.

"Thou knowest, O Death, that fire (sacrifice which is) the aid to heaven. Describe it to me, full of faith, how the dwellers in heaven gain nnmortality. This I choose, as my second boon."  In svarga which is a part of the manifested universe, the immortality may be endlessness but not eternity. Whatever is manifest will sooner or later enter into that from which it emerged. Yet as the duration in svarga-loka is incalculable, the dwellers in it are said to be immortal. They may continue as long as the manifested world does.  (RadhaKrishnan)

Fire has been used in religious rites and symbolism for hundreds of years; with the main image of the smoke from the fire disperses into the heavens.  Fire is one of the four classical elements: air, earth, fire and water, as well as one of the five in the Chineese elements.

Agni the Hindu deity of fire, has a very prominent place among Rigvedic deities.

In Hinduism, fire is one of five sacred elements of which all living creatures are comprised and is considered an eternal witness essential to sacred religious ceremonies.

In Christianity, fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and is often used in many descriptions of Hell.

Fire & Early Science

The ability to make, build and ignite fire was undoubtedly the single most important discovery that enabled the civilization of human beings. By learning to use fire, people gained a decisive advantage over all other species, and indeed over other human communities that had not taken part in this learning. Fire made it possible for people to populate land in the colder regions of the earth. Fire produced light and provided protection. Fire enabled food to be cooked and for human beings to benefit from a wide range of nutrients. Fire made it possible for the science metallurgy to develop. The understanding of the transformative nature of fire as well as how fire could transform nature marked the beginnings of a systematic exploration of the workings of nature. The cosmic laws of the universe, asha, were symbolized by fire.

In the Zoroastrian religion, fire is constantly used to represent Ahura Mazda, or God of the Zoroastrians, including the fire at Yazda, which has been burning for over two millennia.

pra te bravīmi tad u me nibodha svargyam agni naciketa prajānan

anantalokāptim atho pratiṣṭ viddhi, tvam eta nihita  guhāyām. (14)


Naciketas = O Naciketa;
te = to you;
pra-bravīmi me = I shall tell you,
nibodha = listen with attention;
tat u = that very thing,
svargyam agnim = the Fire  that is the means for the attainment of heaven;
 prajānan = being well aware of (it).  
ananta-lokāptim = the attainment of infinite world 
atho = and also;
ṣṭ = the cornerstone   
etam = this thing 
nihita guhāyām = abiding  in the secret place .   


Yama said: I know well the Firesacrifice, which leads to Heaven and I will explain it to you.  Listen to me. Know this Fire to be the means of attaining Heaven. It is the support of the universe; it is hidden in the hearts of the wise.


 To thee I declare it; through awakening, learn thou of me this heavenly fire, Nachiketas, becoming conscious of it. Behold and know the obtaining of the unending world, the root and resting place, that which is hid in the secret place.

(Yama said) Knowing well as I do, that fire (which is) the aid to heaven, I shall describe it to thee-learn it of me, O Naciketas Know that fire to be the means of attaining the boundless world, as the support (of the universe) and as abiding in the secret place (of the heart).

Now all of sudden we are confronted with a new form of fire that is the foundation of life and that rests upon people and transforms them into heavenly being.  This purusha is in the heart of every one and this is what gives life even in this world.. It is nikita guhāyām: abiding in the secret place (of the heart). It means literally,hidden in the cave. The cave or the hiding-place is said to be in the centre of the body.  It asserts that there is a point of contact from the outer infinite spiritual realm to the inner man which gives life and meaning to life.  This is the point of contact between the Supreme Spirit and My Spirit. 

lokādim agni tam uvāca tasmai, yā iṣṭakā, yāvatīr vā, yathā vā.

sa cāpi tat pratsvadat yathoktam; athāsya mtyu punar evāha tuṣṭa. (15)

uvāca Tasmai = spoke to him;   
tam lokādim agnim = that Fire before the creation
yā i
ṣṭakā = the type of bricks,

 yāvatī vā,  =  how many  in number;
 yathā vā = or how the fire is to be arranged; 
sa cāpi  prati-avadat = and he repeated  verbatim;  
tat = all that;
yathoktam = just as Yama had spoken;
atha = then;
ṣṭah =  being satisfied
tyu = Death;
eva aha =  said over again.


He declared to him that fire, which is the beginning of worlds; what are the bricks of the altar, how many they are, and how they are. And he in turn repeated it to him as it had been told him; and Death, well pleased with him, again spoke.

Evidently this is a ritual fire sacrifice.  Rituals are only images of the ultimate reality which alone can lead to salvation.  But as a first step to the understanding, as a means of communication from beyond and within it is to be accepted.

tam abravīt prīyamāo mahātmā vara tavehādya dadāmi bhῡya.

tavaiva nāmnā bhavitāyam agni, sṛṅ cemām aneka-rῡpā ga. (16)

prīyamāna =  being delighted;
mahātmā  = the magnanimous One,
tam abravīt iha = to him said thus
tava = for you; 
adya = now;
dadāmi  = I offer;
  = again;
 ayam agni
= this fire ;
 bhavitā =  will become [famous];
tava eva nāmnā
= by your name indeed;
ca = moreover;
a imām =  accept this;
  = necklace;
  =  multiformed and variegated.

Yama was very pleased with his competence and said: My dear child, I give you here another boon: I ordain that from now on this sacrifice will be called by your name instead of vaishvanara-agni. Take also this multi-coloured  garland  

To him, he of Mighty Soul, well satisfied, said: Today I give again thy wish; thine shall this fire be by name; and take thou this garland of many forms.   

What is this garland of many forms?

sṛṇkā:= chain. The word occurs again in I. 2. 3, where it means a road sṛṇkā vitta-mayī, the road that leads to wealth. Worldly prosperity:ratna-mayīm mālām, a necklace of precious stones

 akutsitā gati karma-mayīm, the straight way of works which is productive of many fruits karma-vijñānam aneka-phala-hetutvāt.

I believe that this necklace of gem garlands forms the second half of the book.  Otherwise those series of "This indeed is that" statements would not make sense in the context of the story.


triāciketas tribhir etya sandhi trikarma-kt tarati janma-mtyῡ

brahmajajña devam īyam viditvā nicāyye śāntim atyantam eti. (17)

sandhi etya = becoming connected;
= with the three;
= one who has piled up the Naciketa fire thrice;
t  = one, who undertakes three kinds of ritual activity;
tarati = crosses over;
tyū  =    birth  and  death. 
viditvā  =    knowing  from  scriptures; 
  = Understanding of the Brahman the ultimate reality,   
devam = deity
yam  =  praiseworthy  (adorable),
nicāyya  =   meditating  on (that Virā
)  -  as  one's  own  Self;  (one) 
eti  =  gets;
imām  =  this  (tangible)  ;
śāntim  = peace
atyantam = thoroughly.


He who has performed three times this Nachiketa sacrifice, having been instructed by the three and also has performed his three duties, overcomes birth and death. Having known this Fire born of Brahman, omniscient, luminous and adorable and realised it, he attains supreme peace.

·        He who kindles the triple fire of Nachiketas,

·        gaining union with the three (having been instructed by the three),

·        completing the three works (performed his three duties),

crosses over birth and death;

·        gaining knowledge of the Radiant Divinity, ever to be praised,

·        who knows that which is born of the Eternal, and comprehending it,

 he goes to the unending peace.
The problem remains we have no clear description of these steps and conditions.  Even the commentators are confusingly divergent.

triāciketas trayam etad viditvā ya eva vidvāś cinute nāciketam,

sa mtyu-pāśān purata praodya śokātigo modate svarga-loke. (18)


viditvā = after knowing ;
etat trayam = these three described earlier,
tri-nāciketas = a performer of the 'Naciketa  sacrifice  thrice;  and 
  =  who; 
  vidva  =  having  known  the  Fire  (Virā)  thus  -  as identified with oneself; cinute = accomplishes;
= the Nāciketa fire;  performs the sacrifice called Nāciketa; 
= he;
odya =  casting off;
mrtyu-pāśān = the snares of Death -consisting in ignorance, selfish-desire, hatred, etc; purata
= even earlier - i.e. before  death;
= crossing over suffering - i.e. anxiety;
modate = rejoices,
svarga-loke = in heaven, in  the world of Virā
, by becoming identified with It.


He who, having known the three, has performed three times the Nachiketa sacrifice, throws off, even here, the chains of death, overcomes grief and rejoices in Heaven.


He who kindles the triple fire of Nachiketas, knowing this triad, who, thus knowing, prepares the altar for the fire of Nachiketas, he, escaping beforehand the snares of death, and crossing beyond sorrow, rejoices in the heavenly world.


After giving this teaching, Death asks Nachiketas to repeat it to him.  


"Nachiketas asks for the secret of the heavenly world, the heavenly re. Perhaps it may be said that the Upanishad, in recording the response of Yama, lord of Death, at once conceals and reveals the secret." Theosophical Quarterly, Volumes 18-19


For there is no explicit answer, no clear description of the heavenly fire. Yet, in the answer of Yama, much is reveald as to its nature. It is known through "awakening".  Awakening what? The Mind?  Most commentated were blown away at this point.It has to be a fire that leads of immortality or total redemption of the Man.


Here are some suggestions:

Explaining the phrase: "gaining union with the three , the commentary attributed to Shankaracharya says that the three are "father, mother and Master" -threefold gathering of knowledge.


Others purpose that this threefold performance symbolised by the threefold fast is self-control in the three realms: physical fast,  mental fast.  fast in subconscious desire.  This threefold internal meditation is trinaciketas: piercing through mind, intellect and soul. Others suggests Vedas, the Smrtis, ad the good people; or through direct perception, inference, and the scripture


Still another holds that by performing the three duties: tapas, dana and yajnathe three austerities relating to oneself, world and Godone transcends mind, intellect and individuality; tapas  meaning the restraint of ones passions; dana  the giving out of oneself to the world, thereby killing the ego; and yajna the sacrifice of ones individuality. By these, one crosses over birth and death. Then the flame burns steadily in the form of divine experience, born of Brahma or the Universal. Knowing Him, resplendent and adorable, one reaches peace ultimate.

At any rate we are left with no real understanding of what this fire means that should lead to redemption and escape from death and attaining immortality.  There is in fact no physical ritual that can lead us to that.  Rituals can give us a step and not the reality.  They are means of communication and not the reality. 


ea tegnir naciketas svargyo yam avṛṇīthā dvitīyena varea.

etam agnim tavaiva pravakyanti janāsas; ttīya vara naciketo vṛṇīva. (19)


ea = this is;
tegnir Naciketas = to you O Naciketas;
agni =   the Fire that  leads to heaven;
yam = which;
dvitīyena vare
a = as the second boon;
=   people;
yanti = will speak of;

etam  agnim  =  this  Fire; 
tava  eva  =   by  your  name .  
vṛṇīva = O Naciketa ask for;
tīya  vara = the third boon.  


This, O Nachiketa, is your Firesacrifice, which leads to Heaven and which you have chosen as your second boon. People will call this Fire by your name. Now, O Nachiketa, choose the third boon.




Nachiketass Third Wish:

Knowledge Concerning the Final Death

yeyam prete vicikitsā manuyestītyeke nāyam astīti caike;

etat vidyām anuśiṣṭas tvayāham, varāām ea varas ttīya. (20)


yā iyam vicikitsā  = this doubt, that arises;
prete manu
ye = when a person dies;
eke = some (say);
asti iti = (It) the Self, exists; 
ca eke = and others (say);
ayam = this [Self];
na asti = does not exist;
tvayā anuśi
ṣṭa = being instructed by you;
aham = I;
etat vidyām = would know this;
ām = of all the boons;
a =   this one [is];
ttīya =  the third


Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my boons.


(Nachiketas expresses his wish): This question that there is, in the case of the man who has gone forth; some saying that he is, while some say that he is not; a knowledge of this, imparted by Thee this, of my wishes, is the third wish!

The real question here is, "Is there any personality that transcend death and dissolution?"

This question was also put to the Buddha. He replied that to say something exists or nothing exists is both wrong.

Maitreyi asked Yajnavalkya about this same theme, to which he answered that after final death, there is no self-consciousness. 

devair atrāpi vicikitsitam purā, na hi suvijñeyam, aur ea dharma.

anya vara naciketo vṛṇīva, mā moparotsīr ati mā sjainam. (21)


purā = in days of yore;
atra = with regard to this thing;
vicikitsitam = doubt was entertained;
api = even by gods;
hi = since;
a  dharma = this principle called the Self;
na suvijñeyam = is not easily comprehensible 
=  it being so subtle and abstract.
vṛṇīśva= O Naciketa you ask for;
vara =  some other boon  .
Mā uparotsī
mā = do not press me  
ati s
ja = give up;
enam =  this one.


Even the gods wonder about this, and have never come to an understanding. Subtle is this truth, so subtle that no answer would be adequate to it. So, Nachiketas, please ask another question. Please release me from this obligation,



devair atrāpi vicikitsita kila, tva ca mtyo yan na suvijñeyam āttha,

vaktā cāsya tvādg-anyo na labhya; nānyo varastulya etasya kaścit. (22)


atra = with regard to  this thing;
   api vicikitsitam kila = indeed doubt was entertained even by the gods;
 ca = and;
tyu = O Death;
 yat = since;
= you;
āttha = say; [that the reality of the Self];
 na  suvijñeyam = is not easily comprehended, [therefore this thing is unknowable even to the learned];
vaktā ca asya = and an instructor of this principle;
= anyone else;
k = like you;
na labhya
=  cannot be had;
na anya
vara = there is no other boon;
 kaścit = whatsoever; which is;

etasya tulya = comparable to this one  


Nachiketa said: O Death, even the gods have their doubts about this subject; and you have declared it to be not easy to understand. But another teacher like you cannot be found and surely no other boon is comparable to this.



śatāyua putra-pautrān vṛṇīva bahῡn paśῡn hasti-hirayam aśvān

bhῡmer mahad-āyatana vṛṇīva svaya ca jīva śarado yāvad icchasi. (23)


vṛṇīśva =  you ask for;
 putra-pautrān = sons and grandons;
ah = gifted with a hundred years of life;
bahūn = many;
 paśūn  = cows;
yam = elephants and gold;  
aśvān  =  horses.    
ṛṇīśva  =  ask  for; 
  =  a  vast  expanse,  habitat,  region,  a kingdom  - 
  =  of  the  earth.   
ca = and,
= you I yourself;
jīva = live,
= years;
yāvat icchasi =  as you wish to live.  

Yama said: Choose sons and grandsons who shall live a hundred years; choose elephants, horses, herds of cattle and gold. Choose a vast domain on earth; live here as many years as you desires.




etat tulyam yadi manyase, vara vṛṇīva, vitta cira-jīvikā ca,

mahā-bhῡmau naciketas tvam edhi, kāmānā tvā kāmabhāja karomi. (24)


naciketas  =  O  Naciketas;
 yadi  =  if; 
manyase  =  you  think  that; 
etat  tulyam  =  equal  to  this;
vṛṇīśva  =  please  request  that  boon;
  =  wealth; 
ca  =  and; 
  =  longevity,   
mahā-bhūmau = vast  tracts of land;
tvam = you,
edhi = become (prosper); 
  = of all desirable things; 
tvā kāma-bhājam karomi = I will make you the enjoyer.

Any boon like this that you want, choose it, and wealth and long life. Prosper, O Nachiketas, on this vast earth! 


Whatever desires are hard to gain in the world of mortals, ask all desires according to thy will! These beauties with their chariots and lutes not such as these are to be gained by men; be waited on by these, bestowed by Me! Ask me not concerning dying, Nachiketas!


ye ye kāmā durlabhā martya-loke sarvān kāmāś chandata prārthayasva.

imā rāmā, sarathā satῡryā, na hīdśā lambhanīyā manuyai.

ābhir mat-prattābhi paricārayasva, naciketo maraam mānuprākī. (25)


ye  ye  =  all  things;  that  are; 
  =  desirable; 
  =  difficult  to  get  ;
 martya-loke  =  in  the human  world; 
sarvān  kāmā
  =  all  those  desirable  things  ; 
prārthayasva  =  ask  for; 
  = according to your choice,
= here are; the celestial nymphs -
the rāmā
= (lit. women) who are so called because they delight (ramayanti) men; sa-rathā = with chariots,
= with musical instruments.
śā = such (women);
 na hī lambhanīyā
= are not surely to be had;
yai  = by mortals.
  = by these -  by these female attendants;
mat prattābhi
  = who are offered by me;
paricārayasva = get (yourself) served;
= O Naciketā; maraam = of death;
mā anuprāk
ī = do not inquire.

Whatever delights there may be, conceivable or inconceivable, visible or invisible, ask for them without restraint. Here are chariots, and noble maidens with musical instruments, to serve you. People have never even seen them; they cannot be won by men. Be happy with these. But do not ask about this great death again, I pray! 




śvo-bhāvā martyasya yad antakaitat sarvendriyāām jarayanti teja

api sarva jīvitam alpam eva tavaiva vāhās tava ntya-gīte. (26)

antaka = O  who ends all,   
= ephemeral,  transient  
jarayanti = waste away;
= the vigour;
yat =that
ā = of all the senses;
martyasya = of a human being;
api jīvita = all life  
alpam eva = short indeed;
= the vehicles;
tya-gīte = the dances and songs;
tava eva = yours alone - let them remain yours.


Nachiketa said: But, O Death, these endure only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the vigour of all the sense organs. Even the longest life is short indeed. Keep your horses, dances and songs for yourself.


na vittena tarpaīyo manuśya, lapsyāmahe vittam adrākma cet tvā.

jīviyāmo yāvad īśiyasi tva varastu me varaīya sa eva. (27)


manuya; = people;
 na tarpa
īya = cannot be satisfied;
vittena = with wealth;
lapsyāmahe = should  we  possible  hanker  after; 
vittam  =  wealth; 
cet  adrāk
ma  =  now  that  we  have  seen; 
tvā  =  you;
yāma =  we live;
yāvat = as long as;
tvam = you;
yasi = will rule   
tu = but the boon; 
me varanīya
= which is worth requesting by me;
eva = is that alone


Wealth can never make a man happy. Moreover, since I have beheld you, I shall certainly obtain wealth; I shall also live as long as you rule. Therefore no boon will be accepted by me but the one that I have asked.


These are temptations in the path of sadhana, to which Nachiketas gave a prompt and befitting reply. All objects Yama offered come under the eshanas (desires or cravings).

Eshanas (Desires, Cravings)

There are three of  them:


The Desire for wealth, the desire for sons, the desire for world
kanchana, kamini, and kirti

the desire for gold, the desire for sex and the desire for fame

these three bind the soul and prevent its further progress


Yama offered everything  except God, with the intention to trick Nachiketas; but his  ruse is met with equal strength of viveka and vairagya: the  power of renunciation backed up by understanding. 


Whatever be its glamour, everything is transient. Even glamour is relative to this world, and when the latter changes, the former also changes, and we are in horror instead of delight. Even if we are to really get these things, they are not going to satisfy us. No one can truly be happy with them, because wants rise ultimately from a lack felt  within, from an infinite Source which cannot be satisfied by  finite objects of this world. Like stones, that cannot fill the vast depth of the ocean, the gifts being offered by Lord Yama cannot fulfil the desires of a person. O Lord, give  not these things to me. They are of no use. May I repeat: I  want only that which I asked for.  




ajīryatām amtānām upetya jīryan martya kvadhastha prajānan

abhidhyāyan vararatipramodān, atidīrghe jīvite ko rameta. (28)


upetya = having come near to;
ajīryatām = of the undecaying, of those who do not undergo the loss of age;
tānām = of the immortals; 
prajānan = knowing himself to be;
 jīryan martya
= subject  to  decrepitude  and  death; 
  =  living  on  the  earth; 
  =  who; 
abhidhyāyan  =  while  deliberating   
a-rati-pramodān  =  colourful sex and entertainment;
rameta = would delight;
ati-dīrghe jīvite =  in a long life ?

Who among decaying mortals here below, having approached the undecaying immortals and coming to know that his higher needs may be fulfilled by them, would exult in a life over long, after he had pondered on the pleasures arising from beauty and song?



yasminn idam vicikitsanti mtyo yat sāmparāye mahati brῡhi nas tat,

yoya varo gῡhamanupraviṣṭo nānya tasmān naciketā vṛṇīte. (29)


mtyu -  O Death;   
brūhi na
= tell us;
tat = that,
yasmin = about which;   
idam vicikitsanti =  entertain   doubt;
sāmparāye = in the context of the great departure;
yat = which  ;
mahati = is calculated to lead to a great result;
vara = this boon;
= which is;
am anupraviṣṭa = has entered into an inaccessible recess; 
tasmāt  =  apart  from  that  boon; 
  =  no  other;
naciketā v
ṛṇīte = does Naciketas request.


Clinching the whole matter, Nachiketas says: I shall not be satisfied with all the things you offer. I shall be happy only with that thing about which even the gods have doubt. What happens to the soul in the last stage? Nachiketas shall not ask another question. Nachiketas wants nothing else than this. 


The student has proved his worth. The glamour has not tempted him, and he has stood the test successfully. This is the transitional process which is necessary between the first two boons and the experience of immortality.