Yaksha Prashna

In Mahabharatha, during the years of exile, Pandavas are roaming in a forest and decide to take rest. Yudhistra asks Sahadeva to climb up a tree and check if he can see any lakes / rivers nearby and if so, to fetch some water from it.

Sahadeva finds a lake and goes to fetch water. The Yaksha in the lake asks him to answer his questions and then take as much water as he wants. Sahadeva does not listen and drinks the water first. He falls dead right away. After waiting for some time, Yudhistra sends his other brothers Nakula, then Arjuna, then Bheema and when they also do not return, he goes to check what is happening by himself.

He sees a beautiful lake and when he is about to drink the water the Yaksha tells him to answer his questions first and then drink the water, otherwise he will also face the same fate as his brothers. Yudhistra looks at the condition of his valiant brothers – all lying dead and chooses to answer the questions. This part of the epic is more popularly known as Yaksha Prashna. The questions that the Yaksha asks him require wisdom and intelligence. Asking questions is an art in itself and answering these questions requires a huge amount of clarity about life. Sharing some of the questions that made me think 🙂

Q1: Yaksha: What makes the Sun rise? Who gives him company? Who makes him set and in who is he established?

A1: Yudhistra: Brahma makes the Sun rise. The Gods keep him company. Dharma causes him to set, and he is established in Truth.

The underlying meaning here being –

  • Who raises the soul from earthly connections? Brahma (Vedas or self-knowledge)
  • Who keeps company to the soul in its progress of purification? Self-restraint and qualities not arising from the material mode of nature.
  • Who leads the soul to its place of rest? Dharma – meaning righteousness, morality and discipline. It is true that one has to perform his Karma before attaining a state of rest or Truth
  • On what is the soul established? Truth or Pure Knowledge

Q2 Yaksha: Who is the friend of the one in exile? Who is the friend of the householder? Who is the friend of him that ails? And who is the friend of the one who is about to die?

A2 Yudhistra: The friend of one who is on exile in a distant land is his companion, friend of a householder is the spouse, friend of the one that ails is the physician, and the friend of the one who is about to die is charity.

Q3 Yaksha: What is the best of all laudable things? What is the most valuable of all possessions? What is the best of all gains? And what is the best of all kinds of happiness?

A3 Yudhistra: 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 happiness.

Q4 Yaksha: What is the highest duty in the world? What is the virtue which always bears fruit? What is that which if controlled does not lead to regret? And who are they with whom an alliance cannot be broken?

A4 Yudhistra: The highest of duties is to refrain from injury. The rites in the Vedas always bear fruit. The mind when controlled does not lead to regret, and an alliance with the good does not break.

Q5 Yaksha: What is that when renounced makes one agreeable, when renounced leads to no regret, when renounced makes one wealthy, when renounced makes one happy?

A5 Yudhistra: Pride, wrath, desire and greed. Renouncing pride makes one agreeable, renouncing wrath leads to no regret, renouncing desire makes one wealthy, and renouncing greed makes one happy.

Q6 Yaksha: With what is the world enveloped? Why prohibits one from discovering oneself? For what are friends forsaken? And for what does one fail to go to heaven?

A6 Yudhistra: The world is enveloped with darkness. Darkness does not permit anything to show itself. It is out of greed that friends are forsaken, and it is for connection with the world that one fails to go to heaven.

Q7 Yaksha: What is ignorance? What is pride? What is idleness? And what is grief?

A7 Yudhistra: Not knowing one’s duties is true ignorance. Pride is one’s consciousness of himself being an actor in life. Idleness consists in not discharging his duties, and ignorance in grief.

Q8 Yaksha: Who should be regarded as learned? What is desire and the sources of desire? What is envy?

A8 Yudhistra: One who knows his duties is to be called as learned. Desire is due to the objects of possession and envy is nothing other than grief of heart.

Q9 Yaksha: What is pride? What is hypocrisy? What is the Grace of Gods? What is wickedness?

A9 Yudhistra: Calm ignorance is pride. Setting up of a religious standard is hypocrisy. Grace of Gods is the fruit of our gifts, wickedness is in speaking ill of others

Q10 Yaksha: Virtue, profit and desire are opposed to one another. How could these exist together?

A10 Yudhistra: When a wife and virtue agree with each other, then all three may exist together.

Have listed only some of the questions from their conversation – especially those that made me read them again and ponder about their underlying meaning!
Yaksha was happy with the answers shared by Yudhistra and grants him a wish to bring one of his dead brothers back to life. Yudhistra thinks and chooses Nakula to be brought back to life.

Yaksha asks him why did he not choose Bheema or Arjuna who are more valiant than Nakula. Yudhistra responds that he being an offspring of Kunti, he wanted one of the offsprings of Madri (another wife of Pandu – Yudhistra’s father) to live and their generation continue as well. Hearing this, Yaksha is happy about his justice and Dharma and brings back all of his brothers back to life.

Yaksha was none other than Yama (Lord of Death) who is known for Dharma and justice, who wants to test Yudhistra and takes the form of a bird perched on a tree near a beautiful enchanted lake and tests him.

Loved reading about it, pondering and understanding the underlying meaning of the same. Made me wonder, what did it take for Yudhistra to be so wise? We do not learn about wisdom at school. We do not learn about intelligence and making smart choices. Our intelligence, knowledge, learning and schooling is all focused on skill building towards a profession. Would be nice to focus on building the basic knowledge and wisdom in children! Let’s see how this thought pans out over the next few years!

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