The birth of Ashtavakra and his entry into the court of Raja Janaka

Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “O Yudhishtira! We are here in the sacrosanct ashrama of Shvetaketu, son of Uddalaka who is said to be exceedingly proficient in mantrashastra. See all the trees here are laden with fruits. Shvetaketu has had the darshan of Saraswati Devi in this ashrama in all her glory and said thus to the Divine Mother who was so close to him, “I wish to know your tattva in entirety”.


In this yuga, Kahoda Muni’s son Ashtavakra and Uddalaka’s child, Shvetaketu are two Maharshis who are considered to be exponents of the Supreme Truth. They are uncle and nephew. There was a time when both uncle and nephew went to the yagna mandapa of the king of Videha. Both Brahmans were unparalleled scholars. They both won over their opponent Bandi in discussions about the shastras.


O son of Kunti! Ashtavakra was extremely proficient in talking and reasoning. At a very young age, Ashtavakra entered the yagna mandapa of Raja Janaka and defeated Bandi who used to throw his worthy adversaries into the river after he defeated them. This divine ashrama belongs to the uncle of that great Maharshi, Ashtavakra. It will good for you to enter this ashrama along with your brothers and spend sometime here in prayer.”


Yudhishtira uvācha, “O Venerable Lomasha Maharshi! What was the potency of that Brahmarshi  who won over the famous scholar Bandi? Why did he become Ashtavakra? Please tell me all this in detail.”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! Uddalaka Maharshi had a disciple by the name of Kahoda who was of good disposition and served his Guru with dedication and sincerity. On the order of his Guru, he spent a great deal of time in self-study. Kahoda lived as a modest disciple engaged in serving his Guru in the ashrama of Uddalaka. The Guru quickly realized the importance of the service rendered by him and bestowed all the knowledge of the Vedas and shastras upon him and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage.


After sometime Sujatha became pregnant and her womb was as radiant as the blazing fire. One day, when Kahoda Muni was busy in the study of the Vedas, the child in the womb spoke thus, “O dear Father! Even though you study the Vedas all night long, your study does not render a pure and correct pronunciation.”


Kahoda Muni who was sitting in the midst of his disciples felt humiliated on hearing the reproach of his child and stood up in anger and cursed the boy in the womb, “You are speaking such crooked words when you are still in the womb; this means that you will have contortions in eight parts of your body.”


That Maharshi was born with eight contortions/bends in this body in accordance with that curse. Hence he came to be called as Ashtavakra. Though Shvetaketu was his uncle, they were both of the same age.


When the boy was growing in the womb, Sujatha became frightened and approached her poor husband with the desire to attain wealth and said thus, “Maharshi! This is the tenth month of my pregnancy. How can I who is poor make arrangements for the expenses? You do not possess any wealth that I can use at the time of the child’s birth to overcome this difficult period.”


Hearing the words of his wife, Kahoda Muni went to the court of Raja Janaka. At that time, the proficient scholar Bandi defeated him in a lengthy discussion of the shastras and threw him in the river. When Uddalaka Maharshi heard that Kahoda Muni had been defeated by Bandi in a discussion about the shastras and thrown into the river, then he narrated the events to Sujatha and said thus, “Keep this incident as a secret from your child.”


Sujatha also kept this matter hidden from her son. Even after his birth, this Brahman child did not find out about this incident. Ashtavakra used to consider his grandfather Uddalaka as his father and Shvetaketu as his brother.


One day, when Ashtavakra who was of twelve years of age was sitting on the lap of his fatherly figure, Uddalaka, Shvetaketu came in crying and dragged Ashtavakra by his hand. After taking him some distance, Shvetaketu told Ashtavakra, “This is not the lap of your father”.


The cruel words of Shvetaketu wounded the heart of Ashtavakra deeply. He became greatly anguished. He went home and asked his mother, “Mother! Where is my father?” Sujatha became very distressed on hearing Ashtavakra’s question and fearing a curse revealed all that had transpired. After learning the secret, he said thus to Shvetaketu, “Let us both go the yagna of Raja Janaka. It is said that astonishing things are witnessed at that yagna. We both will hear the profound words of the scholars who have gathered there and eat delicious food.


Our recitation and pronunciation and understanding of the shastras will increase by going there. We will also have the good fortune of hearing the Veda mantras sung in their melodious swaras. After deciding thus, both nephew and uncle left for the opulent yagna mandap of Raja Janaka. Ashtavakra had the privilege of meeting Raja Janaka on his way to the yagna mandap.


The servant of Raja Janaka tried to push him away from the path and Ashtavakra said thus, “Hey King! One should give way to a blind person, a deaf person, a woman, one who carries heavy load and a king till such time as one does not meet a Brahman on the way. But when he does, he should first give way to the Brahman.”


Raja Janaka uvācha, “Brahmankumara! Here I give you way. Go in the way you desire to. A fire is never small. Devaraja Indra always places his head at the feet of Brahmans.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Both of us have come to see your yagna. Hey King! There is intense longing in our hearts to do this. We are both present here as guests and we need the permission of your gatekeeper to enter this yagnaIndradyumnakumara Janaka! We both have come to see this yagna and come to meet you and speak with you but this gatekeeper is not permitting us and we are getting burnt-out in the disease of anger.”


Dwarapala uvācha, Brahmankumara! We have to obey the instructions of Bandi. Please listen to what we have to say. No Brahman child is allowed to enter this yagnashala. Only the old and wise Brahmans are allowed to enter.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Dwarapala! If there is an entrance for old Brahmans to enter, then it is appropriate for us to use that to enter as we are also old and have assiduously obeyed the tenets of Brahmacharya and are endowed with the potency of the Vedas. Also we are servants of Gurus, stoic and well informed about the jnanāshastra. It has been said that it is not right to insult a Brahman only because he is a child as even a small spark of fire if it catches on can burn everything.”


Dwarapala uvācha, Brahmankumara! You pray to the beautiful Vāni who propounded the Vedas, gives the realization of that Ekakshara Brahma and is of myriad forms and think of yourself as a child, why do you praise yourself? Jnānis are rare in this universe.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha,Dwarapala! The growth of one’s body cannot be termed as growth. When the bulb in the fruits of the cotton tree grows, it is considered useless as it is devoid of matter. Small and slender trees that bend because of the weight of the fruits on them are considered to be big trees. The growth of a tree that has no fruits is considered to be as good as irrelevant.”


Dwarapala uvācha, “One receives knowledge from the old and wise and in time also become old. It is impossible to attain knowledge in a short space of time; why do you talk like one who is wise when you are still a child?”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “If the hair of an average person has matured, it doesn’t mean that he has become old. A child who is leaps and bounds ahead of others in knowledge and wisdom is only considered to be wise by the devathas. One cannot be considered to be old because of his age, his white hair, his increased wealth and his large family; Rishis have made a rule that the Brahmans who study all the Vedas including the angas (parts) and enunciate accurately are only known to be wise. Dwarapala! I have come to meet Bandi. You inform Raja Janaka who wears the garland of lotus flowers of my arrival. Dwarapala! Today you will see us engage in discussions with the learned and will find Bandi defeated as the arguments and subject matter reach their meteoric heights.


It is best that the entire congregation remains silent and Raja Janaka along with his foremost Purohits and learned scholars see my brevity and excellence.”


Dwarapala uvācha, “How can you a boy of ten years enter a yagna mandapa where only the entry of well-kept scholars is allowed? Anyways, I will think of a way to allow you to enter inside but in the meantime you also come up with a solution. This king can hear you speak while seated in the yagna mandapa. You praise him in your eloquent ways. In this manner, he will be pleased and will give the order for you to enter and will satisfy any other desires that you may have.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! You are the foremost in the Janakavamsha, You are an emperor! You are blessed with all types of wealth and prosperity, in the present, you are the only one who performs excellent yagnakarmas; previously only Raja Yayati has done this. We have heard that a famous scholar Bandi is in your midst who has managed to defeat innumerable wise Brahmans in conversations, discussions and arguments on the shastras and throws all those credible men into the water after defeating them in your presence.


I have heard about the proximity of Brahmans and have come here to make my statement on Advaitha Brahma. Where is that Bandi? I will quieten his radiance upon meeting him in the same manner that the sun makes the brilliance of the stars non-existent.”


Raja Janaka uvācha,Brahmanakumara! You are desirous of defeating Bandi without estimating the strength of your opponent’s recitation. One who knows the strength of the speakers only will speak like this. There are many Brahmans who study the Vedas who have seen the potency of Bandi. You do not know the strength of this Bandi. Hence, you desire to defeat him. So many well-read Brahmans have met Bandi till date and like how the light of the stars pale in front of the sun, these scholars also have become bewildered in front of Bandi. O Wise One! There are countless wise Brahmans who desirous of defeating Bandi declared their intentions; but their potency reduced when they came near him. Not only this, they quietly left the hall both defeated and humiliated. How can they converse with others?”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha,Maharaja! Bandi has not yet had the opportunity to discuss matters of the shastras with people like us and hence, he appears to be like a lion and speaks as he does like a coward. Today when I meet him, he will be defeated and sleep like a dead person. Just like how one will find a broken cart fallen on the road – and unable to move the wheel forward.


Raja Janaka uvācha, “Only one who knows and understands the thirty ingredients, twelve measures, twenty-four festivals and three hundred and sixty important items is an exemplary jnāni.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! May the continually moving Samvatswaroop Kalāchakra which has twelve Amavasya and twelve Pournami making it twenty-four, six rithus (seasons), twelve measures of months and three hundred and sixty in the form of days protect you.”


Raja Janaka uvācha, “That which remains united for two gadi (seconds); the seeds that fall abruptly like birds; who among the devathas takes the form of the two wombs and which womb do those two create?”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! Pray that those two will not fall in the houses of your enemies also! Vayu is the charioteer of Indra who possesses these two wombs and these two will create a womb in the form of Indra.”


Raja Janaka uvācha, “Who is it that does not close his eyes even while sleeping; who does not have momentum after being born, who does not have a heart and who advances with speed?”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Fishes do not close their eyes even while sleeping; an egg on being born does not put in any effort; stone does not have a heart and a river moves with momentum.”


Raja Janaka uvācha, “Brahman! Your strength is comparable to the devathas, I do not look upon you as a man; You are also not a child. I think of you as wise only. There is no one who can match your prowess in arguments and discussions; therefore, I present to you the door through which you can enter the yagna mandapa. This is only Bandi whom you were eager to meet.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “O Raja Janaka! You are endowed with a frightening army! There are so many unparalleled persons of stature and importance who have gathered here in this sabha but I am unable to identify Bandi who is proficient in the art of conversation. If I am able to identify him, then I will catch hold of him like a swan in unfathomable waters.


O Bandi, you think of yourself as the supreme conversationist! You have made the rule of drowning the Pandits whom you defeat, but today your speech will be silenced in front of me. Like how the torrent of the rivers dries up in the proximity of the fire that spreads during the dissolution, similarly you will also wither away when you come face to face with me – your capacity to speak will be destroyed. Bandi! Rise up from your seat!”


Bandi uvācha, “Do not try to wake me like a sleeping lion, but look at me as a venomous serpent that is licking its jaws. You have kicked me with your feet and trampled upon my head. Understand this clearly that you will not be spared till you are bitten. One who despite being physically weak tries to push a mountain out of ego and arrogance will find his hands and fingernails torn. There no discernible wound on the mountain because of that blow.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Like how all the mountains are small when compared to Menaka, all calves are lesser to oxen, similarly the expectation of the king of all earthly worlds and of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka is less. Hey King! Like how Mahendra is foremost among the devathas and Ganga is the best among the rivers, similarly you are the only exemplary king among all kings. Please call Bandi near me.”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “O Yudhishtira! After Bandi approached Ashtavakra, the latter got angry and said thus, “You answer the questions that I ask and I will do the same.”


Bandi uvācha, “O Ashtavakra! One agni will burn in myriad ways and one sun only illuminates this entire universe. There is only one Indra, Lord of the Devas and destroyer of foes and only one Yamaraja, Lord of the Pitharas.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Those who roam around like two friends are Indra and Agni. Narada Devarshi and Parvat have mutual affection and friendly disposition are also two. There are two Ashwinikumaras, two wheels in the chariot and the Creator has made two that is husband and wife as life partners.”


Bandi uvācha, “This entire assembly that is bound to karmadevathamanusha and the oblique take on three forms of birth; RikSama and Yajur, the three types of Vedas are conjunct and expound the fulfilment of the yagna karmas. Even the priests perform yagnas and rites and rituals three times in the day – morning, noon and evening. There are three types of fruits based on one’s karma namely heavenly worlds, death and hell which are also three in number and sages have mentioned about three kinds of lights of sun, moon and agni.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “For Brahmans, there are four ashramas. There are four castes that bears the burden of this yagna. There are four primordial directions. There are four colours and cow and sounds and speech have also been said to be four in number.”


Bandi uvācha, “There are said to be five types of agni for yagnas namely Gaarghyapatya, DakshinaagniAahavaneeyaSabhya and AavasathyaPankti and Chandas are also made from five, there are five types of yagnas – Devayagna, PithruyagnaRshiyagnaBhutayagna and Manushyayagna. Similarly there are five sensory organs. Five braided apasaras have been mentioned in the Vedas and five divine places are well-known on earth based on the five holy rivers.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Some scholars opine that at the time of invocation of agni, six cows should be offered in the south. These six rithus (seasons) also accomplish the Kalachakra that is in the form of Samvatsara. There are six jnanendriyas along with the mind and in all the Vedas Saadhyasak yagna is seen to be six.”


Bandi uvācha, “There are seven types of country animals namely cow, buffalo, goat, sheep, horse, dog and donkey. There seven types of jungle animals also namely lion, tiger, wolf, elephant, monkey, bear and deer. There are seven types of Chandas – GayatriUshnik, Anushtup, Brihati, Pankti, Trishtup and Jagati which fulfil a specific type of yagna. There are seven Rshis who constitute the famed Sapta Rshis  – MarichiAtriPulahaPulastya, KratuAngira and Vasishta, there are seven mandatory items used for puja –  gandhapushpadhoopdeepnaivedya, aachamana and tamboola and similarly there are seven strings in the veena as well.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “The eight jute chords placed in the balancing scales can weigh/balance weights of hundreds. Sharabha also has eight limbs and can kill a lion. The count of Vasus among the Devathas is also said to be eight and a mandapa with eight angles has also been built in all the yagnas.”


Bandi uvācha, “A nine-lettered mantra is recited during the invocation of agni in the Pithruyagna. It has been said by wise persons that this entire creation is a union of these nine namely prakritipurushamahatattvaahamkara and panchatanmatra. There are nine aksharas in each and every verse of Brihati Chandas and a sum of numbers from one to nine only are used by a mathematician.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “It has been said that there are ten directions in the universe of man. The union of ten and hundred is said to be thousand, a pregnant woman also carries the child in the womb for ten months, there are ten types of slanderers, there are ten states in the body and there are ten types of man who are venerable.”


Bandi uvācha, “There are eleven subjects of country animals. There are eleven sensory organs that bring it to life, there are eleven ritualistic mandapas for yagnasyagas and others and there are eleven Rudras among the celestial beings.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “There are twelve months in one Samvatsara, each and verse of Jagati Chandas has twelve aksharas (alphabets), praakrta yagna is said to be performed for twelve days, there are twelve jnānis and twelve Aadityas.”


Bandi uvācha, “Trayodashi tithi has been said to be superlative and this earth is filled with thirteen islands.”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “Bandi said this much and kept quiet. Then Ashtavakra Maharshi finished the remaining shloka like this.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “A danava by the name of Keshi fought with Bhagawan Shree Vishnu for thirteen days. Each verse of ati shabdvishita chandas mentioned in the Vedas are of thirteen aksharas and more (alphabets).”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “After hearing this, Sutaputra, Bandi became silent and went into a deep contemplation with his head bent. Here, Ashtavakra Maharshi kept on talking and on seeing this there was massive uproar among the spectators and audience.


When Maharaja Janaka saw the pandemonium that had erupted in that flourishing yagna, all the Brahmans folded their hands and approached Ashtavakra Maharshi and offered their salutations to him.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Maharaja! This Bandi had previously defeated many scholars in this discussion on the Vedas and shastras and drowned them in the water, therefore, he should also be given the same treatment which he dished out to others. Hence, catch him quickly and throw him into the water.”


Bandi uvācha,Maharaja Janaka! I am the son of Raja Varuna. There is a yagna happening at my Father’s similar to the one here that will be finished in twelve years. I chose those exemplary Brahmins and drowned them in the water sending them to my Father to perform that yagna.


All of them had gone to witness the yagna of Varuna and are returning now. I offer my salutations to the revered Ashtavakra Maharshi because of whom I will meet my Father.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! Similar to the way in which Bandi used his elocution skills and mental acumen to defeat the wise scholars who had assembled here and subsequently drowned them in the water, I have also proven to all present here the manner in which I used my intelligence to set aside his elocution skills with ease. These wise scholars would have understood this on hearing my words.


Agni by nature has the tendency to burn everything in its path and yet it is the means for one to understand factual matters immediately. Hence, they leave and not burn the bodies of those who are truthful and of good moral disposition during testing times. Therefore, even saintly persons accept the words of a young boy of unassuming disposition who speaks the truth and in the best interest of all concerned. The meaning is that you should understand the intention and manner in which I speak and accept that.


Hey King! It appears that you have either partaken food on the leaves of lasoda (Indian cherry tree) or eaten its fruits and therefore, your splendour has diminished meaning that you were listening to the words of Bandi and therefore, the praises of this Bandi were making you delusional. This is the reason why similar to how a stubborn elephant who has been struck by a goad does not listen, you are also not listening to my words.”


Maharaja Janaka uvācha, “Hey Brahman! I am listening to your divine and ethereal words, you are the Supreme Light and you have won over Bandi in discussions on the shastras. Your desire will be fulfilled immediately. See for yourself, Bandi whom you have defeated.”


Ashtavakra Maharshi uvācha, “Hey King! I find no use in Bandi remaining alive anymore. If his Father is indeed Varuna, then it is best to throw him into the waters for him to go to him.”


Bandi uvācha, “Hey King! I am truly the son of Raja Varuna, therefore, I have no fear if you drown me in the water. This Ashtavakra Maharshi will see his Father Kahoda Maharshi who was said to be dead for a long time now.”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “O Yudhishtira! Then, all those Brahmans who had participated in the yagna of Raja Varuna and had been honoured by him suddenly manifested near Maharaja Janaka.


Kahoda Maharshi uvācha, “Raja Janaka! This is why people desire to have a son of good deeds, because what I could not do, my son has done.


Raja Janaka! Sometimes even the weak can be strong, the foolish can be wise and even ignorant ones can create a knowledgeable son. Hey King! May you prosper, Yamaraja himself will cut off the heads of your enemies with his sharp-edged poleaxe in the wars.


The superlative and important Samagaana is recited in this great yagna of Maharaja Janaka where Somarasa is being partaken appropriately and the Devagana are giving darshan to all with great joy and accepting their sacred roles in this.”


Lomasha Maharshi uvācha, “When all the Brahmins who had been thrown in the waters by Bandi manifested themselves with added splendour, then Bandi took leave of Maharaja Janaka and dived into the waters of the ocean.


Ashtavakra Maharshi did puja of his Father and was honoured by the other Brahmins accordingly; and in this manner after winning over Bandi, he returned to his excellent ashrama with his Father and uncle.


Then, Kahoda Maharshi said thus to his son Ashtavakra Maharshi with his mother Sujatha close by, “Son! Go take a bathe in this Samanga River immediately.” Following the instructions of his father, Ashtavakra Maharshi took a bath in the river and emerged. The moment the holy water touched his body, all his body parts became straight.


Yudhishtira! With this, the Samanga River became sacrosanct. A man who bathes in this river will be rid of all his sins. You also enter in this river along with your wife and brothers for a snānaācamanam and avagahan.


Ajameedakulabhushan Kuntinandan! You stay one night here with your brothers and accompanying Brahmins with utmost confidence and happiness and join me tomorrow to continue our journey to have darshan of divine places to do good deeds with faith and devotion.”


[Excerpt: Tirthayatra Parva, Vanaparva, Mahabharat]

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