In the House of Death: Story of a Boy-Nachiketas: Part-1



This is a legendary story of a little boy Nachiketas, barely ten years old, son of Sage Vajasravasa. Nachiketa meets Yama (The Death God in Hindu philosophy) and get answers of his question: ‘What is Death?”

Through conversation, Lord Yama reveals “Supreme Knowledge” to Nachiketa, the knowledge of the nature Atman and the path to gain Wisdom,  Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).

Sage Vajasravasa wished to perform a sacrifice called Vishwajit (Sarva Dakshina), meaning victory over the whole universe. Through such sacrifice, the performer aims to gain the fruit of gaining a higher world and enjoy the pleasures there. (Vajasrava means a Giver). The boy faced wrath of his father after completion of sacrificial fire , when he found there was fault in the part of his father. As such the boy was offered to Yama, by his father in anger.

Finally he got the desired knowledge from Yama when he exhibited “Mumukshautva” (intense desire to seek Wisdom) and Vairagya(dispassion for all worldly pleasures).

The Story in details:-

Sage Vajasravasa, desiring Heaven, rewards, performed the Visvajit sacrifice, in which he gave away all his property as gift[Dakshina]. He had a son by name Nachiketa.

Gifts not worth the name:

When the gifts were being distributed, Nachiketa, who was still a boy said to himself: Joyless, surely, are the worlds to which he goes who gives away cows no longer able to drink, to eat. to give milk, or to calve. He went to his father and said: Father! To whom will you give me? Nachiketa repeated this question second and a third time. At last his father got angry and replied: ‘Unto death I offer you’.

Nachiketa then proceeded to meet the king of Death: “Yama”

Nachiketas at the door of Death

Nachiketa thought: whether I die now or later matters a little. What purpose of the King of Death will my father serve today by thus giving me away to Death? Nachiketa said: Think of those who went before, those that will come after. Man dies and born again like a blade of grass. A mortal ripens like a corn and corn springs up again.

"Man dies and is born again like a blade of grass. This means seed grows only to fall and fall only to grow. This is the cycle of human life because birth and death are correlatives."

Lord Yama’s Instructions on Hospitality: 

Nachiketa went into the forest and sat in meditation within the house of Death. Death king Yama was out of his kingdom on his job. When Death appeared his servant said: Lord! when a holy man enters a house as guest it is as if fire has entered. The wise man cools him down. So bring him water O king of Death!

If a holy man comes into fool’s house and is given nothing, the fool’s family, public and private life, ambitions, reputation, property, hopes alliances, all suffer. Thereupon Lord Yama said to Nachiketa: ‘A guest should be respected. You have dwelt in my house three nights without eating; I bow to you O holy Boy! Take from me three boons[gifts]. Choose now three boons, one for each night, O Brahmin! may all be well with me’!

The First Boon: 

Nachiketa said: ‘O Death! may Gautama, my father, be calm, cheerful and free from anger toward me! may he recognise me and greet me when I shall have been sent home by you! This I choose as the first of three boons’.

Death grants the first boon!

King of Death said:  ‘I will so arrange things, that your father, will recognise and love you as before and he will sleep peacefully at night and his grudge against you will vanish’.

The Second Boon: 

Nachiketa said: ‘ There is no fear in the kingdom of Heaven, because you are not there, nobody there is afraid of old age. man is beyond hunger, thirst and sorrow. You know, O Death! Please explain me what Fire leads to Heaven, show it, I am full of faith. I ask this as my second boon.’

Death said: ‘ I will explain it, listen! find the rock and conquer unmeasured worlds. Listen, for this came out of cavern.’

Death grants the second boon! 

Yama told him that out of Fire comes this world, what bricks and how many go to the alter, how best to build it. Nachiketa repeated all. Death encouraged ran on. I give you another gift. This fire shall be called by your name. Count the links of the chain: 

*Worship the triple  Fire: 1) Knowledge, 2) Meditation, and 3) practice.

*The triple process: 1) Evidence, 2) Inference, and 3) Experience.

* The triple duty: 1) Study, 2) Concentration, and 3) Renunciation.

Understand that everything comes from Brahman. That Brahman alone is sought and found, attain everlasting peace; mount beyond Birth and Death.

***Here, Fire means Energy-

King of Death continued: ‘ When man understands himself, understands Universal self, the union of the two, kindles the triple Fire, offers the sacrifice; then shall he, though still on Earth, break the bonds of Death, beyond sorrow, mount into Heaven.[ **This is liberation, while living on Earth]

The Nachiketa Agni[Fire]:

The perfect sacrifice is explained by Yama.

 Out of fire arises all that exists in the Universe. Mastering this, one gains mastery over any field of human activity, and acquires whatever one desires in terms of worldly prosperity and power. However, it is all within the transitory realm; all gains here are impermanent. Nachiketas very attentively listened and was able to follow what was said. He repeated all that Yama explained. Being happy with Nachiketas, Yama encouraged and said " I will give you another gift. This fire shall be called by your name." And it is known as "Nachiketas Fire". 

‘The Fire that leads to heaven is your second gift, Nachiketa! It shall be named after you. Now choose the third gift.’

The Third Boon: 

The secret of Death!!!

Nachiketa said: ‘Some say that when man dies he continues to exist, others say that he does not. Explain, and that shall be my third gift.’

It is too difficult for you Nachiketa!

Death said: ‘ This question has been discussed by the gods, it is deep and difficult. choose another gift, Nachiketa! Do not be so hard. Do not compel me to explain.

Nachiketa said: ‘Indeed on this matter, even by the gods doubts have been entertained. You also say, O Death, that this principle is not truly comprehendible easily. But a teacher like you can explain this. Another such teacher I shall never find. therefore, I have no option before me but this. No other boon equal to this there be for me to choose!

To continue in the next part….

Third gift was indeed granted and it is a great part of the story, where the words of wisdom are the main essence. To be published in the second part, or else it will be a very lengthy blog.

Interested readers may go through the following post

Essence of Katha Upanishad :Part 4C of 4: -The Concluding Part-

*** This story is from Katha Upanishad. Kathopanishad is part of Krishna Yajurveda and consists of two Chapters. Each Chapter has three sections. This Upanishad is a favourite one in all ages and it is placed in third position in the list of Ten Principal Upanishads.


Through this dialogue between Nachiketa and Lord of Death, the response of Death has to be observed minutely! Every one is interested to know the secret of Death! But what are the conditions that an aspirant should posses to know the secret. That discussion proceeds from here onwards.


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