Story of “Satyakama Jabala”


This story appears in Fourth Chapter of “ChAndogya Upanishad”, which is part of “ChAndogya Brahmana” of the Sama Veda.  It is one of the largest Upanishads with Eight Chapters (Prapathakas) which contains many Khandas(sections) including some stories as themes to gain Upanishadic knowledge. This Upanishad is placed in the 9th position in the list of Ten Principal Upanishads. The name of the Upanishad is derived from the word   “Chanda” (Rhythm~ poetic meter). This Upanishad directly deals with the true nature of Brahman, the Supreme Self, without a second.
For full Text of ChAndogya Upanishad (छान्दोग्योपनिषत्) in Sanskrit, please use this link:—

Here we will learn some Vedantic philosophy through the story of Satyakama Jabala to Know “Brahma Vidya” as described in Fourth Chapter: Fourth Khanda to Ninth Khanda (4.4-4.9)

Story of Satyakama Jabala:–

Gautama, the son of the sage Haridruman, was a celebrated Rishi of the Vedic age. He was known as Haridrumata Gautama. He was well versed in the Vedic lore and had many students in his Tapovana(Place of spiritual practices at forest).

A young boy named Satyakama once expressed a desire to his mother Jabala to go to Rishi Gautama’s Tapovana to study and practice BrahmaCharya. Therefore one day the young boy went to Ashrama of Sage Haridrumata Gautama and said, ” Revered Sir, I desire to live under you as a Brahmacharin. Please accept me as your disciple.” Rishi Gautama said,          ” Most affectionate blessings!”.  Rishi asked Satyakama, “Dear boy, of what gotra or lineage (ancestry) are you?” The boy replied, ” Sir, I do not know of what gotra I am. I asked it to my mother. She said:” I also do not know of what gotra you are. I used to serve many people and I got you in my youth. So I am not sure of what lineage you are. However, I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama”. Therefore, Sir, I reveal myself to you as Satyakama Jabala.”

Appreciating Satyakama’s honesty and courage to speak the truth, Rishi Gautama smiled and said, ” No one who is not Brahmin can speak thus. Dear boy, bring the sacrificial fuel. I shall initiate you as a Brahmacharin, for you have not deviated from truth.” In that way Satyakama Jabala initiated into the life of a Brahmacharin.

After a few days, Rishi sorted out four hundred lean and weak cows and said to Satyakama, ” Dear boy, take these cows to the forest and graze them.” Satyakama bowed down with submission and while driving the cows said,      ” Sir, I shall not return these cows multiply into a thousand.” Satyakama lived in the forest and looked after the cows. Years went by. The number of cows increased to a thousand. 

The story continues. During the stay in forest, Satyakama got some spiritual knowledge from Four entities. Please read the following paragraphs.

Satyakama with his cows in the forest.

1. Knowledge imparted by the Bull:

[Here Vayu (The Air) represents Bull]

One day in the evening a bull came to Satyakama and said him,” Dear boy! now we are a thousand in number. Take us to the house of Rishi Gautama”.  The Bull said that there are four quarters for “Brahman”(The Supreme). The first quarter(foot) consists of four quarters of Universe. I shall teach you one quarter of the Brahman. It is Prakashavan or the Radiant. He who meditates on this Brahman as the Radiant, becomes Radiant in this world.” Thus having spoken the Bull told Satyakama that Agni, the God of fire, will teach him more later. At dawn, Satyakama drove the cows towards his Guru’s Ashram.

2. Knowledge imparted by the Agni (Fire) :

In the evening when the cows came together, Satyakama kindled a fire there, added fuel to the fire, penned the cows and sat down near them behind the fire, facing east.

Then the Fire addressed him and said: ” Dear Boy, I will teach you the second quarter (foot) of the Brahman. It has four parts. They are: The Earth. The Sky, The Heaven and The Ocean. It is Anantavan or the Endless. One who knows Him (Brahman) to be thus and meditates upon Him as Endless, becomes endless in this world.”  After that the Fire told him that a Swan was going to tell him about the third quarter of the Brahman.

3. Knowledge imparted by the  Swan:

[Here The Swan represents Aditya(SUN)]

At dawn, Satyakama continued to drive the cows towards the Guru’s ashram. Towards evening when the cows came together, he kindled a fire there, added fuel to the fire, penned the cows and sat down near them behind the fire, facing east. All of a sudden a swan came flying and said,” Satyakama! I shall teach you the third quarter of Brahman. The third foot consists of four parts. They are: Fire, Sun, Moon and the lightning. He is called “Jyotishman” or the Effulgent. One who knows him thus and meditates upon him as the Jyotishman, becomes Jyotishman in this world.” Then the swan told him that a “Madgu” (waterfowl, a kind of diver bird) would teach him the last part of the Brahman.

4. Knowledge imparted by the Water-fowl (Madgu) :

[The Water fowl represents Prana (Breath) here]

On the following day, once again, Satyakama drove the cows in the direction of his Guru’s ashram. Towards evening when the cows came together, he kindled a fire there, added fuel to the fire, penned the cows and sat down near them behind the fire there, facing east. Then a water-fowl came before him and said,” Satyakama! I shall teach you the fourth and final part of Brahman which again has four parts. They are: Prana, Eye, Ear and Mind. He is Ayatanavan or the all supporting. One who knows him thus and meditates upon Him as the Ayatanavan (All supporting), becomes that in this world.”

Satyakama returned to Rishi’s Ashram:

When Satyakama reached the Guru’s ashram with the thousand cows, the Guru greeted him, ” O Satyakama” ! Satyakama replied “Yes Lord”.  Guru said, ” Your face shines with the knowledge of Brahman. Who taught you that?”

Satyakama told his Guru, ” Certainly no human being. But will you, O Lord, please teach me now about Brahman, the subject closest to my heart. Sir, I now request you to expound it to me personally. Because  I know that the knowledge received directly from one’s own Guru becomes perfect.”

Then Rishi Haridrumat Gautama, replied, “Brahman is everywhere. Brahman is everything ( Brahmaivedam Sarvam). It has no beginning and no end. ” And Brahman is realized by knowing the Self, which is our True nature.  This is Supreme knowledge known as Brahma Vidya”.

And that is how Satyakama got the full knowledge of Brahman from his Guru and later, he himself became a great teacher of Brahma Vidya .


What is the important message we get through this story?

  • Rishi Haridrumata Gautama ignored the issue of family lineage. That means Rishi did not consider the cast of Satyakama.

  • The eligibility for learning Vedanta philosophy require two important points. One is genuine desire to learn the ultimate truth which is known to be “Brahma Gyan”(Knowledge of Supreme). The other point is freedom from impediments and worthiness to enter the sacred realm. In the case of Satyakama, both were present in Satyakama as was observed by the Rishi.

  • The most important message of this story is the fact that sources other than human can impart knowledge and Wisdom. The teachers of Satyakama were:  The Bull. The Fire, The Swan and The Waterfowl and Rishi Haridrumata Gautama.

Recommended readings:

  1. Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite.**
  2. THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit** Swami and W.B.Yeats
  3. Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.**
  4. Commentary of ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami Krishnananda.
  5. ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
  6. EIGHT UPANISADS -VOL-1 with commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by SWAMI GAMBHIRANANDA.
  7. THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary By Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
  8. A-U-M Awakening to Reality : By Dennis Waite***
  9. Panchadasi: Swami Vidyaranya: 
  10. Information available on internet.

Useful links:

Links of other posts on Chhandagyo Upanishad are given here. Readers are requested to read those posts one by one. Take time to read and understand the essence.
  1. Essence of Chhandogya Upanishad: Part-1A: First chapter starts and deals with the meditation on OM ” Udgitha Vidya” which has been discussed in my previous blog on ChAndogya Upanishad. The link is here:—
  2. “Panchagni-Vidya” [the doctrine of five fires]: 

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