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Yaksha Prasana – Q & A between Yaksha and Yudhishtra

Yaksha Prashna is an episode from Mahabharata . It is the dialogue between Yaksha and Yudhishtra . The pandava brothers one by one goes to fetch water from a pond . Out of Ego and maya , Ignoring the voice of a Yaksha  ,warning them not to drink the water, each one of the brothers dies after drinking the water from the pond . The last one left was Yudhishtra , the most pious and ardent upholder of Dharma . Yaksha asks him a series of question and says , if he answers them correctly , he could get his brothers back to life. Many of us would have known this episode but very few of us knew the complete set of the dialogue .

The following is the translation of the Q & A originally in sanskrit sloka format . I thank by Sri K Balasubramanya Iyer who had written the book on this subject and enriching me with the knowledge.

  • What is it that makes the sun rise up ?
  • Who are his surrounding attendants ?
  • Who makes the sun set ?
  • In which is he firmly placed ?


1. The Veda (Brahma) makes the sun rise.

2. The Devas are his attendants.

3. Dharma makes the sun set , and

4. He is firmly grounded in truth.

(The first question what makes the sun rise up ? philosophically implies , what wakes up the Atma ( Soul ) ? The vedas or knowledge is what wakes the Atma from the darkness of ignorance. The sun is interpreted as the ‘ soul of man ‘ The devas are the Sama , dama etc and it is with the aid of this that the knowledge of the Atman can be obtained . By Dharma , it is meant Karma , upasanas that determines the path of the Atma )

  • By what does a person become a Vedic scholar ?
  • By what means does he attain the Great ?
  • By what does a person acquire a second to him ?
  • By what does means does a man become wise?


5. By Vedic culture a person becomes a Vedic scholar.

6. By tapas a person attains the Great.

7. By steadfastness a person acquires a second to him.

8. By service of elders a person becomes a wife.

  • What is the divine nature of Brahmanas?
  • What is their right conduct similar to that of the good?
  • In what consists their ordinary human nature? And
  • What is it in them that is similar to that of the bad?


9. The knowledge of the Vedas is their divine nature.

10. Their tapas is similar to that of the good.

11. Their mortality is the ordinary human nature.

12. Talking scandal is their conduct similar to that of the bad.

  • What constitutes the divineness of Kshatriyas or warriors?
  • What is their quality similar to that of goodness? ( i.e. what is their virtue? )
  • What constitute their humanness?
  • What is their quality similar to that of bad means?


13. Arrows and missiles constitute their excellence.

14. Yagnas or sacrifices are their good qualities.

15. Their humanness consists in fear.

16. Abandonment / failure to protect the distressed is their bad quality.

  • What is the Sama which is beneficial for the sacrifice?
  • What is the Yajus which is beneficial to yagna?
  • Which among them is chosen for the yagna itself?
  • What is that which the sacrifice cannot be without?


17. Prana or vital energy is the sama which is most helpful to the sacrifice.

18. Manas or mind is the Yagus which is most helpful to the sacrifice.

19. It is the Rik alone which chooses the yagna for itself.

20.It is the Rik alone which yagna or sacrifice cannot do without.

  • What is the best among those that shower?
  • What is the foremost among those put into the ground?
  • What is the best among the four-footed animals?
  • What is the best among those that are begotten?


21. The rain is the best among those that shower.

22. Seed is the foremost of those that are put into the ground.

23.Cows are the best among the four-footed animals.

24. The son is the foremost among those that are begotten.

  • Who is that, enjoying the objects of senses, endowed with intellect, respected by the world and accepted by all beings , through breathing , does not live?


25. He who does not participate by offerings, the Devas, guests, dependants, pitris, and one’s own self , those five, though breathing do not live.

  • Which is weightier than the earth itself?
  • What is higher than the sky?
  • What is swifter than the wind?
  • What is more numerous than grass?


26. The mother is weightier than the Earth.

27. The father is higher than the Sky.

28. The mind is swifter than the Wind.

29. Thoughts are more numerous than grass.

  • What is that which does not close its eyes while asleep?
  • What is that which does not move after birth?
  • What is that which is without heart?
  • What is that which swells by its own force?


30. A fish does not close its eyes while asleep.

31. An egg does not move after birth.

32. A stone is without heart.

33. A river swells by the force of its current.

  • Who is the friend of one who goes on a journey?
  • Who is the friend of one who remains at home?
  • Who is the friend of one who is afflicted by sickness?
  • Who is the friend of one who is about to die?


34. The caravan is the friend of a person going on a Journey.

35. The wife is the friend of the person who remains at home.

36. The physician is the friend of the sick man.

37. Gifts constitute the friend of the person who is about to die.

  • What is that which journeys alone?
  • What is that which is born again?
  • What is the remedy against snow or fog?
  • What is the large receptacle?


38. The Sun journeys alone.

39. The Moon is reborn.

40. The Fire is the remedy for snow or fog.

41. The Earth is the large receptacle.

( The term Sun in this context reflects Atma or Soul. Yudhistra says that Surya , which as Jyotis or light , signifies Atma . For the Atma alone shines during the three stage of consciousness , namely , waking , dream and dreamless sleep

According to ancient scripts , Moon is equated with the mind. Due to avidya , the mind functions and projects the world once again. That is significance of saying moon is born again. This avidya produces sorrow.

The next question is : What is the remedy for this avidya which like the fog is the superimposing agency ? The answer is that agni is the remedy for snow or fog. All this four question and answers are similar to the four questions and their answers in the Taittreeya Samhita , 7th Kanda )

  • What is the all-comprehensive virtue?
  • What is the all-comprehensive thing to fame?
  • What,in one word, leads to Heaven?
  • In what is comprised all happiness?


42. Integrity is all-comprehensive virtue.

43. Dana or charity is the one comprehensive matter of fame.

44. Truth alone leads to Heaven.

45. Character comprises all happiness.

  • What is the soul of a person?
  • Which is the friend bestowed by divinity?
  • What is it that aids to sustain him?
  • What is his greatest resort?


46. The son is the man’s soul.

47. The wife is a friend bestowed by divinity.

48. Rain is the chief aid to life.

49. Charity is the great resort.

  • What is the best among laudable things?
  • What is the best among all assets?
  • What is the best of all gains?
  • What is the foremost happiness?


50. Integrity is the best among laudable things.

51. Learning is the best asset.

52. Health is the foremost among gains.

53. Contentment is the best happiness.

  • What is the highest Dharma in the world?
  • What is that Dharma which always bears fruit?
  • What is that by controlling which people never grieve?
  • With whom does an alliance never break?


54. The highest Dharma is kindness to all.

55. The Dharma ordained by the Vedas always bears fruit.

56. By controlling the mind , people never grieve.

57. Association with the good never breaks.

  • By renouncing which thing does one become loveable?
  • By renouncing which thing does one never suffer grief?
  • By renouncing which thing does one become wealthy?
  • By renouncing which thing does one become happy?


58. By renouncing pride one becomes lovable.

59. By renouncing anger one never experience grief.

60. By renouncing desire one becomes wealthy.

61. By renouncing avarice one becomes happy.

  • What for does one make gifts to the Brahmins?
  • What for does one make gifts to actors and dancers?
  • What for does one give presents to servants?
  • What for does one give to kings?


62. It is for Dharma that one gives to Brahmins.

63. It is for fame that one gives to actors and dancers.

64. It is for maintaining them that one gives to servants.

65. It is on account of fear that one gives to kings.

  • By what is the world enveloped?
  • On account of what is it that a thing does not shine?
  • For what reason does one give up friends?
  • For what reason is it that one does not go to heaven?


66. The word is enveloped by ignorance.

67. It is on account of darkness that things do not shine.

68. It is due to avarice that friends are abandoned.

69. On account of attachment one does not go to heaven.

  • How will one be considered as dead?
  • When will a Kingdom be considered as dead?
  • When will a Sraddha be considered a dead?
  • When will a sacrifice, Yagna be considered as dead?


70. A miser may be considered as dead.

71. A country without a government may be considered as dead.

72. A sraddha performed without men learned in the Vedas may be considered as dead.

73. A yagna ( sacrifice) without dakshina or remuneration to the ritviks may be considered as dead.

  • What constitutes the way?
  • What has been spoken of as water?
  • What is food? And
  • What is poison?
  • Tell me what is the proper time for Sraddha?


74. The way is the good.

75. Akasa or space is spoken of as water.

76. The cow is mentioned as food.

77. Wants are poison

78. Meeting a man learned in Veda is the proper time for Sraddha.

( The word Dik in the Sloka containing this set of questions is interpreted as those who instruct. It really meant those who show the way. Supporting this is the sloka from Mahabharata Vanaparva , the sloka gives us the meaning : “ The Vedas are diverse . The smrithis are different . There is no sage whose view is not different from that of another. The principle of Dharma is concealed in the innermost recess. What the good have followed , is the way. ”

What is spoken of as water in the Vedas and Upanishads, treating about cosmogony or creation is really Akasa or space. . There are various reference for this in different Vedas and Upanishads. Philosophically , according to Vedic scriptures , Akasa denotes the Jiva.)

  • What is spoken of as the characteristic of Tapas?
  • What is known as Dama or Self-control?
  • What is said to be the highest patience?
  • What is well-known as Hree or shame?


79. Tapas consists in the observance of one’s own Dharma.

80. The control of the mind is Dama.

81. Patience is putting up with the dvandvas or the pairs of the opposites.

82. Shame is what restrains one from bad conduct.

  • What is said to be the knowledge?
  • What is the highest compassion?
  • What is referred to as straightforwardness?
  • Who is the foe invincible to man?
  • What are the endless desires?
  • What is said to be goodness? And
  • what is said to be badness?


83. Knowledge is the perception of the Truth.

84. Compassion consists in desiring happiness to all.

85. Straightforwardness is equality of mind towards all.

86. Anger is the most invincible foe.

87. Covetousness is the endless desire.

88. Goodness is seeking the welfare of all beings.

89. Badness is absence of compassion.

  • What is delusion?
  • What is pride?
  • What is to be understood by laziness?
  • What has been spoken of as grief?


90. Delusion consists in not knowing Dharma.

91. Pride is self-consciousness.

92. Laziness consists in not doing Dharma.

93. Ajnana is spoken of as grief.

  • What is the steadfastness spoken of by the Rishis?
  • What is referred to as courage?
  • What is the supreme bath?
  • What is here said to be Dama or charity?


94. Not swerving from one’s own duties of swa-dharma is the steadfastness.

95. Courage is the control of the senses.

96. Bath is abandoning of the impurities of the mind.

97. Protecting all beings in charity.

  • Which man should be regarded as learned?
  • Who is said to be a nasthika ( atheist )?
  • Who is a fool? What is a desire? What is envy?


98. One who knows Dharma is known as learned.

99. The atheist is called a fool.

100. Desire is the source of samsara or cycle of birth and death. Affliction of the heart is said to be envy.

  • What is said to be ahankar or ego?
  • What is known as conceit?
  • What is said to be the supreme divine nature?
  • What is back-biting or slandering?


101. The highest ignorance is ego.

102. The flying aloft of the flag of Dharma is conceit.

103. Divine nature is the result of daana or charity.

104. Talking evil of others is paisunya.

  • Dharma,Artha and Kama are opposed to one another. How do these eternal antagonists co-exists in one place?


105. When a wife and virtue agree with each other and are in control , each of the other , then there is co-existence of the three , namely , Dharma , Arth and Kama.

  • By whom is the ever-lasting hell attained?


106. He who voluntarily invites a poor Brahmin, who comes for help and then says ‘no’ to him goes to ever-lasting hell. He who ascribes falsehood to Vedas , Dharma sastras , to the Brahmins , to the Devas , and to the rites done to Pitras goes to everlasting hell. He who possesses wealth, yet is devoid of charity or enjoyment owing to avarice and afterwards says ‘no’ , attains everlasting hell.

  • By what does Brahminhood result , is it by kula or ancestry , vrtta or conduct , swadhyaya or study of Vedas or sruta , hearing or culture?


107. It is not ancestry or study or learning of Veda or hearing or culture that is the cause of Brahminhood . Without doubt it is conduct that is the cause of Brahminhood. One’s conduct should always be well protected especially by a Brahmin. He who keeps his conduct pure never goes down. He , however , whose conduct is destroyed is himself destroyed. The teachers and pupils and all who merely study the sastras are to be regarded as fools. But he alone who possesses conduct is the man of real knowledge. Even je who has studied the four Vedas is to be regarded as inferior to the unlearned man if he is devoid of right conduct. He who performs the Agnihotra and has controlled his senses is alone said to be a Brahmin.

  • Tell me what does one gain who speaks pleasant words?
  • What does he gain that acts after due deliberation?
  • What does he get that makes many friends and
  • What does he attain who is devoted to Dharma?


108. He who uses pleasant words is liked by all.

109. He who acts with due deliberation succeeds very much.

110. He who has many friends lives happily.

111. He who is devoted to Dharma attains the liberation.

  • Who is joyous?
  • What is the wonder?
  • What is the way and what is the news?


112. The man who cooks vegetables in his own house on the fifth or sixth part of the day, but who is not in need and who never goes out from his house is truly happy.

113. Day after day beings are entering the abode of Yama , yet those that remain believe that they will live for ever. What can be more wonderful than this ?

114. Ligic is uncertain. The Srutis are contradictory. There is not one Rishi whose opinion is authoritative. Truth about Dharma is hidden. That alone is the path which great men tread. In the frying pan of this illusory world time is cooking the beings in the fire of the Sun with fuel of days and nights and with the ladle constituted by months and seasons. This is news.

0 14 April, 2009 Hinduism - my take April 14, 2009

About the author

He is the lead man of GingerChai and plays the multi role of chief author, editor, business development and also of a chaiwala! (Tea maker!) He is the master brewer at Ginger Chai.

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