At the end of the 12 years of exile in the forests, time had come for the Pandavas to live in Agyat Vasa (living Incognito). As they were discussing their course of action the Pandava Princes came across a Brahmin who complained that a deer had taken, on its antlers (its horns)—his Arani (pair of wooden blocks) that he used to generate fire with by friction – and therefore he was not able to light the fire for his Vedic rituals. So, the valorous Pandavas immediately set out to retrieve the Brahmin’s Arani by following the hoof-marks of the deer.
In the quest for the mysterious deer, Yudhishtir, became exhausted and thirsty. His brother Nakul thus ventured out, to fetch water and found a beautiful lake. The lake was devoid of any living creature except a crane (Baka). When he attempted to take water from the lake, the crane spoke, “O Nakul! The water of this lake will turn into poison if you take it without satisfactorily answering my questions.” But Nakul, in sheer arrogance, did not pay heed and hurriedly took the water from the lake. And upon drinking the crystal clear water, Nakul instantly died of poisoning. Nakul’s twin Sahadev, coming in search of his brother, also found the same lake, but saw Nakul dead, and as in the case of Nakul he too was warned by the crane. But Sahadev too, ignored the crane and died after drinking the water. In the same manner, both valiant Arjun, and powerful Bhim met with the same fate.
Since none of the brothers returned with water, Yudhishtir engaged himself in search of them. Following the same path, Yudhishtir came across the same lake and found his brothers lying dead. Before searching for the killer of his brothers, Yudhishtir decided to drink some water from the lake. But when the crane warned him, Yudhishtir realised that the crane held the answer to the turn of events. So, virtuous Yudhishtir, proceeded to answer the questions put forth by the crane.
Before putting the questions to Yudhishtir, the crane revealed itself as a Yaksha. Yaksha asked certain questions with philosophical ramifications
Question 1. “Who makes the sun rise in the skies? Who moves the Sun around? Who makes the sunset in the horizons? What is the true nature of the Sun and where is the Sun established”?
Yudhishtir answered, “Brahma makes the sun rise and ascend. The Gods perambulate about the Sun. Truth is the actual Sun and the Sun is established in Truth alone.”
Question 2. What instils ‘divinity’ in Brahmins? What is the quality of virtuosity in a Brahmin? What is the humanlike quality of a Brahmin? What is the conduct akin to a non-virtuous person in a Brahmin?
Yudhistir replied: The self-study (Swadhyayana) of the Vedas is divinity in a Brahmin. Penance is the quality of virtuosity in a Brahmin. Death is human-like quality in a Brahmin. Criticising others is a conduct in a Brahmin that resembles a non-virtuous person.
Question 3. “What instils divinity in Kshatriyas? What is the quality of virtuosity in a Kshatriya? What is the humanity of a Kshatriya? What is the conduct akin to a non-virtuous person in a Kshatriya”?
Yudhishtir replied, “The art of archery instils divinity in a Kshatriya. Oblation to God (Yagya) is the quality of virtuosity in a Kshatriya. Fear is his humanity. Abandoning people under his protection is the unbecoming conduct of a Kshatriya”.
Question 4. “What is that thing which is like a Mantra in the performance of oblations (Yagya)? Who is the performer of rites and ceremonies during a Yagya? Who accepts the oblations of a Yagya? What is that which even a Yagya cannot transgress”?
Yudhishtir replied, “Breath is like the Mantra in the performance of rites or Yagya. Mind is the performer of all rites in the course of Yagya. Only Shlokas of the Vedas, termed rucha or the richa accept oblation. The Yagya cannot surpass nor transgress the richas”.
Question 5. “What is heavier than Earth, higher than heavens, faster than the wind and more numerous than straws”?
Yudhishtir replied, “One’s mother is heavier than the Earth, one’s father is higher than the heavens, the mind is faster than the wind and our worries are more numerous than straws “.
Question 6. “Who is the friend of a traveller? Who is the friend of the one who is ill and the one who is dying”?
Yudhishtir’s replied, “The friend of a traveller is his companion. The physician is the friend of one who is sick and a dying man’s friend is charity”.
Question 7. “What is that, which when renounced, makes one lovable? What is that which when renounced makes a person happy and wealthy”?
Yudhishtir said, “Pride, if renounced makes one lovable, by renouncing desire one becomes wealthy and by renouncing extreme greed and avarice one obtains happiness”.
Question 8. “Which enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease? What sort of man is noble and what sort of a man is not honourable or ignoble”?
Yudhishtir responded, “Anger is the invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes a disease that is incurable. He is noble who desires the well-being of all creatures, and he is ignoble who is without mercy”.
Question 9. “Who is truly happy? What is the greatest wonder? What is the path? And what is the news”?
Yudhishthira replied, “He who has no debts is truly happy. Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever. O Lord, what can be a greater wonder than that? Argument leads to no certain conclusion, the Srutis (the religious texts) are different from one another. There is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by all. The truth about Dharma and duty is hidden in the cave of our hearts therefore that alone is the path along which the great have trod. This world full of ignorance is like a pan. Where, the sun is fire, the days and nights are fuel. The months and the seasons constitute the wooden ladle. Time is the cook that is cooking all creatures in that pan (with such aids). This in fact is the news”.
Even though Yudhishtir had answered all questions in a satisfactory manner, Yaksh allowed him to choose only one of his brothers to come back to life. Yudhishtir said, “I choose my younger brother, Nakul.” When Yaksh asked him why he chose Nakul when he could choose sharp Arjun or brave Bheem. Yudhishtir replied, “I love Kunti, my mother and Madri, my stepmother equally, If I choose my blood brothers it will be injustice to Madri, hence I chose Nakul who is her biological son.
Yaksh was impressed the manner in which Yudhishtir followed Dharma in every little thing that he did. At the end of the questions, Yaksh revealed himself to be Yamaraj, the God of death. He also admitted to Yudhishtir that it was he who had stolen the arani (the wooden blocks) disguised as a deer. He blessed him saying, since he had adhered to Dharma (righteousness), Dharma would protect them all and no-one would recognise them during the Agyat Vasa. Yudhishtir also got his brothers back from heaven.
No matter which religion you follow the end of all religions is only righteousness.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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