The Story of Nachiketa
Once sage Gautama performed a Yagya named Sarvedasa Yagya. If a person completes it successfully he gets heavenly rewards by performing it. The yagya included giving away his entire dear and near belongings in charity. Sage Gautama gave away cattle to priests in charity. Sage Gautama had a son name Nachiketa.
When Nachiketa saw the cattle, he thought, “Oh! These cattle are old and barren. We cannot give these to priests as charity.” Nachiketa went to his father and said, “Father, you must give all your near and dear belongings in charity for this Yagya.“
“Yes, my dear!” sage Gautama replied. “Father, I am also your dear, belonging. Whom will I be given in charity to?” Hearing this Sage Gautama was shocked. He was taken aback by his son’s query. Nachiketa repeated the question once again. On not getting the reply, Nachiketa again repeated the same question again and again. This irritated sage Gautama and in fit of anger, he cursed his son, “I will give you to death!” As soon as the words were out of sage Gautama’s mouth, Nachiketa died. He went towards Yamlok. Young Nachiketa thought, “Now have to serve Yama as his disciple.”
Nachiketa reached Yama’s palace and said to the guard, “I have come to meet Lord Yama.”
“But he is not here now he will be back after three days,” the guard said. Nachiketa waited for Yama near his palace gates. When Yama came back three days later, his wife said, “A guest is like god to all of us and, if it’s a Brahmin it’s an honour. A young Brahmin boy has been fasting at our doorstep waiting for your arrival for the last three days.”
On hearing this, Yama hurriedly rushed where Nachiketa was waiting. He said, “Dear Brahmin, you have waited for me the last three days standing here all the time. What did you eat to survive?”
Nachiketa replied, “I ate your descendant on the first day. All your wealth and cattle fed me on the second day and I enjoyed all your good deeds as food on the third day.”
On hearing this reply, Yama went back into the palace and returned with some sacred water to wash Nachiketa’s feet. He said, “I am sorry young Brahmin I kept waiting you for three days. Please forgive me for my sin. I will grant you three boons in return.”
Nachiketa asked for the first boon. He said, “My father must not be angry on my return to my home.”
Yama said “Ok“.
“As a second boon, please explain to me about the universal fire from which the entire creation has been initiated.”
Yama told Nachiketa about the universal fire. After explaining it, Yama said, “Now you have learnt the secret which is in our heart. From now on this fire sacrifice will be known by your name.” Yama gave Nachiketa a multi-coloured bead chain and said “from this you can learn all the secret powers of nature.”
Then Nachiketa asked for the third boon. He asked Yama, “Tell me what happens to a person after he dies? Some say that he exists even after death and some say otherwise. Tell me the truth, what happens after death?”
Yama said, “Young Brahmin, this is a question I cannot answer. You may ask for another boon.”
“Even the gods cannot answer this question, Nachiketa,” Yama replied.
“Please tell me. Kindly grant me this boon because I know no one else but you can explain it the best.” “Ask for anything, all the wealth, power, fame, comforts, lordship the whole universe. I’ll give it to you right if you desire so,” offered Yama to test Nachiketa.
Nachiketa said, “You may make me the Lord of the Universe but one day even the Universe will cease to exist. What will I do then for I know all things even celestial wealth, pleasures, maidens and cattle’s all will cease to exist one day. You can keep all these for yourself. For myself I only want the answer to my question.”
Nachiketa again fasted for three days and after three days asked the same question to Yama.
Seeing Nachiketa’s insistence and devotion Yama had to give up and granted him the third boon, too. In this way Nachiketa received the highest knowledge free from sorrow of any kind which is equivalent to Moksha.