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Yaksha Prashna: A Guide to Hindu Value System

By
Dr. A.V. Srinivasan*

This episode is found in the Aranya wanted the Pāndavās to pursue the
Parva of the epic, the Mahabharata. fleeing animal and recover the sticks.
The Pāndavās along with their wife The Pandavās believed that it was the
Draupadi are nearing the end of their duty of kshatriyās to provide any and
twelve-year exile in forests. They are all help and protection to those who
due to begin the thirteenth and final practiced their dharma. Therefore they
year, which they are required to spend proceeded forthwith fully armed in
undiscovered. pursuit of the stag. While they soon
caught sight of the stag, their attempts
In ancient days, it was the practice of to stop the animal failed and more
certain Brahmins to perform homās running and more huffing and puffing
and havans as part of their daily rituals ended in tiring the party. Not only had
and worship. One of the most essential the quest failed, they ended up hungry,
tools needed in this practice is, of thirsty, tired, angry and frustrated.
course, the device that can generate
fire. This consists of two wooden The brothers sat down finally to rest
pieces, a rod and a bow, the latter under the cool shade of a large tree and
producing a churning action of the rod naturally began to fret over the
supported on a firm base of stone or outcome of this relatively simple,
wood. The churning action results in uncomplicated task. Greater battles
friction and heat at the support and any with their cousins lay ahead of them
fibrous material at the base of the and yet they had not been able to help
support catches fire, ready for use in a a Brahmin even in such simple
ritual. One day one such Brahmin, an circumstances. Yudhishthira instructed
agnihōtri, came rushing to the Nakula to climb a tree nearby to locate
Pāndavās and begged for help. He had, any sources of water in the vicinity so
it seems, hung the fire-drilling sticks that they could quench their thirst.
on a low branch of a tree. A passing Nakula did so and informed
stag happened to stop and rub his body Yudhishthira that there was indeed a
on the trunk of this tree and, in the cluster of trees not too far off and that
process, the sticks got entangled in the he could hear the cries of water cranes.
articulated horns of the animal. The Yudhishthira suggested that Nakula go
stag fled, struggling in vain to rid to the pond and fetch some water in a
himself of this unwanted burden; and quiver. Nakula, after walking a short
the more he shook his head, the more distance, located a beautiful spot, a
firmly did the fire-sticks get wedged in crystal clear lake, surrounded by trees,
his antlers. The poor Brahmin now flowers and birds. Nakula was
overjoyed. His first instinct was to from which the voice came. He only
enjoy a cool drink himself, as long as received further and sterner warning.
he was already there. So he descended Arjuna challenged the voice by saying,
to the water's edge and prepared to "Stop me if you can," proceeded to
scoop up some refreshing water. As he drink the water and fell down dead.
was about to do so, he heard a strong Some short time later, Bhima arrived
and clear voice of warning: and had the same fate.

qÉÉ iÉÉiÉ xÉÉWûxÉÇ MüÉwÉÏïqÉïqÉ mÉÔuÉï mÉËUaÉëWû: Now Yudhishthira was clearly
mÉëvlÉÉlÉÑYiuÉÉiÉÑ qÉÉSìãrÉ ÌmÉoÉxuÉ cÉ WûUxuÉ cÉ worried. Wondering about the
possibilities of harm befalling his dear
and powerful brothers, he decided to
"Do not dare to touch that water from go in search of them. When he arrived
this lake that has belonged to me, my at the lake, he could not believe the
dear child. Son of Mādri, you must dreadful sight before him. All four
first answer my questions and then you brothers dead on the ground!
may drink or fetch." Yudhishthira sat beside them and
lamented. All his hopes were shattered
Nakula thought that he must be now. How would he ever be able to
hearing things due to sheer fatigue and recover his lost kingdom without the
so he ignored the warning, drank the help of his able, powerful brothers? He
water and immediately fell dead. grieved for a while and then began to
When Nakula did not return within a look around to determine the reason
reasonable time, Yudhishthira for these deaths. He thought: lÉævÉÉqÉç
suggested that Sahadeva go and take a
look at what was delaying him. vÉx§É mÉëWûÉUÉãÎxiÉ mÉÉSÇ lÉãWûÉÎxiÉ MüxrÉÍcÉiÉç pÉÔiÉÇ
Sahadeva arrived on the scene and was qÉWûÌSSÇ qÉlrÉã pÉëÉiÉUÉã rÉãlÉ qÉã WûiÉ: ‘There are
shocked to see Nakula lying as though no signs of violence from weapons on
asleep. Before doing anything, he their bodies, no footprints anywhere.
thought he could quench his thirst. He The killer must be a supernatural being
heard the same warning, ignored it to have killed my brothers.” He
and, upon attempting to drink, also fell wondered if Duryōdhana had had the
dead. Now it was Arjuna's turn to pool poisoned. He ruled it out because
determine what had happened. He the faces of the dead brothers looked
proceeded with his Gandiva bow in his calm and serene. Convincing himself
hand, suspecting some trouble. Upon that it must have been some
arriving at the lake he was stunned to supernatural being, he approached the
see his brothers lying as though dead. water's edge to fetch some water to
Again, he tried to quench his thirst and begin the last rites for his brothers.
heard the same warning. But Arjuna Then he heard a sudden voice: iÉuÉÉlÉÑeÉÉ:
did not ignore the warning. Instead he qÉrÉÉ mÉëãiÉÉ uÉvÉqÉç lÉÏiÉ. . . (I am the cause
challenged the being to show itself and
of your brothers' death …, lÉ cÉãiÉç mÉëvlÉÉlÉç
shot several arrows in the direction
mÉ×dNûiÉÉã urÉÉMüUÉãÍvÉ iuÉÇ mÉÇcÉqÉÉã pÉÌuÉiÉ. . . . Srimadbhagavadgita. These questions
(you shall be the fifth victim if you do and their answers are as important, as
relevant and as significant today as
not answer my questions. . . .")
they were when Yudhishthira stood
with palms folded, by the side of his
Yudhishthira asked, "Who are you?
dead brothers, and attempted to do his
Are you a rudra, vasu, or marut? You
best in meeting the Yaksha's challenge.
must be strong to be able to put to
death these powerful brothers of mine.
Let us begin this series with the first
Your feat is remarkable because
riddle shown on page 16 of my book:
neither gods, antigods, gandharvās nor
rakshasās could stand up to my
brothers. But why? What do you want? ÌMüÇÎxuÉSè aÉÑÂiÉUÉã pÉÔqÉã:
Noble one! Why are you here? Who What is weightier than earth?
are you?" The voice replied: "I am a ÌMüÇÎxuÉSè EccÉiÉUÇ cÉ ZÉÉiÉç
Yaksha, Yudhishthira. May you What is taller than the sky?
prosper." As he heard these words, ÌMüÇÎxuÉSè cNûÏbÉëiÉUÇ uÉÉrÉÉã:
Yudhishthira saw before his eyes a What is faster than the wind?
form developing; a massive tall body ÌMüÇÎxuÉSè oÉWÒûiÉUÇ iÉ×hÉÉiÉç
with grotesque eyes, burning like the
What is more numerous than grass?
fire of the sun, and a voice like
thunder: "I warned your brothers. But
they would not listen to me. So now Yudhishthira’s answers were Mother,
they are dead. This pool belongs to me Father, Mind, Thoughts respectively.
and unless you answer my questions
you shall not even touch this water." All such riddles and the answers have
Yudhishthira replied: lÉ cÉÉWûÇ MüÉqÉrÉã rÉ¤É guided the lives of Hindus for
thousands of years. Let us study them.
iÉuÉ mÉÔuÉï mÉËUaÉëWûÇ (I have no desire to take Let us each become a Yudhishthira
what has been yours), rÉjÉÉ mÉëelÉÇ iÉÑ iÉã and face the questions exercising the
mÉëvlÉÉlÉç mÉëÌiÉ uɤrÉÉÍqÉ mÉ×dNû qÉÉqÉç (Ask me best in us. Let the questions and the
and I will answer as best as I can). answers serve as the torchlight that
lead us from darkness, give us peace
Thus begins Dharmaraja's attempt to and comfort at times of stress. Let
answer the Yaksha's questions. I have these questions and answers be talked
never read anything so beautiful, so about, meditated and debated until
subtle, so deep with layers of each of us has had our fill, has satisfied
significance as these questions and our thirst for this ancient, eternal
answers. Through Yudhishthira, philosophy of the Hindus. May these
Bhagawān Vyāsa has distilled the questions and answers inspire our
entire philosophy of the Hindus into an children to stand firm and stand tall as
enquiry comprising some one hundred they begin to shape their lives in the
questions. The questions cover a lot of increasingly complex world.
ground and a wide range, jumping
from one topic to another. This * Dr. Srinivasan is the author of A
question and answer session lays a Hindu Primer: YAKSHA PRASHNA
firm framework for the gems of See www.avsrinivasan.com as well as
wisdom that are to come later in the www.periplusbooks.com
epic in the teachings of the © A.V. Srinivasan