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The Katha Upanishad (Devanagari: ) (Kahopaniad) is one of the

mukhya (primary) Upanishads, embedded in last short eight sections of the

Kaha school of the Yajurveda.[1][2] It is also known as Khaka Upanishad,
and is listed as number 3 in the Muktika canon of 108 Upanishads.

The Katha Upanishad consists of two chapters (Adhyyas), each divided into
three sections (Vallis). The first Adhyaya is considered to be of older origin
than the second.[2] The Upanishad is the legendary story of a little boy,
Nachiketa the son of sage Vajasravasa, who meets Yama the Indian deity
of death. Their conversation evolves to a discussion of the nature of man,
knowledge, Atman (Soul, Self) and moksha (liberation).[2]

The chronology of Katha Upanishad is unclear and contested, with Buddhism

scholars stating it was likely composed after the early Buddhist texts (fifth
century BCE),[3] while Hinduism scholars stating it was likely composed
before the early Buddhist texts in 1st part of 1st millennium BCE.[4]

The Kathaka Upanishad is an important ancient Sanskrit corpus of the

Vedanta sub-schools, and an influential ruti to the diverse schools of
Hinduism. It asserts that "Atman (Soul, Self) exists", teaches the precept
"seek Self-knowledge which is Highest Bliss", and expounds on this premise
like other primary Upanishads of Hinduism. The Upanishad presents ideas
that contrast Hinduism from Buddhism's assertion that "Soul, Self does not
exist", and Buddhism's precept that one should seek "Emptiness (nyat)
which is Highest Bliss".[5][6] The detailed teachings of Katha Upanishad have
been variously interpreted, as Dvaita (dualistic)[7] and as Advaita (nondualistic).[8][9][10]

It is among the most widely studied Upanishads. Katha Upanishad was

translated into Persian in 17th century, copies of which were then translated
into Latin and distributed in Europe.[11] Max Mller and many others have
translated it. Other philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer praised it,
Edwin Arnold rendered it in verse as "The Secret of Death", and Ralph Waldo
Emerson credited Katha Upanishad for the central story at the end of his
essay Immortality, as well as his poem "Brahma".[8][12]


1 Etymology
2 Chronology
3 Structure
4 Content
4.1 The son questions his father - First Valli
4.2 The theory of good versus dear - Second Valli
4.3 Atman exists, the theory of Yoga and the essence of Vedas - Second
4.4 The parable of the chariot - Third Valli
4.5 The nature of Atman, need for ethics and the hierarchy of Reality Third Valli
4.6 The theory of Atman, Oneness and Plurality - Fourth Valli
4.7 Life is highest joy, and what happens after death - Fifth Valli
4.8 The theory of Yoga - Sixth Valli
4.9 Realize you are perfect now and here - Sixth Valli
5 Reception
5.1 In popular culture
6 See also
7 References
8 Further reading
9 External links


Katha (Sanskrit: ) literally means "distress".[13] Katha is also the name of a

sage, credited as the founder of a branch of the Krishna Yajur-veda, as well as
the term for a female pupil or follower of Kathas school of Yajurveda.[13] Paul

Deussen notes that the Katha Upanishad uses words that symbolically embed
and creatively have multiple meanings. For example, a closely pronounced
word Katha (Sanskrit: ) literally means "story, legend, conversation,
speech, tale".[13] All of these related meanings are relevant to the Katha

Nachiketa, the boy and a central character in the Katha Upanishad legend,
similarly, has closely related words with roots and meanings relevant to the
text. Paul Deussen[2] suggests Na kiti and Na aksiyete, which are word plays
of and pronounced similar to Nachiketa, means "non-decay, or what does not
decay", a meaning that is relevant to second boon portion of the Nachiketa
story. Similarly, Na jiti is another word play and means "that which cannot be
vanquished", which is contextually relevant to the Nachiketa's third boon.[2]
Both Whitney and Deussen independently suggest yet another variation to
Nachiketa, with etymological roots that is relevant to Katha Upanishad: the
word Na-ciketa also means "I do not know, or he does not know".[14] Some of
these Sanskrit word plays are incorporated within the Upanishad's text.[15]

Like Taittiriya Upanishad of Yajurveda, each section of the Katha Upanishad is

called a Valli (), which literally means a medicinal vine-like climbing plant
that grows independently yet is attached to a main tree. Paul Deussen states
that this symbolic terminology is apt and likely reflects the root and nature of
the Upanishads in Black Yajur veda, which too is largely independent of the
liturgical Yajur Veda, and is attached to the main text.[16]

The chronology of Katha Upanishad is unclear and contested by scholars.[4]

All opinions rest on scanty evidence, an analysis of archaism, style and
repetitions across texts, driven by assumptions about likely evolution of
ideas, and on presumptions about which philosophy might have influenced
which other Indian philosophies.[4][10]

Buddhism scholars such as Richard King date Katha Upanishad's composition

roughly to the 5th century BCE, chronologically placing it after the first
Buddhist Pali canons.[17][18]

Hinduism scholars such as Stephen Phillips[4] note the disagreement

between modern scholars. Phillips dates Katha Upanishad as having being
composed after Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya, Isha, Taittiriya, Aitareya and
Kena, but before Mundaka, Prasna, Mandukya, Svetasvatara and Maitri
Upanishads, as well as before the earliest Buddhist Pali and Jaina canons.[4]

Ranade[19] posits a view similar to Phillips, with slightly different ordering,

placing Katha's chronological composition in the fourth group of ancient
Upanishads along with Mundaka and Svetasvatara. Paul Deussen too
considers Katha Upanishad to be a post-prose, yet earlier stage Upanishad
composed about the time Kena and Isha Upanishads were, because of the
poetic, mathematical metric structure of its hymns.[20] Winternitz considers
the Kathaka Upanishad as pre-Buddhist, pre-Jaina literature.[20][21]

The Katha Upanishad has two chapters, each with three sections (valli), thus
a total of six sections. The first section has 29 verses, the second section 25
verses, and the third presents 17. The second chapter opens with the fourth
section of the Katha Upanishad and has 15 verses, while the fifth valli also
has 15 verses. The final section has 17 verses.[2]

The first chapter with the first three vallis is considered older, because the
third section ends with a structure in Sanskrit that is typically found at closing
of other Upanishads, and also because the central ideas are repeated though
expanded in the last three sections, that is the second chapter.[2] This,
however, does not imply a significant gap between the two chapters, both
chapters are considered ancient, and from 1st millennium BCE.[2]

The origin of the story of the little boy named Nachiketa, contained in Katha
Upanishad is of a much older origin.[15] Nachiketa is mentioned in the verses
of chapter 3.11 of Taittiriya Brahmana, both as a similar story,[15] and as the
name of one of five fire arrangements for rituals, along with Savitra,
Caturhotra, Vaisvasrja and Aruna Agni.[2][22]

The style and structure suggests that some of the verses in Katha Upanishad,
such as 1.1.8, 1.1.16-1.1.18, 1.1.28 among others, are non-philosophical, do

not fit with the rest of the text, and are likely to be later insertion and