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Commentary on the Katha Upanishad

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CHAPTER 1

Section 1: Nachiketas’ Position

Shanti Mantra

  • auṁ sa ha nāv avatu, saha nau bhunaktu, saha vīryam karavāvahai,
    tejasvi nav adhītam astu: mā vidviṣāvahai; auṁ śāntih, śāntih, śāntih.
  • OM! May He protect us both (teacher and pupil). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of Mukti. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other.

Nachiketas and His Father

  • 1.1.1
  • uśan ha vai vājaśravasaḥ sarva-vedasaṁ dadau: tasya ha naciketā nāma putra āsa.
  • Once, desirous of heaven, the son of Vajasravasa (Gautama) gave (in a sacrifice) all that he possessed. He had a son Nachiketas by name.
  • 1.1.2
  • taṁ ha kumāraṁ santaṁ dakṣiṇāsu nīyamānāsu śraddhā-viveśa, so’manyata.
  • When the presents were being distributed, filial anxiety (about the welfare of his father) entered into the heart of Nachiketas, who was still a boy, and he thought.
  • 1.1.3
  • pītodakā jagdha-tṛṇā dugdha-dohā nirindriyāḥ anandā nāma te lokās tān sa gacchata tā dadat.
  • Joyless verily are those worlds to which a man goes by giving (presents in a sacrifice) cows which have drunk water, eaten grass, given their milk and are barren.
  • 1.1.4
  • sa hovāca pitaram, tāta kasmai māṁ, dāsyasīti; dvitīyaṁ tṛtīyam; taṁ hovāca: mṛtyave tvā dadāmīti.
  • Nachiketas said to his father: O father, to whom wilt thou give me? He said this again and for the third time, the (enraged) father said: To Death I will give thee.
  • 1.1.5
  • bahῡnām emi prathamaḥ, bahῡnām madhyamaḥ; kiṁ svid yamasya kartavyam yan mayādya kariṣyati.
  • Nachiketas thought: Among many I go as the first; among many I go in the middle. What will be the work of Yama which today he has to do unto me?
  • 1.1.6
  • anupaśya yathā pῡrve pratipaśya tathāpare, sasyam iva martyaḥ pacyate sasyam ivajāyate punaḥ.
  • Nachiketas: Remember how our forefathers acted; consider also how others now act. Like corn, the mortal decays and like corn he is born again. (Nachiketas entered into the abode of Yama Vaivasvata. There was no one to receive him. Yama had gone out.)

Nachiketas in the House of Death

  • 1.1.7
  • vaiśvānaraḥ praviśaty atithir brāhmaṇo gṛhān: tasyaitāṁ śāntiṁ kurvanti, hara vaivasvatodakam.
  • A Brahmin guest enters a house like fire. For him men give this peace-offering (to quench the fire or quiet him). Bring water, O Vaivasvata (O son of Vivasvan, the Sun).
  • 1.1.8
  • āśā-pratīkṣe saṁgataṁ sῡnṛtāṁ ceṣṭāpῡrte putra-paśῡṁś ca sarvān etad vṛṅkte puruṣasyālpamedhaso yasyānaśnan vasati brāhmaṇo gṛhe.
  • Hope, expectation, company with good men, friendly discourse, sacrifices, pious gifts, sons and cattle—all these are destroyed in the case of the ignorant man, in whose house a Brahmin guest stays without taking food.

Yama’s Address to Nachiketas

  • 1.1.9
  • tisro rātrīr yād avatsīr gṛhe me’naśnan brahman atitthir namasyaḥ. namaste’ṡtu, brahman; svasti me’stu; tasmāt prati trīn varān vṛṇīṣva.’
  • Yama: O Brahmin, as thou a venerable guest, hast dwelt in my house three nights without eating, therefore choose now three boons in return. O Brahmin, my prostrations unto thee. May good befall me.

Nachiketasís First Wish

  • 1.1.10
  • śānta-saṁkalpaḥ sumanā yathā syād vīta-manyur gautamo mābhi mṛtyo, tvat-prasṛṣṭam mābhivadet pratīta, etat trayāṇām prathamaṁ varaṁ vṛṇe.
  • Nachiketas: O Death! As the first of the three boons, I choose that Gautama, my father, be pacified, kind and free from anger towards me, and that he may know me and greet me, when I shall be sent away by thee.
  • 1.1.11
  • yathā purastād bhavitā pratīta auddālakir āruṇir matprasṛṣṭaḥ, sukhaṁ rātrīś śayitā vītamanyus tvāṁ dadṛśivān mṛtyumukhāt pramuktam.
  • Yama: Through my favour, Auddalaki, the son of Aruni, will recognise you as before. He will sleep peacefully at night and when he sees you released from the mouth of death, will lose his anger.

Nachiketasís Second Wish

  • 1.1.12
  • svarge loke na bhayaṁ kiṁ ca nāsti na tatra tvaṁ na jarayā bibheti. ubhe tīrtvā aśanāyā pipāse śokātigo modate svarga-loke.
  • Nachiketas: In the heaven there is no fear; thou art not there, O Death, and no one is afraid on account of old age. Having conquered both hunger and thirst, one rejoices in heaven, being above sorrow.
  • 1.1.13
  • sa tvam agniṁ svargyam adhyeṣi mṛtyo, prabrῡhi taṁ śraddadānāya mahyam, svarga-lokā amṛtatvam bhajanta, etad dvitīyena vṛṇe vareṇa.
  • Nachiketas: O Death! Thou knowest the fire-sacrifice which leads us to heaven; explain it to me, for I am full of faith. Those who live in the world attain immortality—this I ask as my second boon.
  • 1.1.14
  • pra te bravīmi tad u me nibodha svargyam agniṁ naciketaḥ prajānan anantalokāptim atho pratiṣṭhāṁ viddhi, tvam etaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyām.
  • Yama: I will tell thee well, learn it from me, O Nachiketas. I know the fire that leads to heaven; know the fire which leads to heaven (which is the cause of acquiring infinite worlds), and which again is the support of the universe and which is seated in the cavity (of the heart).
  • 1.1.15
  • lokādim agniṃ tam uvāca tasmai, yā iṣṭakā, yāvatīr vā, yathā vā. sa cāpi tat pratsvadat yathoktam; athāsya mṛtyuḥ punar evāha tuṣṭaḥ.
  • Yama then explained to him that fire-sacrifice, the source of the worlds, what bricks are required for the altar, how many and how they are to be placed, and Nachiketas repeated all as explained. Then Yama, being pleased with him, said again.
  • 1.1.16
  • tam abravīt prīyamāṇo mahātmā varaṁ tavehādya dadāmi bhῡyaḥ. tavaiva nāmnā bhavitāyam agniḥ, sṛṅkāṁ cemām aneka-rῡpāṁ gṛhāṇa.
  • Satisfied, magnanimous Death spoke to him: I give thee here this other boon, this fire-sacrifice shall be named after thee, and take thou this many-coloured chain.
  • 1.1.17
  • triṇāciketas tribhir etya sandhiṁ trikarma-kṛt tarati janma-mṛtyῡ, brahmajajñaṁ devam īḍyam viditvā nicāyye’māṁ śāntim atyantam eti.
  • Whoever performs three times this sacrifice of Nachiketas fire and has been united with the three (father, mother and teacher) and has performed the three duties (study, sacrifice and alms-giving) overcomes birth and death. When he has understood this adorable bright, the omniscient fire born of Brahman and realised him, then he obtains everlasting peace.
  • 1.1.18
  • triṇāciketas trayam etad viditvā ya evaṁ vidvāṁś cinute nāciketam, mṛtyu-pāśān purataḥ praṇodya śokātigo modate svarga-loke.
  • He who knows the three Nachiketa fires, and propitiates the Nachiketa fire with this knowledge, throws off the chains of death, goes beyond sorrow and rejoices in heaven.
  • 1.1.19
  • eṣa te’gnir nachiketas svargyo yam avṛṇīthāḥ dvitīyena vareṇa. etam agnim tavaiva pravakṣyanti janāsas; tṛtīyaṁ varaṁ naciketo vṛṇīṣva.
  • This, O Nachiketas, is thy fire which leads to heaven and which thou hast chosen as thy second boon; people will call this fire thine alone. Choose now, O Nachiketas, thy third boon.

Nachiketasís Third Wish

  • 1.1.20
  • yeyam prete vicikitsā manuṣye ‘stīty eke nāyam astīti caike; etat vidyām anuśiṣṭas tvayāham, varāṇām eṣa varas tṛtīyaḥ.
  • Nachiketas: There is that doubt when a man is dead, some say he is and some he is not this I should like to know, taught by thee. This is the third of my boons.
  • 1.1.21
  • devair atrāpi vicikitsitam purā, na hi suvijñeyam, aṇur eṣa dharmaḥ, anyaṁ varaṁ naciketo vṛṇīṣva, mā moparotsīr ati mā sṛjainam.
  • Yama: On this point even the gods of olden times had doubt. Verily it is not easy to understand it—subtle is its nature. O Nachiketas, choose another boon; do not press me on this; give this up for me.
  • 1.1.22
  • devair atrāpi vicikitsitaṁ kila, tvaṁ ca mṛtyo yan na suvijñeyam āttha, vaktā cāsya tvādṛg-anyo na labhyaḥ; nānyo varas tulya etasya kaścit.
  • Nachiketas: Thou sayest, O Death, that even the gods had doubts here and that this is not easy to know. Another teacher like thee is not to be found; surely, there is no other boon like this.
  • 1.1.23
  • śatāyuṣaḥ putra-pautrān vṛṇīṣva, bahῡn paśῡnhasti-hiraṇ-yam aśvān bhῡmer mahad-āyatanaṁ vṛṇīṣva svayaṁ ca jīva śarado yāvad icchasi.
  • Yama: Choose sons and grandsons who may live a hundred years, herds of cattle, elephants, gold and horses. Choose the wide abode of the earth and live yourself as many years as you like.
  • 1.1.24
  • etat tulyam yadi manyase, varaṁ vṛṇīṣva, vittaṁ cira-jīvikāṁ ca, mahā-bhῡmau nachiketas tvam edhi, kāmānāṁ tvā kāmabhājaṁ karomi.
  • Yama: If you can think of any boon equal to that, choose wealth and long life. Be a king, O Nachiketas, of the wide earth, I shall make thee the enjoyer of all desires.
  • 1.1.25
  • ye ye kāmā durlabhā martya-loke sarvān kāmāṁś chandataḥ prārthayasva. imā rāmāḥ, sarathāḥ satῡryāḥ, na hīdṛśā lambhanīyā manuṣyaiḥ. ābhir mat-prattābhiḥ paricārayasva, naciketo, maraṇam mānuprākṣīḥ.
  • Yama: Whatever desires are difficult to attain in the world of mortals, ask for them according to thy wish. These fair maidens with their chariots and musical instruments—such are indeed not enjoyable by mortals; be attended by them, I will give them to thee; but, O Nachiketas! Do not ask the question of the state of the Soul after death.
  • 1.1.26
  • śvo-bhāvā martyasya yad antakaitat sarvendriyāṇām jarayanti tejaḥ api sarvaṁ jīvitam alpam eva tavaiva vāhās tava nṛtya-gīte.
  • Nachiketas: These things last till tomorrow (ephemeral). O Death, they wear out the vigour of all the senses. Even the longest life is verily short. Keep thou thy chariots, the dance and music.
  • 1.1.27
  • na vittena tarpaṇīyo manuśyaḥ, lapsyāmahe vittam adrākṣma cet tvā, jīviṣyāmo yāvad īśiṣyasi tvaṁ varastu me varaṇīyaḥ sa eva.
  • Nachiketas: No man can be made happy by wealth. If we should obtain wealth and behold thee, we would only live as long as thou shalt sway. Only that boon which I have chosen is fit to be longed by me.
  • 1.1.28
  • ajīryatām amṛtānām upetya jīryan martyaḥ kvadhasthaḥ prajānan abhidhyāyan varṇaratipramodān, atidīrghe jīvite ko rameta
  • Nachiketas: What decaying mortal living in the world below and possessed of knowledge, after having approached the company of the undecaying and the immortal, will rejoice in long life, after he has pondered over the nature of the pleasures produced by song and sport (beauty and love)?
  • 1.1.29
  • yasminn idam vicikitsanti mṛtyo yat sāmparāye mahati brῡhi nas tat, yo’yaṁ varo gῡḍham anupraviṣṭo nānyaṁ tasmān naciketā vṛṇīte.
  • Nachiketas: O Death! Tell us that in which men have this doubt, and which is about the great hereafter. Nachiketas does not choose any other boon but that (concerning the Soul) of which the knowledge is hidden.