Story of Nachiketa
A while ago, there once lived a little boy named Nachiketa. He was the son of Rishi Udalak. Once, Rishi Udalak organized a yagna (a type of puja) to please the gods and gain a heaven. It was a custom in those days to donate cows to Brahmins at the end of the yagna. Udalak was a miser and he donated old and weak cows to the Brahmins. Since the cows were old and weak, they hardly yielded any milk. Nachiketa was puzzled by his father’s action. “What does he mean by all this?” he said to himself. “What happened to all the useful cows? What does my father gain by gifting such useless cows? This is no less than committing a sin. It is actually cheating. He should be gifting the things which are dear ones. He intends to gain heaven by performing the sacrifice, but his actions will go to vain.”
Nachiketa asked his father about this, “Father, to whom will you give me to as charity or gift?” This made his father very angry, but he decided not to say anything and got engaged in preparation of gifting ceremony. When Nachiketa repeated the question, Udalak lost his temper and said, “Get away from here. I will give you to Yama, God of Death.” Yama is the king of Yamapuri and also the God of Death. “I should fulfill his wish,” thought Nachiketa, even if it means leaving home and embracing death. Obeying his father, Nachiketa went to Yama’s kingdom. It would not be proper for him to disobey his father.
His father, however, realized his mistake, but it was too late. He muttered, “Shame upon my anger! I should never have uttered those words. What will befall me now? I have asked death for my son!” With a blank head and a heavy heart he sat down and tried to stop Nachiketa.
But Nachiketa did not stop. He said, “Father! I must see Yama to obey your order.” He reached Yama’s kingdom but was told by Yama’s guards that he had gone out for three days. Nachiketa decided to wait at his doorstep until he returned. He waited for three days without any food or water. He basically fasted for three days!
Finally, Yama returned on the fourth day and saw little Nachiketa at his doorstep. He was saddened that he had kept a Brahmin waiting without welcoming him and not giving him food and water. It was very bad not to welcome an atithi (guest) at the doorstep. He yelled at his wife Yami for not welcoming him. Both of them rushed around the house to serve little Nachiketa. One of them went to fetch water while the other brought a mat for him to sit on.
Yama still did not feel completely satisfied in serving him, so he told Nachiketa, “Dear child, I have offended you by keeping you waiting for three days. To wash my sin, I request you to ask for three boons.”
Nachiketa answered to Yama by saying, “My first wish is that when I return home, may my father welcome me lovingly. My second wish is to grant me the knowledge so that I can be worthy of living in the heavens. My third and last wish is to grant me atma-vidya (knowledge of the atma).”
Yama granted Nachiketa the first two boons immediately but tried to convince Nachiketa to give up his third wish. He offered Nachiketa gold, pearls, coins, horses, elephants and even the happiness of Swarg (heaven) instead. But Nachiketa firmly said, “No, I do not wish for anything else.” Finally, Yama granted him the third boon too, and Nachiketa was enlightened with the knowledge of the atma (soul).
Nachiketa returned back to his parents. His father embraced his son with open arms and said, “My dear son, please forgive me.” Mother overwhelmed with joy, enquired, “Dear child! How did you acquire this luster on your face?” Nachiketa narrated the entire story to all those assembled. Praise was showered on Nachiketa for his achievement.
The story of little Nachiketa teaches us to be kind to all creatures, to respect one’s parents and to be strong willed to do something that has been decided. Even if it means facing difficulties and obstacles, one should stick to their decision. It always teaches to search for eternal happiness.