Katha-Upanishad: First Valli

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

First Adhyâya

First Valli


1. Vagasravasa, desirous (of heavenly rewards), surrendered (at a sacrifice) all that he possessed. He had a son of the name of Nakiketas.

2. When the (promised) presents were being given (to the priests), faith entered into the heart of Nakiketas, who was still a boy, and he thought:

3. “Unblessed, surely, are the worlds to which a man goes by giving (as his promised present at a sacrifice) cows which have drunk water, eaten hay, given their milk, and are barren.

4. He (knowing that his father had promised to give up all that he possessed, and therefore his son also) said to his father: “Dear father, to whom wilt thou give me?

He said it a second and a third time. Then the father replied (angrily):

I shall give thee unto Death.

(The father, having once said so, though in haste, had to be true to his word and to sacrifice his son.)

5. The son said: “I go as the first, at the head of many (who have still to die); I go in the midst of many (who are now dying). What will be the work of Yama (the ruler of the departed) which today he has to do unto Me?

6. “Look back how it was with those who came before, look forward how it will be with those who come hereafter. A mortal ripens like corn, like corn he springs up again.

(Nakiketas enters into the abode of Yama Vaivasvata, and there is no one to receive him. Thereupon one of the attendants of Yama is supposed to say:)

7. “Fire enters into the houses, when a Brahmana enters as a guest. That fire is quenched by this peace-offering;—bring water, O Vaivasvata!

8. “A Brahmana that dwells in the house of a foolish man without receiving food to eat, destroys his hopes and expectations, his possessions, his righteousness, his sacred and his good deeds, and all his sons and cattle.

(Yama, returning to his house after an absence of three nights, during which time Nakiketas had received no hospitality from him, says:)

9. “O Brahmana, as thou, a venerable guest, hast dwelt in my house three nights without eating, therefore choose now three boons. Hail to thee! and welfare to me!

10. Nakiketas said: “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 have been dismissed by thee.

11. Yama said: “Through my favour Auddalaki Aruni, thy father, will know thee, and be again towards thee as he was before. He shall sleep peacefully through the night, and free from anger, after having seen thee freed from the mouth of death.

12. Nakiketas said: “In the heaven-world there is no fear; thou art not there, O Death, and no one is afraid on account of old age. Leaving behind both hunger and thirst, and out of the reach of sorrow, all rejoice in the world of heaven.

13. “Thou knowest, O Death, the fire-sacrifice which leads us to heaven; tell it to me, for I am full of faith. Those who live in the heaven-world reach immortality—this I ask as my second boon.

14. Yama said: “I tell it thee, learn it from me, and when thou understandest that fire-sacrifice which leads to heaven, know, O Nakiketas, that it is the attainment of the endless worlds, and their firm support, hidden in darkness.

15. Yama then told him that fire-sacrifice, the beginning of all the worlds, and what bricks are required for the altar, and how many, and how they are to be placed. And Nakiketas repeated all as it had been told to him. Then Mrityu, being pleased with him, said again:

16. The generous, being satisfied, said to him:

I give thee now another boon; that fire-sacrifice shall be named after thee, take also this many coloured chain.

17. “He who has three times performed this Nakiketa rite, and has been united with the three (father, mother, and teacher), and has performed the three duties (study, sacrifice, alms-giving) overcomes birth and death. When he has learnt and understood this fire, which knows (or makes us know) all that is born of Brahman, which is venerable and divine, then he obtains everlasting peace.

18. “He who knows the three Nakiketa fires, and knowing the three, piles up the Nakiketa sacrifice, he, having first thrown off the chains of death, rejoices in the world of heaven, beyond the reach of grief.

19. “This, O Nakiketas, is thy fire which leads to heaven, and which thou hast chosen as thy second boon. That fire all men will proclaim. Choose now, O Nakiketas, thy third boon.

20. Nakiketas said: “There is that doubt, when a man is dead—some saying, he is; others, he is not. This I should like to know, taught by thee; this is the third of my boons.

21. Death said: “On this point even the gods have doubted formerly; it is not easy to understand. That subject is subtle. Choose another boon, O Nakiketas, do not press me, and let me off that boon.

22. Nakiketas said: “On this point even the gods have doubted indeed, and thou, Death, hast declared it to be not easy to understand, and another teacher like thee is not to be found:—surely no other boon is like unto this.

23. Death said: “Choose sons and grandsons who shall live a hundred years, herds of cattle, elephants, gold, and horses. Choose the wide abode of the earth, and live thyself as many harvests as thou desirest.

24. “If you can think of any boon equal to that, choose wealth, and long life. Be (king), Nakiketas, on the wide earth! I make thee the enjoyer of all desires.

25. “Whatever desires are difficult to attain among mortals, ask for them according to thy wish;—these fair maidens with their chariots and musical instruments—such are indeed not to be obtained by men—be waited on by them whom I give to thee, but do not ask me about dying.

26. Nakiketas said: “These things last till tomorrow, O Death, for they wear out this vigour of all the senses. Even the whole of life is short. Keep thou thy horses, keep dance and song for thyself.

2 7. “No man can be made happy by wealth. Shall we possess wealth, when we see thee? Shall we live, as long as thou rulest? Only that boon (which I have chosen) is to be chosen by me.

28. “What mortal, slowly decaying here below, and knowing, after having approached them, the freedom from decay enjoyed by the immortals, would delight in a long life, after he has pondered on the pleasures which arise from beauty and love?

29. “No, that on which there is this doubt, O Death, tell us what there is in that great Hereafter. Nakiketas does not choose another boon but that which enters into the hidden world.

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