Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Shvetaketu included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Śvetaketu

A Maharṣi.


Śvetaketu was the son of the sage Āruṇi or Uddālaka who was born in the Gautama clan. Śvetaketu had a sister named Sujātā. Aṣṭāvakra was her son by the sage, Kahoṭaka. Thus Śvetaketu was Aṣṭāvakra’s uncle. Śvetaketu and Aṣṭāvakra grew up together in Uddālaka’s āśrama. (See under Aṣṭāvakra).

Pride perishes.

Under his father’s training Śvetaketu became a great scholar. With the increase in his scholarship, he became very proud. The father who understood this called him to his side and asked him:"By studying all about what you can see, hear and understand, have you learnt anything about what you cannot see, hear or understand?" Śvetaketu admitted that he did not know. Then Uddālaka explained to him the mystery of Paramātmā (universal soul) which is without beginning or end. (Chāndogyopaniṣad).

Śvetaketu in Pāñcāla.

After completing his education under his father, Śvetaketu went to Pāñcāla. There, in the royal assembly Jaivali, the Pravāhaṇa King asked him the following questions:—"Where do people go from this world? How do they return? Where do Devayāna and Pitṛyāna meet? From where do they diverge? Why is Pitṛloka imperfect? What is the fifth yajñabali?"

Śvetaketu answered that he did not know because his father had not taught him these things. Then he went to his father Āruṇi and told him about his failure to answer these questions. The father admitted that he too did not know them and suggested that they should ask Pravāhaṇa himself. Since Śvetaketu refused to go with him to see the King, Uddālaka himself went to Prāvahaṇa. The King enlightened him on the above topics and sent him back. (Chāndogyopaniṣad 1. 8).

Ācārya of Yajña Rules.

In Kauṣītaki Brāhmaṇa, Śvetaketu is described as the Ācārya of the rules of Yajña. He has laid down definite rules and procedures for priests officiating in Yajñas. Besides, he has suggested the different customs and practices to be observed by Brahmacārins and tapasvins. In the treatises dealing with Dharmaśāstra before his time, food of sweet taste was denied to Brahmacārins. But Śvetaketu has pointed out that it was an entirely wrong doctrine. (Gopatha Brāhmaṇa, 1. 33; Sāṃkhyāyana Brāhmaṇa, 1. 33).

Once an ācārya named Jātūkaṛṇya became the priest of the Kings of Kāśī, Kosala and Videha. Śvetaketu who was angry at this complained bitterly about this to his father. Then Uddālaka reminded his son that priests should yearn for wisdom instead of being attracted by worldly pleasures.

Author of Kāmaśāstra.

It is more or less clear that it was Śvetaketu who abridged the original work on Kāmaśāstra by Nandi, into 500 chapters. This abridgement of Śvetaketu was again abridged after some years by Bābhravya. It was after abridging it again and adding Dattakācārya’s "Vaiśika" and Suvarṇanābha’s "Sāmprayogika" etc., that Vātsyāyana composed his famous treatise "Kāmasūtra". Really speaking, the basis of Vātsyāyana’s "Kāmasūtra" was the works of Bābhravya and Śvetaketu on Kāmaśāstra.

It has been observed that the first person who raised his voice against the evils of drinking and adultery by the Brāhmaṇa community was Śvetaketu. There is a story in the Mahābhārata about the fact which prompted him to bring marriage within the framework of law. Śvetaketu was Uddālaka’s son, born to his wife by one of his disciples. (Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 35, Verse 22). Once his mother was abducted by a Brāhmaṇa. This incident inspired him to make stringent laws insisting on monogamy for men and women.

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