Puranic encyclopaedia

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

This page describes the Story of Yajnavalkya 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 Yājñavalkya

An ancient sage who was a profound scholar.


Purāṇas say that this sage spent the major part of his life at the court of King Janaka. He was also King Janaka’s priest. In Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 16, it is mentioned that Kalki was Yājñavalkya’s priest. Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 4, Verse 51, mentions that Yājñavalkya was a "Brahmavādī son" of Viśvāmitra.

Thousand cows.

Once King Janaka conducted a Yāga. At that time he wished to find out the most eminent among the sages. He promised to present a thousand cows to the sage who was a consummate scholar. A bag of gold coins was also tied to each horn of the cows. Janaka announced that the sage who claimed to be a consummate scholar might come forward and take the cows with him. No one among the numerous sages who were present, dared to come forward. Yājñavalkya, however, ordered his disciple to take the cows home with him. The other sages questioned his right to claim the cows. Yājñavalkya asserted his right to do so. One of the sages named Arthabhāga stood up and asked him the following question:—

Arthabhāga:—When a man who has not acquired divine knowledge dies, his "Jñānendriyas" (senses of knowledge) are also merged with it. How is it possible for him to accept another body afterwards? "Yājñavalkya:—Karma (action) becomes the cause of his rebirth."

Next Kahola and many other sages put various questions to him. The substance of their talk is given below:—

Kahola:—What have you to say about the invisible and omnipresent Brahman?

Yājñavalkya:—Your soul is the omni-present Brahman. The soul has no hunger or thirst, fear or desire, old age or death. Those who wish to know the soul, become sages after transcending love of wife, children or worldly riches. The two qualities essential for sages are scholarship and spiritual knowledge.

Gārgī:—Who is the warp and woof of everything?

Yājña:—It is Brahman. Do not ask further; if you do, your head will be broken to pieces.

Āruṇi:—Who is he who exists within? (Antaryāmī).

Yājña:—He who is contained in Jagat (the universe) without the knowledge of Jagat, he whose body is Jagat, he who controls Jagat as antaryāmī, he is within every one. He cannot be seen, but he sees. He cannot be heard; but he hears. He is capable of thinking; but he is beyond our thoughts. He exists as one who sees, hears and thinks, in all creatures.

Gārgī:—I have two questions to ask. They are as sharp and pointed as two arrows. By what force is fixed that which is above Heaven, below the earth and that which is between them, like warp and woof?

Yājña:—By the sky.

Gārgī:—By what force is the sky held in position like warp and woof?

Yājña:—Under the command of God, the sun and moon do not deviate from their orbits. The sky and the earth remain in their respective places. Rivers run making the fields fertile. One who lives and works without the ability to know God does not obtain immortality. He who dies without knowing God is a Kṛpaṇa (spiritual bankrupt). On the contrary, he who knows God attains Mokṣa.

Śākalya:—How many gods are there?

Yājṅa:—Thirtythree. They are—8 Vasus, 11 Rudras, 12 Ādityas, Indra and Prajāpati. The 8 Vasus are-Agni, Pṛthvī, Vāyu, Antarīkṣa, Āditya, Dyau (Heaven), Candra and Stars. The 11 Rudras are the combination of the 10 jñānendriyas and the working of the mind. The ruling deities of the 12 months are known as the 12 Ādityas. They receive into them our lives and our Karmans (actions).

Yājñavalkya gave suitable answers to all other questions of Śākalya. At last, he asked Śākalya:—"Now I will ask you a question. Whom do the Upaniṣads describe? If you do not answer, your head will break." Śākalya could not answer it. He dropped down with a broken head. He asked the other scholars who had gathered there, if any of them wanted to ask him more questions. But no one came forward. All remained dumb. Then he continued:—"Fresh leaves sprout from a tree which has been cut. If the seed is destroyed, the tree does not grow out of it. How is it that a man is born again after his death?"

No one was able to answer that question. Thus after defeating all of them in argument, Yājñavalkya went home with the cows.

In Janaka’s court again.

On another occasion, Yājñavalkya went to see King Janaka. The King asked him whether he had come for getting cows or to ask abstruse question. The sage answered that he had come for both. Their conversation continued as follows:—

Janaka:—Jita Muni has said that "Vacana" (word) is Brahman or God. What is your opinion?

Yājña:—It is correct. But did he say which is the body and abode of God?


Yājña:—In that case he has said only onefourth about God. Vacana is god’s body and sky, his abode. Brahmavidyā depends on the word. The word is Parabrahman. Janaka was highly pleased. He decided to give a thousand bulls to the sage. But Yājñavalkya said that his father’s principle was to give effective knowledge to the pupil and not to receive any dakṣiṇā (Payment) from him. Janaka again wanted Yājñavalkya to explain clearly what "Brahma Vidyā" means.

Yājña:—Just as a person can reach his destination by walking or by travelling in a chariot or by sailing in a boat, in order to secure peace for the soul, you are depending on the Upaniṣads. But although one is learned in Vedas and Āgamas, or adored by others or wealthy, or well-versed in Upaniṣads, unless one has known God—unless one acquired Brahmajñāna—one cannot be said to be gratified. Do you know where you will go after renouncing your body?

Janaka:—I do not know.

Yājña:—I shall tell you. The deity of the right eye is "Inda" (light). People call it "Indra". The deity of the left eye is Indrāṇī, the wife of Indra. Indra is eater and Indrāṇī is food. In a state of consciousness they are separated. (Then the soul is called Vaiśvānara). In a state of dream, the two are united. (Then the soul is called Taijasa). In a state of slumber, the soul is in "Prjñāa" state. (Since there is no activity it is called Prājña). In the fourth or "Turīya" state, one becomes capable of transcending the three other states and to attain Parabrahman. It is a state of fearlessness transcending birth and death.

The King who was pleased by this teaching dedicated the kingdom of Videha and even himself to the sage.

In Janaka’s court for the third time.

After some years Yājñavalkya went again to Janaka’s court. At that time also there was a philosophical discussion between the King and the sage in the form of questions and answers.

Janaka:—Which is the light that gives us guidance during the day time?

Yājña:—The Sun.

Janaka:—After sunset which is the light that guides us?

Yājña:—The Moon.

Janaka:—And in the absence of the sun and moon?


Janaka:—Which is the light that guides us in the absence of the sun, moon and Agni?


Janaka:—Which is the light that shines in the absence of all these luminaries?

Yājña:—Ātmajyotis (soul’s light).

Janaka:—Who is Ātman?

Yājña:—"Puruṣa" who is formed by the union of "vyāna" in prāṇas (lives) and jyotis (light) in the heart. The soul is disposed to action with the help of intelligence. In the end it transcends the body, senses and mind and attains Mokṣa. In the state of consciousness the soul’s activities become manifest to us. When in sleep, after deputing "Prāṇa" for the protection of the body, the soul remains outside the body. The senses become inactive. Therefore we should never wake up one who is asleep. When the soul remains in the body and the senses are active, it is in a most vigilant state. Thus the soul is above the states of wakefulness, dream and slumber. The soul is the divine light of pure energy.

Janaka who was pleased, gave the sage a thousand cows more. After that Yājñavalkya spoke about liberation from worldly bonds.

Yājña:—The soul has no connection with the three conditions. Just as the actions in a dream do not affect the soul, the actions in a wakeful state also do not affect it. Just as a fish jumps from one side of the river to the other and back again, life keeps jumping from the state of wakefulness to the state of slumber and vice versa.

Just as a kite goes up flying and then comes back to its nest, one moves from the state of wakefulness to sleep and back again. In deep slumber, he merges with God, but he does not know that. In that state, the father or the mother does not have the knowledge that they are the father or mother.

After that Yājñavalkya explained the nature of the soul and the various aspects of its working in a state of wakefulness and of slumber. He added:—"As long as there is "Kāma" (desire) there is "Karman" also. Life goes on passing from birth to death and from death to birth. One attains perfection when one is above all desires, and acquires the highest divine knowledge. He is liberated from birth and death and becomes immortal.

By jñāna, dāna and tapas we become self-purified and thus become worthy of the highest divine grace. We have to go from the world of Karman (action) to the world of ātman (soul). One who has acquired Brahmajñāna (knowledge of Brahman) becomes a Brāhmaṇa. Hearing these famous teachings of Yājñavalkya, Janaka became his permanent disciple.

His end.

Yājñavalkya had two wives named Kalyāṇī and Maitreyī. After giving his all to his wives he passed into immortality. (Bṛhadāraṇyaka; Mahābhārata Śānṭi Parva, Chapters 3-9).

His works.

Yājñavalkya has written a Smṛti on the subject of law. "Mitākṣarā" is its famous commentary. Mitākṣarā is the highest authoritative treatise on Law in South India.

Other details.

(i) Yājñavalkya flourished in Yudhiṣṭhira’s assembly. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 4, Verse 12).

(ii) He was also a member of Indra’s assembly. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 7, Verse 12).

(iii) Yājñavalkya was the priest at the Rājasūya Yajña of Dharmaputra. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 33, Verse 35).

(iv) Yājñavalkya had his knowledge of Vedas from Sūryadeva. (Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 318, Verse 6).

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