Mahabharat is full of stories and Yaksha Prashna has always been one of my favourite. When Prem Panicker included the youtube video ‘the lake questions‘ in this post, I was keen to read the whole text but did not pull myself enough to fulfil this desire.
I wanted to fully understand the entire conversation between Yaksha and Yudhishthira. My father-in-law graced us with his visit and undertook several philosophical sessions with my better half. My interest in this samvada was rekindled and then I discovered the web version of the English translation of this dialogue by Kisari Mohan Ganguli which was part of his book written between 1883-1886. This dialogue appears in the Third Chapter (Aranya Parva) of Mahabharat in Section 311. The website of ‘Internet Sacred Text Archive‘ is the primary source for this post and can be downloaded at Sacred Text. Venkata Subbaiah has beautifully formatted this text and referred to this Yaksha Prashna PDF as the Devnagari text in the same post. It should be noted that according to Yaksha Prashna PDF this dialogue appears in section 313 (not 311) of Pt. Kinjavadekar’s edition.
There are 133 verses in this Q & A and the Yaksha asks the first of his many questions in verse 45. But before we get to that verse, I would like to share the first line of verse 5:
सुयोधनय्स भेत्स्यामि गदया सक्थिनी रणे|
(I will smash Suyodhana’s thighs with a mace in battlefield)
Duryodhana was actually named Suyodhan which means ‘Great Warrior’, but he changed his name to Duryodhana which means ‘the unconquerable one’ OR ‘difficult to fight with’.
I am skipping the first few questions and instead starting at verse 55 where Yaksha asks:
Q: What is of the foremost value to those that cultivate? What is of the foremost value to those that sow? What is of the foremost value to those that wish for prosperity in this world? And what is of the foremost value to those that bring forth(प्रसवतां)? (verse 55)
A: Rain is of the foremost value to those that cultivate: Seeds are the foremost value to those that sow: Cows are of the foremost value to those that wish for prosperity and offspring is of the foremost value to those that bring forth. (verse 56)
[Note: ‘Sacred Text‘ website does not list the answer to third part of the question which is (गावः प्रतिष्ठमानानां) where गावः is the plural form of गो = cow. ]
Q: Who is breathing yet not alive? (verse 57)
A: The person who does not offer anything to gods, guests, servants, ancestors and himself. (verse 58)
Q: What is heavier than earth, higher than heavens, faster than wind and more numerous than grass? (verse 59)
A: Mother is heavier than the earth; father is higher than the heaven; the mind is faster than the wind; and our worries (चिन्ता) are more numerous than grass. (verse 60)
The answers by Yudhishthira include the question. So, here onwards, I will only give his answers.
A: Companion is the friend of the exile in a distant land, spouse is the friend of the householder; a doctor is the friend of sick: andcharity is the friend of a person about to die. (verse 64)
A: Resourcefulness/Skill (दाक्ष्यं) is the highest refuge of virtue (धर्म): charity (दान) of fame (यश): truth (सत्य) of heaven (स्वर्ग): andcharacter (शील) of happiness (सुख). (verse 70)
A: Offspring is a person’s soul (आत्मा); spouse is the friend bestowed by the gods; the clouds are the chief support; and charity is the chief refuge. (verse 72)
A: The best of all laudable things is skill (दाक्ष्यं); the best of all possessions is knowledge: the best of all gains is health: andcontentment (तुष्टि) is the best of all kinds of happiness. (verse 74)
A: Compassion (आनृशन्स्यं) is the highest virtue in this world: ceremonial practices prescribed in three (vedas) always bear fruit (त्रयी धर्मः सदा फलः): the mind, if controlled, leads to no regret: and an alliance with the good never breaks. (verse 76)
A: Pride (मान), if renounced, makes one agreeable (प्रिय); Anger (क्रोध), if renounced leads to no regret (शोक): desire (काम), if renounced, makes one wealthy: and avarice (लोभ), if renounced, makes one happy. (verse 78)
A: It is for religious merit (धर्म) that one donates to priests (ब्राह्मण): for fame (यश) that one sponsors art (नटनर्तकी): it is forsupporting them that one spends on servants: and it is out of fear (भय) that one pays (taxes) to treasury (राजा). (verse 80)
[Note: In verse 79 & 80, both Yaksha and Yudhishthira use the word दान (gift, donation) in each case. I have used donation, sponsor, spend, pay instead]
अज्ञानेनावृतो लोकस्तमसा न प्रकाशते | लोभात्त्यजति मित्राणि सङ्गात स्वर्गम् न गच्छति || 82 ||
A: Ignorance (अज्ञान) envelops the earth (लोक); Darkness (तमस) does not permit a thing to show itself. Friends (मित्र) are forsaken (त्यज) for greed (लोभ) and one fails to go to heaven owing to the attachment to this world ( सङ्गात). (verse 82)
[Note: K M Ganguli has translated this verse as
‘The world is enveloped with darkness. Darkness doth not permit a thing to show itself. It is from avarice that friends are forsaken. And it is connection with the world for which one faileth to go to heaven.’
I think the first answer is quite clearly ‘Ignorance (अज्ञान)’ not darkness. Traditionally lok (लोक) means earth and त्रिलोक (three lokas) refer to earth, heaven and hell. I would like to believe that lok (लोक) actually stands for ‘the people (on the earth)’ in this context and hence Yudhishthira’s answer should mean ‘Ignorance envelops the people on earth’.
I highlight this to illustrate that Peter Brook’s version chooses former (darkness) but B R Chopra’s soap uses latter (ignorance).]
The first half of verse 84 reads :
मृतो दरिद्रः पुरुषो मृतं राष्ट्रमराजकम् |
A: A person facing extreme poverty might be considered as dead; a country is dead if it is full of anarchy.
[Note: अराजकम (which includes अ-राज) can be translated as ‘without a king’, leading to K M Ganguli’s translation ‘A kingdom for want of a king may be regarded as dead.’ अराजक is a common Hindi/Marathi word which means Anarchy. B R Chopra has also used the same meaning.]
A: Carrying out one’s duty (स्वधर्म) is penance (तप): restraint of the mind is the true restraint (मनसो दमनं दमः): tolerating (सहिष्णुत्वम्)conflict (द्वन्द्व) is forgiveness (क्षमा); and shame, in withdrawing from all unworthy acts. (verse 88).
[Note: K M Ganguli has beautifully translated द्वन्द्वसहिष्णुत्वम् as ‘enduring enmity‘, instead of ‘tolerating conflict’ which is literal]
A: True knowledge (ज्ञान) is that of Divinity. True tranquility is that of the heart (चित्त). Mercy (दया) consists in wishing happiness to all (सर्वसुख). And simplicity is equanimity of heart (समचित्त). (verse 90)
A: Anger (क्रोध) is an invincible enemy(शत्रु). Greed (लोभ) is an incurable disease (व्याधि). A good person (साधु) desires the well-being(हितः) of all creatures (सर्वभूत) , and a bad person(असाधु) is unmerciful (निर्दयः). (verse 92)
A: Not knowing one’s duties is true ignorance (मूढत्वम्). Pride (मान) is the belief that one is an actor or sufferer in life. Idleness (आलस्यं) consists in not discharging one’s duties (धर्म), and ignorance (अज्ञान) in grief (शोक). (verse 94)
स्वधर्मे स्थिरता स्थैर्यं धैर्यमिन्द्रियनिग्रहः | स्नानं मनोमलत्यागो दानं वै भूतरक्षणं || 96 ||
A: To be steady (स्थिर) means carrying out your duties, and true patience (धैर्य) involves subjugation (निग्रहः) of the senses(इन्द्रिय). A true bath (स्नान) means discarding (त्याग) impurities (मल) of mind (मन), and charity (दान) means protecting all creatures (भूतरक्षणं). (verse 96)
A: He is to be called learned (पण्डित) who knows his duties and an atheist (नास्तिक) should be called ignorant (मूर्ख) . Desire (काम) is due to objects of possession, and envy (मत्सर) is nothing but grief of heart. (verse 98)
A: Pride (अहङ्कार) is total ignorance. Hypocrisy(दम्भ) is setting up of a religious standard. The grace of the gods is the fruits of our charity (दानफलं), and wickedness consists in speaking ill of others (परदूषणं). (verse 100)
धर्मश्चार्थश्च कामश्च परस्पर विरोधिनः | एषां नित्य विरुद्वानाम् कथमेकत्र सङ्गंमः || 101 ||
Q: Duty(धर्म), Wealth (अर्थ), and Desire (काम) are opposed to one another. Where could things thus antagonistic to one another exist together?
यदा धर्मश्च भार्या च परस्परवशानुगौ | तदा धर्मार्थकामानां त्रयाणामपि सङ्गंमः || 102 ||
A: When the spouse and good behaviour follow one another; then the trio of Duty, Wealth and Desire may exist together. (verse 102)
Q: Does a person become Brahman by birth (कुल), behaviour (वृत्ति), study (स्वाध्याय), or learning (श्रुति)? (verse 107)
A: It is neither birth, nor study, nor learning, that is the cause of Brahmanahood, without doubt, it is behaviour that constitutes it. (verse 108)
One’s behaviour should always be well-guarded, especially by a Brahmana. He who maintains his conduct unimpaired, is never impaired himself. (verse 109)
Professors and pupils, in fact, all who study the scriptures, if addicted to bad habits, are to be regarded as illiterate wretches. He only is learned who performs his religious duties. (verse 110)
He even that has studied the four Vedas is to be regarded as a wicked wretch scarcely distinguishable from a Shudra (if his conduct is not correct). Only those performing Agnihotra and keeping senses under control, should be called Brahman! (verse 111)
A: He that speaks agreeable words becomes agreeable to all. He that acts with judgment obtains whatever he seeks. He that has many friends lives happily. And he that is devoted to virtue obtains a happy state in the next world (गति). (verse 113)
Q: Who is truly happy?
A: The one who does not have any debt. (verse 115)
Q: What (किं) is a surprising (आश्चर्यं)?
A: Everyday countless creatures die, yet those that stay behind believe themselves to be immortal. What can be more surprising than this? (verse 116)
Q: Who truly possesses every kind of wealth ? (verse 119)
तुल्ये प्रियाप्रिये यस्य सुखदुःखे तथैव च | अतीतानागते चोभे स वै सर्वधनी नरः || 121 ||
A: The person to whom the agreeable (प्रिय) and the disagreeable (अप्रिय), happiness and sorrow, the past (अतीत) and the future(अनागत), are the same, is said to have every kind of wealth. (verse 121)
After this, Yaksha says, “Let one only among your brothers, whom you may wish, get up with life!”.
Yudhishthira chooses Nakula, his step-brother.
Yaksha wonders why he did not choose Bhima or Arjuna, his mighty siblings?
Yudhishthira replies with the now famous quote which also appears in Manu-smirti with a tiny variation:
“धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः । तस्माद् धर्मो न त्यजामि मा नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत्॥ 128 ॥
Compassion/mercy/pity (आनृशन्स्यं) is the highest virtue (परो धर्मः); higher than the highest attainment (परमार्थः). I attempt to practise that virtue. Therefore O Yaksha, let Nakula revive! (verse 129)
People should know that King is always virtuous! I will never leave my duty. Therefore O Yaksha, let Nakula revive! (verse 130)
My father had two wives, Kunti and Madri. Let both have children. This is what I wish. (verse 131)
As Kunti is to me, so also is Madri. I do not differentiate between them. I want to act equally towards my mothers. Therefore O Yaksha, let Nakula revive! (verse 132)
Yaksha replies: “Since you regard Compassion (आनृशन्स्यं) higher than Wealth (अर्थ), and Desire (काम), therefore let all your brothers live ..” (verse 133 – last verse)
Before ending, please go through this clip from B R Chopra’s soap which is longer and more faithful to the dialogue.