Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Ashtavakra - Famous Boy Scholar


Ashtavakra was the son of a Brahmana named Kahoda and Sujata, the daughter of the sage Uddalaka. His father Kahoda had been a disciple of Uddalaka, and after completing his studies, had been assisting his father-in-law with teaching.

While still in the womb, the child had obtained mastery over the Vedas, thanks to the fact that his mother was in the habit of sitting near the place where her father and her husband used to teach. Unfortunately, Kahoda lacked the skill of Uddalaka and was in the habit of making numerous mistakes in recitation. Unable to bear them, the child started correcting them, even from the womb! Insulted before his disciples, Kahoda cursed the unborn child to be born with eight deformities.

Born with eight bends in its limbs, the child was named Ashtavakra (one crooked in eight places). About this time, Bandy, the royal scholar at the court of King Janaka had issued a challenge, promising great riches to one who would defeat him in debate. To better his lot in life, especially now with a child to support, Kahoda traveled to Mithila and engaged Bandy in debate. However, he was no match for the wily Mithilan, and was soundly defeated. As per the conditions of the contest, he was drowned in the river.

His son grew up, thinking Uddalaka to be his father and his uncle Shwetaketu to be his brother. When a minor quarrel arose between them, Shwetaketu disclosed the true fate of his real father. Ashtavakra then traveled to Mithila, accompanied by his uncle, to try and revenge himself on Bandy.

Though initially skeptical, the King soon saw that this young boy was no mean scholar, and finally consented to the debating contest between Bandy and Ashtavakra. The dialogue between King Janaka and Ashtavakra, where philosophical questions are posed and answered is collected into the famous Ashtavakra-Gita. It is one of the major philosophical treatises of Hinduism.

Bandy was not popular. His habit of drowning his defeated adversaries was not likely to produce any other feeling but disgust in the minds of the citizens of Mithila. Moreover, the extreme youth, and the great intelligence that radiated from Ashtavakra ensured that the majority of the spectators were his partisans. The debate was intensely fought, both proponents being masters of the scriptures. However, in the end, Bandy ran out of steam and Ashtavakra proved superior.

Ashtavakra felt that it was but fitting that Bandy should be drowned, just as he had drowned many a scholar who had dared challenged him. At this moment, Bandy disclosed his true identity. He revealed that he was the son of Varuna, and hence cannot be harmed by water. Moreover, none of the scholars he had drowned in the river were really dead, them having been sent to officiate in a long sacrifice being conducted by his father Varuna.

The sacrifice had just been concluded and as the whole court went to the river, they saw the long lost scholars emerge from the river. Among them was Kahoda, who had obtained what he came for, having gotten many rich gifts for participating in the rituals. He embraced Ashtavakra, proud that his son had succeeded where so many had failed.

After his triumph over Bandy, Ashtavakra became the disciple of Vadanya, and continued his education. There, he met Suprabha, the daughter of Vadanya and fell in love with her. After completing his studies, he sought her hand in marriage from his Guru, who asked him to complete a pilgrimage to the north first.

On this journey, Ashtavakra saw many wondrous sights and was the honored guest at Kubera's palace. He then journeyed to Kailasa and Mandara. Beyond these places, he reached his destination, a house where a middle aged woman and her seven beautiful daughters lived. Though dazzled by their beauty, Ashtavakra controlled his senses with great effort. He was accepted their invitation to stay there as a guest. That night, the mistress of the house tried to seduce him, but he rejected her advances, remaining steadfast on the path of virtue. Thereupon, she revealed that this was merely a test devised by Vadanya, and that she is Disha, the personification of the northern cardinal point. Having successfully completed the test devised by his teacher, Ashtavakra returned to his hermitage and won the hand of fair Suprabha.

Last Modified At: Sun Feb 13 02:52:14 2005