Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ashtavakra

courtesy;Sri.N.Jambunathan

The sage Uddalaka, the seer mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad, ran a school(Ashram) teaching the Vedas. Kahola (also spelled Kahoda) was one of his best disciples. Uddalaka was so pleased with him that he had his daughter Sujatamarried to him.
 
When Sujata got pregnant, she had the desire of wanting her child to imbibe spirituality and intelligence. She began to sit in the classes taught by Uddalaka and Kahola, listening to their chanting of the Vedic Mantras. In India, there is a belief that when expectant mothers expose themselves to spiritual teachings, the child in the womb hears it and gathers that knowledge and become a genius in that spiritual area after its birth.
 
Oneday, as Kahola was reciting the Vedas within the hearing distance of the child growing in the womb. The embryo was aware of the correct pronunciation of every syllable since its mother used to attend classes with rapt attention. The embryo heard the recitation of Kahola, but whenever Kahola pronounced a syllable wrong, it squirmed in distress. The embryo informed Kahola that he had pronounced the syllable wrongly as indicated by the child in the womb.
 
 
This happened on eight occasions. Kahola perceived this as arrogance on the part of something, yet to manifest itself in the world. He cursed the fetus with eight deformities of the body. When the baby was born, it was crooked in eight places- the two feet, the two knees, the two hands, the chest and the head). He was named Ashtavakra, which means "one having eight bends".
 
 
Aroundthe time Ashtavakra was born, Kahola was persuaded by Sujata to go to the court of Janaka to earn some money. In Janaka's court, Kahola was challenged to a scriptural debate (Śastrartha) by the philosopher, Vandin (also spelled Bandin).
 
In that time, the best philosophers were invited to argue in the presence of the monarch Janaka. Vandin easily defeated Kahola and immersed the vanquished Kahola in under water. Ashtavakra was now raised by Uddalaka. Uddalaka too hada son named Shvetaketu when Ashtavakra was born.
 
Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu grew up together. Uddalaka, Sujata and the disciples ensured that Ashtavakra was never informed of his real father, Ashtavakra thought that Uddalaka was his father and Shveta ketu his brother.
 
When he was twelve years old, Ashtavakra was seated on Uddalaka's lap. Shvetaketu pulled him down and informed him that it was not the lap of his father.Ashtavakra came to know the truth about his father Kahola from Sujata, He decided to confront Vandin and defeat him in an argument.
 
Ashtavakraand Shvetaketu made his way to Janaka's palace. Ashtavakra first faced the gatekeeper who tried to keep the young boy out. On convincing the gate keeper that he was well versed in the scriptures and hence old, he was let in. Then Janaka tested Ashtavakra with cryptic questions which Ashtavakra answered with ease.
 
Janaka decided to let Ashtavakra face Vandin. Vandin and Ashtavakra began the debate,with Vandin starting. They alternately composed six extempore verses on the numbers one to twelve. Then Vandin could only compose the first half of a verseon the number thirteen. Ashtavakra completed the verse by composing the second half and thus won the argument against Vandin. This unique debate is full of enigmas and latent meanings which lie under the simple counts of the numbers one to thirteen.
 
The condition of the contest was that if Vandin were to lose he would grant any wish of his vanquisher. Ashtavakra demanded that Vandin be drowned in water just as he forced his vanquished opponents to do. Vandin then revealed that he was the son of Varuna (the Lord of all water bodies), and was sent incognito to land to get Rishis to conduct a ritual that Varuna wanted to perform.
 
By this time, Varuna's ritual was also complete. On Vandin's request, Varuna bade the sages and Brahmaṇas farewell and brought them to surface. Ashtavakra worshipped his father and was in turn praised byall the freed sages. Kahola was extremely pleased with his son. Kahola returned to his aśrama with Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu. In the presence of Sujata, Kaholaasked Ashtavakra to bathe in the river Samanga. When Ashtavakra entered the river, all his crooked limbs became straight.