Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sage Uddalaka and Astavakra

Hi Readers,

Post marriage, I came to know of the Sage named Uddalaka as my Gotra changed to Uddalaka named after him. I tried to search who he was, what he did and interesting facts that I could remember and re-tell others.

Interestingly, I got few facts and stories about him. As per Mahabharat, Uddalak is the title given to Rishi Aruni. He was a disciple of Rishi Dhaumya, and one rainy night Dhaumya asked Aruni to supervise the rain water flowing through the paddy fields. When Aruni went to fields he found, water was overflowing, so it has breached the designated canal made for it and is destroying the crop. He tried to channelize the water, but it was unstoppable and it was constantly raining. Left to no other option, Aruni lay down himself and with help of his body protected the crop. When he did not return to the Ashram, Rishi Dhaumya came to check for him. He was so pleased with Aruni that he gave him the title Uddalaka and from then on he was known by this name.

Uddalak grew up to become one of the best known scholar and he authored Chandogya Upanisad where he has given knowledge of enlightenment to his son Swetaketu. In Chandogya Upanisad it is also mentioned that Uddalak was the Guru of Kahola. He had married his daughter Sujata with Kahola.  She was mother of Astavakra. Sujata 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.

One day, 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 Astavakra, which means "one having eight bends".

Around the time Astavakra 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 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. Astavakra was now raised by Uddalaka. Astavakra and Shwetaketu grew up together. Uddalaka, Sujata and the disciples ensured that Astavakra was never informed of his real father, Astavakra thought that Uddalaka was his father and Shwetaketu his brother. When he was twelve years old, Astavakra was seated on Uddalaka's lap. Shwetaketu pulled him down and informed him that it was not the lap of his father. Astavakra came to know the truth about his father Kahola from Sujata, He decided to confront Vandin and defeat him in an argument.

Astavakra and Shwetaketu made his way to Janaka's palace. Astavakra first faced the gatekeeper who tried to keep the young boy out. On convincing the gatekeeper that he was well versed in the scriptures and hence old, he was let in. Then Janaka tested Astavakra with cryptic questions which Aṣṭavakra answered with ease. Janaka decided to let Aṣṭavakra face Vandin. Vandin and Astavakra 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 verse on the number thirteen. Astavakra 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. Aṣṭavakra 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 Varuṇa (the Lord of all water bodies), and was sent incognito to land to get Rishi's to conduct a ritual that Varuṇa wanted to perform. By this time, Varuṇa's ritual was also complete. On Vandin's request, Varuṇa bade the sages and Brahmaṇas farewell and brought them to surface. Aṣṭavakra worshipped his father and was in turn praised by all the freed sages. Kahola was extremely pleased with his son. Kahola returned to his ashram with Aṣṭavakra and Shwetaketu. In the presence of Sujata, Kahola asked Aṣṭavakra to bathe in the river Samanga. When Astavakra entered the river, all his crooked limbs became straight.

Astavakra authored Astavakra Samhita or Astavakra Gita on spiritual enlightenment.

1 comment:

  1. I am made to understand that Orai in Bundelkhand is named after Saint Aruni or Uddalaka or Uddalaka Aruni, who worshiped here and whose teachings are recorded in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya Upanishad. Uddalak was father-in-law and guru of sage Kahola and his son sage Aṣṭāvakra. Aṣṭāvakra, in turn was Guru of the king Janaka and the sage Yājñavalkya. Aṣṭāvakra is, also, famous as author of Aṣṭāvakra Gītā (also known as Aṣṭāvakra Saṃhitā), a treatise on his instruction to Janaka about the Self.

    Further, Saint Uddalaka (fl. c. 7th century BCE) was one of the disciples (along with Upamanyu and Veda) of sage Ayodha Dhaumya (preceptor of the Pandavas, who accompanied them during their exile to the Kurujangala forest, singing Sama hymns addressed to Yama, Lord of Death.) (Mbh 1.3).


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