It so happened that at the end of the twelfth year of the exile of Pandavas, the five brothers went chasing a deer, which had stolen the kindling and churning rod of a Brahmin. Unfortunately, the deer disappeared in the woods. The brothers kept chasing the deer for a long time. Eventually, when they were tired and thirsty, Nakula, the fourth brother set out to look for water. Walking for a mile, he ended up at a lake. When he was about to drink water and collect some for his brothers, a voice echoed “Stop! You cannot drink water until you answer my questions.”
Nakula was flabbergasted. Who could dare to stop a mighty warrior like him? Disregarding the warning, he went on to drink water. Instantly he died due to poisoning.
When Nakula did not return, Yudhishthira sent Sahadeva to search for the handsome Nakula. He too met with the same fate. When both Nakula and Sahadeva did not return, Arjuna and Bheema followed one after the other. All of them out of their sheer arrogance and unquenchable thirst disregarded the warning and lay dead at the bank of the lake. Finally, Yudhishthira himself proceeded towards the enchanted lake.
The encounter between Yudhishthira and Yaksha
“O, Lord! Who could overcome my mighty brothers?”, wailed Yudhishthira, as he saw his four brothers lying dead around a pool in the forest. Apparently, there was no sign of strife on the mighty bodies of Bheema, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. However, he proceeded to drink water from the suspicious pool to parch his overbearing thirst.
“Stop! You cannot drink water until you answer my questions,” a voice echoed. When Yudhishthira followed the voice, he understood that it was coming from a crane standing nearby. Yudhishthira’s brothers had conveniently ignored the amphibious creature. It said, “I warned your brothers, but they turned a deaf ear. If you do not heed to my warning, you will join your brothers in the land of manes.”
Yudhishthira was surprised and asked the crane, “Who are you? An ordinary crane cannot overcome my mighty brothers. Are you a Deva, Gandharva, Rudra or Maruta?”
“I am a Yaksha. I am in possession of this lake”. the crane replied. Yakshas are spirits who are caretakers/ guardians of natural resources. They are capable of changing forms at will.
Also read: The most important Mahabharata characters
“I will try to answer your questions. Please shoot them”, replied Yudhishthira. At this juncture, a historical conversation commenced, establishing Yudhishthira as Dharma Raja, the king of Dharma. It was very similar to modern-day rapid-fire Q&A. However, the questions and answers were at a different pedestal, unlike the modern-day mockery. Although Yaksha asked multiple philosophical questions, we will walk through three questions. The answers to these questions by Yudhishthira are life-changing. Let’s get started.
The secret to happiness
Yaksha: What is happiness?
Yudhishthira: Happiness is in contentment.
Now this answer looks very simplistic. However, what brings contentment? It comes from following your dharma, your inner calling. If I translate the thought in modern terms, it comes from decent conduct and more importantly, productivity.
Most of us keep whining about the problems in our life while blaming it squarely on situations and people. However, from my personal experience, even in the most turbulent times you are happy(content) if, you are productive. To sum up, I agree with the statement that happiness is a state of mind.
The true source of wisdom
Yaksha: By the study of which science does man become wise?
Yudhishthira: Not by studying any shaastra does man become wise. It is by association with the great in wisdom that he gets wisdom.
There is a reason why we have a Guru-Shishya relationship and the concept of Satsanga in India. We learn/grow the most in someone’s company, be it a mentor or our peer group.
I will divulge a bit in Science and technology here. If you are a Data Analytics professionals, these beautiful lines on LinkedIn that I came across will make sense: Learning from resources like books or videos is like Logistic regression i.e. output is bounded while learning from a mentor/peer is like Linear regression i.e. output is unbounded.
To sum up, a classic saying reinforces this answer, ‘A man is known by the company he keeps’.
The greatest wonder in the world
Yaksha: What is the greatest wonder in the world?
Yudhishthira: Every day, men see creatures depart to Yama’s abode and yet, those who remain seek to live forever. This verily is the greatest wonder.
This is the answer which impressed me the most. Death is the ultimate truth of the human body and everyone lives in full cognizance of this fact. Yet, most of the human beings live with the illusion of immortality. However, this illusion is not true only about mortality, but any undesirable event in life. It could be an accident, a mortal disease like cancer, a professional tragedy and we witness them happening to others every day. Yet, we live in denial of these harsh realities, when it comes to ourselves. Hence, whenever you feel complacent about something, remind yourself that you might not have this opportunity tomorrow. Write that poem which you have decided, hug that person whom you love, build that product which you want to build. For, tomorrow might never come.
This discussion will remain incomplete if we miss out Yudhishthira’s love for justice. After he answered all the questions, Yaksha asked him “O king, one of your dead brothers can now be revived. Whom do you want to be revived? He shall come back to life.” Upon reflection, he answered, “Nakula.”
The Yaksha asked for the reason for his choice, Yudhishthira answered, “I have had two mothers viz. Kunti and Madri whom I revere equally. I am alive as Kunti’s eldest son. Hence, I would like to revive Madri’s eldest son Nakula.” Impressed by this, the Yaksha, who was the god of death (Yama) disguised, revived all his brothers.
- Linear Regression vs Logistic Regression image.
- The last question has been removed from the critical edition of Mahabharata. However, this appears in KM Ganguly.
- The answer to the second question is taken from Mahabharata by C Rajagopalachari. However, there are conflicting answers to this in certain texts.