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Ashtaavakra
For stories about  Ashtaavakra and King Janak read  Janak-2

The story of Ashtaavakra is taken from the great ancient Indian epic, the Mahaabhaarat - MBH, G-4-Van/23, although he is mentioned in Vaalmeeki Raamaayan also, in Yuddh Kaand. When Dasharath Jee comes to Raam (V-Raamaayan, 6/119/17) to tell that He spread his fame like Ashtaavakra spread Kaahod's fame. His story takes three chapters in Mahaabhaarat. It is the story of a deformed young boy whose intelligence surpassed many old sages of his time. He was the Guru of King Janak and sage Yaagyavalkya. He was one of the 9 great Rishi, Yaagyavalkya and Gaargee were others, in King Janak's court.

Sage Uddaalak ran a school (Aashram) teaching Vaidik knowledge. Kaahod (or Kahol) was one of his best disciples. Uddaalak was so pleased with him that he got his daughter Sujaataa married to him. Sujaataa, eventually got pregnant and wanted her child to surpass all the sages of his time. So, she began to sit in the classes taught by Uddaalak and Kaahod, listening to their chanting with the unborn baby. It was one day, in a class taught by Kaahod, that the unborn baby spoke up from inside the womb, "This is not the way to chant the verse, Father." This happened at eight times. Kaahod felt insulted in front of the class and cursed, "You will be born deformed from eight places of your body." So when the child was born he was slanted from eight places of his body - two feet, two knees, two hands and chest and head. That is how he was named as Ashtaavakra.

Kaahod and Raajaa Janak
Sujaataa did not take the instance too seriously and was ambitious to have a son. She wanted more money to raise her child in the best way she could, so she asked her husband to go to King Janak who was then preparing for a fire worship ceremony (Yagya) at that time, hoping that the ceremony will bring money to the family.

When Kaahod approached the King Janak, the King received him respectfully but said with regret - "Kaahod, I am sorry, I am unable to perform the Yagya which I decided to perform several years back. A Sage Bandhi arrived here from nowhere and asked me to start the Yagya only after he is defeated in an academic discussion with the sages participating in the Yagya. His condition further included that the sages who come forth for the debate, if defeated, will be drowned in the river. So far he has killed many learned sages. Now it is up to you to take the challenge." Kaahod agreed to debate with Bandhi. Unfortunately Kaahod was also defeated by Bandhi and so he was drowned in the nearby river. Kaahod reached Varun's region. The widowed Sujaataa heard the news and repented for her actions.

A few months later she gave birth to a boy who was deformed at eight joints as cursed by his father, so he was named as Ashtaavakra. He got his education from his grandfather (Naanaa) Uddaalak Muni. Ashtaavakra was extremely intelligent and his grandfather loved him very dearly and was very proud of him. When Ashtaavakra was only twelve, he finished all that he needed to know from his grandfather. He also heard about the fate of his father and the Yagya of the King Janak which still remained unfinished as no one could defeat Bandhi.

Ashtaavakra Brings His Father Back
One night Ashtaavakra ran away from his hermitage and came to King Janak. Looking to his deformed body, the guards were amused. Ashtaavakra retorted - "Do not judge a person by his appearance and age, judge him by what he knows. Inform your King that there is a person ready to challenge Bandhi." The King came and was surprised to see a small deformed boy. He asked him a few questions and was greatly impressed by his knowledge. King Janak soon arranged the debate for him with Bandhi. When the spectators laughed on seeing the deformed Ashtaavakra, Ashtaavakra said with anger - "I did not know that the so called learned gathering in your court is no better than a bunch of cobblers who judge a person by the skin and not by the knowledge he has."

To everyone's surprise Ashtaavakra defeated Bandhi in no time. With vengeance he then requested the King to drown his father's killer. Bandhi then disclosed his identity. He said - "I am the son of Varun, the god of water. I came to Earth on the request of my father to get the best sages from here to perform his 12-year Yagya. The only way I could get them to my father was to challenge them in a debate and throw them into water. Now that my father has completed the Yagya, let us go to the river bank and watch the sages walk out of the river."

People rushed to the river bank and watched the sages returning from the river. Kaahod also came out of the river and embraced his learned son Ashtaavakra. He then openly admitted that his son Ashtaavakra was a lot more intelligent than he himself. Bandhi then asked Ashtaavakra to take a dip in the river, with the blessings of his father Varun, he made him normal. Ashtaavakra did so as he was told and as he came out of the river after taking the dip he came out as a handsome young man. Janak was very impressed with Ashtaavakra and rewarded both Ashtaavakra and his father Kaahod. They went back to their hermitage to be united with their family. Uddaalak Muni, was so happy to see his worthy grandson surpassing in knowledge to all the great sages of his time. Sujaataa also rejoiced at seeing her handsome son and the husband.

This story comes in Tripur Rahasya also with an additional subject matter, read it in Tripur Rahaya, Chapter 15.

Stories About Ashtaavakra

Ashtaavakra Curses Sudarshan Vidyaadhar
There was one Sudarshan named Vidyaadhar. Once Ashtaavakra Muni cursed him and as a result of that Shaap he was born as python on Prithvi. One day Nand Jee, Krishn's father, was sleeping on the banks of Saraswatee River after worshipping Bhagavaan Shankar and Paarvatee Jee on a Shiv Raatri day, that he came there and being hungry took him to his place. Nand Jee called his son, so Krishn came immediately and touched His foot to python's body. Sudarshan's all sins were washed away at the same time and he went to his Lok after telling his story. He said - "I was very handsome and I was very proud of my beauty. One day I teased an ugly Rishi of Angiraa Gotra, Ashtaavakra Muni - he was crooked from eight places in his body, that is why his name was Ashtaavakra, and could not resist my laugh and said - "Oh, What a Chaal (style of walking). If Apsaraa will see you, they will also get embarrassed." Hearing this Ashtaavakra cursed me - "You are so proud of your beauty, go, and become python. There you will become Shataavakra (crooked with 100 places), not even Ashtaavakra (crooked with 8 places)." I asked for his forgiveness, At this Ashtaavakra said - "When in the end of Dwaapar Yug Bhagvaan Krishn will incarnate, he will free you from this curse." so he cursed me to be born in python Yoni. This was the result of my sins. Today you have touched me so I have got Mukti from this Yoni. Now please permit me to go to my Lok."

Ashtaavakra Curses Apsaraa
Who were those 16,000 wives of Krishn whom Krishn released from Bhaumaasur's prison and then married them at the same time? This story comes in Vishnu Puraan, 5/15. When Krishn had gone to His Lok, and Arjun was taking Dwaarakaa people to a safe place, at the order of Krishn, because Dwaarakaa was going to sink in the sea, some Aheer attacked him and ran away with some of those women from them. Arjun tried to face them but his Gaandeev and powerful arrows did not work the same way as they should have worked. He got very frustrated, so he went to Vyaas Jee and told his saga. Vyaas Jee consoled him and said to him - "Once, in earlier times, Rishi Ashtaavakra stayed in water for many years praying Prabhu. At the same time Devtaa organized a function with the desire to win Daitya. Many Apsaraa came to attend that function. On the way they saw Ashtaavakra Muni praying in water. They got impressed so they saluted him politely. They did that in the way that the Muni should be pleased with them.

Ashtaavakra indeed got pleased with them, so he asked them - "You may ask me anything you wish for. I will fulfill even your most difficult wish." Apsaraa said - "If it is possible we want Purushottam as our husband." "Be it so." and Muni came out of the water. As he came out of the water, they saw his deformed body from eight places. In spite of trying hard to hide, they couldn't hide their smile so Muni gave them Shaap, "Even though you will be the wife of Purushottam, you will meet robbers." Apsaraa tried their best to please him. He got pleased and said, "After being abducted you will go to Swarg." Thus those Apsaraa became Krishn's wives, then they met robbers, and then they went to Swarg, so do not worry about them."

Note
Mahaabhaarat - MBH, G-4-Van/23, says that Ashtaavakra's father had left Ashtaavakra for Janak's kingdom before his birth and that is how he did not know his father and regarded his grandfather Uddaalak as his father. Once he was sitting in Uddaalak's lap that Shwetketu who was Uddaalak's son and was of similar age asked him how did he sit in his father's lap as it was not Ashtaavakra's father's lap. hearing this Ashtaavakra started crying and asked his mother about his father. The mother told him the whole story, so he took Shwetketu along and came to Raajaa Janak's court with the intention to defeat the person who defeated his father and drowned in the river. He did defeat that man and got his father back. It means all this took only at the age when he was below 12 years old, as Varun's Yagya lasted only for 12 years and Kaahod left him just a month before he was born. It also means that Ashtaavakra was also only about 12 years old when he defeated the man and brought his father back. And as soon he brought his father back, he got all right after a taking dip in Samang River.

So when the above incidents, of Sudarshan Vidyaadhar and Apsaraa, occurred? When did they tease him and when did he curse them? Is it before the 12 years of age?

Ashtaavakra Geetaa or Ashtaavakra Sanhitaa
Ashtaavakra has a work on his name - Ashtaavakra Geetaa which is known as Ashtaavakra Sanhitaa also. Ashtaavakra was the author of the work Ashtavakra Geetaa, also known as Ashtavakra Samhita, a treatise on the instruction by Ashtaavakra to king Janak about the SELF. He was only 12 years old when he taught this to Raajarshi Janak. It is an A-Dwait Vedaant scripture which is the form of King Janak and Ashtaavakra. Many great people have appreciated and quoted his work - Raamkrishn Paramhans and his disciple Vivekaanand, as well as by other well known Guru such as Asaram Bapu, Swami Chinmayananda, Ramana Maharshi, Osho and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Jee. Radhakrishnan refers to it with great respect.

Ashtaavakra Geetaa states that there is no such thing as existence or non-existence, right or wrong, or moral or immoral. In the eyes of the Ashtaavakra, one's true identity can be found by simply recognizing oneself as Pure Existence and that as individuals we are the Awareness of all things. The Ashtaavakra Geetaa teaches that one is already free once one realizes that one is free (verses 1.7,  1.11). It is not a very large book. It contains 20 chapters in 18 pages.

While there exist some commentaries on this text, the most detailed English commentary of this famous text is by Swaamee Chinmayaanand, who has given a word for word meaning, transliteration, translation and a commentary, along with the background to the text as well as relevant references to numerous Upanishads which convey the message of the text.

Ashtaavakra Geetaa can be read at these sites --
(1) Original in Sanskrit
(2) Ashtaavakra Geetaa - in Sanskrit with English translation side by side
(3) Ashtaavakra Geetaa - English translation


Ashtaavakra in Popular Literature
Ashtaavakra is one of the characters in the First Act of the Sanskrit play Uttar Raamacharit composed by Bhavabhooti in the 8th century.

Ashtaavakra (2010) is a Hindi epic poem (Mahaakaavya) composed by Jagadguru Rambhadracharya (1950) in the year 2009. It consists of 864 verses in 8 cantos (Sarg) of 108 verses each. The poem presents the narrative of the Rishi Ashtaavakra which is found in the Hindu scriptures of the Raamaayan and the Mahaabhaarat. A copy of the epic was published by the Jagadguru Rambhadracharya Handicapped University, Chitrakuta, Uttar Pradesh. The book was released on January 14, 2010, on the 60th birthday Shashtheepoorti) of the poet.


Read Other Stories About Ashtaavakra
Story of the King Chitrabhaanu Related to Shiv Raatri
Stories About Ashtaavakra and Janak

 

 

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Created by Sushma Gupta On 5/27/04
Contact:  sushmajee@yahoo.com
Modified on 05/03/13