Monthly Archives: July 2010

Story of Yajnavalkya and Gargi

Janaka was a philosopher-king of ancient India. He was the ruler of Mithila. The princely court consisted of great scholars, and Janaka himself was regarded with the respect throughout India for his wisdom.
Once Janaka performed a sacrifice in which gifts were freely distributed. Vedic Scholars from the far-off countries, like Kuru and Panchala, assembled in Mithila on this occasion.
Now Janaka thought to himself: “This is a rare gathering. So many scholars versed in the Vedic lore have assembled here. I must take this opportunity to find the most profound scholar, the one peerless member of this grand assemblage.”
Janaka hit upon a plan. He asked his servants to put one thousand choice cows in a nearby pen. He further ordered that to each of the cows’ horns should be attached five golden plates. The king’s servants obeyed him at once.
Janaka then appeared in the place of sacrifice. He solemnly announced, “Revered Brahmins, let him who is the best Vedic scholar among you drive the thousand cows home.” This was a rather peculiar announcement and a hush fell upon the assemblage.
None of the Brahmins was willing to rise and declare himself the best scholar. Yajnavalkya then stood up and asked Samashrava, his disciple, to drive the cows home to his forest retreat. Immediately, the Brahmins were a flutter. Ashwala, the priest of Janaka, was the first to issue a challenge, saying, “Yajnavalkya, are you really the best scholar among us?”.
Yajnavalkya: “ I bow down to the best scholar; I just want the cows.”
Ashwala decided to interoogate Yajnavalkya, whose politeness didn’t strike him as genuine. The priest’s favoured position with Janaka had made him insolent. He threw many questions at Yajnavalkya, but Yajnavalkya answered them all. The quick answers were enough to calm the angry mood of Ashwala.
Serveral other scholars now began to interrogate Yajnavalkya. Some were genuine seekers of truth; others simply wanted to put him in a tight corner. Last of all rose a lady named Gargi, the daughter of the sage Vachaknu. Gargi had already asked a few questions, but now she asked the permission of the Brahmins to put forth a few more.
“I shall ask him two more questions, “ Gargi proposed. “Should he answer them, none of you will ever be able to beat him.” In ancient India, women had access to philosophical enquiry – and what tremendous self confidence we find in Gargi, daring a great sage to answer her questions! She was dignity personified.

Gargi continued, “What, O Yajnavalkya, pervaded the whole cosmos and whatever is, was and shall be ?”
Yajnavalkya: “The unmanifested ether.”
“I bow to you, Yajnavalkya. You have answered the question to my satisfaction. Now I have another.”
“Ask, O Gargi.”
“What pervades the unmanifested ether?”
The question seemed to launch Yajnavalkya to new heights of elucidation. He replied: “IT is pervaded by the immutable Brahman. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short or long, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether. The different worlds, the sun and the moon, do not transgress its mighty rule. Whoever departs from this world without knowing this immutable substance has to move in an endless series of births and deaths. It is never an object of thought or intellect, being thought or intelligence itself. It is the knower who knows through all intellects. Brahman, which is the self within all and is beyond all relative attributes like hunger etc. is the ultimate goal, the highest truth. By this Brahman is the unmanifested either pervaded.”
Thereupon Gargi said: “Revered Brahmins, listen to my words. I have already said that if he is able to answer my questions, none of you can beat him. You can never hope to defeat him. In comprehending Brahman, he has no peer.” Saying this Gargi sat down and listened humbly to rest of the proceedings.