सनातन धर्म भूमिका

Meaning of "Ashtavakra"







In General

Ashtavakra was a towering scholar and logician in ancient India. His real name was Asita Devala. He was a disciple of Vyasa. Vyasa entitled him to spread Mahabharata in Pitr Loka.

AWhile still in his teens he defeated great scholars of his time. He is famous for his work called Ashtavakra Geetha. Ashtavakra Geetha, also called as Astavakra Samhita is Astavakra’s teachings to King Janaka. It is an argument in favor of Advaita philosophy

Astavakra Gita is an accredited classic of monistic Vedanta. It disproves some scholars flimsy argument that Sankara and Gaudapada invented advaita philosophy by the influence of Buddhist idealistic thought. The fundamental preposition of advaita such as self or Atma is always free, freedom is not attained, but simply realized and discovered is given very clearly in Astavakra Gita. To Astavakra, the freedom is very essence of Atma and the reverse is only Maya. The aim is to realize the Truth and not a rational defense of it. Astavakra depend too much on reason but not going to the extent of idiosyncrasies which is a negative aspect as far as practice of spirituality is concerned.


Ashtavakra hails from the great Sage Uddalaka’s family. There is a story regarding his brilliance and his physical disability. Uddalaka was a very much impressed by the good behavior of his disciple Kahoda; so, married his daughter Sujata to Kahoda. Sujata in due course got pregnant and wanted her child to surpass all the Sages of his time. So, she began to sit in the classes taught by Uddalaka and Kahoda, listening to their chanting with the unborn baby.

One day, it so happened that, while Kahoda was teaching vedic hymns, the unborn baby spoke up from Sujata’s womb

This is not the way to chant the verse, father"

Kahoda was wrong and felt insulted in front of the class and cursed his child

Let, you be born deformed eight times"

Sujata did not take the instance too seriously and was still more ambitious. She wanted more money to raise her child the best. So she asked her husband to go to King Janaka of Mithila who was then preparing for a Yajna hoping that the participation in Yajna will bring money to the family.

When Kahoda approached King Janaka, the King received him with due respect but told him with regret

Kahoda, I am unable to perform the Yajna which I decided to perform several years back. Sage, Vandin, son of King Varuna arrived here and defeated all other scholars and advice me to start the Yajna only after he is defeated in an academic discussion. The condition further includes that the Sages who come forth for the debate, if defeated, will be drowned. So far he has killed many learned Sages. Now it is up to you to take the challenge."

The proud Kahoda agreed to the debate with Vandin, but unfortunately he was defeated and drowned in the nearby river. The widowed Sujata heard the news and repented for her actions. A few months later she gave birth to a boy who was deformed at eight joints by the curse. He was named Devala; because of his deformities, common people called him by the name Ashtavakra.

He got his education from his grandfather Uddalaka. Ashtavakra was extremely intelligent and his grandfather loved him dearly and was very proud of him. When Ashtavakra was only twelve, he finished all that he needed to know from his grandfather. He also came to know the fate of his father and the Yajna of King Janaka, which still remained unfinished as no one could defeat Vandin. Accompanied by Swetaketu , the son of Uddalaka who was also of his age, he set forth for Mithila, the palace of King Janaka. Astavakra’s sole intention is to debate with Vandin, to avenge the insult and defeat his father Kahoda has suffered.

n their way to Mithila they met Mithila’s King and his entourage. Ashtavakra was asked to give way to the King.

However, he replied, " Does not your ruler know that the blind, the deformed, the Brahmins and people bearing load have to be given the right to passage first".

The King Janaka was surprised to hear such wisdom from the mouth of someone so young. He let Ashtravakra go first.

At Mithila the gatekeeper would not let Ashtravakra enter the debate hall. The boy seemed too young to him. Ashtavakra got irritated.

He said “I may seem young to you but I have mastered the Vedas. Age or appearance cannot bar me from taking part in the competition". The gatekeeper did not believe him and asked him to go away.

Ashtravakra said, “old age is not an indicator of a man's bounty of knowledge or maturity. Go and inform the King that I wish to challenge Vandin, the court's scholar to a round of debates on Shastras."

Just then the King Janaka appeared at the gate and recognized Ashtavakra. He cautioned him by saying: "Do you know Vandin has defeated all the scholars who have challenged him. The defeated have drowned themselves in the sea in accordance with the rules of the debate. Don’t risk your life."

Ashtavakra replied, "O King! Your scholar has been basking in past glory. He is not as learned as you assumed him to be. Let me compete with him and avenge my father's insult."

The King was astounded by such determination from so young a boy. He was compelled to consent to this competition. Then started arguments, counter arguments on various debatable topics from the scriptures between Vandin and Ashtavakra. This boy of only twelve years of age proved to be far superior to Vandin. The shamed Vandin had to accept defeat and in accordance to the rule drowned himself in the sea.

Kahoda then freed from Varuna and emerged from sea. Kahoda was pleased by the achievement of his son and withdraw the curse. Astavakras limbs then came all right after taking a bath in Sumangala river.

The story of Sage Ashtavakra is told by Sage Lomasa to the Pandavas, while the Pandavas were in exile (Mahabharata, Vanaparvan, ch: 132-134). He was married to Suprabha, the daughter of the sage Vedanya. Ekaparna, daughter of Himavan was also his wife.

Another story about Sage Ashtavakra’s deformities is like this: once, Rambha, the heavenly dancer fell in love with Devala. But, Devala did not reciprocate to her love. So, she cursed him to become crooked in body. When he became crooked thus he came to be called Astavakra. Ashamed of the deformity he did tapas for thousands of years. Krishna and Radha appeared to him as a result, but Radha laughed at Astavakra for his ugly form. But, Krisha asked her to stop and embraced Astavakra. At once his bodily crookedness disappeared and he became very handsome.

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