The Mahabharata Home
''Yudhishthira said, V sinless one, do thou discourse to me more in detail upon the merits that are attainable by making gifts of kine. O thou of mighty arms, I am never satiated with thy words!'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is recited the old history of the discourse
between the Rishi Uddalaki and his son called Nachiketa. Once on a time the Rishi Uddalaki endued with great intelligence, approaching his son Nachiketa, said unto him, 'Do thou wait upon and serve me.' Upon the completion of the vow he had observed the great Rishi once more said unto his son, 'Engaged in performing my ablutions and deeply taken up with my Vedic study, I have forgotten to bring with me the firewood, the Kusa blades, the flowers, the water jar, and the potherbs I had gathered. Do thou bring me those things from the riverside.' The son proceeded to the spot indicated, but saw that all the articles had been washed away by the current. Coming back to his father, he said, 'I do not see the things!' Afflicted as he then was with hunger, thirst, and fatigue, the Rishi Uddalaki of high ascetic merit, in a sudden wrath, cursed his son, saying, 'Do thou meet with Yama today!' Thus struck by his sire with the thunder of his speech, the son, with joined palms, said, 'Be appeased with me!' Soon, however, he fell down on the earth, deprived of life. Beholding Nachiketa prostrated upon the earth, his sire became deprived of his senses through grief. He, too, exclaiming, 'Alas, what have I done,' fell down on the earth. Filled with grief, as he indulged in lamentations for his son, the rest or that day passed away and night came. Then Nachiketa, O son of Kuru's race, drenched by the tears of his father, gave signs of returning life as he lay on a mat of Kusa grass. His restoration to life under the tears of his sire resembled the sprouting forth of seeds when drenched with auspicious showers. The son just restored to consciousness was still weak. His body was smeared with fragrant unguents and he looked like one just awaking from a deep slumber. The Rishi asked him, saying, 'Hast thou, O son, acquired auspicious regions by thy own acts? By good luck, thou hast been restored to me! Thy body does not seem to be human!' Thus asked by high-souled father, Nachiketa who had seen every thing with his own eyes, made the following answer unto him in the midst of the Rishis, 'In obedience to thy command I proceeded to the extensive region of Yama which is possessed of a delightful effulgence. There I beheld a palatial mansion which extended for thousands of Yojanas and emitted a golden splendour from every part. As soon as Yama beheld me approaching with face towards him, he commanded his attendants saying, 'Give him a good seat, verily, the king of the dead, for thy sake worshipped we with the Arghya and the other ingredients.' Thus worshipped by Yama and seated in the midst of his counsellors, I then said mildly, 'I have come to thy abode, O judge of the dead! Do thou assign me those regions which I deserve for my acts!' Yama then answered me, saying, 'Thou art not dead, O amiable one!' Endued with penances, thy father said unto thee, 'Do thou meet with Yama! The energy of thy sire is like that of a blazing fire. I could not possibly falsify that speech of his. Thou hast seen me. Do thou go hence, O child! The author of thy body is indulging in lamentations for thee. Thou art my dear guest. What wish of thine cherished by thee in thy heart shall I grant thee? Solicit the fruition of whatever desire thou mayst cherish.' Thus
addressed by him, I replied unto the king of the dead, saying, 'I have arrived within thy dominions from which no traveller ever returns. If I really be an object deserving of thy attentions, I desire, O king of the dead, to have a sight of those regions of high prosperity and happiness that have been reserved for doers of righteous deeds.' Thus addressed by me, Yama caused me to be mounted upon a vehicle of splendour as effulgent as that of the sun and unto which were harnessed many excellent steeds. Bearing me on that vehicle, he showed me, O foremost of regenerate persons, all those delightful regions that are reserved for the righteous. I beheld in those regions many mansions of great resplendence intended for high-souled persons. Those mansions are of diverse forms and are adorned with every kind of gem. Bright as the disc of the moon, they are ornamented with rows of tinkling bells. Hundreds among them are of many storeys. Within them are pleasant groves and woods and transparent bodies of water. Possessed of the effulgence of lapis lazuli and the sun, and made of silver and gold, their complexion resembles the colour of the morning sun. Some of them are immovable and some movable. Within them are many hills of viands and enjoyable articles and robes and beds in abundance. Within them are many trees capable of granting the fruition of every wish. There are also many rivers and roads and spacious halls and lakes and large tanks. Thousands of cars with rattling wheels may be seen there, having excellent steeds harnessed unto them. Many rivers that run milk, many hills of ghee, and large bodies of transparent water occur there. Verily, I beheld many such regions, never seen by me before of happiness and joy, approved by the king of the dead. Beholding all those objects, I addressed the ancient and puissant judge of the dead, saying, 'For whose use and enjoyment have these rivers with eternal currents of milk and ghee been ordained?' Yama answered me saying, 'These streams of milk and ghee, know thou, are for the enjoyment of those righteous persons, that make gifts in the world of men. Other eternal worlds there are which are filled with such mansions free from sorrow of every kind. These are reserved for those persons that are engaged in making gifts of kine. 1 The mere gift of kine is not worthy of praise. There are considerations of propriety or otherwise about the person unto whom kine should be given, the time for making those gifts, the kind of kine that should form the object of gifts, and the rites that should be observed in making the gifts. Gifts of kine should be made after ascertaining the distinctive qualifications of both Brahmanas (who are to receive them) and the kine themselves (which are to be given away). Kine should not be given unto one in whose abode they are likely to suffer from fire or the sun. That Brahmana who is possessed of Vedic lore, who is of austere penances, and who performs sacrifices, is regarded as worthy of receiving kine in gift. Those kine that have been rescued from distress situation, or that have
been given by poor householders from want of sufficient means to feed and cherish them, are, for these reasons, reckoned as of high value. 1 Abstaining from all food and living upon water alone for three nights and sleeping the while on the bare earth, one should, having properly fed the kine one intends to give away, give them unto Brahmanas after having gratified them also (with other gifts). The kine given away should be accompanied by their calves. They should, again, be such as to bring forth good calves, at the proper seasons. They should be accompanied with other articles so given away. Having completed the gift, the giver should live for three days on only milk and forbearing from food of every other kind. He, who gives a cow that is not vicious, that brings forth good calves at proper intervals, and that does not fly away from the owners' house, and accompanies such gift with a vessel of white brass for milking her, enjoys the felicity of heaven for as many years as are measured by the number of hairs on the animal's body. He, who gives unto a Brahmana a bull well-broken and capable of bearing burdens, possessed of strength and young in years, disinclined to do any mischief, large-sized and endued with energy, enjoys those regions, that are reserved for givers of kine. He is regarded as a proper person for receiving a cow in gift who is known to be mild towards kine, who takes kine for his refuge, who is grateful, and who has no means of subsistence assigned unto him. When an old man becomes ill, or when a Brahmana intends to perform a sacrifice, or when one wishes to till for agriculture, or when one gets a son through the efficacy of a Homa performed for the purpose, or for the use of one's preceptor, or for the sustenance of a child (born in the usual way), one should give away a beloved cow. Even these are the considerations that are applauded (in the matter of making gifts of kine) in respect of place and time. The kine that deserve to be given away are those that yield copious measures of milk, or those that are well-known (for their docility and other virtues). or those that have been purchased for a price, or those that have been acquired as honoraria for learning, or those that have been obtained in exchange by offering other living creatures (such as sheep and goats, etc.), or those that have been won by prowess of arms, or those that have been gained as marriage-dower (from fathers-in-law and other relations of the wife).'
"Nachiketa continued, 'Hearing these words of Vaivaswata, I once more addressed him, saying, 'What are those objects by giving which, when kine are not procurable, givers may yet go to regions reserved for men making gifts of kine?' Questioned by me, the wise Yama answered, explaining further what the end is that is attainable by making gifts of kine. He said, 'In the absence of kine, a person by making gifts of what has been regarded as the substitute of kine, wins the merit of making gifts of kine. If, in the absence of kine, one makes a gift of a cow made of ghee, observant of a vow the while, one gets for one's use these rivers of ghee
all of which approach one like an affectionate mother approaching her beloved child. If, in the absence of even a cow made of ghee, one makes a gift of a cow made of sesame seeds, observing a cow the while, one succeeds with the assistance of that cow to get over all calamities in this world and to enjoy great happiness hereafter from these rivers of milk that thou beholdest! If in the absence of a cow made of sesame seeds, one makes a gift of a cow made of water one succeeds in coming to these happy regions and enjoying this river of cool and transparent water, that is, besides capable of granting the fruition of every wish.' The king of the dead explained to me all this while I was his guest, and, O thou of unfading glory, great was the joy that I felt at sight of all the wonders he showed me. I shall now tell thee what would certainly be agreeable to thee. I have now got a great sacrifice whose performance does not require much wealth. That sacrifice (constituted by gifts of kine) may be said to flow from me, O sire! Others will obtain it also. It is not inconsistent with the ordinances of the Vedas. The curse that thou hadst pronounced upon me was no curse but was in reality a blessing, since it enabled me to have a sight of the great king of the dead. There I have beheld what the rewards are that attach to gifts. I shall, henceforth, O thou of great soul, practise the duty of gift without any doubt lurking in my mind respecting its rewards. And, O great Rishi, the righteous Yama, filled with joy, repeatedly told me, 'One, who, by making frequent gifts, has succeeded in acquiring purity of mind should then make gifts of kine specially. This topic (about gifts) is fraught with sanctity. Do thou never disregard the duties in respect of gifts. Gifts, again, should be made unto deserving persons, when time and place are suitable. Do thou, therefore, always make gifts of kine. Never entertain any doubts in this respect. Devoted to the path of gifts, many high-souled persons in days of yore used to make gifts of kine. Fearing to practise austere penances, they made gifts according to the extent of their power. In time they cast off all sentiments of pride and vanity, and purified their souls. Engaged in performing Sraddhas in honour of the Pitris and in all acts of righteousness, they used to make, according to the extent of their power, gifts of kine, and as the reward of those acts they have attained to heaven and are shining in effulgence for such righteousness. One should, on the eighth day of the moon that is known by the name of Kamyashtami, make gifts of kine, properly won, unto the Brahmanas after ascertaining the eligibility of the recipients (by the ordinances already laid down). After making the gift, one should then subsist for ten days together upon only the milk of kine, their dung and their urine (abstaining from all other food the while). The merit that one acquires by making a gift of a bull is equal to that which attaches to the divine vow. By making a gift of a couple of kine one acquires, as the reward thereof, a mastery of the Vedas. By making a gift of cars and vehicles with kine yoked thereto, one acquires the merit of baths in sacred waters. By making a gift of a cow of the Kapila species, one becomes cleansed of all one's sins.
[paragraph continues] Verily, by giving away even a single cow of the Kapila species that has been acquired by legitimate means, one becomes cleansed of all the sins one may have committed. There is nothing higher (in point of tastes) than the milk which is yielded by kine. The gift of a cow is truly regarded as a very superior gift. Kine by yielding milk, rescue all the worlds from calamity. It is kine, again, that produce the food upon which creatures subsist. One, who, knowing the extent of the service that kine do, does not entertain in one's heart affection for kine, is a sinner that is certain to sink in hell. 1 If one gives a thousand or a hundred or ten or five kine, verily, if one gives unto a righteous Brahmana even a single cow which brings forth good calves at proper intervals, one is sure to see that cow approach one in heaven in the form of a river of sacred water capable of granting the fruition of every wish. In respect of the prosperity and the growth that kine confer, in the matter also of the protection that kine grant unto all creatures of the earth, kine are equal to the very rays of the sun that fall on the earth. 2 The word that signifies the cow stands also for the rays of the sun. The giver of a cow becomes the progenitor of a very large race that extends over a large part of the earth. Hence, he that gives a cow shines like a second sun in resplendence. The disciple should, in the matter of making gifts of kine, select his preceptor. Such a disciple is sure to go to heaven. The selection of a preceptor (in the matter of the performance of pious deeds) is regarded as a high duty by persons conversant with the ordinances. This is, indeed, the initial ordinance. All other ordinances (respecting the gift of kine) depend upon it. 3 Selecting, after examination, an eligible person among the Brahmanas, one should make unto him the gift of a cow that has been acquired by legitimate means, and having made the gift cause him to accept it. The deities and men and ourselves also, in wishing good to other, say, 'Let the merits attaching to gifts be thine in consequence of thy righteousness!' Even thus did the judge of the dead speak unto me, O regenerate Rishi. I then bowed my head unto the righteous Yama. Obtaining his permission I left his dominions and have now come to the sole of thy feet.'"
93:1 Vitasokaih in the instrumental plural refers to Bhavanaih or some such substantive understood. It may also be react as a nominative plural, referring to Lokah.
94:1 Very probably what is said here is that only such kine are worthy of being given away unto Brahmanas, and not lean animals.
96:1 Kine produce food not only by assisting at tillage of the soil, but also by aiding in the performance of sacrifices. The ghee burnt in the sacrificial fire sustains the under-deities, who pour rain and cause crops to grow.
96:2 That heat is the originating principle of the growth of many things was well understood by the Rishis.
96:3 The sense seems to be this: in doing all pious acts, one should first take the aid of a preceptor, even if one be well-conversant with the ordinances one has to follow. Without the selection of a preceptor in the first place, there can be no pious act. In the matter, therefore, of making gifts of kine according to the ordinances laid down, one should seek the help of a preceptor as well as in the matter of every other act of piety.
Next: Section LXXII