Prashna” in Mahabharata relates to the exchange of questions and
answers between Yama in the guise of a Yaksha who poses 126 difficult questions
to Yudhishthira who gives the most fitting answers to those questions. The
background to this episode is something like this. One day during their incognito
vanavasa, Yudhishthira felt very thirsty and there was no water in sight
to quench his thirst. Sahadeva, the
youngest of the Pandavas climbed up a tree and spotted a lake at a
distance. When he reached the lake to
bring water for Yudhushthira, he heard a voice which said “Beware! don’t touch
the water before you answer my questions”.
Without heeding the warning Sahadeva started collecting water from the
lake. No sooner had he touched the water
than he fell down dead on the shore of the lake. Seeing Sahadeva not returning,
Nakula went after him. He too met the
same fate as also his elder brothers Arjuna and Bhima. Finally Yudhishthira went to the lake and he
was shocked by seeing all his brothers dead.
The Yaksha revealed to him his terrible form and warned him that he
should answer his questions before helping himself to the water in the
lake. Yudhishthira gave him fitting
replies and Yaksha was pleased. Then
Yaksha said that he would bring back to life one of his brothers. Yudhisshthira wanted Nakula to be brought
back to life. The Yaksha asked him why
he was asking Nakula, the son of Madri, to be brought to life instead of Bhima
or Arjuna who were his own brothers being Kunti’s children. Yudhisshthira
replied that he had two mothers Kunti and Madri, both being wives of his father. He, Kunti Devi’s son, was alive. Therefore it was only just and equitable that
Nakula, the eldest son of Madri should also be alive. Yaksha who was none other than Yama, the god
of death, was very pleased by Yudhishthira’s reply and brought back to life all
the brothers of Yudhishthira.
great epic of Mahabharata with a simple translation
के च तस्याभितश्चराः।
कश्चैनमस्तं नयति कस्मिंश्च प्रतितिष्ठति ॥26||
Who makes the Sun rise? Who travel with him? Who leads him to
to set? In whom is he firmly anchored?
धर्मश्चास्तं नयति च सत्ये च प्रतितिष्ठति॥27||
It is Brahman which makes the Sun rise.
Devas travel with him.
Dharma leads him to set and he is firmly anchored in Truth.
भवति केनस्विद्विन्दते महत्।
केनस्विद्द्वितीयवान् भवति राजन् केन च बुद्धिमान् ॥28||
lore)? How does one attain greatness? By
what means one gets help? O King! By
what means one becomes intelligent?
भवति तपसा विन्दते महत् ।
धृत्या द्वितीयवान् भवति बुद्धिमान् वृद्धसेवया ॥29||
greatness by penance (tapas), gets help from his own intelligence and
becomes intelligent by serving elderly men (of wisdom)
देवत्वं कश्च धर्मः सतामिव।
कश्चैषां मानुषो भावः किमेषामसतामिव ॥30||
What is the divinity in brahmanas? What is the dharma of good
which they follow? What is the humanly trait in them? What is it in
them which is like that of the bad people?
देवत्वं तप एषां सतामिव।
मरणं मानुषो भावः परिवादोऽसतामिव ॥31||
of Vedic lore) is the divinity in Brahmanas.
Penance (tapas) is the good trait in them and human-like
trait is death. Denigrating
others is a trait like that of bad people.
देवत्वं कश्च धर्मः सतामिव।
कश्चैषां मानुषो भावः किमेषामसतामिव ॥32||
What is the divinity in Kshatriyas? What is the dharma of good
देवत्वं यज्ञ एषां सतामिव ।
भयं वै मानुषो भावः परित्यागोऽसतामिव ॥33||
Bow and arrows is the divinity in Kshatriyas. Sacrificial rites are like
that of good people. Human-like
trait in them is fear. Abandoning one
(who takes refuge) is like the trait of bad people.
साम किमेकं यज्ञियं यजुः।
का चैषां वृणुते यज्ञं कां यज्ञो नातिवर्तते ॥34||
What is Sama in a sacrifice?
What is Yajus in a sacrifice?
the sacrifice invoke? What is it that it does not transgress?
साम मनो वै यज्ञियं यजुः।
ऋगेका वृणुते यज्ञं तां यज्ञो नातिवर्तते ॥35||
is also Rik which it (sacrifice) does not transgress.
What is the best thing for those who want a stable life? What is the best thing
for those who give birth?
श्रेष्ठं बीजं निपततां वरम्।
प्रसवतां वरः ॥३७॥
sow. Cows are the best for those who
want a stable life. A son is the best
thing for those who give birth.
सम्मतः सर्वभूतानामुच्छ्वसन् को न जीवति ॥३८॥
is accepted by all and breaths like a
normal human being. But he does not live (there is no life in him, he is as
good as dead). Who is he?
न निर्वपति पञ्चानामुच्छ्वसन्न स जीवति॥३९॥
One who does not offer nourishment (bali, food) to these
five – the gods,
भूमेः किंस्विदुच्चतरं च खात्।
किंस्विच्छीघ्रतरं वायोः किंस्विद्बहुतरी तृणात् ॥४०॥
What is weightier than the Earth? Which is taller than the sky? What
Is speedier than air? What is
more abundant than grass?
भूमेः खात् पितोच्चतरस्तथा।
मनः शीघ्रतरं वाताच्चिन्ता बहुतरी तृणात् ॥४१॥
Earth. Father is taller than the sky.
Mind is speedier than air and worries are more abundant than grass.
न निमिषति किंस्विज्जातं न चोपति।
कींस्विद्वेगेन वर्धते ॥४२॥
Which does not close the eyes while sleeping? What does not move
after being born? Which has no
heart ? What grows (swells) very
न निमिषत्यण्डं जातं न चोपति।
अश्मनो हृदयं नास्ति नदी वेगेन वर्धते ॥४३॥
after being laid (before the chicks come out after it hatches). The stone has no heart. The river swells with speed.
मित्रं किंस्विन्मित्रं गृहे सतः।
आतुरस्य च किं मित्रं किंस्विन्मित्रं मरिष्यतः ॥४४॥
is the friend when one is sick? Who is the friend when one is dying?
मित्रं भार्या मित्रं गृहे सतः।
आतुरस्य भिषङ्मित्रं दानं मित्रं मरिष्यतः ॥४५॥
is the friend of one on his death bed.
अमृतं किंस्विद्राजेन्द्र किंस्वित् सर्वमिदं जगत्॥४६॥
सोमो गवामृतं ।
सनातनोऽमृतो धर्मो वायुः सर्वमिदं जगत् ॥४७॥
That which leads to immortality is the ancient (eternal) dharma. Nectar is cow’s milk. The whole of this world is pervaded by air.
विचरते जातः को जायते पुनः ।
किंस्विद्धिमस्य भैषज्यं किंस्विदावपनं महत् ॥४८॥
is born again after being born? What is
the remedy for biting cold? Which is the greatest of fields (where corn grows)?
चन्द्रमा जायते पुनः।
अग्निर्हिमस्य भैषज्यं भूमिरापवनं महत् ॥४९॥
The moon is born again after waning. Fire is the remedy for biting
cold. The Earth is the greatest
धर्म्यं किंस्विदेकपदं यशः।
किंस्विदेकपदं स्वर्ग्यं किंस्विदेकपदं सुखम् ॥५०॥
substratum for fame? Which is the
substratum for things leading to heaven? Which is substratum for happiness?
धर्म्यं दानमेकपदं यशः।
सत्यमेकपदं स्वर्ग्यं शीलमेकपदं सुखम् ॥५१॥
substratum of fame. Truth is the substratum of all things which lead to heaven.
Good conduct (Virtue) is the substratum of happiness.
मनुष्यस्य किंस्विद्दैवकृतस्सखा ।
उपजीवनं किंस्विदस्य किंस्विदस्य परायणम् ॥५२॥
is his God-given friend? What
What is his ultimate refuge?
भार्या दैवकृतः सखा।
उपजीवनं च पर्जन्यो दानमस्य परायणम् ॥५३॥
friend. Clouds are the means of
livelihood. Charity (dana, gifting) is his ultimate refuge.
किंस्वित् धनानां स्यात् किमुत्तमम्।
लाभानामुत्तमं किं स्यात् सुखानां स्यात् किमुत्तमम् ॥५४॥
What is the best of all gains? What is
the best of all happiness?
दाक्ष्यं धनानामुत्तमं श्रुतम्।
लाभानां श्रेय आरोग्यं सुखानां तुष्टिरुत्तमा॥५५॥
Generosity is the best of all goodness.
Learning is the best of all
wealth. Health is the best of all gains and contentment is the best
of all happiness.