The episode known as  “Yaksha
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.
Given below are the Yaksha’s questions with Yudhishthira’s answers from
the great epic of Mahabharata with a  simple translation in English.
यक्षः     कश्च धर्मः परो लोके कश्च
धर्मः सदाफलः

         किं नियम्य न शोचन्ति कैश्च
सन्धिर्न जीर्यते ॥५६॥

Which is the greatest dharma in this world?  Which dharma yields fruit always. 
Controlling which does not one grieve? With whom a  peace treaty does not

युधिष्ठिरः  आनृशंस्यं परो धर्मस्त्रयी
धर्मः सदा फलः।

         मनो यम्य न शोचन्ति सन्धिः
सद्भिर्न जीर्यते ॥५७॥

Ahimsa (non-violence) is the
greatest dharma (virtue).  The dharmas enshrined in the three Vedas
always yield fruit.  By controlling the mind one does not grieve. 
Treaty with the good does not fail.

यक्षः     किं नु हित्वा प्रियो भवति
किं नु हित्वा न शोचति।

         किं नु हित्वाऽर्थवान् भवति
किं नु हित्वा सुखी भवेत् ॥५८॥

Discarding which one becomes
loved by all ? Discarding which one does not grieve? Discarding which one
becomes wealthy? Discarding which does one become happy?

युधिष्ठिरः  मानं हित्वा प्रियो  भवति क्रोधं हित्वा न शोचति।

         कामं हित्वाऽर्थवान् भवति
लोभं हित्वा सुखी भवेत् ॥५९॥

One who is without vanity is loved by all.  One without anger
never grieves.  One without desires is wealthy and one without greed is

यक्षः     किमर्थं ब्राह्मणे दानं
किमर्थं नटनर्तके।

         किमर्थं चैव भृत्येषु
किमर्थं चैव राजसु॥६०॥

What is the purpose of  dana (gift, charity) to a brahmana, to
dancers (and musicians), to servants and to the King?

युधिष्ठिरः  धर्मार्थं ब्राह्मणे दानं  यशोर्थं नटनर्तके।

         भृत्येषु भरणार्थं वै
भयार्थं चैव राजसु ॥६१॥

Dana to a brahmana is for the sake of dharma,
to dancers and musicians for the sake of fame, to servants for the sake of
proper conduct of affairs and to the king because of fear.  

यक्षः      केनस्विदावृतो लोकः केन
स्विन्न प्रकाशते।

          केन त्यजति मित्राणि केन
स्वर्गं न गच्छति ॥६२॥

By what is this world
enveloped?  Why does an entity not shine (does not become known)? What is
it that causes one to  abandon friends?  What is it that prevents one
from entering heaven?  

युधिष्ठिरः   अज्ञानेनावृतो लोकस्तमसा न

          लोभात्त्यजति मित्राणी
सङ्गात्स्वर्गं न गच्छति॥६३॥

This world is enveloped by
ignorance (of the Reality).  One does not shine because of darkness. 
It is greed which prompts one to abandon one’s friends.  It is attachment
(to worldly things) that prevents one from entering heaven. 

यक्षः      मृतः कथं स्यात्पुरुषः कथं
राष्ट्रं मृतं भवेत् ।

          श्राद्धं मृतं कथा वा
स्यात् कथं यज्ञो मृतो भवेत् ।।६४॥


How does a man become (like)
dead?  When does a kingdom become dead?  When does shraaddha performed in memory of forebears is
considered as good as dead? When does a sacrifice becomes as  good as dead?

युधिष्ठिरः   मृतो दरिद्रः पुरुषो मृतं

          मृतमश्रोत्रियं श्राद्धं
मृतो यज्ञस्त्वदक्षिणः ॥६५॥

One who is poor is as good as
dead.  A country without a king is (like)  dead.  Shraddha
performed without a shrotriya (one who has studied the Vedas) is as good as
dead. A sacrifice performed without dakishina is (like) dead.


यक्षः     कादिक्किमुदकं प्रोक्तं
किमन्नं किं च वै विषम्।

         श्राद्धस्य कालमाख्याहि ततः
पिब हरस्व च ॥६६॥

What is quarter(direction)?  What is called water? What is
food? What is poison?  What is the proper time for Shraddha? Answer these
questions and then drink or take away water from this lake.

युधिष्ठिरः   सन्तोदिग्जलमाकाशं गौरन्नं
प्रार्थना विषम्।

          श्राद्धस्य ब्राह्मणः कालः
कथं वा यक्ष मन्यसे ॥६७॥

Good people are the
direction. Sky is water. The cow provides food. Begging is poison. Brahmana is
the time for Shraddha. O Yaksha! What do you think about this?

यक्षः      तपः किं लक्षणं प्रोक्तं को
दमश्च प्रकीर्तितः।

          क्षमा च का परा प्रोक्ता का
च ह्रीः परिकीर्तिता ॥६८॥


What is said to be the mark of tapas? What is known as control.
What is the highest patience? What is called modesty?

युधिष्ठिरः    तपः स्वधर्मवर्तित्वं मनसो
दमनं दमः।

           क्षमा द्वन्द्वसहिष्णुत्वं
ह्रीरकार्यनिवर्तनम् ॥६९॥

Always sticking to one’s own dharma is penance(tapas). Control
of the      mind is real control.  Enduring pairs
of opposites (like heat and cold, happiness and sorrow, honour and dishonour,
friendship and enmity etc.) is patience.  Refraining from doing improper
deeds is modesty. 

यक्षः       किं ज्ञानं प्रोच्यते राजन्
कः शमश्च प्रकीर्तितः।

           दया च का परा प्रोक्ता
किञ्चार्जवमुदाहृतम्। ॥७०॥


O King, What is called knowledge?  What is calmness? What is
the highest form of kindness?  What is

युधिष्ठिरः    ज्ञानं तत्त्वार्थसंबोधः

           दया सर्वसुखैषित्वमार्जवं
समचित्तता ॥७१॥


Realisation of the Self is knowledge. Calmness is the calmness of
the mind.  Kindness is the desire to see all beings happy.
Straightforwardness is equanimity in all circumstances.    

यक्षः       कः शत्रुर्दुर्जयः पुंसां
कश्च व्याधिरनन्त्तकः।

           कीदृशश्च स्मृतः साधुरसाधुः
कीदृशः स्मृतः ॥७२॥


Which foe is invincible for men?   Which is the disease
which has no end?  Who is a sadhu (good person)? Who is a bad person?

युधिष्ठिरः    क्रोधः सुदुर्जयः
शत्रुर्लोभो व्याधिरनन्तकः।

साधुरसाधुर्निर्दयः स्मृतः


Anger is the invincible foe. Greed is the disease without
end.  A sadhu

(good person) is one who does only good to all beings.  One
who is cruel (to all beings) is a bad person.  

यक्षः       को मोहः प्रोच्यते राजन्
कश्च मानः प्रकीर्तितः।

           किमालस्यं च विज्ञेयं कश्च
शोकः प्रकीर्तितः ॥७४॥


O King, What is delusion? What is vanity?  What is indolence?
What is sorrow?

युधिष्ठिरः    मोहो हि धर्ममूढत्वं

शोकस्त्वज्ञानमुच्यते ॥७५॥

Delusion is ignorance of dharma
Vanity is false pride about oneself.  Indolence is not fulfilling one’s
duties according to swadharma and  sorrow is ignorance.

यक्षः        किं स्थैर्यमृषिभिःप्रोक्तं
किं च धैर्यमुदाहृतम्।

            स्नानं च किं परं प्रोक्तं
दानं च किमिहोच्यते ॥७६॥

What is called by Rishis as sthairya (stability, unshakability).  What
is known as dhairya (courage)? What is the highest type of snana (bathing)? What is dana (charity,gifting)?

युधिष्ठिरः     स्वधर्मे स्थिरा स्थैर्यं

            स्नानं मनोमलत्यागो दानं वै
भूतरक्षणम् ॥७७॥

Firm adherence to one’s own dharma is sthairya
Control of the senses is dhairya.   Ridding the mind of all
impurities is  the highest type of snana. Providing protection to beings is dana.

यक्षः        कः पण्डितः पुमान् ज्ञेयो
नास्तिकः कश्च उच्यते।

           को मूर्खः कश्च कामः स्यात्
को मत्सरः इति स्मृतः ॥७८॥


Who is a learned person? Who is an atheist? Who is a fool ? 
What is desire? What is jealousy?


युधिष्ठिरः     धर्मज्ञः पण्डितो ज्ञेयो  नास्तिको मूर्ख उच्यते।

            कामः संसारहेतुश्च हृत्तापो
मत्सरः स्मृतः ॥७९॥

A learned person is one who
has knowledge of dharma
An atheist is a fool.  What causes samsara (cycle of births and deaths) is
desire. Heart-burn is jealously.

यक्षः        कोऽहंकार इति प्रोक्तः कश्च
दंभः प्रकीर्तितः।

            किं तद्दैवं परं प्रोक्तं
किं तत्पैशुन्यमुच्यते ॥८०॥


What is called egotism?  What is termed dambha?   Which is
the highest daivam (grace of God)?  What is paishunya
युधिष्ठिरः     महाज्ञानमहंकारो दंभो धर्मो

            दैवं दानफलं प्रोक्तं
पैशुन्यं परदूषणम् ॥८१॥

Egotism is the height of ignorance (of the self).  Dambha is when one falsely poses oneself
as a dharmic (virtuous) person.  The highest daivam (grace of God)

Is the result of daana (charity, gift).  Paishunya is tarnishing others

यक्षः         धर्मश्चार्थश्चकामश्च

             एषां नित्यविरुद्धानां
कथमेकत्र संगमः ॥८२॥


             Dharma (virtue), artha (wealth) and kama (desire, specially erotic) are

mutually contradictory.  How can there be harmony among
these  which are opposed to one another?

युधिष्ठिरः     यदा धर्मश्च भार्या च

            तदा धर्मार्थकामानां
त्रयाणामपि संगमः ॥८३॥


When there is harmony between one’s dharma and one’s wife, there
will be harmony between dharma,
artha and kama
यक्षः         अक्षयो नरकः केन प्राप्यते

             एतन्मे पृच्छतः प्रश्नं
तच्छीघ्रं वक्तुमर्हसि॥८४॥

 O King, who goes to eternal hell? Please quickly give me an

 to this question of mine. 

युधिष्ठिरः      ब्राह्मणं स्वयमाहूय

             पश्चान्नास्तीति यो
ब्रूयात् सोऽक्षयं नरकं व्रजेत् ॥८५॥


He goes to eternal hell who, having invited a poor begging brahmana,

tells him that there is nothing which he can give to him ( i.e. the


             वेदेषु धर्मशास्त्रेषु
मिथ्या यो वै द्विजातिषु

             देवेषु पितृधर्मेषु
सोऽक्षयं नरकं व्रजेत् ॥८६॥


He goes to eternal hell who dubs as false all  Vedas, dharma
sastras, brahmanas, devas and sacrifices to forebears.  

             विद्यमाने धने

पश्चान्नास्तीति यो ब्रूयात् सोऽक्षयं नरकं व्रजेत् ॥८७॥

One who is very rich but
neither gives to the needy nor enjoys the 

wealth himself will go to
eternal hell.

यक्षः         राजन् कुलेन वृत्तेन
स्वाध्यायेन श्रुतेन वा।

             ब्राह्मण्यं केन भवति
प्रब्रूह्येतत् सुनिश्चितम् ॥८८॥

O King, How does one gain
brahminhood, whether by clan in which born, by virtuous conduct, by the study
of Vedas or by shrutam (learning acquired by hearing from
saints, teachers and elders)? Tell me your considered view on this.

युधिष्ठिरः       शृणु यक्ष कुलं तात न
स्वाध्यायो न च श्रुतं।

              कारणं हि द्विजत्त्वे च
वृत्तमेव न संशयः ॥८९॥

O Yaksha, hear me; Neither
clan nor Vedic studies nor learning confers brahminhood.  Undoubtedly, it
is only virtuous (good) conduct that confers brahminhood.     

              वृत्तं यत्नेन संरक्ष्यं
ब्राह्मणेन विशेषतः।

              अक्षीणवृत्तो न क्षीणो
वृत्ततस्तु हतो हतः॥९०॥


One, especially a brahmana,
should zealously guard his good conduct.  One whose conduct does not
become weak never becomes weak himself. One whose good conduct is killed is as
good as dead. 

              पठकाः पाठकाश्चैव येचान्ये

              सर्वे व्यसिनिनो मूर्खाः यः
क्रियावान् स पण्डितः ॥९१॥

Students, teachers and
thinkers in various shastras (scientific disciplines) are fools if
their conduct is bad.  He who is bent on carrying out his swadharma is the real pundit

              चतुर्वेदोऽपि दुर्वृत्तः स
शूद्रादतिरिच्यते ।

              योऽग्निहोत्रपरो दान्तः स
ब्राह्मणः इति स्मृतः॥९२॥

One who is well-versed in the four Vedas is worse than a Sudra if
his conduct is bad. One who performs agnihotra and other karmas enjoined by his swadharma and who has control over his senses is
considered a brahmana.

यक्षः          प्रियवचनवादी किं लभते   

              विमृशितकार्यकरः किं लभते।

              बहुमित्रकरः किं लभते

              धर्मे रतः किं लभते कथय ॥९३॥


What does a person, who talks
soft and sweet with concern for others, gain?  What does one gain when one
embarks on a project only after critical examination of all its pros and cons?
What is the gain of one who has many friends?  What does a stickler to dharma gain?   

युधिष्ठिरः       प्रियवचनवादी प्रियो भवति

              विमृशितकार्यकरोऽधिकं जयति।

              बहुमित्रकरः सुखं वसते

              यश्च धर्मरतः स गतिं लभते

One whose talk is sweet and
sincere is loved by all.  The one whose actions are preceded by careful
scrutiny, analysis and planning achieves success in his endeavours.  One
with many friends lives happily.  One who follows the path of dharma goes to heaven.


यक्षः          को मोदते किमाश्चर्यं कः
पन्था का च वार्तिका।

              वद मे चतुरः प्रश्नान् मृता
जीवन्तु बान्धवाः॥९५॥  


back to Who is happy?  What is wonder?  What is the
path?  What is the news? Answer all these four questions and let your
brothers who are dead come life. 

युधिष्ठिरः       पञ्चमेऽहनि षष्ठे वा शाकं
पचति स्वे गृहे।

              अनृणी चाऽप्रवासी च स
वारिचर मोदते ॥९६॥


O Yaksha, one who cooks vegetables on the fifth or sixth ahas (अहस्) of the day in one’s own
house, who is free from debts and who is not away from home is happy.


             अहन्यहनि भूतानि गच्छन्तीह

             शेषाः स्तावरमिच्छन्ति
किमाश्चर्यमतः परम् ॥९७॥


Every day living beings pass into the abode of Yama.  But
others want to remain here permanently (They perhaps think that their turn will
not come). There is no greater wonder than this. 

             तर्कोऽप्रतिष्ठः श्रुतयो

             नैको ऋषिर्यस्य मतं
प्रमाणम् ।

             धर्मस्य तत्त्वं निहितं

             महाजनो येन गतः स पन्थाः


Nothing can be established by
logical arguments.  The Vedas are different from each other.  There
is no one Rishi whose ideas can be taken as authentic.  The truth about dharma is very secret (and difficult to
comprehend). Therefore the path one has to follow is the one taken by great

             अस्मिन् महामोहमये कटाहे



             भूतानि कालः पचतीति वार्ता

The news is:  Time is
cooking all beings in the huge cauldron of ignorance on the fire of the sun,
using days and nights as fuel and stirring the mix with ladles of months and

यक्षः         व्याख्याता मे त्वया
प्रश्ना याथातथ्यं परन्तप।

पुरुषं त्विदानीं व्याख्याहि यश्च सर्वधनी नरः

O Destroyer of enemies ! You
have correctly answered all my questions.  Now describe to me the person
who is rich (wealthy) in all respects

 युधिष्ठिरः     दिवं स्पृशति भूमिं च शब्दः
पुण्येन कर्मणा।

             यावत्स शब्दो भवति
तावत्पुरुष उच्यते॥ १०१॥


The fame of good deeds done by one spreads in the earth and the
heaven.  As long as that fame is alive one is known as a purusha


             तुल्यः प्रियाऽप्रिये यस्य  सुखदुःखे तथैव च।

             अतीतानागते चोभे स वै
सर्वधनी नरः ॥१०२॥


One is considered wealthy in all respects if one maintains
equanimity between likes and dislikes, happiness and sorrow as well as what is
past and what is yet to come.   

यक्षः          व्याख्यातः पुरुषो
राजन्यश्च सर्वधनी नरः।

              तस्मात्त्वमेकं भ्रातॄणां
यमिच्छसि स जीवतु ॥१०३॥

O King! You have answered the questions regarding purusha and a man who is wealthy in all
respects.  Therefore let one of your brothers, whom you wish, come back to

युधिष्ठिरः       श्यामो य एष रक्ताक्षो
बृहच्छाल इवोत्थितः ।

              व्यूढोरस्को महाबाहुर्नकुलो
यक्ष जीवतु ॥१०४॥

O Yaksha! Let Nakula of dark complexion and red eyes, tall as the
sal tree with broad chest and long arms, come back to

प्रियस्ते भीमसेनोऽयमर्जुनो
वः परायणम्।

              स कस्मान्नकुलो राजन्
सापत्नं जीवमिच्छसि ॥१०५॥

     O King! Bhima is dear to you, Arjuna is your
refuge; why do you want Nakula, born of the second wife of your father, to be
brought back to life. ?          

             यस्य नागसहस्रेण दशसंख्येन
वै बलम्।

तुल्यं तं भीममुत्सृज्य
नकुलं जीवमिच्छसि ॥१०६॥


Leaving out Bhima who has the strength of ten thousand elephants
you want Nakula brought back to life. 


तथैनं मनुजा प्राहुर्भीमसेनं प्रियं तव।

             अथ केनानुभावेन सापत्नं
जीवमिच्छसि ॥१०७॥

People say Bhima is very dear
to you. In spite of it, what is the emotion which prompts you to ask for the
life of a brother born of the sapatni (co-wife) of your mother?

यस्य बाहुबलं सर्वे
पाण्डवाः समुपासते।

              अर्जुनं तमपाहाय नकुलं
जीवमिच्छसि ॥१०८॥

Leaving out Arjuna, on the strength of whose arms all the Pandavas
rely, you want Nakula to be revived

युधिष्ठिरः       धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो
रक्षति रक्षितः।

              तस्माद्धर्मं न त्यजामि मा
नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत्॥१०९॥

If dharma is destroyed, it will destroy; if it
is protected, it will protect.  Therefore I  never forsake dharma lest it,
thus spurned, destroy me.     

              आनृशंस्यं परो धर्मः
परमार्थाच्च मे मतम्।

              आनृशंस्यं चिकीर्षामि नकुलो
यक्ष जीवतु॥११०॥

In my opinion kindness is the greatest dharma, virtue, greater than
the highest purushartha
I wish to be kind, O Yaksha!, let Nakula live.

              धर्मशीलः सदा राजा इति मां
मानवा विदुः।

              स्वधर्मान्न चलिष्यामि
नकुलो यक्ष जीवतु॥१११॥

People know me as a King whose conduct is governed by dharma.
              I never deviate from swadharma. Let Nakula, therefore, live.

              कुन्ती चैव माद्री च द्वे
भार्ये तु पितुर्मम।

              उभे सपुत्री स्यातां वै इति
मे धीयते मतिः॥११२॥

Kunti and Madri were the two wives of my father.  My mind is determined
that both of them should be with a son.


              यथा कुन्ती तथा माद्री विशेषो
नास्ति मे तयोः।

              मातृभ्यां सममिच्छामि नकुलो
यक्ष जीवतु ॥११३॥

For me just as Kunti is mother so is Madri.  I do not make
any distinction between them.  I wish to have them both placed in the same
position.  Let, therefore, Nakula live.

यक्षः          यस्य तेऽर्थाच्च कामाच्च
आनृशंस्यं परं मतम्।

              तस्मात्ते भ्रातरः सर्वे
जीवन्तु भरतर्षभ

As you have placed aanrusamsyam (non-violence, kindness)
above   artha (wealth) and kama (desire), let all your brothers come
back to life.


        इति श्री महाभारते आरण्यके
पर्वणि आरणेयपर्वणि यक्षप्रश्नः ॥

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Sri P R Ramamurthy Ji was the author of this website. When he started this website in 2009, he was in his eighties. He was able to publish such a great number of posts in limited time of 4 years. We appreciate his enthusiasm for Sanskrit Literature. Authors story in his own words : http://ramamurthypr1931.blogspot.com/

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