Uddalaka and Shvetaketu (उद्दालकः श्वेतकेतुः च।)
उद्दालकः ॥ Uddalaka (आरुणिः ॥ Aruni) and श्वेतकेतुः ॥ Shvetaketu (आरुणेयः ॥ Aruneya) are the father and son pair, whose quest for ब्रह्मविद्या ॥ Brahmavidya is recounted in the छान्दोग्य उपनिषद् ॥ Chandogya Upanishad of सामवेद ॥ Samaveda. Brahmavidya is the highest and most difficult level of metaphysical knowledge or ज्ञानम् ॥ Jnana to be acquired by any adhyatmik knowledge seeker. And वेदाः ॥ Vedas and उपनिषदः ॥ Upanishads are the one and only source for this Jnana. Though Upanishads explain this knowledge, it lies ultimately with the individual to attain this knowledge by साधना ॥ sadhana.
परिचयः || Introduction
Shvetaketu represents the quintessential seeker of knowledge. The Upanishads entail the journey of Shvetaketu from असत् || Asat (ignorance) to सत् || sat (knowledge of the self and truth). The context of Shvetaketu appears mainly in three places, namely,
- बृहदारण्यकोपनिषद् ॥ Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (S. 6.2.1 to 6.2.8)
- छान्दोग्य-उपनिषद् ॥ Chandogya Upanishad (Chapter 6)
- Kaushitaki Brahmana (S.1.)
Shvetaketu is the recipient of the knowledge enshrined in the उपनिषद्-महवाक्यानि || Upanishad mahavakya which appears in the sixteen chapters of the 6th section (प्रपाठकः || Prapathaka) of the Chandogya Upanishad. Apart from Upanishads, Uddalaka and Shvetaketu are also mentioned in महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata in different पर्व-s || Parvas such as सभापर्वः || Sabha Parva, शल्यपर्वः || Shalya Parva, and शान्तिपर्वः || Shanti Parva.
उद्दालकः || Uddalaka : The Father
उद्दालकः ॥ Uddalaka (also called आरुणिः ॥ Aruni) was the disciple of the teacher अयॊधाधौम्यः || Ayodhadhaumya. He is very famous for his devotion to his Guru Dhaumya.
It is stated in Mahabharata, Sabha Parva, Chapter 7, Stanza 12 that this hermit Uddalaka was a prominent figure in the सभा || sabha of Indra. Uddalaka had a son called श्वेतकेतुः ॥ Shvetaketu and a daughter called सुजाता ॥ Sujata. He gave his daughter Sujata in marriage to his favorite disciple कहोदकः ॥ Kahodaka. The hermit अष्टावक्रः ॥ Ashtavakra was their son. (Mahabharata. Vana Parva, Chapter 132).
Once Uddalaka caused the river सरस्वती ॥ Sarasvati to appear at the place of sacrifice. From that day onwards, Sarasvati got the name मनोरमा || Manorama because when the thought came to his मनस् || manas (mind), the river made its appearance. (M.B. Shalya Parva, Chapter 33).
It is mentioned in Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Chapter 57, Stanza 10, that भीष्मः ॥ Bhisma explaining राजधर्मः || Rajadharma to धर्मराजः ॥ Dharmaraja explains that Uddalaka expelled his son Shvetaketu from the house because he used to invite ब्रह्मणाः ॥ Brahmanas with deceptive promises of entertainment and ill treated them.
श्वेतकेतुः || Shvetaketu : The Son
स्मृति-s || Smritis refer to Shvetaketu as a महर्षिः ॥ Maharshi.
Shvetaketu was the son of the sage आरुणिः ॥ Aruni or उद्दालकः ॥ Uddalaka who was born in the गौतम ॥ Gautama clan. Shvetaketu was Uddalaka's son, born to his wife by one of his disciples. (Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Chapter 35, Verse 22). Shvetaketu had a sister named Sujata. Astavakra was her son by the sage, Kahotaka. Thus, Shvetaketu was Ashtavakra's maternal uncle and they grew up together in Uddalaka's ashrama.
Rtvik of the Sarpasatra of Janamejaya
The prominent ऋत्विक्-s || Rtviks of जनमेजय ॥ Janamejaya's सर्पसत्रः ॥ sarpasatra (a यागः ॥ yaga) were,
Bhargava, Kautsa, Jaimini, Sarhgarava, Pihgala, Vyasa, Uddalaka, Pramattaka, Shvetaketu, Asita, Devala, Narada, Parvata, Atreya, Kundajara, Kalaghajs, Vatsya, Kohala, Devasarma, Maudgalya and Samasaurabha. ( Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Chapter 53)
Under his father's training, Shvetaketu became a great scholar. With the rise of his scholarship, he became very conceited. The father who understood this, called him to his side and asked him,
तमादेशमप्राक्षेयः योनाश्रुतं श्रुतं भवत्यमतं मतमविज्ञाातं विज्ञातमिति कथं नु भगवः स आदेशो भवतीति || (Chan. Upan. 6.1.3)
tamādeśamaprākṣeyaḥ yonāśrutaṃ śrutaṃ bhavatyamataṃ matamavijñāātaṃ vijñātamiti kathaṃ nu bhagavaḥ sa ādeśo bhavatīti || (Chan. Upan. 6.1.3)
Meaning : By studying all about what you can see, hear and understand, have you learnt anything about what you cannot see, hear or understand?
Shvetaketu admitted that he did not know. Then Uddalaka explained to him the mystery of the परमात्मन् ॥ Paramatma (universal soul) which is without beginning or end. The phrase तत्त्वमसि || tattvamasi appears here, that is designated as one of the four महावाक्य-s || Mahavakyas in the Upaniṣhads.
As per the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda (5-3), Shvetaketu, once came to the assembly of पाञ्चाल-s || Panchalas, whose reigning monarch was Pravahana Jaivali. When he proclaimed himself as a ब्रह्मज्ञानी || brahmajnani, the king decides to test his knowledge.
पञ्चप्रश्नाः || The Five Questions
The King asked Shvetaketu whether he was initiated in Brahmavidya or given ब्रह्मोपदेशः || brahmopadesha. To gauge his understanding of Brahmavidya, the king asked him the following five questions for which he replies that he knew not the answers.
- वेत्थ यदितोऽधि प्रजाः प्रयन्तीति - न भगव इति || vettha yadito'dhi prajāḥ prayantīti - na bhagava iti ||
- वेत्थ यथा पुनरावर्तन्त इति - न भगव इति || vettha yathā punarāvartanta iti - na bhagava iti ||
- वेत्थ पथोर्देवयानस्य पितृयानस्य च व्यावर्तना इति - न भगव इति || vettha pathordevayānasya pitṛyānasya ca vyāvartanā iti - na bhagava iti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.2)
- वेत्थ यथाऽसौ लोको न सम्पूर्यत इति - न भगव इति || vettha yathā'sau loko na sampūryata iti - na bhagava iti ||
- वेत्थ यथा पञ्चम्यामाहुतावापः पुरुषवचसो भवन्तीति - नैव भगव इति || vettha yathā pañcamyāmāhutāvāpaḥ puruṣavacaso bhavantīti - naiva bhagava iti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.3)
The following are the King's five questions (meaning) summarized in serial order :
- Do you know from here (this लोकः || loka) where do the people go (after death)?
- Do you know by what means they (the dead) come back?
- Do you know the point of divergence (which have the same path upto one point) of the paths of the देवयानम् || devayana (journey to the deva loka post death) and पितृयानम् || pitruyana (journey to Pritu loka post death)?
- Do you know why the पितृलोकः || pitru loka (world of forefathers or ancestors) is never filled?
- Do you know (in पञ्चाग्निः || Panchagni) by what process at the fifth आहुतिः || ahuti (oblation) the water or अप्-तत्त्व || Apa Tattva gets the name of पुरुषः || Purusha?
Shvetaketu thought himself to be a ब्रह्मज्ञानी || brahmajnani, yet did not know the answer to the King’s questions. The King so questions his claim to be a brahmajnani and so humiliated, Shvetaketu returns home to question his father Uddalaka:
होवाचाननुशिष्य वाव किल मा भगवानब्रवीदनुत्वाऽशिषमिति || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.4)
hovācānanuśiṣya vāva kila mā bhagavānabravīdanutvā'śiṣamiti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.4)
Meaning : Bhagavan, you claimed to have given me all knowledge, yet you did not? Shvetaketu continued:
पञ्च मा राजन्यबन्धुः प्रश्र्नाप्राक्षीत्तेषां नैकं च नाशकं विवक्तुमिति || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.5)
pañca mā rājanyabandhuḥ praśrnāprākṣītteṣāṃ naikaṃ ca nāśakaṃ vivaktumiti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.5)
Meaning : I was not able to answer even one of the questions of the King! (Chan. Upan. 5.3.5)
So saying, he put forth the five questions posed by the King to his father.
The Father replies:
स होवाच - यथा मा त्वं तदैतानवदो यथाऽहमेषां नैकं च न वेद यद्यहमिमानवेदिष्यं कथं ते नावक्ष्यामिति || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.5)
sa hovāca - yathā mā tvaṃ tadaitānavado yathā'hameṣāṃ naikaṃ ca na veda yadyahamimānavediṣyaṃ kathaṃ te nāvakṣyāmiti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.5)
Meaning : I do not know the answer to these questions, if I knew, would I not tell you?
So, both the father and son go to King Pravahana’s assembly to seek knowledge. The guests were received with hospitality and after that the King humbly requested.
The King asks,
मानुषस्य भगवन्गौतम वित्तस्य वरं वृणीथा इति || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.6)
mānuṣasya bhagavangautama vittasya varaṃ vṛṇīthā iti || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.6)
Meaning : Bhagavan (as a brahmana usually was addressed), you can ask for any kind of wealth that is within the means of a human being?
Here, the implication is that the क्षत्रियः || Kshatriya can give material wealth to the Brahmana but ब्रह्मविद्या as per the prevailing वर्णव्यवस्था ॥ social order, was usually respected as the brahmana’s domain. Notably, contrary to the still continuing popular perception invented by the EIC Indologists and their Indian Sepoys, वर्णः || Varna (translated wrongly as caste) was determined by संस्कारः || Samskar and not parentage.
But Shvetaketu and his father were not there for material wealth, they had come to receive brahmavidya from the Kshatriya King. Uddalaka humbly requests the King,
स होवाच - तवैव राजन्मानुषं वित्तं यामेव कुमारस्यान्ते वाचमभाषथास्तामेव मे ब्रूहिति स ह कृच्छ्री बभूव || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.6)
sa hovāca - tavaiva rājanmānuṣaṃ vittaṃ yāmeva kumārasyānte vācamabhāṣathāstāmeva me brūhiti sa ha kṛcchrī babhūva || (Chan. Upan. 5.3.6)
Meaning : Let the worldly human wealth rest with you. Please bestow upon me, the answer for the questions you asked my son!
Before accepting Uddalaka and Shvetaketu as his disciples, the King had to set down the rules as the reigning system did not allow knowledge to be imparted to
- anyone who stayed outside the precincts of the गुरुकुलम् || gurukula
- unfamiliar persons
- a person who lacks the अधिकारः || adhikara (aptitude) to acquire knowledge
The King requests Uddalaka & his son to stay at his palace. And through many years the King imparted knowledge to both Uddalaka & Shvetaketu.
Responses to these questions were provided through explanation of Panchagni vidya, which also included explanations of devayana (journey to the deva loka post death) and pitruyana (journey to Pitru loka post death) as well as of पञ्चमहायज्ञाः || panchamahayajnas. This was the explanation provided by the king as the essence of Brahmavidya.
As an introduction to Panchagni vidya, the Kshatriya King told the brahmana, "you are the first one amongst the Brahmans to receive the knowledge of this brahmavidya, until now it was known only to Kshatriyas."
संवादः || Discussion
This story clearly reveals that in the Vedic period, even Kshatriyas were well versed in Brahmavidya debunking the Caste-system hierarchies of the East India Company Indologists’ insinuation that brahmanas were the only custodians of knowledge.
- Ganguli, K. M. (2003). The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, Book 12: Santi Parva.
- Vettam, Mani. (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia: A Comprehensive Dictionary with Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature. Delhi:Motilal Banarsidass.
- Chandogya Upanishad (Adhyaya 6)
- Chandogya Upanishad (Adhyaya 5)
- Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:Sahitya Prakashana.