Yajnavalkya and Janaka (याज्ञवल्क्यः जनकश्च)

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Yajnavalkya and Janaka Maharaja (Samskrit: (याज्ञवल्क्यः जनकश्च) are two important personalities who played a crucial role in bringing out the nature of Brahman as we study today. Janaka is the common name for the rulers of Videha, a lineage renowned for having Brahmajnanis, is well known as Prcchaka (Questioner) and Yajnavalkya an exceptional preceptor and instructor. There are many anecdotes which reveal Janaka's profound interest in Brahmajnana, which also set us an example as to what the qualities of a prcchaka or a student should be. Janaka Maharaja's sabha (court) has been mentioned as the place decorated with many vidvans and jnanis, reverberated with healthy vadas (debates) samvadas (discussions) spardha (competitions) on Brahman, Atman, Paramatma, Devatas, Karmakanda, Jnanakanda, thus exclusively on matters pertaining to that jnana which leads one on the path to nihshreyasa. He was also known for his danas as well as distributing gifts during competitions. Here we have put together the conversations of Janaka with Yajnavalkya on at least three different occasions as discussed in Brhdaranayaka Upanishad.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Adhyaya 3

Janaka Maharaja of Videha once performed the yajnas wherein many dakshinas where given (बहुदक्षिणेन यज्ञेनेजे ।) to purohitas and scholars who assembled there. Most notably the vedic scholars of Kuru and Panchaladeshas participated in the event. Janaka Maharaja had a great desire to know "who among these vedic scholars is the most erudite of all?" He had a thousand cows, each of whose horns were decorated with gold.

तस्य ह जनकस्य वैदेहस्य विजिज्ञासा बभूव कः स्विदेषां ब्राह्मणानामनूचानतम इति ।

स ह गवां सहस्रमवरुरोध । दशदश पादा एकैकस्याः शृङ्गयोराबद्धा बभूवुः ॥ ३,१.१ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 3.1.1)[1]

Briefly the following sections are an introductory narrative of the questions raised about Brahmatattava by various scholars which were tactically answered by Yajnavalkya.

होताश्वलः ॥ Hotr Asvala

Asvala, the Hotri rtvik of Janaka, questions Yajnavalkya about all that is connected with death and by what means

  • केन यजमानो मृत्योराप्तिमतिमुच्यत इति । one is freed from the grasp of death (Brhd. Upan. 3.1.3)
  • केन यजमानोऽहोरात्रयोराप्तिमतिमुच्यत इति । one is freed from the reach of day and night (Brhd. Upan. 3.1.4)
  • केन यजमानः पूर्वपक्षापरपक्षयोराप्तिमतिमुच्यत इति । one is freed from the reach of waxing and waning of the moon (Brhd. Upan. 3.1.5)
  • केनाक्रमेण यजमानः स्वर्गं लोकमाक्रमत इति । by which approach the yajamana reaches the swaragaloka (Brhd. Upan. 3.1.6)

All the answers given by Yajnavalkya pertaining to the activities of the rtviks, Hota, Adhvaryu and Udgatr satisfy him and thereby stops further questioning. This whole samvaada is discussed further in Yajnavalkya Hotaasvala Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-होताश्वलयोः संवादः)

जारत्कारव आर्तभागः ॥ Jaratkarava Artabhaga

While Asvala questions Yajnavalkya about how to overcome the clutches of death, Artabhaga poses questions as to what remains of a man when he dies.

याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्रायं पुरुषो म्रियत उदस्मात्प्राणाः क्रामन्त्याहो नेति । नेति होवाच याज्ञवल्क्यः । (Brhd. Upan. 3.2.11)

Summary : When a person dies, do the Pranas (vital life force) move out of him or not? Yajnavalkya said, that no, they become united with him only.

In answer to him, Yajnavalkya explains that the pranas move out along with the Jiva and the body from which the pranas have departed becomes inflated and lies dead. He further reveals the details of Karma siddhanta in a private quarters.[2] [3] This samvada is discussed in detail in Yajnavalkya Arthabhaga Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-आर्तभागयोः संवादः)

भुज्यु ॥ Bhujyu

After revealing karma siddhanta to Artabhaga, Yajnavalkya is questioned by Bhujyu, the grandson of Lahya. His questions pertain to the whereabouts of descendents in the lineage of Parikshit.

तं यदा लोकानामन्तानपृच्छाम । अथैनमब्रूम क्व पारिक्षिता अभवन्निति ।... स त्वा पृच्छामि याज्ञवल्क्य । क्व पारिक्षिता अभवन्निति ॥ ३,३.१ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 3.3.1)

Yajnavalkya replies that the descendents of Parikshit went to worlds where the the Asvamedha yajins go and describes the way. He also answers about the limits of the worlds.[3] This samvada is discussed in detail in Yajnavalkya Bhujyu Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-भुज्यु संवादः)

उषस्त ॥ Ushasta

When the Brahmanas in the court of Janaka realised that Yajnavalkya was thorough in his answers regarding Karmakanda, they could conquer him by asking him the questions related to Brahmajnana.

Ushasta, the son of Chakra, asks Yajnavalkya "explain to me that supreme Brahman who is direct (साक्षात्) and immediate (अपरोक्षम्) and who is within all (सर्वान्तरस्तं)".[3]

अथ हैनमुषस्तश्चाक्रायणः पप्रच्छ । याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच यत्साक्षादपरोक्षाद्ब्रह्म य आत्मा सर्वान्तरस्तं मे व्याचक्ष्वेति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.4.1)

Yajnavalkya's answers in this section proclaim the nature of Brahman and Atman एषः ते आत्मा सर्वान्तरः । This one who is your Atman is within all. More details of this samvada are discussed in Yajnavalkya Ushasta Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-उषस्तयोः संवादः).

कहोलः ॥ Kahola

Kahola, the son of Kaushitaki, pursues questioning of Yajnavalkya after Ushasta is satisfied with the answers he received. His questions, a further extension to Ushasta's question of who is within all, are also about the details of Brahman. They are as follows (Brhd. Upan. 3.5.1)

  • कतमो याज्ञवल्क्य सर्वान्तरः । which among the many is within all
  • स ब्राह्मणः केन स्याद्येन स्यात्तेनेदृश एव । how does one become a realiser of Brahman

Thus in both Ushasta and Kahola's questioning one can find the decisively differentiating characteristics of Paramatma from the Jivatma.[3] The full details of Yajnavalkya Kahola Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-कहोलयोः संवादः).

गार्गी वाचक्नवी ॥ Gargi Vachaknavi

Yajnavalkya's intellectual dialogues with Gargi is the crown jewel of the third adhyaya of Brhdaranyaka Upanishad which is filled with many philosophical and profound questions. The sixth and eighth brahmanas of the third adhyaya deal with an indepth exploration about the lakshanas of Brahman. The sixth brahmana starts with Gargi Vachaknavi's question thus

अथ हैनं गार्गी वाचक्नवी पप्रच्छ याज्ञवल्क्येति होवाच । यदिदं सर्वमप्स्वोतं च प्रोतं च कस्मिन्नु खल्वाप ओताश्च प्रोताश्चेति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.6.1)

She asked "Yajnavalkya, if all this is woven warp and woof in waters, what then is that, in which the waters are woven?"

The sequential brilliant exposition of Yajnavalkya is about the support of the elements, the nature of the deities and their lokas (worlds), finally leading to the Brahmaloka. At this point Yajnavalkya restrains Gargi from further questioning about what is the support for the Brahmaloka.[3]

The eighth brahmana is about two further questions from Gargi, as pointed as the arrows. By what force is fixed that which is above the higher worlds (loosely translated as heavens), यदूर्ध्वं दिवो, and below the earth, पृथिवी, and that which is between them, like warp and woof? Her second question pertained to know the nature of that entity which supports the Akasha, which is interwoven as warp and woof between the earth and the worlds. Here Yajnavalkya describes the nature of Brahman. Completely satisfied with his answers Gargi remains silent. Yajnavalkya Gargi Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-गार्गी संवादः) discusses this exceptional conversation in detail.

उद्दालक आरुणिः ॥ Uddalaka Aruni

Uddalaka Aruni, also famous for the Panchagni vidya discussed in the Chandogya Upanishad, questions Yajnavalkya after Gargi. He raises the point as to what is the sutra (thread) by which the worlds and the beings therein are connected?

सोऽब्रवीत्पतञ्चलं काप्यं याज्ञिकांश्च वेत्थ नु त्वं काप्य तत्सूत्रं यस्मिन्नयं च लोकः परश्च लोकः सर्वाणि च भूतानि संदृब्धानि भवन्तीति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.7.1)

Further he asks who is that Antaryami (तमन्तर्यामिणं) who holds together the world and the beings from within?

Vayu the sutra that holds and supports all the worlds together, and essential nature of Atma as the immortal antaryami (आत्मान्तर्याम्यमृतः) are well explained in this Yajnavalkya Uddalaka Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-उद्दालकयोः संवादः).

शाकल्यः ॥ Shakalya

Vidagdha the son of Shakala, raises to question Yajnavalkya after Gargi bows down to him and declares him to be knowledgeable about Brahman. His questions pertain to Vaishvedevas their number and other devatas.

अथ हैनं विदग्धः शाकल्यः पप्रच्छ कति देवा याज्ञवल्क्येति । (Brhd. Upan. 3.9.1)

After an absorbing explanation about the devatas, Yajnavalkya questions Shakalya about the characteristics of the Paramapurusha as described by the Upanishads. Shakalya fails to answer his question and becomes silent. Yajnavalkya Shakalya Samvada (याज्ञवल्क्य-शाकल्ययोः संवादः)

Yajnavalkya asks the Kuru and Panchala Brahmanas and others who assembled in Janaka's court if anyone else wanted to question him, but no one came forward. Then he continued,"fresh leaves sprout from a tree which has been cut. If the seed is destroyed, a tree does not spring forth. How is man, however, born again after his death?"

When no one was able to answer his question, Yajnavalkya leaves the court with his decorated cows. Thus we see an interesting and profound description of Brahman in this episode at Janaka Maharaja's court. There are two other instances when Yajnavalkya returns to his court and engages the Maharaja in further discussion regarding Brahman.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Adhyaya 4

In the Fourth Adhyaya of the Brhdaranyaka Upanishad, Yajnavalkya opens a discussion on the topics that were learnt by Janaka Samrat from others (preceptors). When asked by Janaka, whether he came with a desire to get some animals (पशूनिच्छन्) or to speak about subtle truths (अण्वन्तम्)। Yajnavalkya replies that he is interested in seeking both, and if in the process of enlightening a person he obtains some animals, he would readily accept them.

Janaka conveys to him that Jitva Shailini told him about Vak (speech) being Brahman

अब्रवीन्मे जित्वा शैलिनिः वाग्वै ब्रह्मेति । ... वागेवायतनमाकाशः प्रतिष्ठा प्रज्ञेत्येनदुपासीत ।(Brhd. Upan. 4.1.2) [4]

To which Yajnavalkya replies as follows - Yes, the organ of speech is Brahman, indeed! But did he tell you about its abode (आयतनम्) and support (प्रतिष्ठा)?... Vak or the origin of speech is the abode of Brahman and Akasha is its pratishta (where it is supported). One has to meditate upon it as Prajna.

Similarly the conversation goes thus wherein Janaka puts forth a question and Yajnavalkya completes the three other padas of information pertaining to Brahman. Four things namely, Devata, resting place/abode (आयतनम्), support (प्रतिष्ठा) and another name for it are described, thereby presenting a comprehensive answer to each of what is said to be Brahman.


  1. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 3 Brahmana 1)
  2. Raghavachar. S. S., (1972) Sri Ramanuja on the Upanishads. Madras : Vidya Press (Pages 86 - 90)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Dr. N. S. Ananta Rangacharya (2004) Prinicipal Upanishads, Volume 3, Brhdaranyakopanishat. Text, English Translation and Brief notes according to Sri Ranga Ramanujamuni. Bangalore: Sri Rama Printers (Pages 155 to 238)
  4. Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 1)