Chapter 1: Yagnavalkya's birth and Childhood
In the Brihat Kalpa, there existed a sanctified town named Chamathkarapura on the banks of the sacred river Ganges, flowing through the twin holy states of Kuru-Panchala. In this town lived a virtuous Brahmin couple called Brahma Ratha and Sunanda. Brahma Ratha was well versed in Vedas and Sastras. He was constantly engaged in either performing yagnas himself or getting them executed under his supervision through his colleagues and disciples. It may therefore be said of him that carrying out a yagna was, as it were in the nature of putting a dress. Hence he was also called Yagna Valkya meaning a man who puts yagna as a dress. He was also known by other titles like Vajasani as he was in the habit of doing annadhana daily and Deva Ratha, as he was to be the father of a son blessed to him by the Almighty Himself. Sunanda was the daughter of the sage Sakala and had many sided physical attributes and sublime virtues. She associated herself wholeheartedly in all the activities of her husband. It may be truly said that the marital life of this couples served as a model to be emulated. No wonder they lead a harmonious and contended married life.
The divine couple acquired name and fame because of their acts of virtue and piety, however they had an unfulfilled desire, as they were not blessed with a son for a long time. Brahma Ratha could meet the obligations as prescribed in the Scriptures due to the Devas and Rishis, but, in the absence of a son, he could not discharge the debts due to his ancestors. The Vedas proclaim that a person without an offspring cannot have nor relationship with the world and that all parents should have the good fortune to depend on their son in their old age. According to Sastras, childless couples are obliged to lead a dejected life on earth, as they would not receive the necessary care and protection of their son during the evening of their life.
Brahma Ratha thought of seeking divine help and retired to Kedara Kshetra. There he undertook a severe penance and observed strenuous tapas offering prayers with steadfast devotion for twelve years without minding the heat, rain, cold and hunger. Maha Vishnu, pleased with his tapas, gave him darshan, mounted on the celestial Garuda, in the very same form as was being mentally contemplated by the sage while in penance. Enthralled and delighted beyond any measure at the presentation of the Almighty Himself, Brahma Ratha prostrated at the feet of Maha Vishnu and submitted the lord his desire. He said he desired to have a male child well versed in Vedas, Sastras, Scriptures, religious rites and all the ancient theological knowledge. The son should be endowed with knowledge, intellect and wisdom and bestowed with all the attainments and greatness of Almighty Himself!
Lord Maha Vishnu said: "Nobody could ever be born in this world with such supreme powers and therefore there cannot be another like me. But yet, I shall now reveal to you a secret. In the present age, the mundane world is engaged merely in performing rites prescribed in the Karma Kanda contained in the Vedas. And Brahma Vidya, i.e., the knowledge pertaining to the attainment of Brahman, has receded into the background. You desire to have a son equal to me in every respect. In order to fulfill your desire, having granted you a boon, I myself will have to take birth as your son, as I am very pleased with your Bhakti, tapas, and devotion. As your son, I shall usher into the world a Veda, pristine in purity and clear in clarity and propagate Brahma-Vidya in the world of humans. In that life as your son, I shall have two wives by the name of Katyayani and Maitreyi, to exemplify the inner meaning of the orders of domestic grahasthasrama and the true significance of renunciation and sannyasasrama".
Brahma Ratha, pleased at the grant of a boon by the Almighty returned to his ashram and resumed his grahasthasrama. In due process of time, his good wife Sunanda conceived and was to have a baby. In pregnancy, the beautiful Sunanda, attained all round luster and brightness, presaging the birth of a Mahapurusha i.e., a pre-eminent person. Everybody was happy in anticipation expecting soon a son to be born to Sunanda. But strangely, the period of conception prolonged inordinately and continued over five years. The baby was not willing to be born into this ephemeral world. Sunanda was physically inconvenienced and every one became concerned. Brahma Ratha by the grace of his tapas appealed to the baby in the womb and pleaded him to take birth.
The child from the womb replied: " I am afraid of coming out into this wide world which is enveloped by the Maya of Maha Vishnu. This Maya is in command over every human being born in this world. I will come out only if Maha Vishnu Himself assures me that I will not be swayed by His Maya. If He blesses me with the upadesha, i.e., instructions to overcome this Maya I am prepared to take birth".
Brahma Ratha immediately meditated upon Sriman Narayanan and offered stotra in His praise communicating the wish of the child that he should have the fullest protection of the Almighty from His Maya. Maha Vishnu acceding to the prayers of Brahma Ratha descended from Vaikunta visited the ashram of Brahma Ratha. He assured the child that, as the latter was His own form he will not be subject to any Maya. He gave an elucidation of the Vedas, Sastras and Tattvas, removed the doubts of the child, conferred jnanoupadesa and blessed the baby. Following this happy and divine intervention of Maha Vishnu, Sunanda gave birth to a radiant child on the twelfth day of bright fortnight, i.e., Shukla paksha, in the month of Karthika, Sudda Dwadasi Thithi, Sathaya Nakshatra, Danur Lagna, a most auspicious and propitious day and time. Indian Panchanga and Almanacs refer to this day as Yogeeswara Dwadasi.
The birth of the child lent colour and charm to the entire place. On this divine occasion when the baby was born all the auspicious signs, which show themselves when the Almighty comes into this world for the uplift of mankind, were visible. The Sun shone in his brightest brilliance, as though welcoming his future sishya. The quarters were clear and the sky was azure blue - all propitious signs of Mother Nature. There were great rejoice and festivities throughout the town of Chamathkarapura and surroundings.
The child was gradually growing up and steadily beginning to manifest all signs of greatness. Noticing the handsome look of the child, people hailed him as the incarnation of Sriman Narayana Himself. Everyone felt the child was a personification of Tattva- Jnana. Many thought the child was an embodiment of the Vedas and Yoga Sastras in human form. The parents, Brahma Ratha and Sunanda were indeed very happy to have been blessed with such a holy child.
Brahma Ratha, who was a strict adherent to prescribed rituals, performed the jathakarma of his unique and divine child in proper time and named the child as Sanantha. The Maharishis who attend the namakarma gave the child the name of Yagnavalkya Yagnam denoting the establishment of the proof of the potency of the Vedas and Valkya meaning the person who recites the Vedas. Yagnavalkya was indeed an appropriate name to the child, as the holy sacrificial disc of Maha Vishnu was covering the child at birth as an orbit. The child had to go through the usual samskaras i.e., sacraments in the formal manner, even though he was the incarnation of the Almighty Himself, having come into this world for promoting the welfare of the all beings. Like his father, Brahma Ratha, the child was also known by three other names: - Vajasani, Brahma Rathi and Deva Rathi which are derivation of the names of the father.
After the birth of Yagnavalkya, Brahma Ratha and Sunanda were also blessed with a daughter who was named Kamsari. Both the children made the parents happy by their childish utterance and playful pranks. Yagnavalkya was fast growing up into a fine boy, bright, intelligent and healthy. At the age of five, Brahma Ratha gave his son aksharabyasa, which was carried out by the greatest guru and Acharya of the Devas Brahaspathi himself, in answer to the prayers of Brahma Ratha. Brahaspathi was the son of Angirasa Muni, guru of Devas and erudite master of four Vedas, - Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva, the six Angas " Vyakarana, Jyothisha, Nirukta, Siksha and Chanda " and completed by four Vidyas " Mimasa, Nyaya, Dharmasastra and Puranas, making a total of fourteen Vidyas. The upanayana and initiation was rendered at the age of seven, again under the immediate guidance of Brahaspathi.
Soon after upanayana, Brahma Ratha called Yagnavalkya and told to take the vow of Brahamacharya, according to the prescribed Dharma and go to the great scholar, Sage Bashkala to study under him the Rig Veda and the other Sastras. He also advised him: "Be obedient to your Guru and concentrate on your studies. On no account you should compromise and deviate from the path of virtue, truth, justice and fairness. You should also cultivate a sense of fearlessness. When your guru calls on you, if you happen to be lying down, you should sit and answer him; if you happen to be sitting, you should stand up and answer him; if you happen to be standing, you should proceed towards him and answer; if you happen to be proceeding towards him, you should run and answer him. This is how you should conduct yourself towards your guru. In your studies, son, you should cultivate concentrated and deep thinking on the subject under consideration with a fixed mind and one pointed attention. Then, by constantly analyzing the subject through mananam, the inner meanings will get fixed in your mind. Follow this precept and you can master any intricate subject".
Taking leave of his father, Yagnavalkya proceeded to his mother Sunanda and prostrated at her feet to get her consent to go for the studies in Gurukulam. With the parents' consent and grace Yagnavalkya set forth from Chamathkarapura to become a sishya of Bashkala to attain a thorough knowledge of Rig Veda and Sastras. Brahma Ratha and Sunanda gave their daughter in marriage to a promising young man, but unfortunately her life developed into a tale of sorrow and is therefore not further dwelt here. Thereafter, Brahma Ratha and Sunanda retired to the holy place of Kedara Kshetra and immersed themselves in deep contemplation of the Supreme Being, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the ultimate goal of all householders to acquire true knowledge of the Self and thereby attain realization.