The Yakhsa Prashna (also known as the Dharma Baka Upakhyan: Story of the Righteous Crane) appears in the Vana Parva of Mahabharata. Yaksha Prashna literally translates as ‘Questions of Yaksha’ are the series of questions posed by a yaksha to Yudhishthirar.
When the Pandavas were about to complete their vanavas, a Brahmin came to the Pandavas seeking their help. He told them that the sticks meant for kindling the fire for performing his daily Yajna got entangled in the horns of stag which fled from the scene and pleaded with the Pandavas to pursue the fleeing animal and recover the sticks so that he could perform his rituals. Pandavas proceeded in pursuit of the stag. Their attempts to stop the animal failed. They felt very much exhausted, hungry, and thirsty on account of the long chase. The five brothers sat down finally to rest under the cool shade of a tree.
Yudhishthira instructed Nakula to find out if water would be available nearby. Nakula informed Yudhishthira that he could hear the cries of water cranes in the vicinity indicating the availability of water. Yudhishthira asked Nakula to go to the spot and fetch some water for all of them.
Following the cranes, Nakula reached a lake with pristine water, surrounded by trees, flowers and birds. He was overjoyed and felt like enjoying a cool drink himself first. So, he descended near the refreshing water. As he was about to drink water, he heard a voice” Do not dare to touch that water, my dear child. You must first answer my questions before you can drink water”. Nakula ignored the warning, drank the water and immediately fell dead.
When Nakula did not return Yudhishthira asked Sahadeva to find out the cause of the delay. Sahadeva arrived at the same lake and was shocked to see Nakula lying dead. He thought of quenching his thirst first before attending to Nakula and when he attempted, he also heard the same warning. He ignored it and upon pursuing his attempt to drink he fell dead.
Now it was Arjuna’s turn to trace the 2 missing brothers. Apprehending some danger, he carried his Gandiva bow with him. When he arrived at the lake he was shocked to see his two brothers lying as though dead. Arjuna also tried to quench his thirst and heard the same warning. Arjuna did not ignore the warning but challenged it. Asking the voice to come before him physically, he shot several arrows in the direction from which it was coming. In reply he received more threats. Arjuna challenged the voice again and proceeded to drink the water and fell down dead. Later, Bhima arrived and met with the same fate.
Yudhishthira was then very much upset. He decided to go in search of them. When he arrived at the lake, he was stunned to see all his four brothers lying dead on the ground. His hopes of recovering his lost kingdom with the assistance of his brothers were shattered. He grieved for a while and then began to look around to make out the cause of his brothers’ death. He wondered “there are no signs of violence on their bodies, no foot-prints anywhere”. Hence he decided that the killer must be a supernatural being.
Ruling out the possibility of Duryodhana’s hand in the incidents, he convinced himself that this must have been the handiwork of a supernatural being. He went to fetch some water to begin the last rites for his brothers. He heard a sudden voice declaring: “I am the cause of your brothers’ death; you shall be the fifth victim if you do not answer my questions before using the water”.
Yudhishthira questioned “Who are you? Are you a rudra, vasu, or marut? You must be strong to be able to put to death these powerful brothers of mine. Your feat is remarkable because neither gods nor asuras could stand up to my brothers. But why? What do you want? Noble one! Why are you here? Who are you?”
The voice replied: “I am a Yaksha, Yudhishthira. May you prosper?”
As he heard these words, Yudhishthira saw before his eyes a grotesque form. A voice thundered: “I warned your brothers. But they would not listen to me. So now they are dead. This pool belongs to me and unless you answer my questions you shall not even touch this water.” Yudhishthira replied: “I have no desire to take what is yours. Ask me and I will reply as best as I can”.
Yaksha asked a series of questions and Yudhisthira patiently answered all the questions. These questions and answers are beautiful, subtle and embedded with sophisticated deep wisdom and philosophy. The focus of the entire discussion is on Dharma. But some are on life skills.
We shall introspect some of the thought provoking questions and answers in our next episode. The questions and answers cover a range of topics from dharma to righteousness to life skills. Let us cover in details some life skill lessons from Yaksha Prashnam.
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