Sage Yājñavalkya’s name shines as one of the leading lights of the vedic era. He is well known both in Śruti (Vedas) and in Smṛti for his unsurpassed spiritual wisdom and his strikingly original thoughts as revealed in the Upaniṣad.
Hinduism is a Vedic religion, its backbone being the 4 vedas, namely Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva. The sacred vedic mantras were actually revealed to great ṛṣis and they are known as “Mantra Draṣṭā” or Seers of Mantras. One such great Seer is Sage Yājñavalkya. It was this Mahaṛṣi who gave to the world the yajur veda mantras in the form of Śukla Yajur veda. An interesting story is told about this event.
Who is this great Yājñavalkya ?
He is the son of Sage Brahmaratha and Sunanda Devi. Sage Brahmaratha was a great scholar and a devout follower of Karma kāṇḍa of the Vedas ie. the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. He used to worship Agni Devata, the Fire God of Sacrifice. He observed many austerities to please Agni Devata, desiring a son who will shine like the fire God himself. The son who was born was named Yājñavalkya. Right from his childhood, Yājñavalkya was deeply interested in the rituals and would want to know their significance. His extraordinary intelligence could be seen even then.
After his initiation into the Gāyatrī Mantra (Upanayana Ceremony) he was sent to the Gurukulam of his maternal uncle Mahaṛṣi Vaiśampāyana. Vaiśampāyana who was a great authority on Yajur Veda was a disciple of Bhagavān Veda Vyāsa. At the Gurukulam, Yājñavalkya became an adept student learning all the Śāstra and earned the love of his Guru and the respect of his fellow students. His face glowed with splendour of divine knowledge.
There are many interesting episodes regarding his deep knowledge of Śāstra, his śraddhā in himself and in the scriptures. Few of them are related below:
Once Supriya, the ruler of Vardhamanapura, fell ill. Vaiśampāyana being his Rāja Guru used to perform Pūjās and send the prasādam, “the holy water” to the king for his recovery. The king did not show much respect for it. One day it was the turn of Yājñavalkya to go and see the King and he noticed his careless behaviour towards his Guru’s offering. Yājñavalkya got annoyed. He sprinkled the holy water on a nearby dry wooden pole chanting the mantras… Lo and Behold!! Immediately the dry wood sprouted leaves, flowers, and fruits which became a lovely tree. Seeing the miracle, the king begged pardon for his behaviour. Guru Vaiśampāyana not wanting to offend the king asked Yājñavalkya to take again the holy water to the king, but Yājñavalkya refused, not willing to forgive the insult to his Guru and to the divine prasādam (holy water).
This conduct of Yājñavalkya upset and angered his Guru because Yājñavalkya was not only his student but also his nephew. So, the Guru asked Yājñavalkya to leave the gurukulam but before leaving he should return the Vedic knowledge that he had gained through him! So Yājñavalkya had to vomit the knowledge in a tangible form, stained with blood. The Guru then ordered his other disciples to transform themselves into partridges (Tittri birds) and pick up the leavings. The other disciples abided. Thus, was born the famous Taittirīya Upaniṣad! It is said that Yājñavalkya lost all his radiance and became dispirited after this incident.
But Yājñavalkya did not lose heart. As he was already initiated into the sacred Gāyatrī Mantra which is found in all the four Vedas, he continued chanting it devoutly, firmly believing in its potency. He went to other great Ācāryas and learnt the other three Vedas. But the pain of losing Yajur Veda never, ever, left him. So, he performed intense austerities to please the Sūrya Bhagavān to whom the Gāyatrī Mantra is dedicated. Pleased with his devotion Sūrya Bhagavān appeared before him taking the form of a horse and taught him Yajurveda, popularly known as Śukla Yajur Veda or Vajaseneyi (as it was taught in broad daylight).
Thus, Sage Yājñavalkya became a great exponent of Vedic Wisdom. Īśavāsya and Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣads belong to this branch of Śukla Yajur Veda. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad stands as evidence to his colossal genius and originality. He received many honours from Emperors like Janaka and disciples flocked to him. But Yājñavalkya wanted to lead a life of contemplation. He divided all his worldly possessions equally between his two wives, Kātyāyanī and Maitrayī, but Maitrayī refused. She wanted to learn further and so accompanied him as an ascetic.
The above is a short story of the resplendent life of the venerable Brahma Ṛṣī Yājñavalkya. May He Bless us with Wisdom.
Om Śāntiḥ Śāntiḥ Śāntiḥ !!!
Written by Dr. Amritha Murthy