Nachiketa was perhaps just fourteen years old (or even younger). He had a pure heart and a sharp intellect. Above all, he had the capacity to rise above worldly desires when the desire to know the highest spiritual truth rose in him.

His father named Vajashrava was performing a yajna (a huge ritual, a sacrifice) where he was expected to give away all of his property to charity. Even as the son was watching the show, the father embarrassed Nachiketa heavily when a large number of cows, being given away as gifts, were in very bad shape. Many of them would perhaps die on the way to the house of the recipient of the gift!

It was at such time that the son, unable to bear the emotions rising in him, said to the father, “To whom will you give me away, O father?”

Vajashrava did not answer the first or the second time but got into a rage when Nachiketa repeated the question for the third time.

“I give you to the Lord of Death!” was the angry outburst.
The young son, with his heart full of faith in all the noble values of life, was now determined to ensure that his father’s words did not prove to be false. Though he understood that Vajashrava did not mean to send him to the doors of death, the words spoken had to be honoured.

Thus the young boy proceeds to the Palace of Yama, the Lord of Death. He waits there for three days and nights, for the host was out of town!

When Lord Yama returns, he is much impressed by the boy’s patience, faith, devotion and sacrifice. The divine personality offers three boons to the visitor from the earth.

“May my father give up anger and return to a pleasant disposition,” is what Nachiketa asks for as his first boon. It was granted.

“Teach me the secret science – of performing the right rituals – by which mortals can reach heaven after their death here,” is the second boon, where Nachiketa’s concern for all humanity becomes evident. Lord Yama grants this too happily.

“Teach me Self-knowledge. Is there something beyond the ego, the individual self? Is there something untouched by right and wrong, past and future, and effect and cause?” This third boon flabbergasts Yama. Such a profound question from a young boy?

Just to test the boy’s keenness, Yama tempts him to accept many pleasures, positions, possessions etc. and drop the request for Self-knowledge.

Most unusual indeed at that age, Nachiketa brushes aside all these offers and holds on to the query on Self-knowledge.

“Keep all that dance, music, vehicles and comforts to yourself, Lord!” is the unbelievable retort from the teenager.

Following this, Lord Yama is mighty pleased and instructs Nachiketa on the supreme wisdom of Self-knowledge.

[Kathopanishad from Yajurveda has the immortal dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama.]