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Short description: Character in Hindu literature
Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists - Yama and Nachiketas.jpg
Nachiketa and Yama
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  • Vājashravas or Uddālaki (father)

Nachiketa (Sanskrit: नाचिकेत, romanized: Nāciketa), also rendered Nachiketas and Nachiketan, is a character in Hindu literature. He is the son of the sage Vājashravas, or Uddalaki, in some traditions. He is the child protagonist of an ancient Indian dialogical narrative about the nature of the atman (soul).[1][2]

His allegorical story is told in the Katha Upanishad, though the name has several earlier references.[3] He was taught self-knowledge, knowledge about the atman (soul), and the Brahman (Ultimate Reality), by Yama, the god of death. Nachiketa is noted for his rejection of material desires, which are ephemeral, and for his single-minded pursuit of the path of self-realisation moksha.


The Sanskrit name Nachiketa is composed of three syllables, each of which possess associated cognates:

Sanskrit IAST Cognate Meaning
Ṅa Negation
चि Ci Chaitanya Consciousness
केत Keta Ketu Comet



The Rigveda 10.135 talks of Yama and a child,[4] who may be a reference to Nachiketa.[5]

Taittiriya Brahmana

Nachiketa is also mentioned in the Taittiriya Brahmana, 3.1.8.[5]


In the Mahabharata, the name appears as one of the sages present in the Sabha (royal assembly) of King Yudhishthira (Sabha Parva, Section IV,[6]) and also in the Anusasana Parva (106[5]).

Katha Upanishad

Yama teaches Atma vidya to Nachiketa, at Rameshwaram Temple

Vājashravasa, desiring a gift from the gods, started an offering to donate all his possession. But Nachiketa, his son, noticed that Vājashravasa was donating only the cows that were old, barren, blind, or lame;[7] not such as might buy the worshipper a place in heaven. Nachiketa, wanting the best for his father's rite, asked: "I too am yours, to which God will you offer me?". After being pestered thus, Vājashravasa answered in a fit of anger, "I give you unto Yamaraja Himself!"[8]

Despite his father's repentance at his outburst, Nachiketa regarded his father's words to have a divine meaning, and consoling him, went to Yamaraja's home. Yama was out, and so he waited for three days without any food or water. When Yama returned, he was sorry to see that a Brahmin guest had been waiting so long without food and water. To compensate for his mistake, Yama told Nachiketa, "You have waited in my house for three days without hospitality, therefore ask three boons from me". Nachiketa first asked for peace for his father and himself, when he returned to his father. Yama agreed. Next, Nachiketa wished to learn the sacred fire sacrifice, which Yama elaborated. For his third boon, Nachiketa wanted to learn the mystery of what comes after the death of the body.[9]

Yama was reluctant on this question. He said that this had been a mystery even to the gods. He urged Nachiketa to ask for some other boon, and offered him longevity, progeny, wealth, rulership of a planet of his choice, and all the apsaras of his choice instead. But Nachiketa replied that material things are ephemeral, and would not confer immortality. So, no other boon would do. Yama was secretly pleased with this disciple, and elaborated on the nature of the true Self, which persists beyond the death of the body. He revealed the knowledge that one's Self is inseparable from Brahman, the supreme spirit, the vital force in the universe. Yama's explanation is a succinct explication of Hindu metaphysics, and focuses on the following points:[10]

  • The sound Om is the syllable of the supreme Brahman
  • The Atman, whose symbol is Om is the same as the omnipresent Brahman. Smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest, the Soul is formless and all-pervading
  • The goal of the wise is to know this Atman
  • The Atman is like a rider; the horses are the senses, which he guides through the maze of desires
  • After death, it is the Atman that remains; the Atman is immortal
  • Mere reading of the scriptures or intellectual learning cannot realise Atman
  • One must discriminate the Atman from the body, which is the seat of desire
  • The inability to realise Brahman results in one being enmeshed in the cycle of rebirths; Understanding the Self leads to moksha

Thus having learned the wisdom of the Brahman from Yama, Nachiketa returned to his father as a jivanmukta, an individual who has achieved spiritual liberation while being alive.

In popular culture

The story of Nachiketa and his conversation with the god Yama has been the topic of many retellings and adaptations in India.

Graphic Novel

  • Amar Chitra Katha new series number 702 titled Nachiketa, published in 1979, tells the story of Nachiketa in the form of a graphic novel.


  • Ritwik Ghatak's film Subarnarekha (1962 film) satirically alludes to Nachiketa in its bar scene. Enmeshed in all sorts of epicurean sensuous consumption to escape the frustrations of life, Haraprasad, the erstwhile rebel shouts, "Nachiketa was a fool!" This ironically points out the sterility of his own persona and the contemporary social order.

See also


  1. (2018-06-16). "Naciketa, Nāciketa: 7 definitions" (in en). 
  2. Satyamayananda, Swami (2019) (in en). Ancient Sages. Advaita Ashrama (A publication branch of Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math). pp. 195. ISBN 978-81-7505-923-8. 
  3. Sahni, Sanjeev P.; Bhatnagar, Tithi; Gupta, Pankaj (2022) (in en). Spirituality and Management: From Models to Applications. Springer Nature. pp. 66. ISBN 978-981-19-1025-8. 
  4. "The Rig Veda, Hymn 10.135". Free media library. 2005-09-19. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Radhakrishnan, S. (1994). The Principal Upanishads. New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India. ISBN:81-7223-124-5 p. 593.
  6. Mahabharata, Book 2, Sabha Parva Mahabharata, Book 2, Section IV, p. 7.
  7. Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, Breath of the Eternal
  8. Mosher, Lucinda; Chander, Vineet (2019-10-21) (in en). Hindu Approaches to Spiritual Care: Chaplaincy in Theory and Practice. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 127. ISBN 978-1-78592-606-8. 
  9. Piparaiya, Ram K. (2003-01-01) (in en). Ten Upanishads of Four Vedas. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 53. ISBN 978-81-7822-159-5. 
  10. Swami Abhedananda (1946) (in en). A Study In The Philosophy And Religion Of The Katha Upanishad. pp. 23–40. 

External links