Yagnavalkya (He who puts Yajna as a dress , implying he who performs Yajnas as easily as changing of a dress) is one of the greatest of the Vedic sages. He was the son of Devaratha (also known as Vajasani or Brahmaratha) and a Sishya(disciple ) of sage Vaisampayana who himself was a student of sage Veda Vyasa. His mother was Sunanda , the daughter of sage Sakala. He also had a sister called Kamasri. Yagnavalkya due to his great knowledge was extremely proud . Once sage Vaisampayana committed a great sin(Brahmahathya) . He requested his disciples to do several religious ceremonies so that , he could get rid of his sin. Then Yagnavalkya told him , that this was not necessary as , he himself can do all that is necessary to make his Guru to get rid of his sin. Sage Vaisampayana got very angry and told his disciple Yagnavalkya to return all that he has taught him. Sage Yagnavalkya due to his great power vomited all that he learned from his guru. His Guru ordered his other disciples to become thithiri birds(partridges) and eat all that was vomited by Yagnavalkya. The Yajur veda taught by sage Vaisampayana was there after called the Krishna(black) Yajurveda.
At that time Yagnavalkya did not have any Veda with him. Yagnavalkya then did great Thapas(Penance addressed to Lord Sun.) Lord Sun appeared to him in the form of a horse and taught him the completed Yajur veda. Since Lord Sun have to travel daily on his chariot , it seems this Yajur veda was taught in the background of the canter of the horses. Some people are of the opinion , that because of this the proper tone in reciting the Veda in this case is not there. Since it was taught by Sun God , this Yajur veda is known as “Shukla Yajurveda” . It is also known as Vajasaneya Yajurveda. (Vaji in Sanskrit means horse). Yagnavalkya divided this Vajasaneya Yajurveda again into fifteen branches, each branch comprising hundreds of Yajur Mantras. Sages like Kanva, Madhyandina and others learnt those and Śukla Yajurveda branched into popular recessions’ named after them. There are many Brahmins who follow the Shukla Yajurveda both in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu as well in North India. There is belief that due to the fact that Yagnavalkya vomited the Vedas taught to him , he did not have Vedas with him for some time period. Some of those who follow Krishna Yajurveda do take bath at the noon(the time when Yagnavalkya did not have Vedas) . The followers of Shukla Yajur Veda also believe that Krishna Yajur Veda is tainted because it grew out of the vomit eaten by the Thithiri birds.
Sage Yagnavalkya had two wives viz Maithreyi and Kathyayani(Daughter of sage Bharadwaja) . He has written(compiled ) some immortal books in the Vedic period apart from the Shukla Yajurveda. The most famous and well known is the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.(great forest of knowledge) This is one of primary Upanishads and is considered as one of the oldest Upanishad. One of the important section of this Upanishad is that of the conversation between Yagna valkya and his wife Maithreyi..When Yagnavalkya became old he decided to undertake Vana prastha asrama and divided his wealth in to two equal parts to be given to his wives. The following is first conversation that took place between Maithreyi and Yagnavalkya :-
“"Maitreyi" said Yagnavalkya, "see, I am indeed about to go forth from
this state. Come, let me make a final settlement for you and for
Then Maitreyi said: " Sir, if this entire earth filled with its
riches were mine, would I thereby be immortal?"
"No," said Yagnavalkya. "You would live the life of the wealthy.
There is no hope of attaining immortality through wealth."
Then said Maitreyi: "What am I to do with what does not offer me
immortality? Tell me indeed that which you know!"
Then Yagnavalkya said: "Ah! You are already my beloved, and what you
are saying touches me! Come, sit down. I will explain to you, And
while I am explaining, meditate on it."
Then he said: "It is not for the sake of the husband that the husband
is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the self that the husband
is cherished. It is not for the sake of the wife that the wife is
cherished my dear, but for the sake of the self that the wife is
cherished. It is not for the sake of sons that sons are cherished, my
dear, but for the sake of the self that sons are cherished. It is not
for the sake of wealth that wealth is cherished, my dear, but for the
sake of the self that wealth is cherished. It is not for the sake of
priesthood that priesthood is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of
the self that priesthood is cherished. It is not for the sake of
warriorhood that warriorhood is cherished, my dear, but for the sake
of the self that warriorhood is cherished. It is not for the sake of
the worlds that the worlds are cherished, my dear, but fort he sake
of the self that the worlds are cherished. It is not for the sake of
the gods that the gods are cherished, my dear, but for the sake of
the self that the gods are cherished. It is not for the sake of
beings that beings are cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the
self that beings are cherished. It is not for the sake of all that
all is cherished, my dear, but for the sake of the self that
everything is cherished. It is the self, my dear Maitreyi, that
should be discerned, be heard, be pondered on, be meditated on.
Indeed, by discerning the self, by hearing it, pondering on it,
meditating on it, all this is known.”
( this is an excerpt from http://www.indiadivine.org/showthread.php?t=88931)
The remaining conversation in which Yagnavalkya teaches Maithreyi the spiritual knowledge is the part of the Great Brihadaranyaka Upanishad an English translation of which is available in
Yagnavalkya is considered as the teacher to king Janaka. For maintaining his family as well as his disciples he used to visit the palace of Janaka very often. Given below are some of the pearls of wisdom that was transferred to the world during some of these visits.
1.How Yagnavalkya defeated the sages and took away one thousand cows?
Once king Janaka conducted a great Yaga and at that time the king wanted to find out the greatest sage of the earth. He made an announcement saying that he would give the greatest sage one thousand cows free and also hung a packet of gold coins in the horns of those cows. He made an announcement that anyone who claims to be the greatest sage can take away the cows. No one was bold enough to do that. Then Yagnavalkya ordered his disciples to take away those cows to his home. Other saints who had assembled there questioned Yagnavalkya’s act. Then Yagnavalkya told them , that among the sages assembled there he was the greatest. Then started the rain of questions from those assembled sages. Few of these question and answers are given below:-
Arthabhaga:- “When a person who has not got divine knowledge dies, his senses of knowledge also die with him. Then how is it possible for him to get into another body?”
Yagnavalkya :- Karma becomes the cause of his rebirth.
Kaahala:- What have you to say about Brahmam which is invisible and which pervades everywhere?
Yagnavalkya:- Your soul is the all pervading Brahmam. To the soul there is neither hunger nor thirst , Fear or attachment, old age or death. Those who want to know their soul , should give away attachment to family and wealth and should become saints. These saints should have wisdom and knowledge of the soul.
Sage Gargi*:-If everything is pervaded by water , what pervades water?
( *One of the greatest lady Vedic sage. She is the author of Garga Samitha.)
Yagnavalkya:- By air
Gargi :- What pervades air?
Yagnavalkya :- By sky?
Gargi :- What pervades the sky?
Yagnavalkya :- World of Gandharwas
Gargi :- What pervades the world of Gandharwas?
Yagnavalkya :- The world of sun
Gargi:- What pervades the world of Sun?
Yagnavalkya:- The world of moon.
Gargi :- What pervades the world of moon?
Yagnavalkya:- The world of stars
Gargi :_What pervades the world of stars?
Yagnavalkya :- The world of gods
Gargi:- What pervades the world of Gods?
Yagnavalkya:- The world of Indra
Gargi :- What pervades the world of Indra?
Yagnavalkya :- The world of Vinj
Gargi:- What pervades the world of vinj?
Yagnavalkya :- The world of HIranyagarbha.
Gargi : What pervades the world of Hiranyagarbha?
Yagnavalkya:- You are asking a question which should not be asked.
Gargi :- Who is wrap and weft threads of everything?
Yagnavalkya:- It is Brahmam. Do not ask more questions. If you do your head will break in to pieces.
Gargi:- I have two questions to ask. They are as sharp as arrows .Which is that power which is above heavens, below the earth and between these two and makes all of them exist like the warp and the weft?
Yagnavalkya:- It exists in the sky.
Gargi :- In which power does the sky remain like a weft and wrap?
Yagnavalkya:- By the order f the God , the sun and the moon never slip from their path. The sky and the earth exist in places assigned to them. The rivers flow making the farm and fields fruitful. The being who does not understand God never gets deathlessness, He who dies without realizing god is a miser without any properties whatsoever and the one who realizes God gets salvation.
Aaruni:- Who is that which resides within everything?
Yagnavalkya :- He who is within the entire universe and he who pervades within all , controls the universe. He is inside everything and controls everything from there. It is not possible to see him. But he sees all. It is not possible to hear him but he hears all. He thinks but is beyond our thought process. Within all beings he exists as the one who sees, hears and thinks.
SAkalya:- How many Gods are there?
Yagnavalya:- There are thirty three Gods. They are the eight vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adhithyas , Indra and Prajapathi.(The Vedic concept of Hindu Gods)
Like this after answering several questions Yagnavalkya asked sage SAkalya one question.viz. Who is being described in the Upanishads? He added, “if you are not able to answer this question, your head will explode and break in to pieces. SAkalya was not able to answer the question and died.. Yagnavalkya then asked the assembled sages “How is it, new leaves come out of a cut tree? How is it that once a seed is destroyed, a tree is not able to come out of it? How is that the person who dies is able to be born again?
None of the sages were able to answer these questions and sage Yagnavalkya took the cows home.
2.Yagnavalkya’s second visit to Janaka’s palace
After some time sage Yagnavalkya came to the palace of Janaka again. Janaka asked him whether he has come in search of more cows or come to ask more difficult questions. Yagnavalkya smiled and told that it was for both. Here are some of the things that they talked with each other.
Janaka :- Sage Jina says that Vachana (sentence/advice/ utterance) is Brahmam Do you agree with this?
Yagnavalkya :- It is true but did he say about the body and resting place of God?
Yagnavalkya:- If it is so , he knows only a quarter about God. Vachana is the body of God and Akasa(sky) is the resting place of God. The knowledge of Brahmam depends on words and the words are the divine Brahmam.
King Janaka became happy and wanted to give one thousand cows to Yagnavalkya. The sage then told him that without teaching the disciple properly , the Guru should not take any compensation. Then Janaka asked the sage to explain about the knowledge of Brahman fully. Then Yagnavalkya told
Like a man is able to reach the place he wants to reach by either walking on the road, or travelling in a chariot or a boat, the soul takes recourse of Upanishads to attain its aim. Even if one reads Vedas or Agamas , whether he is respected or rich and even if he becomes an expert on Upanishads , if he does not know God , he cannot claim himself to have achieved his objective of salvation. Do you know where you go , once you leave your body.
Janaka:- I do not know
Yagnavalkya:- I will tell you. The God of the right eye is “Indha”(light) People call it Indra. The goddess of the left eye is Indrani , Indra is the one who eats and Indrani is the food. When one is in the wakeful state they move away from each other. And at that time the soul is called “vaiswanara”. In the state of dream, they join together and the soul is called “Thiajasa “ at that time. And in the state of sleeping when there is no activity it is called “Pragna”.In the fourth state which is called “THureeya “ , we are able to achieve much more than the other three states and we would be able to realize the Parabrahma only in this state. It is the state of protection which is beyond the states of birth and death.
3.The third visit to Janaka
After some more time again sage Yagnavalkya visited the palace of Janaka . Even at that time some very interesting and informative conversation took place between the king and the sage
Janaka:- During day time which light shows us the way?
Janaka:- When Sun sets, which light shows us the way?
Yagnavalkya:- The moon
Janaka:- If sun and moon are not present then?
Yagnavalkya:- The fire
Janaka:- When sun, moon and fire are absent then?
Yagnavalkya:- Vachana(the word)
Janaka- If even that is absent?
Yagnavalkya-The light of the soul (Atma jyothis)
(a more detailed summary of this conversation can be found in
The king became very happy with these replies and gave the sage one thousand cows.
Apart from being the author of Shukla Yajurveda , sage Yagnavalkya has also written the Yagnavlkya smrithi . This is a guide to day to living for a Hindu. It resembles in many parts the earlier composed “Manu Smrithi”. The Yājñavalkya Smṛti consists of 1,010 ślokas (verses). The text is laid out as a frame story in which the sages of Mithila approach Yājñavalkya and ask him to teach them dharma. The majority of the text is then Yājñavalkya's description of dharma, divided into three subtopics: Achara (proper conduct), Vyavahāra (judicial procedures) and Prāyaścitta (penance). It is available in a downloadable form in
Though it has several similarities with the Manu smrithi , it is very much different in many places. Till recently the division of property between Hindu family members of South India was based on the commentary of Yagnavalkya Smrithi called MIthakshara Nyaya.
Yet another great work of the sage is Sathapatha Brahmana , which gives in detail the method Vedic rituals associated with Shukla Yajurveda.
This great sage is supposed to have attained salvation after his vana prastha asram.