“Arrange the best of best one thousand cows in a pen. Tie ten big size gold coins to the horns of these cows.” ordered King Janaka to his servants. As the arrangement was made, the king turned to the Brahmins and said, “O’ learned Brahmins, I would like to know who the great scholar amongst you is. The one who knows the best about the Brahman, the Supreme Being. The one who is confident of his mettle can take these cows and the gold put on them. Yes, he will have to satisfactorily answer to all the questions anyone from this august gathering asks to him.”
King Janaka was a very generous and learned king. He had interest in philosophy and he himself was a great philosopher. This king of Mithila had organized a great yagya and Brahmins from various states had gathered to perform at the yagya. King then became curious to test the knowledge of the Brahmins.
The Brahmins became restless after the declaration of the king. They were hesitant to go ahead and take those cows and gold with them. Each one thought, if I take the cows with me and the rest of the Brahmins start debating with me, I will have to answer them. If I fail to satisfy the gathering, it will be a big embarrassment.
Yajnavalkya, the great sage, stood up from his seat and said, “Saumya, you take control of all these cows and take them to our Ashram.” Saumya was his celibate disciple learning Sam Ved. Saumya followed his Guru’s orders sincerely.
This action created a wave of restlessness amongst the lot of gathered Brahmins and they thought this is a matter of shame for them to be proved ‘less knowledgeable’ than Yajnavalkya.
Ashwala, the head priest of King Janaka, great scholar of Rigveda asked,”Yajnavalkya, do you think you are the most knowledgeable here?” Yajnavalkya humbly answered, “ I bow before the knowledgeable. Kindly let me know who is knowledgeable here?”
Ashwala thought he should interrogate Yajnavalkya. He asked many questions to Yajnavalkya, but Yajnavalkya answered them all. Many other Brahmins threw questions at Yajnavalkya and this great sage satisfied them all with his quick answers full of knowledge and wisdom. While some Brahmins were genuinely interested in knowledge and they asked relevant questions, some jealous of Yajnavalkya for winning the cows and gold asked foolish questions too.
Artabhaga, a very scholarly Brahmin rose and asked few questions. He was a much respected Brahmin for his knowledge. Yajnavalkya answered all his questions satisfactorily. Then Bhujyu, Ushasta and Kahol asked questions to Yajnavalkya and all got answers from him.
In the end rose a great lady named Gargi, the daughter of the sage Vachaknu. She was a very intelligent lady. Gargi had already asked a few questions, but now she asked the permission of the Brahmins to put forth a few more.
“I shall ask him two more questions, “ Gargi proposed. “Should he answer them, none of you will ever be able to beat him in this debate.”
In Vedic India, women had access to philosophical enquiry – and what tremendous self confidence we find in Gargi, daring a great sage Yajnavalkya to answer her questions!
Gargi asked, “O Yajnavalkya, what pervaded the whole cosmos and whatever is, was and shall be?”
Yajnavalkya replied, “The unmanifested ether (Akasha) It is above the Heaven and below the Earth. The Heaven and the Earth are part of it.”
“I bow to you, Yajnavalkya. I am satisfied with your answer. Now I have another question.” Said Gargi.
“O Gargi, please ask.” said Yajnavalkya.
Gargi continued, “What pervades the unmanifested ether?”
This question was a real test of Yajnavalkya’s wisdom.
He replied: “The unmanifested eather is pervaded by the immutable Brahman. It is neither gross nor minute, neither short or long, neither shadow nor darkness, neither air nor ether. The different worlds, the sun and the moon, do not transgress its mighty rule. Whoever departs from this world without knowing this immutable being has to continue to experience an endless series of births and deaths. This Brahman is never an object of thought or intellect, being thought or intelligence itself! It is the ultimate knower who knows through all intellects. Brahman, which is the self within all and is beyond all relative attributes like hunger, various desires etc. is the ultimate goal, the highest truth. By this Brahman is the unmanifested either pervaded.”
Then Gargi said: “Respected Brahmins, listen to my words. I have already said that if Yajnavalkya answers my questions, none of you can beat him. You can never hope to defeat him. In comprehending Brahman, there is none other here who matches his intelligence.” Saying this Gargi sat down and listened humbly to rest of the proceedings.
The quality of questions asked by Gargi prove the level of knowledge she had. Though she had such knowledge, she was so humble, that she never had the misplaced ego to prove herself right.
Gargi is considered as one of the most respected woman philosopher of the Vedic period for her intelligence and politeness. Her questions provided new dimensions to the enquiry of the Brahman, Supreme Being.
Salutations to the power of knowledge of the ladies of the Vedic India.
Gargi was one of the brightest star amongst them!
This text is copyrighted. © Yogi Arwind Foundation