1st - 5th Verse
Once, Gautama the son of Vajasrava gave away all his property to gain religious merit. He had a son named Nachiketa. When he saw the presents being brought, anxiety of the welfare of his father penetrated his mind. He thought, a sacrificer who gives away cows which have drunk their water, eaten their grass, given their milk, and which are barren, would go to the world of unhappiness. He wondered what merit one can obtain by giving away cows that could not give milk any more. He went and asked his father to whom he would give him. Upon asking the questions several time his father became furious and finally said that he would give him to the god of Death. Nachiketa then went to Lord Yama's abode.
6th - 15th Verse
Lord Yama was not present. Hence, Nachiketa had to wait for three days without any grain of food. He asked for pardon for having kept him waiting. Yama then offered Nachiketa to choose three boons from him. Nachiketa said that his father Gautama was very upset and filled with sorrow on thinking about him. He was also anxious for his son's visit to Yama. Nachiketa pleaded that he may forget all his anger, sorrow and confusion and let him become quite happy and contented. When he goes back to his father he must be received with love and blessings. This was his first boon. Yama granted his boon and told him that his father would get rid of all anger and unhappiness and would welcome him back with great pleasure. Nachiketa next told Yama that there is no fear in the Heaven and he is also not there. Neither there is any fear of agedness in heaven nor do they suffer from the problems of hunger and thirst. Thus, a man who has attained Heaven remains there with all happiness. Nachiketa tells Yama to teach him the fire related Homa practice that leads one to Heaven. He assures Yama that he would sincerely practise it. Thus, as the second boon he wanted to gain knowledge of the fire related Homa practice.
Yama told him that he would grant the second boon of Nachiketa. He explains that the instrument that helps in attaining heaven is located in the cave of intelligence of the man. Yama then taught Nachiketa the agni vidya i.e. Homa Practice, the means for attaining Heaven. He showed him the structure of the Homa place, the components that are used during the Homa, the stones required for the construction of the sacrificial stage etc. Nachiketa learnt it immediately. Yama was so pleased with his intelligence and devotion that he granted him another boon. He told him that the agni vidyaa would be known by the name of Nachiketa Sacrifice. He also gave him a necklace consisting of beautiful beads and precious stones of different colours. Yama told that a person who has performed the Nachiketa Sacrifice thrice will become associated with the Vedas, Smrutis and the sishtaacharam. He will become eligible to perform the three duties of Homa or Yajna, Adhyayana and Daana and would also get rid from the cycle of birth and death. He would then identify Lord Agni, the Fire God as the Atma or the Soul. Nachiketa was, thus, granted the second boon. Yama now asked him for his third boon.
16th - 29th Verse
Nachiketa said that when the Atma or the Jiva leaves the physical body it begins its new journey. Nachiketa, thus, wishes to know the destination of the Jiva, what happens to it till the destination is reached etc. Yama told him that the explanation of Jiva is very complicated and cannot be understood easily and is also very secretive. Hence, he requested Nachiketa to ask for some other boon. Yama then offers him wealth, power, fame, long life and all other materialistic objects but Nachiketa rejects them all. He told him that all the materialistic objects that he has been offered are subject to decay. Man can never be satisfied with material things. He, thus, asks Yama to explain him about death which is not easily understandable and which is hidden beyond the reach of the normal human.
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