Upanishad Drama


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About this Book:

The Upanishads in themselves contain the essence of the Vedas. The philosophy taught by them has been a source of solace for many, both in the East and the West. There are men in the West with whom the Upanishads serve as constant companion.

The idea behind the present plays is that the sublime Truths propounded by the most ancient Books of Knowledge, the Upanishads, may be brought within easy grasp of even the busiest man. So that, even as a book, it may serve its purpose; the cream of the Upanishads is extracted and presented in a homely style.

Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj had been, throughout his writings, stressing upon the value of practice as contrasted with mere theory in spiritual realization. He had taken pains to express in easy and intelligible language the abstruse portions of the text so that the most valuable teachings can be readily understood by one and all. The songs he had introduced bear the mark of his personality and are vivid and vigorous. They are soul-stirring.

The songs of the drama condense the entire teaching and, if got by heart, will furnish material for the meditatively inclined to ponder over the instructions.

About the Author:

Born on the 8th September, 1887, in the illustrious family of Sage Appayya Dikshitar and several other renowned saints and savants, Sri Swami Sivananda had a natural flair for a life devoted to the study and practice of Vedanta. Added to this was an inborn eagerness to serve all and an innate feeling of unity with all mankind.

His passion for service drew him to the medical career; and soon he gravitated to where he thought that his service was most needed. Malaya claimed him. He had earlier been editing a health journal and wrote extensively on health problems. He discovered that people needed right knowledge most of all; dissemination of that knowledge he espoused as his own mission.

It was divine dispensation and the blessing of God upon mankind that the doctor of body and mind renounced his career and took to a life of renunciation to qualify for ministering to the soul of man. He settled down at Rishikesh in 1924, practised intense austerities and shone as a great Yogi, saint, sage and Jivanmukta.

In 1932 Swami Sivananda started the Sivanandashram. In 1936 was born The Divine Life Society. In 1948 the Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy was organized. Dissemination of spiritual knowledge and training of people in Yoga and Vedanta were their aim and object. In 1950 Swamiji undertook a lightning tour of India and Ceylon. In 1953 Swamiji convened a 'World Parliament of Religious'. Swamiji is the author of over 300 volumes and has disciples all over the world, belonging to all nationalities, religions and creeds. To read Swamiji's works is to drink at the Fountain of Wisdom Supreme. On 14th July, 1963 Swamiji entered Mahasamadhi.


Prostrations to Satchidananda Para Brahman, who is the prop, basis and source of everything! Salutations to all Brahma Vidya Gurus or the preceptors of knowledge of Brahman! Among the Upanishads the Kathopanishad occupies and unrivalled place. It gives, in a nutshell, the solution to the greatest problem which has faced all mankind from time immemorial, the problem of the Life and Death. Fear of Death, has always haunted the ignorant man and, unable to find a cure for it, the maddened man has been running amok hither and thither in search of a solution. The uncertainty of life drives him to seek happiness and like a monkey he jumps from one branch to the other tasting the apparently sweet (and bitter) fruits which, only give him unceasing pain in the stomach. Where then lies the solution? What exactly is Death, the horrible? Can we get over this formidable disease; and, if so, how?

These questions, our ancients have answered for us. Science has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past one or two centuries; it is now a tree with many branches spreading over the entire humanity shutting out the Sun of Supreme Knowledge. In our admiration for the shady branches, we have not cared to peep through them, to go beyond them, to face the Sun-the very Life of life itself. Our ancients were Masters of this spiritual Science; not content with the acquisition of that Degree, they have left for us as a rich legacy the immortal fruits of their research. One such-the Kathopanishad-gives us the answer to the Eternal Question; and what more, a practical answer. It has come right down to brass tacks: "Do this-thou shalt be free from Death." They declare.

We first have a hint on what not to give as charity-useless things, "stale plantain." Then we get a glimpse of the reverence shown in days of yore to a guest and how miserable they were if a guest had, even unintentionally, been neglected. Third, you are given an example of the temptations that a seeker after Truth comes across and of how they have all to be brushed aside, with the conviction that they are but ephemeral; the difference between "Sreyas" (good) and "Preyas" (pleasant) is emphasized here, of which the wise choose the good discarding the "pleasant" as worthless. Only they are eligible to receive Knowledge. The importance of approaching the proper Guru (preceptor) is then brought out. After explaining the significance of Om, the imperishability of the Atman, the Upanishad declares that the subjugation of the senses and the mind is of paramount importance for the realization of the Self. While discoursing about Brahman, we are told that it can be attained only by the mind purified by the study of the Srutis, by the practice of the instructions given by the Spiritual Preceptor, by the practice of the fourfold means and constant meditation. Further on, clear, concise and comprehensive instructions are given on the method of meditating on Brahman, besides an abundance of theoretical knowledge of Brahman, Atma, transmigration and Prakriti. Inter alia, the essential unity underlying the variegated manifestations is stressed, with the admonition that he who sees difference runs down quickly to darkness and is caught in the wheel of births and deaths. Lastly, the imperative necessity of keeping a constantly vigilant eye on Yoga Sadhana is brought out; and "the essence of Sadhana" is given in a few words.

This should, after you have read it or seen it enacted, open your eyes to the hidden treasures of Knowledge that are within your easy reach. You have yourselves to blame for not seizing them; you have closed your eyes against them and you imagine you are impoverished! Open your eyes! Let the Upanishads serve as your inseparable companions; they will throw a beam of light on the path of Freedom. There is not easier way to conquer Death.

Finally, let us pray, with the Upanishadic Seers; May He protect us! May He cause us to enjoy the bliss of Mukti! May we all exert ourselves to find out the true meaning of the scriptures! May our studies be fruitful! May we never hate each other! Let there be peace everywhere!

Glory to the Upanishads! Glory to the seers of the Upanishad! May their blessings be upon us all!


The dialogue at the opening of the Katha Upanishad seems to be based upon a passage in the Taittiriya Brahmana which refers to the tradition about Nachiketas. The whole body of the Upanishad is built up as an exposition of the teaching that we can pass from mortality to immortality. Probing into the exposition, we detect a harmonious blending of the paths of Yajna, Yoga, Bhakti and Jnana. Of these, the last occupies a prominent position because Yama goes on from point to point revealing to Nachiketas the mystery of the Brahman, the Universe and the individual souls. But the other three paths are not left out.

Vajasravas was desirous of attaining Heaven and for that purpose performed the Visvajit sacrifice. According to the rules of this sacrifice, a gift of all one's possessions and wealth must be made. Nachiketas felt that his father had not performed the sacrifice in the proper way, because Sraddha was lacking and attachment to possessions had not been got over. As a critical test, he asked his father "To whom will you give me?" The son is the most valued possession of the father. If all possessions (Sarva Vedasam) are to be sacrificed, the son should be given away too. The father could not grasp the spirit underlying the question and therefore angrily burst forth "To Yama I will give thee." Nachiketas took him at his word and went to interview Yama himself. This part of the narration not only brings out the importance of performing a sacrifice, but also emphasises the spirit with which it should be performed.

Further on, when Yama teaches Nachiketas the value of steadfast renunciation and selfless meditation, he speaks about Yoga too. It is the highest form of Yoga, called Adhyatma Yoga. "The wise sage who, by means of meditation on his Self (Adhyatma Yoga), recognises the Ancient, Who is difficult to be seen, Who is unfathomable and concealed, Who is hidden in the cave of the heart , Who dwells in the abyss, Who is lodged in intelligence, indeed renounces joy and sorrow." (H-12) Again, in the 6th Valli, there is the direct advocacy of Yoga in the 10th and 11th Mantras. In the 10th, Yoga is spoken of as Paramamgati, i.e., the path leading to the highest. In the 11 th, the aspirant is also put on his guard. He is told "Yoga is acquired and lost." The idea is that slackness or irregularity in meditation should be avoided if the firm control of senses once gained is not to be lost.

Still later, Yama speaks about the Grace of the Creator-Dhatru-Prasadat, showing clearly that the true Bhakta gets Divine Grace and thereby sees the Self. "Subtler than the subtle, greater than the great, the Atman is seated in the heart of every creature. One who is free from desire beholds the majesty of the Self and through the grace of the Creator is freed from sorrow." (H. 20) In the 9th Mantra of the third Valli, the name Vishnu is definitely mentioned. "But he who has discerning intelligence as the driver and a well-controlled mind as the reins, reaches the end of his journey, that highest place of Vishnu." Sankaracharya explains that 'Vishnu' here m Brahman. It does not matter I The devotee of Vishnu will rely upon this definite pronouncement for attaining the highest state through his Bhakti.

The central teaching of the Upanishad is about the way in which we can pass from mortality to immortality, from fear to fearlessness. The first obstacle happens to be the most formidable to the vast majority of men. That is the attachment to wealth and worldly happiness in its thousand forms. Yam a offers Nachiketas cattle, elephants, horses, chariots and celestial damsels; but Nachiketas rejects them all and thereby convinces Yama of his fitness for receiving the instruction in Self-realisation. The inescapable inference is that we, who wish to have knowledge of the Brahman, shall be ineligible for it, as long as we retain even the semblance of an attachment for the pleasures of this world. Which one of us can place his hand on his heart and truly declare "I do not want the happiness of this world?" As long as we cannot say it, so long we stand condemned and must submit to the dictatorial sway of Yama. Nachiketas was different. Yama therefore proceeded with his further instruction. The next point mentioned by Yama was that only a Brahmanishtha or one established in the Brahman can become efficient as a Guru. Here we have a counsel and a warning. We must have a Guruto guide us in our path of Realisation. But the Guru must also be competent. Else it is like the blind leading the blind. Then follow several steps in the teaching, viz., Brahman is unborn, eternal and ancient and that it is the Soul, contemplation of it as It dwells in the heart of every being. Yama amplifies his teaching by giving beautiful illustrations, especially the one comparing the Atman as the Lord living in the chariot of the body drawn by the horses (Indriyas). He explains the need for and the method of controlling the senses. He points out the difference between the real sage and the worldly man. The nature of the Purusha of the size of a thumb dwelling in the heart is expounded fully and Yama gives the final assurance that by knowing the Purusha, fear is once for all got rid of. The manner in which Jivas get reborn, in accordance with their Karma and knowledge, as ordinary living beings or as Indra or Hiranyagarbha or as a Jivanmukta, is explained and many examples are given for the clarification of this instruction. At last, the final Upadesha is given. It is about the dependence of the entire universe on Brahman, a realisation of which truth is the only mode of liberating oneself from bondage.



Foreword 13
Introduction 18
Synopsis 21
Scene I 26
Scene II 29
Scene III 34
Scene IV 41
Scene V 45
Scene VI 50
Scene VII 55
Foreword 62
Synopsis 66
Scene I 70
Scene II 80
Scene III 88
Foreword 93
Synopsis 98
Act 1 104
Act 2. Scene I 116
Scene II 119
Scene III 124
Act 3 127
Act 4 129
Foreword 131
Introduction 136
Synopsis 144
Act 1. Scene I 154
Scene II 156
Scene III 162
Scene IV 167
Scene V 174
Scene VI 180
Act 2. Scene I 190
Scene II 195
Scene III 201
Act 3. Scene I 208
Scene II 211
Scene III 214
Scene IV 216
Scene V 218
Scene VI 220

Sample Pages