Posted by: adbhutam | September 2, 2012


श्रीगुरुभ्यो नमः

A Study of one aspect of the SatyakAma-jAbAla episode of the Chandogya Upanishad

In the 4th section of the 4th chapter of the above upanishad is found the episode of a boy named SatyakAma seeking to enter the tutelage of a certain Acharya.  The boy, aware that the entry and acceptance by the Acharya is subject to his knowing the kula-gotra of the student, asks for this detail of his mother JabAla.  She, a widow, replies that she does not know this detail for she did not have the occasion to know this from her husband who died young.  So she asks the boy to tell the Teacher that his name is ‘satyakAma jAbAla’ after his mother’s name ‘jabAla’.  The boy duly approaches the Teacher and when asked for the gotra replies as told by his mother.  The Acharya pleased with the boy’s trait of speaking the truth without altering it accepts him to be a brahmana and initiates him into the upanayana procedure and takes him in as a disciple.

Here is some material from various sources on this part of the story.

  • The mantras relevant are:  सत्यकामो ह जाबालो मातरमामन्त्रयाञ्चक्रे । ब्रह्मचर्यं भवति विवत्स्यामि किंगोत्रोऽन्वहमस्मीति । १ ।
  • सा हैनमुवाच नाहमेतद्वेद तात यद्गोत्रस्त्वमसि बह्वहं चरन्ती परिचारिणी यौवने त्वामलभे साऽहमेतन्न वेद यद्गोत्रस्त्वमसि जबाला तु नामाहमस्मि स्त्यकामो नाम त्वमसि स सत्यकाम एव जाबालो ब्रुवीथा इति । २ ।
  • स ह हारिद्रुमतं गौतममेत्योवाच ब्रह्मचर्यं भगवति वत्स्याम्युपेयां भगवन्तमिति । ३ ।
  • तं होवाच किंगोत्रो नु सोम्यासीति स होवाच नाहमेतद्वेद भो यद्गोत्रोऽहमस्मि अपृच्छं मातरं सा मे प्रत्यब्रवीद् बह्वहं परिचारिणी यौवने त्वामलभे साऽहमेतन्न वेद यद्गोत्रस्त्वमसि जबाला तु नामाहमस्मि सत्यकामो नाम त्वमसीति सोऽहं सत्यकामो जाबालोऽस्मि भो इति । ४ ।
  • तं होवाच नैतदब्राह्मणो विवक्तुमर्हति समिधं सोम्याऽऽहर उप त्वा नेष्ये न सत्यादगा इति तमुपनीय….

Here is the translation of the above mantras:

Chapter IV — The Story of Satyakama 

1.   Once upon a time, Satyakama the son of Jabala addressed his mother and said: “Revered Mother, I wish to become a brahmacharin. Of what ancestry am I?”

2.   She said to him: “I do not know, my child, of what ancestry you are. In my youth I was preoccupied with many household duties and with attending on guests when I conceived you. I do not know of what ancestry you are. I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama. So you may speak of yourself as  Satyakama Jabala (the son of Jabala).

3.   He came to Gautama the son of Haridrumata and said:  “Revered Sir, I wish to live with you as a brahmacharin. May I approach you, as a pupil?”

4.   Gautama said to him: “Of what ancestry are you, dear friend?”  Satyakama said: “I do not know, Sir, of what ancestry I am. I asked my mother about it and she replied: ‘In my youth I was preoccupied with many household duties and with attending on guests when I conceived you. I do not know of what ancestry you are. I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama.’ I am  therefore, Sir, Satyakama Jabala.”

5.   Gautama said: “None but a true brahmin would thus speak out.  Fetch the fuel, dear friend; I shall initiate you. You have not departed from truth.”  He initiated Satyakama.

Shankaracharya’s bhashya for mantra 5:

तं होवाच गौतमो नैतद्वचोऽब्राह्मणो विशेषेण वक्तुमर्हत्यार्जवार्थसंयुक्तं।ऋजवो हि ब्रह्मणा नेतरे स्वभावतः। यस्मान्न सत्याद्ब्राह्मणजातिधर्मादगा नापेतवानसि । अतो ब्राह्मणं त्वामुपनेष्येऽतः संस्कारार्थं होमाय समिधं  सोम्याऽऽहरेत्युक्त्वा तमुपनीय….

Translation of the bhashya:

To him (satyakAma) Gautama said: a non-brahmin will not be able to say this clearly in a truthful way, because the Brahmins are straightforward by nature, not others.  Since you did not depart from truth, which is a virtue of the Brahmin caste, therefore I shall initiate you who are a Brahmin.  Therefore fetch faggots for sacrifice, for your investiture, O good looking one.’  Saying so and after initiating him…..

Anadagiri in the gloss for the first mantra bhashya says: अचार्यो हि माणवकमुपनयते विज्ञातकुलगत्रमेवेति मन्वानः …The boy who was aware that an Acharya will initiate a student only when the student’s family/descent is known, approaches his mother to find these details.

From this and the reply the mother gave we understand that –

  •  The boy is aware of the custom and that he is also sure that he, that is his family, has a gotra and only that he does not know it.
  • The mother also knows that her family has a gotra and only that she does not know it.  She did not reply: ‘ we people do not have a gotra…’

From Shankara’s commentary we see that there is a special word ‘Arjavam’ which translates to ‘straightforwardness’ or more appreciably the opposite of  ‘kuTilatA’ or ‘crookedness’.  Shankara says the Acharya appreciated the quality of speaking the truth along with being straightforward.  In the Bh.Gita 18.42 the brAhmaNa’s traits/guNa-s are listed:

शमो दमस्तपः शौचं क्षान्तिरार्जवमेव च । ज्ञानं विज्ञानमास्तिक्यं ब्रह्मकर्म स्वभावजम् ॥

Though ‘satyam’ is not especially listed here, the word ‘Arjavam’ is there.  Shankara seems to be having this verse in mind while commenting for the word ‘satyam’ of the mantra.  Despite knowing that the gotra name is not known and that only when the gotra is known there can be entry into the tutelage, the boy did not manipulate or hide facts.  He stated the truth as it is.  This quality was appreciated by the Acharya as a special trait found only in a brahmana and he took him into the school.

The Editor of the bhashyam makes a note:  In the Brahmasutra तदभावनिर्धारणे च प्रवृत्तेः Vyasacharya has this Chandogya mantra in mind to determine that ‘Gautama the teacher accepted Satyakama only after determining that he was not a shUdra.  Hence this mantra indicates that shudra-s have no adhikAra for BrahmavidyA upadesha through the medium of the Veda (for the study of the Veda presupposes upanayana and this is barred for shUdra-s).

The Editor adds another note:  There are two types of upanayanam.  With a view to impart the Veda (adhyayanam) the Acharya performs the upanayanam of the student on the basis of a vedic mantra ‘…dvija…’ (the reference of the mantra is not given).  The other type is upanayanam as a part of the teaching of brahmavidyA.  Two examples are cited from the Upanishads for this: ‘अधीहि भगव इति होपससाद सनत्कुमारं नारदः (from the Chandogya Upanishad.) and ’ ’तद्विज्ञानार्थं स गुरुमेवाभिगच्छेत्’ (from the Mundaka Upanishad.) Satyakama sought both the forms of upanayanam which is known from his words ‘उपेयां भगवन्तम्’.  The Acharya initiated  Satyakama after making sure that he was a brahmin, taught him the Veda, had him serve the Acharya  for achieving a pure mind  with a view to impart him  Brahmavidya thereafter’  (this is the view of the author of the work ‘BrahmavidyAbharaNam’. )

Here are some notes from the commentaries to Shankara’s commentary to the above Brahmasutra

The only mantra quoted by Shankara in this BSB is this one: तं होवाच नैतदब्राह्मणो विवक्तुमर्हति समिधं सोम्याऽऽहर उप त्वां नेष्ये न सत्यादगाः (Ch.up.4.4.5)

Shankara says in this one-line bhashya:  For this reason too there is no adhikAra for a shUdra (for brahmavidyA through the medium of the Veda) since from the above upanishadic mantra we understand that Gautama made sure that Satyakama was not a shudra from his adhering to the truth and then alone proceeded to initiate him and instruct him thereupon.

The Ratnaprabha gloss says:   …a non-brahmin will not speak this truth with such discrimination (vivichya).

The Bhamati says: A non-dvija cannot be speaking such words accompanied by Arjavam (straightforwardness).  Therefore in this boy there is no possibility of shUdratva and hence shall I initiate you who are a born dvija.  [the word ‘brahmana’ is not used in the Bhamati here.]

The nyAyanirNaya of Anandagiri says: This kind of speaking the truth with no element of doubt in mind (निःसन्दिग्धम्) …

Here is what the Editor writes regarding the determining of Satyakama’s brhaminhood by Gautama:

अपि च सत्यकामः सत्यमेवावददिति कथं गौतमो निश्चिकायेति विवेक्तव्यम् । सत्यवादित्वात् स ब्राह्मण इति प्रबुद्धवानिति च श्रूयते ।  यदि कादाचित्कं सत्यवचनं ब्राह्मणत्वे हेतुः तदा न कोऽपि न ब्राह्मणः इति व्याकुलीभावः । यदि जन्मप्रभृति मरणान्तं सत्यवादित्वं ब्राह्मणत्वे हेतुः तदा प्रसिद्धब्राह्मण्यानामपि दुर्लभं ब्राह्मण्यं स्यात् ।  अत एवं मन्यते गौतमः – बालः यदि स्वयम्  अब्राह्मणः सन् गुरुं वञ्चयितुमिच्छेत् तदा श्रीपरशुरामसमीपे धनुर्विद्याग्रहणाय गतः कर्ण इव यत्किञ्चिद्गोत्रमात्मनः कल्पयेत् । न तु मम मातरमपृच्छं सापि न वेद इति विषादं प्रकटयेत् । अतः ब्राह्मण एवायं इति निरधारयत् इति वक्तव्यम् ।

The gist of the above is:  Further, how did Gautama determine that Satyakama spoke the truth alone? We hear from the shruti that ‘since he spoke the truth he is a brahmana – thus knew Gautama.’  If speaking the truth once in a while is the indication to determine a person’s brahmanahod then we end up with the curious conclusion that no one is an abrahmana (everyone is a brahmana).  If someone speaks the truth from birth till death and this becomes the mark to determine someone as a brahmana then even among the well-known brahmanas we can’t find brahminhood.  Therefore Gautama thought thus:   If the boy himself being a non-brahmana and wants to deceive the Acharya then he would have, like Karna who approached Parashurama for learning Archery, would have concocted one or the other as his gotra.  He would not have expressed regret by the words ‘I asked my mother and even she did not know’.    Therefore Gautama concluded that this boy is a brahmana indeed.  This is how we have to understand the episode.

We may note that in the above explanation the example of Karna, a kShatriya (non-brahmin) is taken up for comparison.

I have presented the various viewpoints and leave it to the readers to arrive at their conclusions.



  1. jabala also forgot her Husband’s name ? ? She forgets her Lineage because it was immaterial !! As a responsible person, she had to marry off her Son, for which Gotra is Important. She did not even care to remember the Gotra :d

    • What is The Gotra If You Do Not Know

      For those who do not know their Gotras, either because the family lost knowledge of the same, or if a person became an orphan in childhood – the Gotra and Pravara of the family purohita becomes their Gotra.

      आचार्यगोत्रप्रवरानभिज्ञस्तु द्विजः स्वयम् |

      दत्त्वात्मानं तु कस्मैचित्तद्गोत्रप्रवरो भवेत् ||

      Another solution given in the shastras is to accept the Kashyapa Gotra since the Shrutis declare Kashyapa as the forefather of all humanity.

      गोत्रस्यत्वपरिज्ञाने काश्यपं गोत्रमुच्यते |

      यस्मादाह श्रुतिः सर्वाः प्रजाः कश्यपसंभवाः ||

      There is also a practice of assigning Vishnu Gotra to people who belong to Kshatriya Varna and Jambu Maharishi Gotra to Vaisyas.

      And there is the practice of assigning Siva Gotra to one who worships Siva.

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