As Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu were walking towards Mithila, they came across King Janaka and his retinue, who were traveling through the kingdom. The guards came forward and yelled pushing people aside, 'Make way! The king is coming...Make way for the king...'
Ashtavakra stayed where he was and looked at the guard with angry eyes. The guard was about to push him but stopped. There was something in that deformed, ugly boy, which the guard could not explain. The guard could not make himself to push him away. The guard just yelled at him, 'Did you not hear me? Make way! The king is coming!'
Ashtavakra said loudly, 'If your king is just, he should know that, he should let way for blind people, people with deformed bodies, ladies, people carrying heavy loads and people who are learned in the Vedhas....'
The guard was taken aback and blinked. King Janaka heard the words of the boy and asked everyone to stop. He got out and looked at the boy. King Janaka looked at the deformed boy, but more than the appearance, it was the boy's words, which struck him. He looked at his men, 'What the boy says is true! We have to make way for him...'
Saying this King Janaka and his entire retinue stopped as they gave way to Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu.
The next day, Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu reached the palace of King Janaka. As Ashtavakra was about to get in, the gatekeeper stopped him. The gatekeeper looked at the deformed Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu and said contemptuously, 'Boys! What are you doing here? This is King Janaka's Court, not a playground...Wise and old people from all over the world come here...Go away and do what kids your age normally do..'
Shvetaketu was about to say something angrily, when Ashtavakra silenced him, 'Are you trying to tell us that you will let us in only if we have grey hair and an old body?'
The gatekeeper was taken aback but then he spoke, 'What I am saying is that only when you are old, you will be able to realize the Vedhas, not when you are...' The guard pointed at Ashtavakra, hoping he would get the point.
Ashtavakra spoke again, 'I am learned in the Vedhas and I demand that I be let in!'
The guard was about to refuse, when at that time King Janaka had come outside to the palace courtyard. He looked at the deformed boy and his eyes grew round with astonishment...The same boy..King Janaka realized that the boy was no ordinary boy and that their meeting was not just coincidence. He looked at the guard and asked him to let the boy in.
The guard reluctantly let the boy come in.
King Janaka went back to his court and called in all the scholars and pundits as Ashtavakra came in with Shvetaketu.
As Ashtavakra entered into the court of King Janaka, people looked at Ashtavakra strangely. They had never seen such a deformed and ugly boy in their whole life. They gave him weird looks. Ignoring them, Ashtavakra went straight to the king. He bowed to the King. 'I have heard, that there is debate going on here...I wish to participate in the debate...'
When Ashtavakra said those lines, the whole court burst into laughter...Such an ugly boy, hoped to defeat the great sage like Bandhi...That was hilarious...The court kept laughing looking at the boy, who was not even remotely self conscious of being laughed at.
Once the people in the Court stopped laughing, Ashtavakra let out an amused laugh. He laughed so hard, that there were tears in his eyes! The court people looked at the laughing boy with surprise, wondering...Finally Ashtavakra stopped laughing and wiped his tears, 'Are these the great sages, who were going to fight a debate with me? King Janaka, I thought your court was filled with great pundits, I can see only cobblers here...Is this not your court? Or did I come to the wrong place?..' Ashtavakra spoke quietly.
King Janaka was quiet. He did not know how to respond to this. He did not understand what made the boy say such a thing. King Janaka finally said, 'What do you mean there are cobblers here? These are the greatest pundits in the land...Why are you calling them cobblers?'
Ashtavakra said quietly, 'A cobbler looks at the skin of the material and decides whether it can be made into shoes or not..Your people are not very different...They don't know what I can do...They looked at my body and decided that I could not fight the debate...Seriously if you have such people as your advisors...' Ashtavakra looked at King Janaka with contemptuous eyes and shook his head.
The people in the Court fell silent looking ashamed.
King Janaka felt something change within himself. He quietly looked at Ashtavakra and did not say anything. King Janaka first offered Ashtavakra a throne to sit on and then finally spoke, 'Sir! Since Bandhi has killed so many sages, before letting anyone face him, I always test the intelligence of any person willing to challenge Bandhi. Only after he has satisfied me, I let them meet Bandhi.'
Ashtavakra shrugged his shoulders and signaled the King to continue with his questions.
King Janaka asked many questions with cryptic meanings. The entire Court was astonished as they listened to the brilliant and simple answers coming from the young child! King Janaka himself was just stumped when he heard the answers. He bowed to Ashtavakra and the very next day, a debate was organized between Ashtavakra and Bandhi.
The next day, the debate started. The debate was regarding the counts of numbers from one to thirteen. The entire court had arrived today and watched in rapt attention. Time and again they had seen the smug face of Bandhi as he had won the debates. But somehow the people in the court felt that today would be different. They had heard the answers of the boy in court the day before...
The debate was full of enigmas and meanings, but this time, Bandhi had taken on someone, who was truly a master. Bandhi lost the debate.
King Janaka and the people of the Court almost cheered to see Bandhi defeated. They all looked at astonishment at the young Ashtavakra, who was looking at the defeated Bandhi, with no expression in his face.
King Janaka cleared his throat and spoke, 'According to Sage Bandhi's condition, if he lost the debate, he would grant anything to the person, who won the debate...'
Ashtavakra looked at Bandhi with angry eyes and spoke, 'I want the same thing that he wants. I want that he be drowned in the same lake as my father and the other sages...'
King Janaka did not say anything. There was nothing to be said. Sage Bandhi licked his lips and looked that all the people in the kingdom were glad to hear Ashtavakra's decision...
Sage Bandhi then bowed to Ashtavakra and then to King Janaka and spoke, 'King Janaka, I wish to tell you about me, before the young child's wish is carried out!'
King Janaka nodded his head as Bandhi spoke, 'You never knew where I come from, or why this debate was organized. I am going to tell you the truth...' Ashtavakra listened with rapt attention as Bandhi spoke, 'I am the son of Varuna, the sea God!' King Janaka and the people in the Court of Mithila looked surprised as Bandhi continued, 'My father wanted to organize a yagna in his kingdom under the water...For that he wanted people well versed in scriptures. That is the reason he sent me...' Bandhi took a deep breath and continued, 'I was to organize the debate and when the people lost, I was to drown them and send them to my father's kingdom, under the sea! There they would perform the yagna of my father.'
King Janaka did not interrupt the extraordinary story as Bandhi spoke. However Ashtavakra's heart was racing. He realized the meaning of what Bandhi was saying. If the sages were taken only for conducting a yagna...that meant...
Bandhi said, 'King Janaka! None of the scholars and sages are dead! The yagna has been completed yesterday...The sages and the scholars will be coming back from the waters as we speak now...'
King Janaka, Ashtavakra, Shvetaketu and the people of Mithila lay stunned as they heard Bandhi! They all looked at Bandhi with new eyes now...
They rushed to the river where the scholars were drowned and saw with disbelief that one by one all the scholars were coming back from the river...
After drowning, Kahoda had been taken to Varuna's kingdom, where the Lord of seas had explained what he had wanted. Kahoda had agreed to the yagna and he and the others had been busy with the yagna all these years. Finally when it had come to an end, Varuna had called him and told him about his son and how he had defeated Bandhi!
Kahoda flushed with pride and Varuna told him about his son's debate. That was when Lord Varuna, told Kahoda another thing, which brought a smile to his lips...
Kahoda emerged from the water and saw a huge throng of people surrounding him...But he had eyes only for one boy. A young boy with crooked limbs and a victorious smile on his face. Looking at Ashtavakra, Kahoda smiled. My son looks like he owns the world...
Kahoda came out as Ashtavakra realized that this was his father. Kahoda ran forward and hugged his son with love....
All the scholars and sages who had come out praised the young boy...Kahoda felt more and more proud of his son...
Sujatha was sitting in the Ashrama wondering how her son was and how everything had gone..She was unable to concentrate of any of her duties....She was found sitting lost looking at the gates of the Ashrama every now and then...
Sujatha was sitting outside and staring, when she blinked...Surely she was day dreaming...Sujatha could not believe her eyes as she stared again...She saw Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu coming back...and with them was a man - Kahoda...
Sujatha shouted and ran forward as the whole ashrama came out. Wondering what had gone wrong, they all came out and were unable to believe their eyes.
Ashtavakra had come back looking victorious and with him were Shvetaketu and Kahoda. Uddalaka came forward as all of them bowed to him and told him the whole story.
The whole ashrama listened as they heard the story of how Ashtavakra had defeated Bandhi. They looked at him with pride and awe in their eyes, when Kahoda told his story of Varuna's yagna.
Kahoda continued, 'Varuna also told me one more thing...' Uddalaka, Sujatha, Ashtavakra, Shvetaketu looked at Kahoda with curious glances as he said to Ashtavakra, 'Son! Come here!' Puzzled Ashtavakra went forward as Kahoda spoke, 'Son! I am sorry! Even when you were in your mother's womb, you had the guts to correct me when I was wrong..I...' Kahoda faltered for a minute and then started speaking again, 'I was emotionally immature...then...I should never have put you through...' Kahoda pointed at Ashtavakra, 'what you went through...' Ashtavakra shook his head and about to speak, when Kahoda continued, 'However that is not the reason I want to talk to you...Sujatha!' Kahoda said looking at his wife, 'Come, you are also needed...'
Saying this, Kahoda walked with a mystified and bewildered Sujatha and Ashtavakra as the entire ashrama followed him. They went to the river near the Ashrama, the Samanga, 'Son! Pray to Lord Varuna and immerse yourself in the water...'
Ashtavakra looked puzzled but did as he was told. He was walking towards the water when Kahoda called in Sujatha, 'Stand with me and pray to Lord Varuna!' Kahoda whispered as Sujatha held her hands together, 'Pray for your son, my dear!'
Sujatha and Kahoda prayed as Ashtavakra immersed himself inside the water....
When Sujatha opened her eyes, she could not believe what she saw...She realized as she rubbed her teary face that her wish had come true!
Her Ashtavakra, the boy who had entered in...the boy with the crooked limbs...the boy with the deformed body....was not the boy who came out! When Ashtavakra came out, the whole ashrama were staring at him with disbelief!
Ashtavakra was no longer the deformed boy...He was now a boy with perfect limbs...a body to match the spirit within the boy..whole and complete!
Ashtavakra went on to become the spiritual teacher of King Janaka and is the author of Ashtavakra Gita – one of the greatest books on Advaita Vedanta.