Sage Ashtavakra, Ashtavakra Gita and His Story

Sage Ashtavakra (ऋषि अष्टावक्र) or Ushtaavukruhu is a revered Vedic sage in Hinduism. His name literally means “eight deformities”, reflecting the eight physical deformities he was born with. His maternal grandfather was the Vedic sage Aruni, his parents were both Vedic students at Aruni’s school. Ashtavakra studied and became a sage and a celebrated character in the Hindu Itihasa epics and Puranas. Ashtavakra is the author of the text Aṣṭāvakra Gītā, also known as Aṣṭāvakra Saṃhitā, in Hindu traditions. The text is a treatise on Brahman and Atman.

Meaning of Ashtavakra?

Ashtavakra’s name means “crooked in eight places” or “eight bends” and refers to his physical deformity at birth. Legend has it that his father, a great scholar, cursed him while he was still in the womb because the fetal Ashtavakra corrected his recitation of the Vedas

Story Of Sage Ashtavakra's Marriage | Hindu Blog
Great Sage Ashtavakra

Who was Sage Ashtavakra?

Sage Ashtavakra, also known as Ashtavakra Muni, was an ancient sage and philosopher in Hinduism. Despite his physical appearance, he possessed exceptional wisdom and spiritual knowledge from a young age.

He engaged in philosophical debates and discussions with various scholars and sages, displaying his profound insights and spiritual maturity. His most significant contribution to spiritual literature is the Ashtavakra Gita, a sacred text that consists of a conversation between Ashtavakra and King Janaka. This dialogue delves into profound spiritual truths, addressing the nature of reality, self-realization, and the path to liberation. 

Sage Ashtavakra History

Baby heard the chanting of the Vedas

The legends state that sage Aruni, mentioned in the Chāndogya Upaniṣhad, ran a school (Āśrama) teaching the Vedas. Kahoḍa was one of his students, along with Aruni’s daughter Sujata. Aruni’s daughter married Kahoḍa.

She got pregnant, and during her pregnancy, the developing baby heard the chanting of the Vedas and learned the correct recitation. According to one version of the legends surrounding Ashtavakra, his father was once reciting the Vedas but erred incorrect intonation. The fetus spoke from the womb and told his father about the limited knowledge he was aware of from the Vedic books, there is much more to know apart from these books. The father got angry and cursed him to be born with eight deformities, hence the name ‘Ashtavakra‘.

All the Brahmins he drowned were freed

His father, Kahoda, once went to ask for riches, from Janaka, the ancient king of Videha, for his family was poor. He was, there, defeated in debates of science by Vandin, and in consequence, was drowned in water. Hearing of the drowning of her husband, she kept it secret from her child. When Ashtavakra grew up, he learned everything about his curse and his father. Then he asked his mother to come with him to witness the great sacrifice of King Janaka. He was stopped from entering the king’s sacrifice as only learned Brahmanas and Kings were allowed to enter, and he was just in his tenth year. With their proficiency in speaking, he had the king amazed with the knowledge he possessed; so, he was allowed to enter.

There, he challenged the Vandin for controversy. After a heated debate, he defeated Vandin in knowledge by words. And asked the king, as Vandin used to cast Brahmanas into the water, to let him meet with the same fate. Vandin then revealed that he is the son of Varun, and explained that the reason he drowned those Brahmins was a ritual that his father is performing for twelve years and needed a large number of Brahmins. 

Ashtavakra Gita on Tattvajna - Liberated Person
Sage Ashtavakra With His Cured Deformities

Attributed texts of Sage Ashtavakra

Aṣṭāvakra is credited as the author of the Ashtavakra Gita, which means “song of Ashtavakra”. The text is also known as Aṣṭāvakra Saṃhitā. The Ashtavakra Gita examines the metaphysical nature of existence and the meaning of individual freedom, presenting its thesis that there is only one Supreme Reality (Brahman), the entirety of the universe is oneness and the manifestation of this reality, everything is interconnected, all Self (Atman, soul) is part of that one, and that individual freedom is not the end point but a given, a starting point, innate.

If you wish to be free,
Know you are the Self,
The witness of all these,
The heart of awareness.
Set your body aside.
Sit in your own awareness.
You will at once be happy,
Forever still, Forever free.
You are everywhere,
Forever free.
If you think you are free, You are free.
If you think you are bound, You are bound.
Meditate on the Self.
One without two,
Exalted awareness. — Ashtavakra Gita 1.4–14, Translator: Thomas Byrom

Ashtavakra Gita is rich in philosophical premises

According to Jessica Wilson, the Sanskrit poetics in Ashtavakra Gita is not driven by critical syllogism, but it is rich in philosophical premises, spiritual effectiveness, and its resonant narrative because of “textual indeterminacy between the audience’s disposition and the foregrounded theme of non-individuation in the text. This tension . . . results in consistency building by the audience, which enables the transcendence of these two viewpoints (reader and text)”.

According to Radhakamal Mukherjee, the Ashtavakra Gita was likely composed after the Bhagavad Gita but before the start of the common era, and attributed to sage Ashtavakra out of reverence for his ideas.

Ashtavakra Gita

The Ashtavakra Gita (अष्टावक्र गीता) or Song of Ashtavakra is a classical text in the Advaita Vedanta tradition in the form of a dialogue between the sage Ashtavakra and Janaka, king of Mithila.

Ashtavakra Gita Dating

Radhakamal Mukherjee, an Indian social scientist, dated the book to the period immediately after the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (c. 500–400 BCE). J. L. Brockington, emeritus professor of Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh, places the Ashtavakra Gita much later, supposing it to have been written either in the eighth century CE by a follower of Adi Shankara, or in the fourteenth century during a resurgence of Shankara’s teaching.

Sri Swami Shantananda Puri suggests that since the book contains the seed of the theory of non-creation Ajata Vada developed later by Gaudapada in Mandookya Karika, this book comes from a period prior to that of Gaudapada (6th century CE), and hence prior to Shankara.

Identification of Sage Ashtavakra

Ashtavakra is probably identical to the holy sage with the same name who appears in Mahabharata, though the connection is not clearly stated in any of the texts. Mukherjee identifies Janaka as the father of Sita and disciple of the sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Janaka is also depicted as a king who has attained perfection in the Vedas.

Contents of Ashtavakra Gita

Ashtavakra Gita is a dialogue between Ashtavakra and Janaka

Ashtavakra Gita is a dialogue between Ashtavakra and Janaka on the nature of Self/Atman, reality, and bondage. It offers a radical version of non-dualist philosophy. The Gita insists on the complete unreality of the external world and the absolute oneness of existence. It also dismisses names and forms as unreal and a sign of ignorance.

The ignorant man’s vision is shrouded by names and forms

In a conversation between Janaka and Sage Ashtavakra, pertaining to the deformity of his crooked body, Ashtavakra explains that the size of a temple is not affected by how it is shaped, and the shape of his own body does not affect himself (or Atman). The ignorant man’s vision is shrouded by names and forms, but a wise man sees only himself:

You are really unbound and action-less, self-illuminating and spotless already. The cause of your bondage is that you are still resorting to stilling the mind. (I.15)

You are unconditioned and changeless, formless and immovable, unfathomable awareness, imperturbable- such consciousness is un-clinging. (I.17)

You are not bound by anything. What does a pure person like you need to renounce? Putting the complex organism to rest, you can go to your rest. (V.1) 

Structure of Ashtavakra Gita

The book comprises 20 chapters:

  • I. Saksi – Vision of the Self as the All-pervading Witness
  • II. Ascaryam – Marvel of the Infinite Self Beyond Nature
  • III. Atmadvaita – Self in All and All in the Self
  • IV. Sarvamatma – Knower and the Non-knower of the Self
  • V. Laya – Stages of Dissolution of Consciousness
  • VI. Prakrteh Parah – Irrelevance of Dissolution of Consciousness
  • VII. Santa – Tranquil and Boundless Ocean of the Self
  • VIII. Moksha – Bondage and Freedom
  • IX. Nirveda – Indifference
  • X. Vairagya – Dispassion
  • XI. Cidrupa – Self as Pure and Radiant Intelligence
  • XII. Svabhava – Ascent of Contemplation
  • XIII. Yathasukham – Transcendent Bliss
  • XIV. Isvara – Natural Dissolution of the Mind
  • XV. Tattvam – Unborn Self or Brahman
  • XVI. Svasthya – Self-Abidance through Obliteration of the World
  • XVII. Kaivalya – Absolute Aloneness of the Self
  • XVIII. Jivanmukti – Way and Goal of Natural Samadhi
  • XIX. Svamahima – Majesty of the Self
  • XX. Akincanabhava – Transcendence of the Self

Ashtavakra Gita Appreciation

The work was known, appreciated, and quoted by Ramakrishna and his disciple Vivekananda, as well as Ramana Maharshi. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan refers to it with great respect. Ashtavakra Gita continues to inspire people. 

Ashtavaktra Gita | The Art Of Living Curacao
Ashtavaktra Gita



When Daśaratha comes to see Rāma from heaven after the war of the Rāmāyaṇa, he tells Rāma –

O son! I have been conveyed across (redeemed) by you, who are a deserving son and a great being; like the virtuous Brahmin Kahoḍa [was redeemed] by [his son] Aṣṭāvakra. ॥ 6.119.17 ॥

In the Aranya Kanda of Adhyatma Ramayana, the demon Kabandha narrates his story to Rama and Lakshmana, in which he says that he was a Gandharva earlier who was cursed by Ashtavakra to become a demon when he laughed on seeing him (Ashtavakra). When the Gandharva then bowed down to Sage Ashtavakra, Ashtavakra said that he would be released from the curse by Rama in Treta Yuga.


In the Vana Parva of the Mahābhārata, the legend of Sage Aṣṭāvakra is described in greater detail. On losing the game of dice with the Kauravas, the five Pāṇḍava princes, and Draupadi are exiled for twelve years. On their pilgrimage, they meet the sage Lomaśa, and he narrates to the Pāṇḍava princes the legend of Aṣṭāvakra, over three chapters of Vana Parva of the Mahābhārata. For example:

A grey head does not make an elder,
Not by years, not by grey hairs, not by riches nor by relations did the seers make the Law,
He who is great to us, is one who has learning. — Ashtavakra, Vana Parva, Mahabharata Book iii


Aṣṭāvakra and Śvetaketu made their way to Janaka’s palace. Aṣṭāvakra first faced the gatekeeper who tried to keep the young boy out. Then Janaka tested Aṣṭāvakra with cryptic questions which Aṣṭāvakra answered with ease. Janaka decided to let Aṣṭāvakra face Vandin.

Vandin and Aṣṭāvakra began the debate, with Vandin starting. They alternately composed six extempore verses on the numbers one to twelve. Then Vandin could only compose the first half of a verse on the number thirteen. Aṣṭāvakra completed the poem by composing the second half and thus won the argument against Vandin. This unique debate is full of enigmas and latent meanings which lie under the simple counts of the numbers one to thirteen.

Sage Ashtavakra in arts

  • The 571st volume of the Amar Chitra Katha, first published in 1976, is titled Dhruva and Sage Ashtavakra. The second half of the volume presents the narrative of Ashtavakra.
  • Ashtavakra Gita became very popular after Indian Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gave a commentary in Bangalore in 1991.

The Story of Sage Ashtavakra

Ashtavakra means one who has eight deformities

The name “Ashtavakra” means one who has eight deformities. Indeed, the sage was born with a body that was twisted in eight places. Ashtavakra grew up in the home of his maternal grandfather Sage Aruni, who was a great seer and ran a traditional Vedic school, where Ashtavakra received the knowledge of Self.

One day, he learned that his father had met unfair treatment before he was not even born, so he set out to meet the king. When he arrived at the king’s court to ask for clemency for his punished father, he dragged himself across the court. The king’s men and ministers looked at him and started to laugh because of his physical deformities.

Must see what lies beyond the body

Ashtavakra first looked on in silence and then broke into smiles. Everyone became shocked. When questioned about his identity and the reason for his pleased expression, Ashtavakra responded that he was disappointed to find only shoemakers in the assembly instead of wise men, because shoemakers, invariably only look at the body made of matter (leather) and rarely enter into spiritual or metaphysical contemplations, to see what lies beyond the body.

Ashtavakra told the king that his counselors were only seeing his body coated with leather everywhere (that is, his skin). They did not see his true Self, had no realization of the soul and the Supreme Soul, and hence were making their judgments on this superficial basis only. This was the occupation of the shoemakers, was it not, to judge appearance by the smoothness or roughness of the skin? Ashtavakra concluded that perhaps he had wasted his time coming to the assembly.

He was one awake to Brahman

The king and everyone in the assembly became deeply affected and awakened from unconsciousness upon hearing the words of Ashtavakra. Hence, e king immediately recognized that this was no ordinary teenager; he was one awake to Brahman. The king bowed down to Ashtavakra, the realized being.

He escorted Ashtavakra to his own throne and washed his distorted and twisted feet with tears falling from his eyes. Of course, Ashtavakra, the one who knew he was not his body and was always free from what he was not, went on to become one of the wisest Vedic sages and inspired so many minds by challenging them to think differently.

Janak and Ashtavakra Debate: एक सपने ने कैसे बदली राजा जनक की जिंदगी? - how did a dream change the life of king janak? | Navbharat Gold
A Story of Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Teachings of Sage Ashtavakra

The teachings of Sage Ashtavakra revolve around the nature of reality, the true nature of the self, and the path to liberation:

The concept of Jnana

One of the core teachings of Sage Ashtavakra is the concept of “Jnana“, which refers to spiritual knowledge or wisdom. Ashtavakra emphasizes that true knowledge lies in realizing the self as the eternal, unchanging consciousness, distinct from the temporary and ever-changing physical body and mind. 


According to Ashtavakra, the root cause of suffering and bondage is ignorance, the mistaken identification of the self with the body, mind, and external world. Ashtavakra encourages seekers to inquire deeply into the nature of their own existence and question their beliefs and assumptions.

Develop a keen sense of discrimination

Ashtavakra’s teachings also emphasize the power of discrimination and the ability to discern between the eternal and the temporary, the real and the unreal. He encourages individuals to develop a keen sense of discrimination to see through the illusions of the world and recognize the eternal truth that underlies all of creation.

Surrender or Prapatti

Another important aspect of Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings is the concept of surrender or “prapatti.” He emphasizes surrendering one’s ego, desires, and attachments to the divine or the higher power. According to him, surrendering to the divine leads to the dissolution of the limited self and the merging of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.

Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings are direct and uncompromising, often challenging conventional beliefs and concepts. He presents a radical perspective on reality and offers a profound understanding of the nature of existence and the path to liberation. His teachings continue to inspire seekers of truth and spiritual aspirants to this day, inviting them to look beyond the limitations of the physical world and realize their true nature as eternal consciousness.


In conclusion, Sage Ashtavakra stands as an extraordinary luminary in the realm of spiritual wisdom. His teachings transcend time and continue to resonate with seekers of truth and enlightenment. With profound clarity and uncompromising insight, Ashtavakra invites individuals to question their own existence, recognize the illusory nature of the world, and discover the eternal truth that resides within. Through his emphasis on self-realization, detachment, discrimination, and surrender, he provides a roadmap for liberation from suffering and bondage. Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings serve as a guiding light, illuminating the path towards self-discovery and ultimate liberation, inspiring countless souls to embark on the profound journey of realizing their true nature as eternal consciousness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who was Sage Ashtavakra?

A: Sage Ashtavakra, also known as Ashtavakra Muni, was a revered sage in ancient India. 

Q: What were Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings about?

A: Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings revolved around the nature of reality, the true nature of the self, and the path to liberation. He emphasized realizing the self as the eternal, unchanging consciousness, transcending the illusion of separateness, and detaching oneself from the transient aspects of life.

Q: How do Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings inspire seekers of truth?

A: Sage Ashtavakra’s teachings offer a radical perspective on reality and provide a profound understanding of the nature of existence. They encourage individuals to question their beliefs, detach from illusions, and embark on a journey of self-realization. His teachings continue to inspire seekers to look beyond the limitations of the physical world and discover their true nature as eternal consciousness.

Q: What is the Ashtavakra Gita?

A: It is a dialogue between Ashtavakra and King Janaka, where profound spiritual teachings are imparted. The text delves into the nature of reality, self-realization, and liberation.

Q: How is the Ashtavakra Gita different from other spiritual texts?

A: The Ashtavakra Gita is distinct in its direct and concise approach to spiritual teachings. It cuts through intellectual complexities and offers profound insights into the nature of self and reality. 

Q: What are the main themes covered in the Ashtavakra Gita?

A: The Ashtavakra Gita covers various themes, including self-realization, detachment, the illusory nature of the world, discrimination, surrender, and the path to liberation. It challenges conventional beliefs and offers a radical perspective on spiritual awakening.

Q: What is the significance of the dialogue between Ashtavakra and King Janaka?

A: The dialogue between Ashtavakra and King Janaka serves as a means to convey profound spiritual teachings in a practical context. Their conversation demonstrates that liberation is possible even in the midst of worldly duties.

Q: Can the teachings of the Ashtavakra Gita be applied in daily life?

A: They emphasize seeing through the illusions of the world, realizing one’s true nature, and finding inner peace and freedom within oneself. The teachings offer guidance on how to navigate worldly responsibilities with detachment and wisdom.

Q: Is it necessary to have a deep understanding of philosophy to study the Ashtavakra Gita?

A: While a basic understanding of spiritual concepts can be helpful, the Ashtavakra Gita transcends intellectual knowledge. It emphasizes direct experience and self-realization rather than intellectual comprehension. It can be studied by individuals from various backgrounds and levels of spiritual understanding.

Q: How has the Ashtavakra Gita influenced spiritual seekers and philosophers?

A: The Ashtavakra Gita has had a significant impact on spiritual seekers and philosophers throughout history. Its profound teachings have inspired individuals to question their assumptions, delve into self-inquiry, and seek liberation. Many have found solace and guidance in its timeless wisdom.

Q: How can one access the teachings of the Ashtavakra Gita?

A: The Ashtavakra Gita is available in various translations and commentaries by different authors. Engaging with a reliable translation and commentary can provide deeper insights into the profound teachings of Sage Ashtavakra.



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