by Swami Sivananda

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Book Code: ES143
112 pages
Book Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.25 inches
Shipping Weight: 160 grams

Table of Contents

Letter to Aspirant (5)
Publishers’ Note (6)
Sri Guru-Vandana (7)
Dedication (8)


Introduction (9)


Valli – I 13
Valli – II 33
Valli – III 55


Valli – I 70
Valli – II 83
Valli – III 98

10th October 1941

Beloved aspirants,

There is no book in the whole world that is so thrilling, soul-stirring and inspiring as the Upanishad.

The philosophy taught by the Upanishads has been the source of solace for many both in the East and the West.

The Upanishads teach the philosophy of absolute unity. They contain the sublime truths of Vedanta and practical hints and clues which throw much light on the pathway of Self-realisation.

Publishers’ Note

The greatness and the sublimity of the Upanishads are well known to all the students of philosophy. There have been attempts to approach the books through various standpoints. Much has been written over the knotty problems of interpretation, by the Eastern and Western scholars. And yet the lay reader has not understood the central teachings fully well. Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, in his comprehensive volume ‘The Principal Upanishads’ has given exhaustive commentary on Nine Upanishads and stressed such points clearly and truly, explaining the abstruse ideas in his own inimitable style, thus laying bare the sacred doctrine not only before the eligible pupil but also the lay reader.

For the convenience of the readers, we are bringing out each Upanishad in a separate book. The present volume contains the text, translation, notes and commentary on Kathopanishad.

May the abundant blessings of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj be upon all the readers.

–The Divine Life Society


Please take note that the print edition does not have the transliteration.

श्री गुरु-वन्दना

śrī guru-vandanā

ॐ नमो ब्रह्मादिभ्यो ब्रह्मविद्यासंप्रदायकर्तृभ्यो वंशर्षिभ्यो महद्भ्यो नमो गुरुभ्यः।
सर्वोपप्लवरहितः प्रज्ञानद्यनः प्रत्यगर्थो ब्रह्मैवाहमस्मि ॥१॥

om namo brahmādibhyo brahmavidyāsaṁpradāyakartṛbhyo vaṁśarṣibhyo mahadbhyo namo gurubhyaḥ |
sarvopaplavarahitaḥ prajñānadyanaḥ pratyagartho brahmaivāhamasmi ||1||

ॐ नारायणं पद्मभवं वशिष्ठं
शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च।

om nārāyaṇaṁ padmabhavaṁ vaśiṣṭhaṁ
śaktiṁ ca tatputraparāśaraṁ ca |

व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं
गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम् ॥२॥

vyāsaṁ śukaṁ gauḍapadaṁ mahāntaṁ
govindayogīndramathāsya śiṣyam ||2||

श्रीशंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च
हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् ।
तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्या-
नस्मद्‌गुरून्संततमानतोऽस्मि ॥३॥

śrīśaṁkarācāryamathāsya padmapādaṁ ca
hastāmalakaṁ ca śiṣyam |
taṁ toṭakaṁ vārtikakāramanyā-
nasmadgurūnsaṁtatamānato’smi ||3||

श्रुतिस्मृतिपुराणानामालयं करुणालयम्‌।
नमामि भगवत्पादं शंकरं लोकशंकरम्‌॥४॥

śrutismṛtipurāṇānāmālayaṁ karuṇālayam |
namāmi bhagavatpādaṁ śaṁkaraṁ lokaśaṁkaram ||4||

शंकरं शंकराचार्यं केशवं बादरायणम्‌।
सूत्रभाष्यकृतौ वन्दे भगवन्तौ पुनः पुनः ॥५॥

śaṁkaraṁ śaṁkarācāryaṁ keśavaṁ bādarāyaṇam |
sūtrabhāṣyakṛtau vande bhagavantau punaḥ punaḥ ||5||

ईश्वरो गुरुरात्मेति मूर्तिभेदविभागिने।
व्योमवद्‌व्याप्तदेहाय दक्षिणामूर्तये नमः ॥६॥

īśvaro gururātmeti mūrtibhedavibhāgine |
vyomavadvyāptadehāya dakṣiṇāmūrtaye namaḥ ||6||



Salutations to Lord Yama, son of Vivasvan (Surya)!

The Kathopanishad is divided into six Vallis. Valli literally means a creeper. A Valli, like a creeper, is attached to the Sakhas or Branches of the Veda. Valli is used in the same sense as Parvam, joint, shoot, branch, i.e., a division. This Upanishad is also divided into two Adhyayas (chapters) of three Vallis each.

This is one of the most beautiful Upanishads in which the eternal truths are given in the form of a narrative. The narrative is taken from Taittiriya Brahmana (3-11-8) with some variation. The same story is told in the Taittiriya Brahmana, only with this difference, that in the Brahmana, freedom from death and birth is obtained by a peculiar performance of a sacrifice, while in the Upanishad, it is obtained by knowledge only. The story is as follows:

Vajasravasa, wishing for reward, sacrificed all his wealth. He had a son, called Nachiketas. While he was still a boy, faith entered into him at the time when the cows, that were to be given by his father as presents to the priests, were brought in. He said: “Father, to whom wilt thou give me?” He said so a second and a third time. But father turned round and said to him: “To Death I give thee.”

Then a voice said to young Nachiketas as he stood up: “He (thy father) said, ‘Go away to the house of Death, I give thee to Death’. Go therefore to Death, when he is not at home, and dwell in his house for three nights without eating. If he should ask thee ‘Boy, how many nights hast thou been here?’, say, ‘Three’. When he asks thee, ‘What didst thou eat the first night?’, say, ‘Thy offspring’; ‘What didst thou eat the second night?’, say, ‘Thy cattle’; ‘What didst thou eat the third night?’, say, ‘Thy good works’.”

He went to Death, while he was away from home, and he dwelt in his house for three nights without eating. When Death returned, the following took place: ‘Boy, how many nights hast thou been here?’ He answered, ‘Three’. ‘What didst thou eat the first night?’–‘Thy offspring’. ‘What didst thou eat the second night?’–‘Thy cattle’. ‘What didst thou eat the third night?’–‘Thy good works’.

Then Death said: ‘My respect to thee, O venerable sir, choose a boon’. ‘May I return living to my father?’–said Nachiketas. ‘Choose a second boon’, said Death. The boy replied: ‘Tell me how my good works may never perish’. Death then explained to him the Nachiketa fire (sacrifice), and hence his good works do not perish.

‘Choose a third boon’, said Death. Nachiketas said: ‘Tell me how to conquer death’.

Then Death explained to him this (chief) Nachiketa fire (sacrifice), and hence he conquered death.

This Upanishad has become very popular not only in India but everywhere in the world. It has been translated into many languages. It is a branch or recension of the Krishna Yajurveda. It forms part of the Katha-Sakha Brahmana of the Krishna Yajurveda. A few verses from this Upanishad occur in the Bhagavad Gita. It deserves the most careful consideration of all who are interested in the growth of religious and philosophical ideas. The sublime doctrines of Vedanta are presented in this Upanishad in a very attractive and charming manner.

The Katha Upanishad has always been considered as one of the best Upanishads. It has won the appreciation of many English, French and German writers also. They regard this Upanishad as the best book on philosophy and poetry of ancient Hindus. In elevation of thought, depth of expression, beauty of its imagery, no Upanishad is equal to the Kathopanishad.

The comparison of the body with a car or chariot, the soul with the Lord of the chariot, the intellect with the rider, the mind with the rein, the senses with horses, the five objects of the senses with the roads, is indeed very beautiful.

In this Upanishad, the way to attain Self-realisation is fully treated.

From such passages as, “This Atman is difficult to be known, It is very subtle, It cannot be obtained by arguing”, it is quite evident that revelation or direct intuition (Aparoksha-anubhuti) is the source of the knowledge of the Self.

From such passages as, “A wonderful teacher is required”, “Arise, awake, having reached the excellent teacher, learn” (III-14), “How can this Atman be realised otherwise than from those who say that It exists” (VI-12), it is quite clear that a realised Guru is necessary to lead the aspirants in the spiritual path.

From the 11th Mantra of the 6th Valli, you will understand that this Upanishad recognises the necessity of Yoga as well. This Mantra says: “The firm control of the senses they regard as Yoga. At that time one becomes vigilant, for Yoga is acquired and lost”.

Some writers complain that Kathopanishad is not the production of an original thinker or a seer, as there is little connection between the thoughts or verses in some places, there is no progress from one idea to another, there is neither arrangement nor connected sequence in some places, and that it is a mere compilation. This is a sad mistake. The seers of the Upanishads had direct revelations during communion or meditation. They expressed their experiences. Their inspired thoughts were scattered in different Sakhas or Branches of the Vedas. In days of yore, the thoughts of the seers, or their compositions, were handed over orally from teachers to their disciples. The original composers, the compilers, the repeaters, or lastly, the writers of the Upanishads might not have taken care to arrange them in an orderly manner. In some places, the text might have been corrupted by later compilers, copyists or printers.

This Upanishad was first introduced to the knowledge of European scholars by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. It has been translated into the German by Windischmann, by Poley. Dr. Weber has also written a commentary. Swami Ananda Giri has written a gloss on the commentary of Sri Sankara. Muir, Rignaud, Gough and many others have translated this Upanishad.

May the truths of the Upanishads be revealed unto you all! May you all be endowed with right understanding, discrimination and pure subtle intellect! May you all be freed from the knots of ignorance and ties of Samsara, and the trammels of birth and death! May you all be blessed with a Srotriya Brahma-Nishtha Guru to lead you on in the spiritual path! May you all shine as Jivanmuktas or Brahma-Jnanis in this very birth!



ॐ सहनाववतु । सह नौ भुनक्तु । सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु । मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

om sahanāvavatu | saha nau bhunaktu | saha vīryaṁ karavāvahai |
tejasvi nāvadhītamastu | mā vidviṣāvahai |
om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||

OM! May He protect us both (teacher and pupil). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of Mukti. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other.

Om Peace! Om Peace! Om Peace!

ॐ उशन्ह वै वाजश्रवसः सर्ववेदसं ददौ।
तस्य ह नचिकेता नाम पुत्र आस ॥ १॥

om uśanha vai vājaśravasaḥ sarvavedasaṁ dadau |
tasya ha naciketā nāma putra āsa || 1 ||

1. Once, desirous of heaven, the son of Vajasrava (Gautama) gave (in a sacrifice) all that he possessed. He had a son Nachiketas by name.

Notes and Commentary

Usan–desirous (of heavenly rewards);

Vajasravasah–‘Vaja’ means food, ‘Srava’ means fame. It literally means a person who has attained fame by making charitable gift of food. Or it may be a proper name. The son of Vajasrava is Vajasravasah.

Vajasravasah performed the Visvajit sacrifice. ‘Visvajit’ is a kind of sacrifice in which the performer is required to make a gift of all his possessions and wealth.

This sacrifice was generally performed by kings when they returned after conquering kingdoms (Digvijaya). It could also be performed by Brahmanas.

तँ ह कुमारँ सन्तं दक्षिणासु
नीयमानासु श्रद्धाऽऽविवेश सोऽमन्यत ॥ २॥

ta ha kumāra santaṁ dakṣiṇāsu
nīyamānāsu śraddhā”viveśa so’manyata || 2 ||

2. When the presents were being distributed, filial anxiety (about the welfare of his father) entered into the heart of Nachiketas, who was still a boy, and he thought.

Notes and Commentary

Though Nachiketas was very young, his heart was filled with Sraddha or faith. He wanted to do good to his father. When the Dakshina or the final gifts, such as cows, were brought to be distributed among the Ritviks or the priests, Nachiketas thought thus.

Sraddha–Unswerving faith in the words of the Guru, teachings of the scriptures and one’s own Self. This is one of the sixfold virtues or Shad-sampat. Every aspirant should be equipped first with this important virtue. Without Sraddha no spiritual progress is possible. Without Sraddha no one will be able to place his foot on the spiritual path, or to start the spiritual life. You can develop Sraddha by constant Satsanga, or association with the sages, and service of your Guru.

Nachiketas had intense Sraddha or unshakable faith. So he was a fit student to receive the spiritual instructions from Yama. He was not carried away by the temptations offered by Yama. Yama also thought that Nachiketas was a proper Adhikari to receive his instructions. So he initiated Nachiketas into the mysteries of the Atman.

पीतोदका जग्धतृणा दुग्धदोहा निरिन्द्रियाः ।
अनन्दा नाम ते लोकास्तान्स गच्छति ता ददत्‌ ॥ ३॥

pītodakā jagdhatṛṇā dugdhadohā nirindriyāḥ |
anandā nāma te lokāstānsa gacchati tā dadat || 3 ||

3. Joyless, verily, are those worlds to which a man goes by giving (presents in a sacrifice) cows which have drunk water, eaten grass, given their milk, and are barren.

Notes and Commentary

He, who gives to the Ritviks for their rewards, useless, decrepit and old cows which have drunk their water, eaten their grass, given their milk for the last time, and are barren, attains those worlds which are devoid of happiness.

Pitodakah–which had finished drinking their water;

Jagdhatrinah–which had finished eating their grass (but cannot eat now); Dugdhadohah–which had given their milk (but cannot yield any more as they are too old);

Nirindriya–barren, which are incapable of breeding.

स होवाच पितरं तत कस्मै मां दास्यसीति ।
द्वितीयं तृतीयं तँ होवाच मृत्यवे त्वा ददामीति ॥ ४॥

sa hovāca pitaraṁ tata kasmai māṁ dāsyasīti |
dvitīyaṁ tṛtīyaṁ ta hovāca mṛtyave tvā dadāmīti || 4 ||

4. Nachiketas said to his father: “O father, to whom wilt thou give me?”; he said this again, and at the third time, the (enraged) father said: “Unto Death I will give thee”.

Notes and Commentary

Nachiketas thought that his father did not give away all his possessions at the sacrifice, and therefore would not attain the heavenly rewards or the happy worlds. He thought that it was the duty of a good son to remove the undesirable consequences, which might befall his father, on account of the sacrifice being performed in an improper manner. Therefore, Nachiketas voluntarily offered himself in order to fulfill the vow which his father was paying very grudgingly. He was quite afflicted when he found that his father presented only useless cows to the priests.

He thought that his father did not properly keep his vow and that this gift of useless cows will not take him to heaven. Filial anxiety, about the welfare of his father, penetrated the heart of Nachiketas, though he was very young.

The son also is the possession of the father. Therefore, the son also should be given as a reward to the priests, if the vow is to be kept up rigidly. Nachiketas, therefore, pressed his father indirectly to keep to his vow. He approached his father and said: “Father, to whom, to which of the Ritviks will you give me as Dakshina (reward)?” The father did not reply at first. Nachiketas repeated the question a second time and a third time, “To whom will you give me?”, “To whom will you give me?” The father got angry at the impertinent behaviour of the boy and replied: “Unto Death I shall give thee”.

बहूनामेमि प्रथमो बहूनामेमि मध्यमः ।
किँ स्विद्यमस्य कर्तव्यं यन्मयाऽद्य करिष्यति ॥ ५॥

bahūnāmemi prathamo bahūnāmemi madhyamaḥ |
ki svidyamasya kartavyaṁ yanmayā’dya kariṣyati || 5 ||

5. Nachiketas thought: “Among many I go as the first; among many I go in the middle. What will be the work of Yama which today he has to do unto me?”

Notes and Commentary

At this, Nachiketas reflected within himself: “Among many of his disciples I am the first in doing service. Of many I am the first in performing filial duty. Of many I am a middling disciple in the possession of good qualities, but I have never been the worst. Yet, my father has said that he would give me unto Death. What work will Yama accomplish now through me? My father has spoken thus in anger; still my father’s words should, on no account be broken”.

अनुपश्य यथा पूर्वे प्रतिपश्य तथाऽपरे ।
सस्यमिव मर्त्यः पच्यते सस्यमिवाऽऽजायते पुनः ॥ ६॥

anupaśya yathā pūrve pratipaśya tathā’pare |
sasyamiva martyaḥ pacyate sasyamivā”jāyate punaḥ || 6 ||

6. Nachiketas said: “Remember how our forefathers acted; consider also how others now act. Like corn, the mortal decays and like corn he is born again”. (Nachiketas entered into the abode of Yama Vaivasvata. There was no one to receive him. Yama had gone out.)

Notes and Commentary

Remember, beloved father, how your ancestors conducted themselves. They stuck to their words and spoke the truth at any cost. Sages, saints and virtuous men of the present time also never swerve from the path of truth. They never utter falsehood under any circumstance or condition, whatsoever. They will abandon their lives even, for the sake of Truth. Nothing can tempt them to deviate from the truth. Truth is their goal. Brahman is Truth, and one can realise Truth by speaking the truth only. No one who has broken his word can become immortal. This world is transitory. Man decays and dies like a corn. He is again born like a corn. What will one gain in this impermanent world by breaking his word? The seed is thrown in the soil. The corn ripens and falls. Again it grows. In the same manner, there is the cycle of births and deaths for man. He who takes birth, must die, and he who dies, must take his birth again. Nachiketas wanted his father to keep his word and send him to Death. This is the drift of this Mantra.

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