The body of a person takes shape in the mother’s womb, but the mind develops into an enriching one after nurtured with learning and knowledge. It is the knowledge of the person which is remembered, just like one remembers the great Rishi Astavakra who proved that nobody should be judged by the way they look, and instead respected for the knowledge which is unperishable unlike the body.
Rishi Ashtavakra’s story is mentioned in Shri Valmiki Ramayan, remembering him as a son who redeemed his father through his knowledge. There lived a wise sage called Uddalaka who resided near Mithila and who had a beautiful daughter named Sujata. Uddalaka gave his daughter in marriage to Kohala, his intellectual disciple. After a few years, Sujata was pregnant. One day, while Kohala was reciting some verses from the Vedas, he heard a sound from Sujata’s womb mentioning eight corrections in the manner he recited the Vedas. Kohala was surprised that the words were coming from their unborn child, but at the same time angry that he was being criticised and cursed the child to be born with eight deformities in his body.
Meanwhile, in the court of Mithila, a Brahmin named Vandi approaches Maharaj Janak and challenges everybody in Mithila to defeat him in a Sastra discussion. He also mentions that those who are defeated should be submerged in water as a punishment. None are able to defeat Vandi. Sage Kohala hears about this challenge and goes to face him, but gets defeated and he too is submerged in the water. Sujata comes to hear about this and is remorse with grief. But for her child, she gains courage and lives on.
In the course of time, a son is born to Sujata, but deformed in eight places of the body. The child is named Astavakra (deformed- Vakra in Asta – eight) goes on to educate himself under Uddalaka. But Ashtavakra never thinks his body shape is a hindrance to his learning and with his learning becomes the wisest and the intellectual among all.
At the age of ten, Astavakra comes to know through Sujata the fate of his father. Astavakra decides to defeat Vandi who was till date defeating the wise men of Mithila. When he reaches the court of Mithila, the courtiers laugh seeing the body of Astavakra, but Astavakra rebukes them back as they were more crooked than him who saw only the beauty of the body, but not the learning of the mind.
The wise Maharaj Janak understands that the child is no mere child and calls Vandi. With no match for the knowledge of Astavakra, Vandi gets defeated easily by Astavakra. Then Vandi reveals that he was a messenger from the Varun Lok and had come to send the Rishis to a secret Yagn which was conducted by Varun dev and hence ordered the punishment, but in reality all of them were safe with the Yagn being completed. Then Vandi prays to Varun Dev to send all of them back to Mithila and Including Kohala, all are sent back.
Astavakra humbly bows to his father and Kohala praises his son for redeeming his name. On the way back home, Kohala asks Astavakra to take a dip in River Ganga and when he does, Astavakra is surprised that his deformities have vanished. Astavakra’s story is a beautiful insight that knowledge is the greatest beauty one possesses and hence mind over the body should always be respected.