Once sage Gautama decided to perform a saravedasa yagna to receive the heavenly award. The sacrifice also meant giving away all that he held dear. Gautama gifted his precious cattle in charity to the priests.
Sage Gautama'sson Nachiketa happened to notice that the cattle were old and barren and of no use. So he was unhappy that his father had gifted something, which was not worth anything. He approached his father and said, ?Father, the cattle will not be of any use to the priests because of the condition they were in. We are expected to gift all that is precious to us; not what is of no use to us. I am also precious to you. To whom will you give me away in charity??
Sage Gautama refused to reply as he did not like his son'squery. But when Nachiketa persisted, Sage Gautama lost his temper and in a fit of anger, shouted, ?I will give you away to death!?
As soon as Gautma uttered the words, Nachiketa collapsed and died. He reached yamlok, where a guard stopped him at the gate. Nachiketa told him that he wanted to meet Yamaraj but the guard informed him that Yamaraj was away and so he would have to wait.
Nachiketa waited for three days without eating any food. When Yamaraj arrived and heard about it, he was shocked that a young Brahmin had been waiting to see him while he had been away. He rushed to ask Nachiketa what he had eaten while waiting for him. Nachiketa replied, ?One day I ate your descendants; all your wealth on the second day and your good deeds on the third day.?
Yamaraj was moved at this reply and asked Nachiketa how he could atone for his wrongdoing of keeping a Brahmin boy without food in his kingdom.
Nachiketa replied, ?First, my father should not be angry when I return to him. Second, tell me about the fire from which creation began. Third, what happens to man after his death??
Yamaraj replied, ?I assure you, your father will not be angry with you. As for the fire, I give you this bead necklace, which will reveal all the secret powers of Nature. Now for the third wish regarding what happens after death, I cannot reply. Even the gods cannot answer this question. Ask me for anything else and I will give it to you, but I cannot reply to your third wish.?
Nachiketa was not satisfied with Yamaraj'sreply and persisted, ?Even if you were to give me the universe, how would it help me? Suppose the universe also comes to an end, then what will I do after it is gone? I want you to answer what happens after death??
Nachiketa had fasted for three days and so he asked the third question three times. Unable to break his resolve, Yamaraj finally relented and revealed the highest truth?after death, man receives freedom from sorrow and grief by attaining moksha (salvation).