He had thousands of cows – in those days in India cows were the symbol of richness. How many cows you have – that was your bank balance. But he has chosen the oldest cows, which no longer give milk. And in India an old cow is a burden. You cannot kill it, because it is your mother. It does not give you milk, but you cannot keep your mother starving. That is irreligious.
You will not believe what Manu says in his scripture, which dominates Hindu society even today after five thousand years. It says, “To kill a cow is almost equal to killing one hundred untouchables, the sudras.” The cow is so valuable that if you can kill one hundred sudras – the untouchables, the poor, the poorest of the earth – the crime will be the same. And you can be forgiven by God if you kill one hundred sudras, but you cannot be forgiven if you kill a single cow.
So he was giving old cows to other brahmins and as that boy was innocent he could not see the point. He asked his father, “What are you doing? These people are already poor and starving and you are giving them old cows, which I know perfectly well don’t give any milk. These poor brahmins cannot manage to find themselves two meals a day. How are they going to feed these cows?”
And he was so persistent again and again that the father became angry. He said, “Be careful, I will give you away too!”
He said, “To whom will you give me?”
In anger the father said, “I will give you to death.”
So he waited while all the brahmins passed. The ceremony of giving things was over and he asked the father, “But death has not come and you were going to give me to death. I will have to go in search of death, because in a way in your anger you have already given me to death.”
The father knew…“Where can he search for death?” He said, “Okay, go and search. If you can find him I will give you…”
The story is very beautiful, although from this point it becomes allegorical.
The little Nachiketa – one of the most beautiful names as far as seekers are concerned – goes on and on asking everybody where he can find Death. And finally he ends up at the house of Death.
But Death has gone to take a few people whose time has come. So he meets the wife. The wife, seeing a high-caste brahmin – and such an innocent child – asks him to come in.
He said, “No, unless Death invites me I will not come in. I will sit outside.” The wife brings food for him, something to drink.
He refuses. He says, “I will fast until Death comes.” Three days have passed and the wife is very concerned: the little boy has not eaten anything, has not drunk anything.
Finally Death comes and Nachiketa says, “My father has given me to you.”