One day Raja Janak, the great philosopher king of Mithila ( father of Sitaji ) announced that he would give half his kingdom to the person who could make him attain moksha ( salvation ) immediately.
Several learned persons came to his court attracted by this offer.
One said that the king could attain moksha if he stands on one leg for 10 years with hands folded above. The king said he was not prepared to wait for 10 years, and wanted moksha immediately. Another said that he could get moksha if he repeated Lord Shiva’s name 10 lac times. Raja Janak said that that would take too much time, and he wanted moksha immediately. Others gave other advice, but the king rejected all of them. In this way all the contenders failed.
At that time a young boy aged 12 called Ashtavakra appeared in the king’s court.
He was called Ashtavakra, which literally means deformed in 8 ways ( in Sanskrit asht means 8, and vakra means twisted ), because his limbs, neck, torso etc were all twisted. And the reason why they were so was this : once his father Kahod was performing a yagya ( a ritual of Hindus ) when Ashtavakra was in his mother’s womb. From his mother’s womb Ashtavakra told his father that he was making mistakes in performing the yagya. This so infuriated Kahod that he cursed his son to be born with 8 deformities, and that is how Ashtavakra was born with them.
Kahod later died, and Ashtavakra became a precocious child, mastering all the texts.
On hearing of the king’s announcement, Ashtavakra proceeded to his court. He was stopped at the palace gate by the guards, who asked what he wanted. Ashtavakra said he had come in view of the king’s announcement. This made the guards laugh, who said you are just a child, what can you do for our king ? Ashtavakra replied that there was a difference between a vayovriddh ( physically grown up ) and a manovriddh ( mentally grown up ). Then the guards let him in.
On coming before the king Ashtavakra said ” O king, I can make you attain moksha immediately ”. Raja Janak was astounded to hear this from a child, but since others had failed, told Ashtavakra to proceed.
Ashtavakra asked ” O king, is that bejewelled necklace which you are wearing yours ? ”. The king said ” No, it belongs to the state ”.
Then Ashtavakra asked ” O king, are the 10,000 cows in your kingdom yours ? ”.
The king replied that they belonged to the state.
Ashtavakra then asked ” O king, does this beautiful palace with so much gold embedded in it belong to you ? ”.
The king said it belongs to the state.
In this way Ashtavakra kept asking question after question about whether something belonged to the king, and every time the king had to say it belongs to the state.
Finally Ashtavakra asked ” O king, can you name me anything which belongs to you ? ”.
At this Raja Janak fell into a swoon, and became unconscious. When he woke up, he said ” Nothing belongs to me ”
Ashtavakra then said ” O king, you have attained moksha ‘