We tend to assume that one would take after one’s own parents, be the quality physical or intellectual and this is quite a natural thing to do. However, we do come across certain cases where this is not true. There are stories to emphasise on this point. One of them is the famous story of Prahlada who, though a Daitya’s son, was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. There is a story to this effect in the Mahabharata too.
Sage Lomasa accompanied the Pandavas as they were wandering in the forests, and in the course came by a hermitage which was once the abode of the great sage Uddalaka. Lomasa narrated the significance of the place: Uddalaka had a disciple named Kagola who, though not an erudite scholar, was well behaved and very devoted to his mentor. Pleased with him, Uddalaka gave his daughter Sujata in marriage to him.
Kagola was so bad at reciting the Vedas that his unborn son would writhe in pain while yet in the womb. So, it happened that he was born with eight deformities and earned the sobriquet ‘Ashtavakra’ which meant ‘eight crooks’.
Once, unfortunately, Kagola challenged Vandi, the court scholar of Mithila to a polemical contest and was defeated. As a consequence, he was made to drown himself. Vandi had caused many a scholar to die thus.
Ashtavakra was born with great intellectual capacities and mastered the Vedas and the Vedanta at a very early age. Once, a great sacrifice was being performed by Janaka, the king of Mithila, in the course of which scholars assembled to debate upon many issues. Ashtavakra too went there accompanied by his uncle.
The royal procession was out and it so happened that Ashtavakra came in the way. He was asked to make way for the king to which he replied: Is it not dharma that the weak and afflicted should be given way even if it be by the king?
Janaka, a realised soul, though a king, was untouched by the world and was as a lotus leaf is in water. He recognised the greatness of Ashtavakra and immediately made way for him and, coming to know of the purpose of his having come there, arranged for him to be taken to the court.
In the debate that ensued, Ashtavakra defeated Vandi and the latter immersed himself in the sea as per the condition set. Thus, Ashtavakra avenged the unjust death of his poor father.
Later, Ashtavakra earned the blessings of a sage and was cured of his deformities.