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The Yakhsa Prashna (Also known as the Dharma Baka Upakhyan: Story of the Righteous Crane) appears in the Vana Parva or Aranyaka-parva or Aranya-parva Mahabharata, Aranya Parva, 311–12 (Meaning: The Book of the Forest) of the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharat. The story is set up at the end of twelve years of exile of the Pandavas in the forest.
At the end of their 12 years of exile in the forests, time had come for the pandavas to live in Ajnata Vasa(living In-cognito). As they were discussing upon their course of action the Pandava princes came across a Brahmin who complained that a deer has taken his Arani (The pair of wooden blocks to generate fire by friction) on its antlers and therefore he was not able to light the fire for the performance of Vedic rituals. The valorous Pandava princes set out to retrieve the Brahmin's Arani and followed the hoof-marks of the deer.
In the quest of the mysterious deer, Yudhisthira, became exhausted and thirsty. His brother Nakula thus ventured out to fetch water and found a beautiful lake. The lake was devoid of any living creature except a crane (Baka). When he attempted to take water from the lake, the crane spoke, "O Nakula! The water of this lake will turn into poison if you take it without satisfactorily answering my questions." Nakula, in arrogance, did not pay heed and hurriedly took water from the lake. Upon drinking the crystal clear water, Nakula instantly died of poisoning. Nakula's twin Sahadeva, coming in search of brother, also found the same lake, saw Nakula dead, and was also warned by the crane. But Sahadeva again ignored the crane and died after drinking the water. In the same manner, both valiant Arjuna, and powerful Bhima met the same fate.
Since none of the brothers returned with water, Yudhisthira embarked in search of them. Upon following the same path, Yudhisthira again came across the lake and found his brothers lying dead. Before searching for the killer of his brothers, Yudhisthira decided to drink some water from the lake. But when the crane warned him, Yudhisthira realized that the crane held the answer to the turn of events. The virtuous Yudhisthira proceeded to answer the questions put forth by the crane.
Before putting the questions to Yudhisthira, the crane revealed itself as a Yaksha. The Yaksha asked 18 questions with philosophical and meta-physical ramifications. This dialogue between the Yaksha and Yudhisthira is embodied in the Madhya Parva of the Mahabharata, and is also known as the Dharma-Baka Upakhyan (Legend of the Virtous Crane).
Baka Prashna/Yakhya Prashna: (The Questions of the righteous Crane or the Yaksha)
Question No. 1:Yaksha questioned: Who makes the sun to rise and ascend in the skies? Who moves around the Sun? Who makes the sun set in the horizons? What is the true nature of the Sun and where is the sun established?
Yudhisthira answered: Brahma makes the sun rise and ascend. The Gods perambulate about the Sun. The Dharm sets the Sun. Truth is the actual Sun and the Sun is established in truth only.
Question No. 2: Yaksha enquired: What instills 'divinity' in Brahmins? What is the quality of virtuousity in a Brahmin? What is the humanlike quality of a Brahmin? What is the conduct akin to a non-virtuous person in a Brahmin?
Yudhisthira replied: The self-study (Swadhyana) of the Vedas is divinity in a Brahmin. Penance is the quality like a virtuous person in a Brahmin. Death is human-like quality in a Brahmin. Criticising others is conduct in a Brahmin like a non-virtuous person.
Question No. 3: Yaksha asked: What instills 'divinity' in Kshatriyas? What is the quality of virtuousity in a Kshatriya? What is the humanlike quality of a Kshatriya? What is the conduct akin to a non-virtuous person in a Kshatriya?
Yudhisthira replied: The art of archery is the divinity in a Kshatriya. Oblation is Kshatriya's quality of virtuousity in Kshatriya. Fear is his humanly quality. Abandoning people under protection of the Kshatriya is conduct like a non-virtuous person in the Kshatriya.
Question No. 4 the Yaksha asked: What is that thing which is like a Mantra in the performance of oblations (Yajnya)? Who is the performer of rites and ceremonies during Yajnya? Who accepts the offerings and oblations of a Yajnya? What is that which even a Yajnya can not transgress?
Yudhisthira replied: 'Breath' is like a Mantra in the performance of rites. 'Mind' is the performer of all rites in the course of Yajnya. Only Shlokas of the Vedas, termed rucha or the richa accept oblation. The Yajnya can not surpass nor transgress the richas.
Question No. 5 the Yaksha asked: What is heavier than earth, higher than heavens, faster than the wind and more numerous than straws?
Yudhishthira: One's mother is heavier than the earth; one's father is higher than the heavens. The mind is faster than wind and our worries are more numerous than straws.
Question No. 6 the Yaksha asked: Who is the friend of a traveler? Who is the friend of one who is ill and one who is dying?
Yudhishthira: The friend of a traveler is his companion. The physician is the friend of one who is sick and a dying man's friend is charity.
Question No. 7 the Yaksha asked: What is that which, when renounced, makes one lovable? What is that which is renounced makes happy and wealthy?
Yudhishthira: Pride, if renounced makes one lovable; by renouncing desire one becomes wealthy; and to renounce avarice is to obtain happiness.
Question No. 8 the Yaksha asked: What enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease? What sort of man is noble and what sort is ignoble?
Yudhishthira: Anger is the invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes a disease that is incurable. He is noble who desires the well-being of all creatures, and he is ignoble who is without mercy.
Question No. 9 the Yaksha asked: Who is truly happy? What is the greatest wonder? What is the path? And what is the news?
Yudhishthira: He who has no debts is truly happy. Day after day countless people die. Yet the living wish to live forever. O Lord, what can be a greater wonder? Argument leads to no certain conclusion, the Srutis are different from one another; there is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by all; the truth about Dharma and duty is hid in caves of our heart: therefore, that alone is the path along which the great have trod. This world full of ignorance is like a pan. The sun is fire, the days and nights are fuel. The months and the seasons constitute the wooden ladle. Time is the cook that is cooking all creatures in that pan (with such aids); this is the news
Yudhistira could answer all the many many question of the Yaksha, but all through he had this doubt regarding the real nature of the Yaksha. He had also raised the question in this regard, but he wasn't replied. However at the end the Yaksha revealed himself to be Yama-Dharma, the god of death, who was none other than Yudhistira's father. He also admitted to Yudhistira that it was he who had stolen the ARANI in form of the deer. He blessed him,saying since he had adhered to Dharma(the rigteousness), the Dharma shall protect them. Nobody will recognise them during the Ajnata Vasa. 
||This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations. (April 2009)|
- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend by Anna Dallapiccola
- Encyclopedia of Hinduism Ed. by Dr. Nagendra Kr. Singh
- English translation at Dharma Sastra.
- Sanskrit and English, A4 and tablet PDFs with notes and links at the Matheson Trust.