Astavakra Gita, also known as the Astavakra Samhita, is an advait Vedanta scripture. It unfolds philosophical truths in the Upanishadic style, i.e. in the form of a dialogue between Guru, a teenage sage Astavakra and his royal disciple Janaka, the King of Mithila. Astavakra Gita deals with the mystical experiences of the inner self in ones flight for transcendental peace and bliss. Astavakra Gita is much older than the Bhagavad Gita and presents the truth straightaway, without any winded twists and turns. Story of Astavakra is also described in Mahabharata Vana Parva, from Chapter 132 to 134, wherein Maharshi Lomasha narrates it to Yudhisthir, the eldest of Pandava.
There is an interesting story behind Astavakra’s name. When Astavakra was unborn and still in his mother’s womb, he used to listen to his father’s recitation of Rig Veda verses. One day, he observed that the recitation was not proper. So he corrected his father “what you are reciting is mere repetition of words, there’s no substance in them.”
His father was agitated at the remarks made by his unborn child. Being short-tempered, he cursed his son without a second thought for finding his mistakes. As a result Astavakra was born deformed, with eight bends or distortions in his body. Therefore he became known as Astavakra (asta = 8, vakra = crooked).
Despite his father's cruel curse, Astavakra remained a faithful son. When he was just twelve, his father lost a priestly debate and was banished to the watery realm of Varuna, lord of death. Although it was extremely painful for Astavakra to travel, Astavakra made it to king Janaka's court to challenge the man who had defeated his father.
King Janaka was observing Mahayajan. Astavakra accompanied by his maternal uncle, Swetaketu reached there searching for his father. They were obstructed by King’s attendants as king was proceeding to sacrificial place.
Quoting his knowledge of Scriptures, Astavakra pointed out that a Brahmin has priority over king for way. When Janaka overheard the conversation, he was impressed with this young boy’s knowledge and let him proceed ahead of him.
The moment he enters the royal court, everybody started laughing looking at his crooked body. But instead of being offended or belittled, Astavakra also started laughing. King Janaka asked at once “everybody is laughing at you, but why are you laughing?”
Astavakra answered very boldly, referring to everybody in the court, “I am laughing because a great king like you is surrounded by cobblers (shoemakers)! A cobbler looks only at the skin, and not beyond it, likewise you all are judging me merely by my outer appearance, and not looking at my inner being (soul or atman)!”
"O King, just as the shape of a temple does not affect the sky, the crookedness of the physical body has no effect on Soul. A wise man looks behind this manifested world, whereas an ignorant one gets lost in names and forms."
King Janaka realized that Astavakra was anything but a crooked teenager. So he started asking him questions. King learned about Astavakra’s motive of defeating his royal scholar Bandi. Although the Mahayajna was open only to established scholars, king Janaka allowed Astavakra to participate. Bandi and Astavakra got engaged in arguments. Astavakra defeated Bandi and got his father released. The question and answer recorded became known as the Astavakra Gita. It highlights the fact that Self knowledge is the only goal to be reached and experienced in deepest meditation.
Find here the Sanskrit text of Astavakra Gita.