The Bhagavata Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 780,972 words | ISBN-10: 8120838203 | ISBN-13: 9788120838208

This page describes Description of Hells (Naraka) which is chapter 26 of the English translation of the Bhagavata Purana, one of the eighteen major puranas containing roughly 18,000 metrical verses. Topics include ancient Indian history, religion, philosophy, geography, mythology, etc. The text has been interpreted by various schools of philosophy. This is the twenty-sixth chapter of the Fifth Skandha of the Bhagavatapurana.

Chapter 26 - Description of Hells (Naraka)

The King enquired:

1. Oh great Sage! How is it that there is such a diversity (in regions attained to by people) in the word?

The Sage (Śrī Śuka) replied:

2. The courses (and results) of karmas are varied according to the faith of the performer of the action which differs according to the (dominance of) particular mode of Prakṛti (e.g. sattva, rajas and tamas) influencing him.[1] All these are attained (at different times) by everyone (in more or less degree according to the influence of a particular guṇa).

3. Thus in the case of perpetrators of unrighteous acts of a prohibited character, the fruits according to them are of dissimilar nature according to the variety of the faith of the perpetrator. Now we shall describe in details (some prominent states out of) the thousands of hellish states which are the results of the (commission of) prohibited sinful acts committed by those who indulge in desires (of various kinds) due to the influence of avidyā (ignorance) dominating them from time immemorial.

The King asked:

4. Are the infernal regions some particular parts of this world? Or are they somewhere outside the worlds or are they somewhere in the space inside these wodḍs?

The Sage (Śrī Śuka) replied:

5. They (the infernal regions) are within the three worlds. They lie in the Southern direction below the earth and above the waters. And in this direction reside the groups of Pitṛs (manes) called Agniṣvātta and others. Meditating on God with utmost concentration, they continue to invoke auspicious blessings on their descendants.

6. It is reported that it is really true that the venerable, king of the manes (pitṛ), Yama (son of the Sun-god) who never violates any command of the Lord, dwells here along with his retinue. And to the departed souls brought to his region by his messengers he inflicts punishments in proportion and according to the gravity of the sin committed.

7. Some learned have enumerated that there are twenty-one—hellish regions. Oh King, I shall now serially describe them to you according to their name, form (or function) and character (nature of the sin expiated.) They are as follows: Tāmisra, Andhatāmisra, Raurava, Mahāraurava, Kumbhīpāka, Kālasūtra, Asipatravana, Sūkaramukha, Andhakūpa, Kṛmibhojana, Sandaṃśa, Taptasūrmi, Vajrakaṇṭakaśālmalī, Vaitaraṇī, Pūyoda, Prāṇarodha, Viśasana, Lālābhakṣa, Sārameyādana, Avīci and Ayaḥpāna. Moreover, (there are seven in addition) viz., Kṣārakardama, Rakṣogaṇabhojana, Śūlaprota, Daṇḍaśūka, Avaṭanirodhana, Paryāvartana and Sūcimukha [Sūcīmukha?]. These twenty-eight infernal regions are the places where (jīvas are subjected to) tortures of various kinds.

8. The person who takes away another person’s wealth, children or wife, is certainly bound down with mortal cords of death and is forcibly hurled into the Tāmisra hell by the terrible servants of Yama. In that hell of utter darkness, the being is subjected to various kinds of torment such as denial of food and water, belabouring with cudgels, holding out threats, and ultimately overcome with torment he instantaneously drops down unconscious.

9. In the same way, a person who enjoys the wife (property etc.) of another person by deceiving him, is thrown into the Anḍhatāmisra hell. Here the embodied being who is subjected to tortures loses his sight and consciousness due to torments, just like a tree the roots of which are being cut down. Hence they call this hell ‘Andhatāmisra’ due to its blinding effect.

10. Verily, he who wrongly identifies his body with his Soul and regards his wealth (wife etc.) as his own and every day contributes to the nourishment and comforts of his family by maliciously treating other beings, falls, after leaving his body etc. in this world, into the Raurava hell due to the sin (perpetrated in his malicious dealings).

11. The creatures which have been tortured and killed by him in this world, are born in the world as Rurus and while he (their murderer) undergoes torments inflicted by Yama, kill him in the same way (as done to them by him). Ruru is the name of a creature much more cruel than a serpent. Hence this hell is called Raurava.

12. Similar is the hell called Mahāraurava. He who is given solely to the nourishment of his body by any unscrupulous means etc.) enters this hell. Here the Rurus are Kravyādas (carnivorous, flesh-eaters) which kill him for the sake of his flesh.

13. In the hell, called Kumbhīpāka, the servants of Yama fry in boiling oil that hard-hearted man who cooked living beasts or birds in this world and was censured for his cruelty even by cannibals (or demons).

14. He who bears malice towards his parents, Brāhmaṇas and the Vedas is hurled into the hell called Kālasūtra. It is a plain of a copper-sheet ten thousand Yojanas in area. The sheet of copper is heated by fire from below and the Sun from above. The creature is being burnt within and outside his body by hunger-thirst. Due to restlessness, he sometimes sits, sometimes lies down and rolls and sometimes stands up and begins to run about. Thus he suffers for as many thousand years as there are hair on a beast’s body.

15. They (servants of Yama) throw in the hell called Asipatravana (a forest of trees with sword-like leaves) a person who, while in this world, abandons his Vedic way of life even when there was no calamity and embraces a heretic sect. They strike him with a whip. And while he runs hither and thither (to avoid whipping), all the limbs of his body are cut down by the two-edged sword-like leaves of the palm trees thereof. Crying with excruciating pain, “Alas! I am killed”, he falls in a swoon at every step. A renegade from one’s own faith he reaps the fruit (punishment) suitable for the sin of embracing a heretic creed.

16. In this world, verily, a king or a king’s servant inflicts punishment on those who did not deserve it (being innocent), or subjects a Brāhmaṇa to corporal punishment, that sinful fellow falls into the hell Sūkaramukha in the next world. While his limbs are being crushed with very powerful hands like a sugarcane (in a crusher) in this world, he laments in a piteous tone and sometimes he becomes unconscious like innocent persons confined in jail by him (while) in this world.

17. But a person whose course of life in this world is prescribed by God and who is capable of understanding agony caused to others, causes pains to creatures whose feeding upon human bodies is determined by God but which are incapable of being aware of causing pains to others, falls into the hell Andhakūpa. He is hated and troubled there by beings like beasts, deer, birds, reptiles, mosquitos, lice, bugs, flies and others. Being harassed on all sides in the darkness, his sleep and mental peace are disturbed. Being devoid of rest, he wanders in darkness even as the jīva, the embodied soul, lives restlessly in a diseased body.

18. A person who. without performing five daily great sacrifices[2] (prescribed for a householder) eats whatever comes to his lot without sharing that with others (strangerguests, his elders, dependents etc.) is spoken of as (comparable to) a crow. After his death, he falls in the most wretched hell called Kṛmibhojana. There he is born as a worm in a pool of worms, of hundred thousand Yojanas in extent. Being himself preyed upon by worms, he continues to feed himself on worms. He who thus enjoys his earnings without offering (a portion of it) to others or to gods, subjects himself to these torments for as many years (one hundred thousand) as the Yojanas of the extent of that hell or till his sin is expiated.

19. He who, in this world, without being in (a justifiable) emergency or calamity, steals or robs by force the gold, jewels etc, of a Brāhmaṇa or of any other person, gets the skin of his body cut with red-hot iron balls or tongs by the servants of Yama in the other world, Oh King.

20. To a man who indulges in a sexual intercourse with a woman whom he should not have approached or to a woman who does so with a man unworthy of such an approach, the servants of Yama lash them with a whip and make the man or woman embrace the red-hot iron image of that woman or man respectively.

21. He who (indiscriminately) indulges in sexual intercourse with all (including sub-human beings) is placed on a silk-cotton tree with thorns of adamants in the hell (called Vajrakaṇṭaka-śālmalī) in the next world, and is dragged (down on those thorns).

22. Those persons who are born as Kṣatriyas or officers of king who are of noble descent (and have joined the heretic sect) transgress the bounds of religion, fall into the (river) Vaitaraṇī after death. Those transgressors of the restrictions (laid down) in religion are being bitten (eaten) by the aquatic animals of that river which forms the moat of the infernal regions. They are not disunited with the Soul but are sustained with life by their sins. Remembering the result of their sin, they continue to be tormented in the river which carries a flood of excretion, urine, pus, blood, hair, nails, bones, fat, flesh and marrow.

23. Those who (though born in higher caste but) keep low-caste women, neglect purity, righteous conduct and selfdiscipline and shamelessly lead a beastlike life, fall after their death in (the hell called Pūyoda which is) a sea full of pus, excretion, urine, phlegm and dirt and eat nothing but these most detestable things.

24. The Brāhmaṇas and others who keep a pack of hounds and donkeys, find delight here in hunting and kill animals on occasions other than those prescribed in the Śāstras, become, after death, targets of the discharge of arrows by the servants of Yama who pierce them with arrows (in the hell named Prāṇanirodha).

25. Verily those hypocrites who kill beasts in sham sacrifices in this world, fall in the Vaiśasa hell in the next world. There the Lords of that hell torture them and finally cut them to pieces.

26. The sinful twice-born (dvīja) who, being blind with passion makes his wife of his own caste drink his semen, is thrown in the next world in a stream of semen (in the Lālābhakṣa hell) and is made to drink semen.

27. In this world the dacoits (who loot the property of others), perpetrators of arson and poisoning—be they kings or king’s servants and soldiers—plunder villages or caravans of merchants, servants of Yama (in the form of) seven hundred and twenty hounds with teeth like adamant voraciously eat them up when they die (and enter the Sārameyādana).

28. Again, a person who utters any lie at the time of deposing evidence, money-transactions (e.g. barter, sale, purchase) or donating a gift, enters after death a supportless hell called Avīcimat. In that hell, he is hurled down headlong from a (steep) mountain top one hundred Yojanas in height to a place with rocky surface appearing as water. Hence, it is called avīcimat [avīci-mat] (A place with hard surface but appearing like water with ripples). His body is shattered to very small pieces but he does not die. He is again taken up and hurled down.

29. If a Brāhmaṇa or his (Brāhmaṇa) wife or anyone who has taken a sacred vow, drinks wine through mistake or if a Kṣatriya and a Vaiśya (who are not eligible to drink Soma) drink the Soma juice, they are taken to the hell (called Ayaḥpāna) where, the servants of Yama, pressing a foot on their bosom pour molten iron into their mouth.

30. If a person belonging to the lowest strata of the society does not duly pay respect to those that are Superior in birth (heredity), performance of austerities, learning, righteous conduct, caste and stage of life, out of esteem for himself, he is as good as a dead (while alive). After death, he is hurled down with head downwards into the hell called Kṣārakardama where he is subjected to endless tortures.

31. (When) men who, in this world, verily propitiate (gods like Bhairava) by offering human sacrifice and the women eat the human victim so offered, the human beings so sacrificed become a battalion of demons (Rākṣasas) in the region of Yama (in the hell called Rakṣogaṇa-bhojana). There Rākṣasas torture their former slayers in many ways, cut them into slices with their axes like butchers, drink their blood, dance and sing merrily just as those who ate them (as human victims) did on the earth.

32. Those persons who, in this world, attract by means of allurement innocent people in the forests or in villages and inspire confidence in them to come near and then torture them in various ways by transfixing them on an iron pike or by binding them with ropes even though they strongly desire to survive—such (cruel) persons after death, at the time of being tortured by Yama (in the hell called Śūlaprota) are transfixed on iron pikes. When they are distressed with hunger and thirst, they are attacked and pecked on all sides by hellish birds like Kaṅka, Vaṭaka of sharp beaks. It is then they remember their own sins.

33. Those people who are of a ferocious nature like serpents, torment other beings in this world, they fall even after death in a hell called Dandaśūka where serpents with five and seven hoods (mouth) approach them and devour them like mice.

34. Those who actually confine living beings in dark holes, granaries or caves in this world, (the servants of Yama) in the other worlds shut them up into similar places (in the Avaṭanirodhana hell) full of poisonous fire and smoke.

35. A householder who in this world often gets angry with and looks with burning eyes at the guests who have arrived at his door, gets his sinful eyes forcibly plucked out by birds of adamantine beaks like vultures, crows, kaṅka, Avaṭa.

36. If a person, in this world is proud of his wealth and full of egotism, looks askance at others and is suspicious about all, and if his heart and mouth are withered by the anxiety of the expenditure or loss of that wealth and if, without any peace of mind he guards his treasure like a goblin, after death he becomes transformed into a devil for he accumulates sin in earning, supplementing and preserving wealth. He falls into a hell called Sūcīmukha. There the servants of (Yama-) dharma, like tailors, stitch the body of this devil-like protector of wealth, on all sides.

37. Oh Protector of the earth! There are hundreds and thousands of such and the like hells in the abode of Yama. Some of them have been described here and some are not. All persons following an unrighteous path, enter into them in due course. Similarly, those who follow (the path of) religion enter elsewhere (in the heaven). They are again reborn to this world with some balance of sin and merit with them.

38. The path of Nivṛtti (cessation from worldly activities) has been propounded to you in detail at first[3]. Of this extent is the Brahmāṇḍa (egg-shaped universe) which is divided into fourteen regions in the Purāṇas. It is the grossest form of the glorious Lord Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme Person. It comprises of the attributes of his Māyā (viz. sattva, rajas, tamas). He who full of faith and devotion reads, listens to and recites to others this account as narrated by me, begets in him faith, devotion and pure intelligence and realizes the incomprehensible Supreme Self.

39. Having listened to the gross as well as the subtle form of the glorious Lord, a self-controlled person, after successfully concentrating the mind on the gross form, should gradually comprehend the subtle form by his intelligence.

40. Oh King! In this way the disposition of the world with its divisions (dvīpas), sub-divisions (varṣas), the rivers, mountains, the sky (aerial region), the seas, the nether-world, the subterranean regions, the quarters and the hells as well as the heavenly bodies and various regions have been described to you by me. It is the gross form of the Lord, the asylum of all species of beings.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. the characteristics of the sāttvic, rājasa and tāmasa acts (Bhagavad Gītā 18.23-25) and the three types of the performers of acts (Bhagavad Gītā 18.26-28).


The following are the ‘great sacrifices’ enumerated in the Manusmṛti 3.70-71:

  1. Brahma-yajña—Propitiation of ancient seers-ṛṣis by teaching and learning of the Vedic lore
  2. Pitṛ-yajña—Propitiation of one’s forefathers by offering libations of water or Pitṛ-tarpaṇa.
  3. Deva-yajña—Propitiation of gods by offering oblations in sacrificial fire.
  4. Bhūla-yajña—Offering a portion of one’s meals to sub-human creatures.
  5. Nṛyajña—Sharing one’s food with a stranger who by chance comes to the door for food or shelter (atithi-pūjana).


Viz. Vaiśvānaraṃ yāti etc. in Supra 2.2.24—Bhāvāratha Dīpikā

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: