The Narada Purana (abridged)

2010 | 18,115 words

The Narada Purana (Nārada Purāṇa) is one of the major eighteen Mahapuranas, a genre of Hindu religious texts. It deals with the places of pilgrimages and features a dialogue between the sage Narada, and Sanatkumara. During the course of the dialogue between the two, Narada explains to Sanatkumara the major places of piligrimages, their location, ...


“But,” said the sages, “What happenes if one commits a sin? What form does the penance (prayashcitta) take?”

The severest sin is that of killing a brahmana. This may happen inadvertently. In such cases, the murderer must place his hand on the dead man’s forehead and beg forgiveness. He then retires to the forest. He keeps matted hair and eat only once a day, that too, only fruit and roots. He meditates only on Vishnu. The sinner also visits various famous places of pilgrimage. But he makes it a point to tell whomsover he meets that he has committed the sin of killing a brahmana. The period of penance continues for twelve years, after which the sin is pardoned.

There might occur situations where the sinner dies before the twelve years are over. If the sinner is killed by a deer or if he dies of disease, the sin is automatically forgiven. It is also pardoned if the person concerned dies while saving a cow or brahmana.

The penance for killing a kshatriya is the same as that for killing a brahmana. Alternatively, the murderer may immolate himself in a fire or kill himself by jumping off a high place.

But generally speaking, the sin of killing a kshatriya is only half as severe as that of killing a brahmana. And the sin of killing a vaishya is only one-third as severe as that of killing a brahmana.

A shudra who kills a brahmana is to be beaten to death with a club.

There are three types of wine, known as goudi, madhvi and paishti. The drinking of wine is forbidden. If one drinks wine, the prescribed penance is the drinking of clairfied butter and the urine of cows. Drinking wine, in fact, is as great a sin as the killing of a brahmana.

There are various units for measuring gold (kanchana). When sunlight filters through a window, small particles can be seen. These are known as trasarenu. Eight trasarenus make a nishka, three nishkas are one rajasarshapa, three rajasarshapas are one gosarshapa, six gosarshapas are one yava, three yavas one krishnala, five krishnalas one masha and sixteen mashas one suvarna. A person who steals gold amounting to one suvarna from a brahmana commits a sin tha tis equivalent to the killing of a brahmana. The same sort of atonement is thus indicated. In addition, the sinner has to apply clarified butter and cowdung on his body. If a kshatriya steals gold from a brahmana, he has to perform a horse sacrifice. The alternative is to donate to brahmanas three hundred cows or gold equivalent to the weight of one’s own body. But if the thief shows penitence and returnes the gold to the brahmana immediately after he has stolen it, twelve days of fasting is enough.

The penance is halved if the object that has been stolen is not gold, but is gem, land or cattle.

Naturally, the penance is less if the amount of gold that has been stolen is not a suvarna, but is less. For example, if a trasarenu of gold has been stolen, two rounds of pranayama (a breathing exercise) is sufficient atonement. If a nishka of gold has been stolen, three rounds of pranayama are needed and if a rajasarshapa of gold has been stolen, four rounds pranayama are indicated. A person who steals a gosarshapa of gold has to chant the gayatri mantra (an incantation) one thousand and eight times. If the amount of stolen gold increases to one yava, the mantra has to be chanted throughout an entire day. For stealing gold amounting to one krishnala, a special vrata named santapana has to be observed. What about situations where one masha of gold has been stolen? Then the sinner has to eat for three months foodgrains soaked in the urine of cows and worship the gods for a corresponding period. The period is increased to one year if the amount of stolen gold is more than one masha, but less than one suvama.

Separate vratas are prescribed for the stealing of silver, bronze, brass, copper and jewels. The severity of the vrata depends on the object that has been stolen and on the amount of the theft.

A person who associates with a sinner has to undergo penance. The penance is the same as would have been the case had he committed the sin himself.

There is a special vrata known as prajapatya. A person who kills a mongoose, crow, boar, rat, cat, goat, sheep, dog or a hen, has to observe half a prajapatya vrata. A person who kills a horse has to observe three such rites. Other rites are prescribed for those who kill elephants or kill cows inadvertently. If a cow is consciously killed, no penance other than death will suffice.

A person who steals wood, grass, trees, molasses, meat or skins will fast for three days. A person who kills birds, turtles or porpoises will fast for twelve days.

Yajnas and religious rites are sacred ceremonies. If the voice of a chandala is heard while such rites are going on, it is recommended that one fasts for a day and purifies oneself by partaking of clarifed butter on the second day. One thousand and eight gayatri mantras also have to be chanted.

No penance is prescribed for those who criticize the gods or the brahmanas. Such sinners are beyond redemption.

No penance is successful unless it is accompanied by faith in Vishnu. The sins are forgiven even if one prays to Vishnu inadvertently. Praying to Vishnu is far superior to visiting places of pilgrimage or performing religious rites.

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