The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes The Greatness of Anarakeshvara (anaraka-ishvara-tirtha) which is chapter 159 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the one hundred fifty-ninth chapter of the Reva-khanda of the Avantya-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 159 - The Greatness of Anarakeśvara (anaraka-īśvara-tīrtha)

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya said:

1-6. Thereafter, O great king, one should go to an extremely sacred Tīrtha on Narmadā named Anarakeśvara. It is of Siddha (spiritually perfect) nature and very rarely obtained. A man who takes his holy bath there in that Tīrtha, O descendant of Bharata, does not see the extremely terrible gate of what is termed as Naraka, even though he may be a sinner.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

O dear one, men here in this world experience pleasures (and sorrows) as the results (of deeds) auspicious and inauspicious. O excellent one, what are the characteristic features based on which they are born so?

The individual soul coming out after leaving the body is not seen. In the same way, it is not seen while reentering a body constituted of the five elements.

What is the Saṃjñā (?name, consciousness) that comes to men in the conglomeration of faeces, urine and semen, along with skin, bone, flesh, suet, blood and hundreds of hair and nerves and tissues?

On being asked thus, Mārkaṇḍeya, conversant with Yoga meditated upon the eternal Maheśvara, Śarva, the Lord of Devas, and began to say:

Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya said:

7-19. O son of Kuntī, listen to the great problem. I shall recount it in the manner heard earlier by me from Brahmā in the assembly of sages and Devas.

Preceptor is the chastiser of self-controlled ones; king is the chastiser of the wicked ones. The chastiser of those with sins concealed here (in the world) is Yama, the son of Vivasvān.

Those who did not perform expiatory rites are tortured in various ways in the world of Yama. They are then born as various kinds of living beings. After passing through those stages, they take up human birth when they will have distinct marks of their sins. I shall mention them, O king. Listen attentively.

After going to the abode of Yama they endured all sorts of tortures. After undergoing such large-scale tortures, those who rtetrn [return?] to the mortal world are marked duly.

A habitual liar becomes a stammerer. One who had uttered a lie jeopardizing cows becomes a dumb man. A person with the sin of slaying a Brāhmaṇa becomes a leper. A drunkard has blackened teeth.

By stealing gold, one gets deformed nails. A man who defiles the bed of the preceptor gets skin diseases. One who is in contact with sinners becomes deficient in generative organs. One who has never made any gifts becomes impoverished.

A person who performs Yajña on behalf of the undeserving becomes a Grāma Śūkara (village pig), O king. One who performs Yajña on behalf of many becomes an ass. One who takes food uninvited becomes a dog.

One who takes food indiscriminately without examination shall be born as a monkey in a desolate forest. One who threatens others becomes a cat. By burning down a forest of dry wood, one becomes a glowworm.

By imparting false knowledge, one becomes a bullock. One who gives stale, cooked rice to a Brāhmaṇa, may become impotent.

On account of rivalry one is born as congenitally blind. One who steals a book is born blind. The child of one who steals fruits dies. There is no doubt about this. On death he becomes a monkey. Getting released therefrom, he becomes Galāḍavān (? with a pendulous fleshy purse hanging from the throat?). A man who eats those fruits without giving (to others) becomes one without children.

One who steals cloth shall become an alligator. A person who administers poison becomes a serpent. By cohabiting with an ascetic woman one becomes a vampire in desert.

20-34a. A person taking away water becomes gouty. A person stealing grain becomes a mouse. The Śruti says that one who ravishes an immature girl becomes a serpent.

One coveting the wife of the preceptor shall become a chameleon and remain so for a long time. A man who breaks water-current shall become a fish. A man who sells an article the sale of which is prohibited, shall become one with deformed eyes. An Ayoniga (one who introduces the penis elsewhere than into a vagina) shall become a wolf. One who practises deception in buying shall become an owl.

One who takes food on the eleventh day of the death of a person, becomes a dog. After promising some payment of money to a Brāhmaṇa, if one does not give it, he shall become a Madhūka tree.

One who ravishes a queen becomes a wicked man. A thief becomes a filthy pig. One who spreads scandal about the people of high caste, takes up the form of a tortoise.

A Devalaka (one who supports himself by the offerings to an idol) takes the birth of a Cāṇḍāla. A seller of fruits becomes unlucky. A consort of a Śūdra woman becomes a scorpion.

One who treads on fire becomes a cat. One who eats meat belonging to others, becomes diseased (chronically). One cohabiting with his own sister becomes an impotent fellow. One who steals sweet scents becomes a stinking person.

A Grāmabhaṭṭa (a priest of the rustic multitude) becomes a barber. A Daivajña (street astrologer) shall become a donkey. A person professing to be a learned man, shall become a cat. A person expounding scriptural texts (professionally) shall become a dog. O king, one who reveals secrets of others is seen to be so (a dog). One who does enimical act, whether small or big, takes the birth of a brutish creature. There is no doubt about this.

These and other signs are brought about by one’s own actions, wherefrom men are dearly seen what they really are. Birth follows death and death follows birth. This is the case in all creatures, O descendant of Bharata.

When auspicious and inauspicious acts become equal in magnitude and when semen and blood become mixed due to the intercourse of a man and a woman, a creature is born undoubtedly. Equipped with the five elements the creature, the Ātman, the Lord himself becomes the sixth of the series. The Ātman is beginningless and when it wishes to take a birth, all these things come to it: sense-organs, mind, vital airs, knowledge, longevity (life expectation), happiness, fortitude, sustaining (retention), inducement, misery, wish, Ahaṃkāra (ego, I-ness), effort, shape, colour, voice, hatred, birth and non-birth.

Purāṇic Embryology

34b-39. In the first month it is a phlegmatic mass with the full complement of the bodily ingredients. In the second month it is a lump of flesh; in the third it gets equipped with sense-organs. From the element of ether it derives lightness, subtlety, sound, power of hearing, strength etc. From air the Ātman obtains sense of touch, movement, digestive power and roughness. From fiery element the sense of vision, warmth, digestive capacity, colour and illumination are obtained. It takes from watery element chillness, fluidity, dampness and softness. From earth element it takes odour, sense of smell, weight and physical form. These the unborn Ātman takes up in the third month and begins to throb. If the longing of a pregnant woman is not fulfilled, the foetus becomes defective. It may get ugliness or even death. Hence the woman should be kept pleased. In the fourth month the limbs get firmness. Blood begins to flow in the fifth month. Physical strength is obtained in the sixth month. Complexion is fixed and the nails and hairs grow at that time.

40-53. In the seventh month, the foetus becomes endowed with consciousness and mind and the body has all the nails and hundreds of hairs. In the eighth month, the outer skin is fixed and the foetus becomes endowed with the power of memory. It is at this time that his sin pursues the foetus and the mother as well. Hence if the birth is premature and the child is born in the eighth month it dies invariably. Either in the ninth or the tenth month the child comes out naturally forced by the powerful winds at the time of delivery. With feverish haste it comes out like an arrow from the hole in a mechanical device. Now it has its full complement of the limbs of the body. There are one hundred vulnerable joints with three hundred Āsthās (bones?). There are seven skull-pieces in the head created by the Self-born Lord himself. O descendant of Bharata, there are three and half crores of hairs on the limbs. There are seventy-two thousand Nāḍis (nerve vessels) fanning out. They are named Hitā and Śaśiprabhā is one of them. Thus the cycle goes on functioning in all the four types of living beings and the birth and death of all embodied beings are brought about.

The upward progress is due to righteousness and downfall is due to unrighteousness. Everything in regard to all classes of people, O king, is due to the acts of righteousness of the respective Varṇas.

The acts of giving and enjoying give Deva-hood or human birth. O great king, all that is the fruit of action (Karma).

A creature may sink into the inauspicious and terrible hell brought about by its own action and urged by lust and anger. There is no redemption therefrom.

The only means for the redemption of creatures is this single excellent Narakeśvara[1] Tīrtha situated on the banks of Narmadā. It dispels Naraka torture. It is highly meritorious. It is destructive of great sins. It is the rarest on the earth.

One who takes his holy bath there in that Tīrtha and adores Maheśvara, will never see Naraka though he might have incurred great sins.

One who makes a gift of an auspicious cow which is the redeemer, becomes easily liberated from the Vaitaraṇī river undoubtedly.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

54-66. What is the form and what is the extent of river Vaitaraṇī which flows near the gateway of Yama’s terrible world? O Brāhmaṇa, how does it flow?

How do people escape from it? Who are the people who have to remain in it always? To whom is it favourable? Do expatiate upon all these points.

Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya said:

O mighty-armed Dharmaputra, listen to everything uttered by me. The great river at the threshold of Yama’s world, named Vaitaraṇī, is very deep. It is vast and shoreless, Even at the very sight it strikes terror. Putrid blood constitutes its water and flesh is its mud. That water whirls swiftly like ghee in a melting pot. It is full of worms and putrid matter (like pus).

Alligators and sharks of adamantine snouts and iron-like bills resembling big scissors fill it. There are other aquatic beings of violent features capable of tearing vulnerable joints.

Twelve suns burn there fiercely as though at the time of the ultimate annihilation. Men fall therein and shriek awfully. “O my brother! O my son! O my mother!” Thus they cry out frequently. Who can save one falling into the terrible Asipatravana?

Some creatures keep floating, some sink and some get fatigued. That great river must necessarily be seen by all the four types of living beings.

Through the means of good gifts they remain floating, otherwise they go down. The stay there is perpetual in the case of those who do not honour their mothers and slight their preceptors or other elders.

Those sinners who forsake a chaste, wedded wife of decent habits, steadfast in pious habits, remain there (in Vaitaraṇī) permanently.

Those horrible sinners who particularly seek weak points in women, children, old people and wretched ones are cooked (subjected to torture) within it. They continue to shriek and howl.

67-80. An evil-minded one who puts in obstacles in the case of a Brāhmaṇa tired and hungry, is eaten by worms for a period of three hundred Kalpas.

One who promises a gift unto a Brāhmaṇa, invites him and says “No” has to stay there permanently.

The following sinners have to stay there permanently: an arsonist, a person administering poison, a person assailing king, a slanderer, one who causes interruption in the narration of a (holy) story, a perjuror, a drunkard, one who destroys diamonds, one who takes away what is offered by himself, one who breaks the embankments of excellent fields, a ravisher of other men’s wives, a Brāhmaṇa who sells spirituous beverages, a paramour of a Śūdra woman, one who disturbs herds of thirsty cows (while drinking), a violator of the chastity of a virgin, one who torments the recipient after making a gift, a Śùdra who drinks the milk of a tawny-coloured cow, a Brāhmaṇa who habitually eats meat etc.

O king, you need not entertain doubts in regard to this.

Do listen to O king, as to how this Vaitaraṇī can be turned into a favourable one. An excellent Dāna that is given in the holy periods of the transit of the Sun, the equinox, Vyatīpāta, the close of the day (a day touching three Tithis) etc. and a black or pink-coloured cow make Vaitaraṇī auspicious.

The horns (of the cow) shall be fitted with (caps of) gold and the hoofs with silver. The milking pot shall be made of brass. A pair of black cloths should cover it. Seven varieties of grain should accompany the gift. It must be made to sit above a copper vessel filled with a Droṇa (of grain).

The image of Yama should be made of gold. He must have an iron staff. A raft of sugarcane stumps should be tied with silk cords.

On the raft the cow should be placed conceiving it as originating from the body of the Sun. A wise person should make gift of umbrella, pair of shoes, ring and clothes to a Brāhmaṇa. He shall catch hold of its tail and utter this Mantra: “Om, I am desirous of crossing River Vaitaraṇī at the excessively terrible threshold of Yama’s abode. O Vaitaraṇī, obeisance to you! I make this over to you.” This is the consecratory Mantra.

81-90. “May cows be in front of me. May cows be behind me. May cows be in my heart. I live in the midst of cows.

Oṃ, O excellent Brāhmaṇa in the form of Viṣṇu! O Sir, sanctifying the line of Brāhmaṇas! This has been given to you along with monetary gift, O Vaitaraṇi, obeisance to you.”

This is the Dāna Mantra. The devotee circumambulates the Brāhmaṇa, (the image of) Dharmarāja, the cow, the auspicious Vaitaraṇī and then makes over the gift of these to Brāhmaṇas.

He then makes the Brāhmaṇa go ahead, holds the tail of the cow and utters, “O dear cow, do wait for me at the extremely fearful threshold of Yama’s abode. O cow, I am desirous of crossing Vaitaraṇī. Obeisance to Vaitaraṇi!”

This is the Mantra for following the cow.

The entire household should follow him as he goes after the cow. He leads the entire household. If this is done, O king, the river shall be flowing favourably.

That river flowing with the water redeems the donor of the Dāna through that cow. He attains all the cherished desires, both divine and human.

The sick shall be rid of all ailments. All great calamities become quelled. In regard to the healthy, the benefit is thousand times more and in regard to the sick a hundred times. Only in the case of a dead man, the gift is made indirectly. The benefit then is remembered as on a par. Hence the gift should be made by one’s own hand. After death who will give to whom? O great king, after thinking along this line, what is offered by one’s own hand shall be of great benefit.

Thus, O son of Dharma, the procedure regarding Dāna on Vaitaraṇī has been recounted to you. One who listens and recites with devotion goes to the immeasurable region of Viṣṇu.

Śrī Mārkaṇḍeya said:

91-102. At the advent of the month of Aśvayuja on the fourteenth lunar day in the dark half, one should take one’s holy bath, perform the Śrāddha rite and worship Maheśvara. The gift on behalf of the Pitṛs is to be given by people with devotion and faith.

Thereafter the person should keep awake listening to the stories about saintly persons and the like. Early at dawn he should take his holy bath in the waters of Narmada and duly perform the rites of libation unto the Pitṛs and Devas. A lamp of gold should be gifted to a Brāhmaṇa with ghee in the basin of the lamp. Thereafter he should feed Brāhmaṇas and take food himself without feelings of jealousy.

If this is done, O leader of men, a creature never goes to Naraka. It is compulsory that men should survey the situation in Naraka. But if this procedure is followed, a man never sees Naraka.

If people die in the Tīrtha after these procedures are duly followed, O king, they will stay in the rare Śivaloka for a period of one Manvantara.

By means of an aerial chariot dazzling with the colour of the Sun and resplendent with hundreds of tinkling bells, he goes there, O blessed one, being attended upon by groups of celestial damsels. He enjoys different kinds of pleasures undoubtedly for the period of time as mentioned before.

When the period is complete he comes over here in human form when he will be bereft of all ailments. He shall live for a hundred years.

At the advent of the month of Aśvayuja, on the fourteenth day in the dark half, a devotee should observe fast for a night and a day and worship Maheśvara. Even if he has incurred great sins he shall undoubtedly get rid of them.

O Yudhiṣṭhira, there are twenty-eight crore Narakas. Devotees shall be unaffected by the miseries of Naraka. They go to Śivaloka. After enjoying great pleasures with divine Aiśvarya (richness) they will come again as human beings which (manhood) is difficult to obtain.

Footnotes and references:


The name of the Tīrtha is Anarakeśvara but due to metrical exigency A is dropped from the verse.

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