The Skanda Purana

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

This page describes Tortures in Twenty-one Hells which is chapter 226 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 two hundred twenty-sixth chapter of the Tirtha-mahatmya of the Nagara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 226 - Tortures in Twenty-one Hells

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Bhartṛyajña said:

1-2. Since Sapiṇḍatā is cited as (performed) all round the Pitṛpiṇḍas, the departed soul remains behind unless and until the Sapiṇḍa rite is performed even if the departed one might have been equipped with all virtues and power of penance. It is for this reason that the sages have prescribed Sapiṇḍa rites.

3. The man may attain next births anywhere. Yet he gets what is offered by the members of his family even as he stays therein and becomes satisfied.

Ānarta said:

4. After a long time, the ancestors—father, grandfathers, are seen in dream. They request for the fulfilment of their desires. O great sage, what shall happen then?

Bhartṛyajña said:

5. Those who have not attained emancipation, those who continue to remain in the state of Preta, reveal themselves (in dreams).

6. Only they reveal themselves to their descendants, not to others. It is the truth that has been spoken by me. (They mention) how they were born in this world and how they incurred the same by means of auspicious and inauspicious activities.

Ānarta said:

7. If one has no son, how can one get the Sapiṇḍīkaraṇa rite performed? It behoves you to explain this to me.

Bhartṛyajña said:

8-9. O king, if one has no bosom-born son, how can one become the fourth person among the four Pitṛs. Preta (Pra+ita) is so called because it goes (eti) With intensity (Prakarṣa). Sapiṇḍīkaraṇa should be performed for him by the son of his brother or by his wife.

10-12. If the fourth one is not at all born, O eminent king, they must have the representatives of the son such as the eleven types of sons like Kṣetraja etc. as mentioned before.

Learned men say that in that case, there will not be loss of rite. O great king, if the subsequent rites are not performed at the proper times, Nārāyaṇabali should be offered and it dispels the state of being Preta.

The rites in the case of those who commit suicide or meet with their death from a Brāhmaṇa, are to be performed as in the case of men who meet with premature death.

Ānarta said:

13-14. O highly intelligent one, how does a person meet with death here? How does he go to heaven or hell? By means of which type of activity? O highly esteemed one, how does a person attain salvation? Narrate everything in detail.

Bhartṛyajña said:

15. The goals are of three types: (1) that of the meritorious, (2) that of a sinner and (3) that of a possessor of spiritual knowledge. Svarga (Heaven) is attained through merit (Dharma) and Naraka (Hell) alone is obtained through sin.

16-17. Salvation is obtained through spiritual wisdom. It is the truth that has been averred by me. O king, Yudhiṣṭhira, the excellent king, the son to Dharma, asked Bhīṣma, the son of Śantanu, this very question about the future. O leading king, at that time Kṛṣṇa was with him.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

18. O Pitāmaha, how many Narakas are well-known in the world of Yama? Through what sort of sin do all the creatures go to them?

Śrī Bhīṣma said:

19. The Narakas in the abode of Yama are twenty-one in number. Creatures go there in accordance with their Karmas.

20. Two Kāyasthas (scribes) in the abode of Yama are well known as Citra and Vicitra.

21. Citra records in writing the entire virtuous acts of a living being. Vicitra exerts himself and writes in full all the sins with great care.

22. The messengers of Yama born of Dharmarāja, are eight in number. They all take men under their control (to Yama’s place) from the mortal world.

23. They are Karāla, Vikarāla, Vakranāsa, Mahodara, Saumya, Śānta, Nanda and the eighth one Suvākya.

24. Among these the first four are terrible in form. All of them take sinning people to the abode of Yama.

25. The latter four are gentle in form and features. All of them take virtuous people to the abode of Yama.

26. Those virtuous people ride in aerial chariots. They are attended upon by groups of Apsarās (celestial damsels).

27. The people are taken in accordance with the written report about their sinful and virtuous acts. There is no limit to the servants of these people.

28. Of those servants, one hundred eight are the ailments set up to assist himself by Yama. They are the ailments beginning with fever and ending with Yakṣman (tuberculosis).

29. Those ailments go at the outset and bring a man under their control.

30-31. Then the messengers of Yama go there unobserved by all the people and seize the aerial form lying embedded at the root of the navel. They leave off the physical body on the ground and go along the Yamamārga (the pathway to Yama) which is proclaimed to be eighty-six thousand Yojanas in length.

32. There is a river named Vaitaraṇī there. We have heard about it before, O highly esteemed one, that it has two perpetual streams there,

33. In one of the streams it is blood that flows. O great scion of the family of Bharata, there are very sharp weapons in its centre

34. Those who make the gift of a cow to a Brāhmaṇa at. the time of death, O king, cross that river by holding on to its tail,

35. Others cross the hundred Yojanas of width by means of their own arms. The second stream of that Vaitaraṇī consists of water always available unto the righteous.

36. Those men who give cows at the time of death hold on to the tail of the cow and cross the current of profuse quantity of water. Others who had not made gifts of cows cross it by means of their arms.

37. Hence the gift of cows should be made at the time of death by those people who wish good goal for themselves.

38. After that (after crossing Vaitaraṇī) sinners go along the Pāpamārga (path of sin). The virtuous ride on excellent aerial chariots and go along the Dharmamārga (path of virtue).

39. On the other side of Vaitaraṇī, there is a great forest named Asipatravana, five Yojanas in extent. It accords misery unto sinful people.

40. There are hundreds of Asipatras (sword-like leaves) made of steel in it and these cut the bodies of the men around.

41. If wicked persons had taken away the wealth of others and kidnapped other men’s wives, their bodies will be split by those leaves. If the nine Śrāddhas are performed on their behalf they will be liberated from them.

42. It should be, known that beyond it is the well-known Naraka named Kūṭaśālmali. It is full of thorns and (the sinners) are suspended (therein) with face down.

43. Those who are always ruthless and are guilty of breach of trust, get scorched day and night by the fire beneath them. If Śrāddha an the eleventh day is performed they get liberated therefrom.

44. Beyond it, it is said, is a Naraka of horrible nature named Yantra. Brāhmaṇa-slayers and other sinful persons are tortured there.

45. O king, if the twelfth-day Śrāddha is offered they get liberated completely from the Naraka called Yantra.

46. Beyond it are well-established the furiously burning pillars. Those who had been enamoured of other men’s wives (are made to) embrace them all.

47. If the Māsika Śrāddha (monthly Śrāddha) is performed, they will attain liberation.

48. Beyond it stand the hideous dogs with steel-like canine teeth. These dogs bite those sinners, the men who had been biting the fleshy portion of the back (i.e. slanderers and backbiters). If Traipakṣika (performed once in three fortnights) Śrāddha is performed, they will get relief from them.

49-50. Beyond it are to be found crows with beaks of steel. They peck at the eyes of those by whom other men’s wives had been viewed with passionate eyes. While here they do have fresh eyes in plenty. If the Śrāddha is performed once in two months, they will have relief from this.

51. Beyond that is Śālmalikūṭa (certain trees with thornlike protuberance and iron-like thorns). Men engaged in calumny are taken through them and tortured. If the Śrāddha is performed once in three months they will have relief.

52. Then there is the very well-known great Naraka named Raurava. It has been specially intended for according acute torture to slayers of Brāhmaṇas.

53. Those who are cast into it are repeatedly cut and torn with various kinds of weapons. Their salvation can be effected through the Śrāddha performed once in four months.

54. Another extremely horrible hell is named Kṣāroda. It is always pain-giving and is particularly intended for ungrateful persons.

55. They are suspended with feet up and faces down when they are tortured. Their emancipation can take place by offering Śrāddha once in five months.

56. It should be known that the Naraka named Kuṃbhīpāka of extremely hideous features, is beyond that. Persons who have killed children and were guilty of genocide are hurled into (hot) oil and struck with stout sticks there.

57. Persons who betray trust fall into this horrible Naraka. They are liberated from that ordeal by offering Śrāddha once in six months.

58. Similarly there is another Naraka about which it is heard that it has serpents and scorpions. Those base men who are hypocrites in the world go there. Their salvation lies in offering Śrāddha once in seven months.

59-60. There is another Naraka named Saṃvartaka. Persons of wicked souls who censure good men and insult the Vedas (are cast into it). With fiery tongs and pincers their tongues are plucked. The body of those who utter lie to achieve their ends is bitten by dogs.

61. The bodies of even those who speak lies for the sake of others (are also bitten by the dogs). Their salvation becomes effective by offering Śrāddha once in eight months.

62. There is a great hideous hell causing great ruin, named Agnikūṭa. Those foolish men who are guilty of perjury go there.

63. Those who lie there are miserable. They have to endure terrible torture. The offer of Śrāddha once in nine months causes great delight to them.

64-65. There is another hell around, full of steel and iron spikes. Persons guilty of arson and murder of women go there. On being hit and struck by the Servants (of Yam a) they run about in great sorrow. The offer of Śrāddha once in ten months is conducive to their liberation.

66. Beyond that is the ground covered by heaps of burning charcoals. Those who had been traitors to their masters wander there in every direction.

67-68. Śrāddha offered once in eleven months (or in the eleventh month) is conducive to liberation from there.

There is a Naraka filled with hot sands. It has terrible features. Those men who are engaged in (secret) flight on seeing that the master has arrived are cooked there. They undergo misery. Śrāddha offered in the twelfth month reaches them.

69. Whatever is offered by their kinsmen, whether it be water or cooked rice, at the close of a year these (people in the hell) eat on their way.

70. Thereafter, beyond the year, they get auspicious or inauspicious conditions in accordance with their Karmas and remain near Dharmarāja.

71. Thus after enduring the torments of these fifteen Narakas, those men are reborn into the mortal world.

72. Those who indulge in disputation and controversy take their birth in alien countries. Their satisfaction can be effected by offering libation every day.

73. Those who had been indulging in treachery towards the master, will attain their rebirth in an inglorious realm. If ‘Hantakāra’ (‘Alas, it is a pity’) is offered they will become satisfied.

74. If people take food without first offering unto the Pitṛs, Devas and Brāhmaṇas, they incur sins, whereupon they are reborn in a famine-infested area.

75. If on New-Moon day, Śrāddha is preformed they will become satisfied.

76. If people cause dissension between a husband and his wife who love each other, by uttering falsehoods about the one to the other, their wives will be unchaste.

77. If a woman utters ten words angrily when one is spoken to her, she becomes despicable to all the people and very ugly. She wanders here and there. If her kinsmen make gifts of virgins (in marriage) those women shall have happiness there.

78. He who puts an obstacle to gifts of virgins or who sells (girls) begets only daughters and never a son.

79. Those girls (daughters of such a person) become harlots, widows and unlucky. Their happiness can be brought about as a result of gifting virgins (in marriage).

80. If jewels are stolen or other scriptural texts (are taken up) those people become poor, dumb, blind or lame. By the gift of scriptural texts here, they will have happiness there (in the other world).

81. Thus these Narakas arising from the world of mortals (i.e. created for the punishment of sinning mortals) have been mentioned. Through these it becomes known whether an act done is good or bad.

82. Purity is regained as a result of pilgrimages.

Bhīṣma said:

83-84. Thus, O king, everything that I was asked has been explained to you. The Narakas number twenty-one. O leading king, if you have any doubt in your heart ask me again.

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