The Vishnu Purana

by Horace Hayman Wilson | 1840 | 287,946 words | ISBN-10: 8171102127

The English translation of the Vishnu Purana. This is a primary sacred text of the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism. It is one of the eighteen greater Puranas, a branch of sacred Vedic literature which was first committed to writing during the first millennium of the common era. Like most of the other Puranas, this is a complete narrative from the cr...

Chapter VI - Account of the different hells, or divisions of Naraka

Of the different hells or divisions of Naraka, below Pātāla: the crimes punished in them respectively: efficacy of expiation: meditation on Viṣṇu the most effective expiation.

Parāśara said:—

I will now, great Muni, give you an account of the hells which are situated beneath the earth and beneath the waters[1], and into which sinners are finally sent.

The names of the different Narakas are as follows: Raurava, Śūkara, Rodha, Tāla, Viśasana, Mahājvāla, Taptakumbha, Lavaṇa, Vimohana, Rudhirāndha, Vaitaranī, Krimīśa, Krimibhojana, Asipatravana, Kṛṣṇa, Lālābhakṣa, Dāruṇa, Pūyavāha, Pāpa, Vahnijvāla, Adhośiras, Sandansa, Kālasūtra, Tamas, Avīci, Śvabhojana, Apratiṣṭha, and another Avīci[2]. These and many other fearful hells are the awful provinces of the kingdom of Yama, terrible with instruments of torture and with fire; into which are hurled all those who are addicted when alive to sinful practices[3].

The man who bears false witness through partiality, or who utters any falsehood, is condemned to the Raurava (dreadful) hell. He who causes abortion, plunders a town, kills a cow, or strangles a man, goes to the Rodha hell (or that of obstruction). The murderer of a Brahman, stealer of gold, or drinker of wine, goes to the Sūkara (swine) hell; as does any one who associates with them. The murderer of a man of the second or third castes, and one who is guilty of adultery with the wife of his spiritual teacher, is sentenced to the Tāla (padlock) hell: and one who holds incestuous intercourse with a sister, or murders an ambassador, to Taptakumbha (or the hell of heated caldrons). The seller of his wife, a gaoler, a horsedealer, and one who deserts his adherents, falls into the Taptaloha (red-hot iron) hell. He who commits incest with a daughter-in-law or a daughter is cast into the Mahājvāla hell (or that of great flame): and he who is disrespectful to his spiritual guide, who is abusive to his betters, who reviles the Vedas, or who sells them[4], who associates with women in a prohibited degree, into the Lavaṇa (salt) hell. A thief and a contemner of prescribed observances falls into Vimohana (the place of bewildering). He who hates his father, the Brahmans, and the gods, or who spoils precious gems, is punished in the Krimibhakṣa hell (where worms are his food): and he who practises magic rites for the harm of others, in the hell called Krimīśa (that of insects). The vile wretch who eats his meal before offering food to the gods, to the manes, or to guests, falls into the hell called Lālābhakṣa (where saliva is given for food). The maker of arrows is sentenced to the Vedhaka (piercing) hell: and the maker of lances, swords, and other weapons, to the dreadful hell called Viśasana (murderous). He who takes unlawful gifts goes to the Adhomukha (or head-inverted) hell; as does one who offers sacrifices to improper objects, and an observer of the stars (for the prediction of events). He who eats by himself sweetmeats mixed with his rice[5], and a Brahman who vends Lac, flesh, liquors, sesamum, or salt, or one who commits violence, fall into the hell (where matter flows, or) Pūyavāha; as do they who rear cats, cocks, goats, dogs, hogs, or birds. Public performers[6], fishermen, the follower of one born in adultery, a poisoner, an informer, one who lives by his wife's prostitution[7], one who attends to secular affairs on the days of the Parvas (or full and new moon, &c.)[8], an incendiary, a treacherous friend, a soothsayer, one who performs religious ceremonies for rustics, and those who sell the acid Asclepias, used in sacrifices, go to the Rudhirāndha hell (whose wells are of blood). He who destroys a bee-hive, or pillages a hamlet, is condemned to the Vaitaraṇī hell. He who causes impotence, trespasses on others' lands, is impure, or who lives by fraud, is punished in the hell called (black, or) Kṛṣṇa. He who wantonly cuts down trees goes to the Asipatravana hell (the leaves of whose trees are swords): and a tender on sheep, and hunter of deer, to the hell termed Vahnijvāla (or fiery flame); as do those who apply fire to unbaked vessels (potters). The violator of a vow, and one who breaks the rules of his order, falls into the Sandansa (or hell of pincers): and the religious student who sleeps in the day, and is, though unconsciously, defiled; and they who, though mature, are instructed in sacred literature by their children, receive punishment in the hell called Śvabhojana (where they feed upon dogs). These hells, and hundreds and thousands of others, are the places in which sinners pay the penalty of their crimes. As numerous as are the offences that men commit, so many are the hells in which they are punished: and all who deviate from the duties imposed upon them by their caste and condition, whether in thought, word, or deed, are sentenced to punishment in the regions of the damned[9].

The gods in heaven are beheld by the inhabitants of hell, as they move with their heads inverted; whilst the god, as they cast their eyes downwards, behold the sufferings of those in hell[10]. The various stages of existence, Maitreya, are inanimate things, fish, birds, animals, men, holy men, gods, and liberated spirits; each in succession a thousand degrees superior to that which precedes it: and through these stages the beings that are either in heaven or in hell are destined to proceed, until final emancipation be obtained[11]. That sinner goes to Naraka who neglects the due expiation of his guilt.

For, Maitreya, suitable acts of expiation have been enjoined by the great sages for every kind of crime[12]. Arduous penances for great sins, trifling ones for minor offences, have been propounded by Svāyambhuva and others: but reliance upon Kṛṣṇa is far better than any such expiatory acts, as religious austerity, or the like. Let any one who repents of the sin of which he may have been culpable have recourse to this best of all expiations, remembrance of Hari[13]: by addressing his thoughts to Nārāyaṇa at dawn, at night, at sunset, and midday, a man shall be quickly cleansed from all guilt: the whole heap of worldly sorrows is dispersed by meditating on Hari; and his worshipper, looking upon heavenly fruition as an impediment to felicity, obtains final emancipation. He whose mind is devoted to Hari in silent prayer, burnt-offering, or adoration, is impatient even of the glory of the king of the gods. Of what avail is ascent to the summit of heaven, if it is necessary to return from thence to earth. How different is the meditation on Vāsudeva, which is the seed of eternal freedom. Hence, Muni, the man who thinks of Viṣṇu, day and night, goes not to Naraka after death, for all his sins are atoned for.

Heaven (or Svarga) is that which delights the mind; hell (or Naraka) is that which gives it pain: hence vice is called hell; virtue is called heaven[14]. The selfsame thing is applicable to the production of pleasure or pain, of malice or of anger. Whence then can it be considered as essentially the same with either? That which at one time is a source of enjoyment, becomes at another the cause of suffering; and the same thing may at different seasons excite wrath, or conciliate favour. It follows, then, that nothing is in itself either pleasurable or painful; and pleasure and pain, and the like, are merely definitions of various states of mind. That which alone is truth is wisdom; but wisdom may be the cause of confinement to existence; for all this universe is wisdom, there is nothing different from it; and consequently, Maitreya, you are to conclude that both knowledge and ignorance are comprised in wisdom[15].

I have thus described to you the orb of the earth; the regions below its surface, or Pātālas; and the Narakas, or hells; and have briefly enumerated its oceans, mountains, continents, regions, and rivers: what else do you wish to hear?

Footnotes and references:


The Bhāgavata places the Narakas above the waters. The commentator on our text endeavours to reconcile the difference, by explaining the text to imply a dark cavity in which the waters are received, not the original abysses where they were collected at first, and above which Tartarus lies.


Some of these names are the same that are given by Manu, b. IV. v. 88-90. Kullūka Bhaṭṭa refers to the Mārkaṇḍeya P. for a description of the twenty-one divisions of hell; but the account there given is not more ample than that of our text. The Bhāgavata enumerates twenty-eight, but many of the names differ from the above. In the last instance the term Avīci is either inaccurately repeated, or the adjective Apara is intended to distinguish it from the previous Avīci. In Manu, Mahāvīci occurs.


The Padma P. (Kriya Yoga Sāra) and the Śiva Dharma, which appears to be a section of the Skānda P., contain a number of interesting circumstances previous to the infliction of punishment. It appears also from them that Yama fulfils the office of judge of the dead, as well as sovereign of the damned; all that die appearing before him, and being confronted with Citragupta, the recorder, by whom their actions have been registered. The virtuous are thence conveyed to Svarga, or Elysium, whilst the wicked are driven to the different regions of Naraka, or Tartarus.


'Who teaches the Vedas for hire.' This notion still prevails, and renders the few Pandits who are acquainted with the Vedas very unwilling to teach them for a gratuity.


'Thereby,' observes the commentator, ‘defrauding or disappointing children.’


Rangopajivina: the commentator explains it wrestlers and boxers, but Raṅga applies to any stage or arena.


The term in the text is Māhishika, which might mean a feeder of buffaloes; but the commentator quotes a text from the Smriti, authorizing the sense above followed.


This is the interpretation of Parvakārī; it is also read Parvagāmī, he who cohabits with his wife on prohibited days.'


An account of Naraka is found in only a few of the Purāṇas, and in less detail than in the text. The Bhāgavata and Vāyu have similar descriptions of them. The Mārkaṇḍeya enters into detail in some of the instances only. A short account is found in the Śiva, Garura, and Brahma Vaivartta P. and in the Kāśī Khaṇḍa of the Skānda P. The fullest descriptions, however, are those mentioned in a previous note as being in the Śiva Dharma of the Skānda, and Kriya Yoga Sāra of the Padma; works of a somewhat equivocal character, and belonging rather to Tāntra than Paurāṇik literature.


The commentator observes that the sight of heavenly bliss is given to the damned in order to exacerbate their torments; whilst the inflictions of hell are exhibited to the gods to teach them disregard of even heavenly enjoyments, as they are but of temporary duration.


That is, when punishment or reward in hell or heaven, proportioned to the sin or virtue of the individual, has been received, he must be born again as a stone or plant, and gradually migrate through the several inferior conditions, until he is once more born a man; his future state is then in his own power.


Manu is here especially intended, as the commentator observes.


This remembrance of Viṣṇu is the frequent reiteration of any or all of his names: hence the lower orders of Hindus procure a starling or parrot, that, in the act of teaching it to cry Rāma or Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā, they may themselves repeat these appellations; the simple recitation of which, even if accidentally, irreverently, or reluctantly performed, is meritorious. Thus according to the Viṣṇu Disarms Tantra: ‘Let a man ever and every where repeat the names of the discus-armed (Viṣṇu); for its repetition, even by one who is impure, is a means of purification. Hari removes all sins, even when invoked by evil-minded persons, as fire burns one by whom it is unwillingly approached.’


The object of the text, according to the commentator, is to shew that the common notions of heaven and hell are erroneous; that they are only temporal pleasure and temporal pain; and virtue and vice, being the origin of transient, and therefore unreal effects, are themselves unrealities: there is nothing real but faith in Viṣṇu.


Text and comment are here somewhat obscure; but the purport of the former seems to be the explanation of the existence of Jñyān wisdom, both as a genus and a species: in the former case it is all that is; and in the latter, it may be either true or false wisdom: the latter being influenced by notions of self or individuality, and therefore the cause of confinement to existence; the former dissipating the belief of self, and being therefore the cause of liberation from bodily being.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: