Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Kala included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Kāla

(yama) * The god of Death. When the life span of each living being allotted by Brahmā is at an end Yama sends his agents and takes the soul to Yamapurī (the city of Yama). From there, the holy souls are sent to Vaikuṇṭha (Heaven, the abode of Viṣṇu) and the sinful souls to Hell.

Genealogy and birth of Yama.

From Mahāviṣṇu were descended in the following order—Brahmā, Marīci, Kaśyapa, Sūrya (Sun), Yama (Kāla).

Sūrya married Saṃjñā, daughter of Viśvakarmā. They had three children, Manu, Yama and Yamī. Of them, Yama has the task of taking away the souls of those whose life-span is at an end. Once Saṃjñā who was unable to bear the dazzling brilliance of Sūrya, ordered her maid Chhāyā to attend on him and went to the forest for performing penance. Mistaking her for his wife Saṃjñā, Sūrya begot of her three sons namely, Śaniścara, Manu and Tapatī. Once Chhāyā cursed Yama for disobedience. Then Sūrya and Yama understood that she was not Saṃjñā. After that the Aśvinīkumāras, Revanta and Bhayā were born to Sūrya and Saṃjñā. Thus Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Part III, Chapter 2 says that Yama was the brother of Manu, Yamī, the Aśvinī Kumāras, Tapatī, Śanaiścara and Bhayā. Yama’s sister Bhayā was married by the Asura, Heti. Sunīthā was the eldest daughter of Yama. Aṃga married her. The famous King Vena was her son. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Part I, Chapter 13).

Yama is a Dikpālaka.

Once Kubera offered penance to Brahmā for ten thousand years in water, head downwards and in the middle of Pañcāgni. Brahmā who was pleased, appeared before him and Kubera prayed to him that he should be made one of the Lokapālakas. Accordingly Brahmā ordered that thenceforth, Indra should rule in the East, Yama in the South, Varuṇa in the West and Kubera in the North. Yama’s city is called Saṃyaminī. (Uttara Rāmāyaṇa).

Curse on Yama.

Yama was once cursed by the sage Aṇi Māṇḍavya. It was as a result of it that Yama was born as Vidura. (For details see under Aṇimāṇḍavya).

Yama became Maharṣi.

Śrī Rāma who returned after his forest life became king of Ayodhyā. He ruled over the country for 11,000 years. Then it was time to recall Mahāviṣṇu who had incarnated as Śrī Rāma, to Vaikuṇṭha. Brahmā sent Yama to the earth to bring back Śrī Rāma. Yama who assumed the guise of a young Maharṣi, went to Ayodhyā and visited Śrī Rāma. He said that he was the disciple of the sage Atibala and had come to tell him a secret. So Lakṣmaṇa was posted at the entrance to prevent anyone from entering the room. It was announced that anyone who tried to enter would be slaughtered. After that, while Śrī Rāma and Yama were having their secret talk, Durvāsas, the sage, who was hungry after a fast of 1,000 years, arrived at the door, asking for food. Lakṣmaṇa told him humbly that he could not be allowed to enter just then. Durvāsas, who became furious, was about to curse the whole race of Kings. So Lakṣmaṇa entered the room and informed Śrī Rāma of the arrival of Durvāsas. At the same time, in fulfilment of the order, he was ready to be slaughtered. Vasiṣṭha suggested that it would be enough if Lakṣmaṇa was banished from the palace. Accordingly he was expelled and he went and drowned himself in the depths of the river Sarayū. Śrī Rāma who was broken-hearted at his separation from Lakṣmaṇa went to the same river and drowned himself there shortly after. Yama then took their souls to Vaikuṇṭha. (Uttara Rāmāyaṇa).

Yama became crow.

In Uttara Rāmāyaṇa there is a story that at Marutta’s Yāga, Yama who was frightened at the sight of Rāvaṇa, escaped in the form of a crow. (For details, see under Crow).

An Age without Yama.

In the Purāṇas there are references to three periods when there was no Yama.

(1) One such period was in Kṛtayuga. At that time there was no death on earth which became overcrowded with living beings. Unable to bear their weight, the earth sank down to a depth of 100 yojanas. The goddess of Earth offered tearful prayers to Mahāviṣṇu, who incarnated as Varāha (pig) and lifted up the earth 100 yojanas. (Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 142).

(2) When Mārkaṇḍeya reached the age of sixteen, Yama went to him to take away his life. Mārkaṇḍeya hid himself behind the idol of Śiva. Yama threw his noose at him but it fell round Śiva’s neck. Śiva opened his third eye and glared at Yama who was burnt to ashes in its fire. (See under Mārkaṇḍeya).

(3) See under Pāñcālī, Para 1, Sub Para 2.

Yama returned Satyavān’s Life.

(See under Satyavān).

Yama and King Nṛga.

See under Nṛga.

Yamapurī (the city of Yama).

Yamapurī is thousand yojanas in extent. There is an entrance on each of the four sides. On one side of the city stands Citragupta’s mansion. The fort surrounding the city is made of iron. There are a hundred streets in Yamapurī. They are all decorated with banners and festoons. There is a group of people in Citragupta’s mansion. They are engaged in calculating the life-span of living beings. They take into account the vices and virtues of human beings. To the south of Citragupta’s residence is situated "Jvaramandira" (the abode of diseases). Adjacent to it are the abodes of all kinds of diseases, each disease having its own abode. Yama’s home is situated at a distance of twenty yojanas from the abode of Citragupta. It has an area of two hundred yojanas and a height of fifty yojanas. It is supported by one thousand columns. On one side of it there is an extensive assembly hall. It is here that those who have led virtuous lives in the world, find their abode after death. They lead a life of eternal heavenly bliss there. (Garuḍa Purāṇa, Chapter 14).

Naraka (Hell).

There is a world called Pitṛloka in the middle of the three worlds, on their southern side below the earth and above the Atala loka. The Agniṣvāttas and other piṭrs stay there in meditative trance for securing prosperity to those who come to pitṛloka. Yama is the ruler of pitṛloka. Since he is scrupulous in imparting justice, Yama is also called Yamadharma. He administers justice with an even hand to all living beings brought there by his agents, according to their virtues and vices during their earthly lives. He has power to assess the virtues and vices of people and to assign suitable punishments to them, but not to alter the laws or methods of punishment. Sinners are sent to the different Narakas by Yamadharma according to the nature and seriousness of their sins. The Purāṇas refer to twentyeight Narakas in all. They are:—


Those who rob others of their wealth, wives, children etc, are bound with ropes by Yama’s servants and cast into the Naraka known as Tāmisram. There, they are given sound beating until they faint. After they recover their senses, the beating is repeated and those who try to escape are bound hand and foot and pushed again into this hell. This is repeated as long as Fate has ordained.


This hell is intended for the wife who takes food after deceiving the husband or the husband who takes food after deceiving his wife. The punishmen there is the same as that of Tāmisram except the beating. But the excruciating pain suffered by the victims on being tied fast with Yama’s rope by his servants, makes them fall down senseless.


This is the hell into which those who have persecuted other living beings are cast. Those who seize and enjoy another man’s property or resources, also come under 'Persecution'. When such people are thrown into this hell, those whom they had persecuted or cheated while on earth, assume the shape of "ruru" and torment them severely. "Ruru" is a kind of dreadful serpent. This hell is known as "Rauravam" because of the abundance of rurus there.


Here also there are ruru serpents. Only they are of a fiercer type. Those who deny the legitimate heirs, their inheritance and possess and enjoy others' property, are squeezed to death by these terrible serpents coiling round them.


This is the hell for the punishment of those who kill and eat birds and animals. Here, oil is kept boiled in huge vessels. Yama’s servants plunge sinners into this oil. The period of their torture extends to as many years as there were hairs on the bodies of the birds or animals which they killed and ate.

Kālasūtram (Yamasūtra).

This hell is terribly hot. It is here that those who do not respect their father, mother, elders, etc. are cast. They rush about in the unbearable heat of this hell and drop down exhausted, from time to time.


This is the hell in which those sinners who abandon svadharma (one’s own duty) and accept Paradharma (others' duty) are flogged by Yama’s servants with whips made of asipatra (sharp-edged sword-shaped leaves). When they run about under the flogging they trip over stones and thorns and fall on their faces. Then they are stabbed with knives made of asipatra. They drop down unconscious and when they recover their senses, the same process is repeated.


Kings who neglect their duties and oppress their subjects by misrule, are punished in this hell. They are crushed to a pulp by beating until they fall down unconscious and when they recover, they are again subjected to the same treatment.


This is the hell for punishing those who oppress Brāhmaṇas, gods and the poor. In this Kūpa (well) there are wild beasts like tiger, bear etc. carnivorous birds like eagle, kite etc. venomous creatures like snakes and scorpions and insects like bugs, mosquitoes, etc. The sinners have to endure the constant attacks of these creatures, until the expiry of the period of their punishment.

Kṛmibhojanam (Food for worms).

Depraved Brāhmaṇas who take their food without worshipping gods and honouring guests, are thrown into this "Kṛmibhojana" Naraka which is one lakh yojanas in extent. Worms, insects and serpents sting them and eat them up. Once their bodies are completely eaten up by these creatures, they are provided with new bodies, which are also eaten up in the above manner. They have to continue there in this manner, till the end of their term of punishment.


Those who plunder or steal other people’s gold, jewels, ornaments or money are cast into the furnaces of this Naraka, which is built of iron and always remains red hot with blazing fire.


This Naraka is intended for men and women who have committed adultery. A figure made of iron, heated red-hot is placed there. The victim is urged to embrace it. Yama’s servants flog the victim from behind.


This Naraka is for the punishment of those who have unnatural intercourse with cows and other animals. Here, the guilty people are made to embrace iron images full of diamond needles.


This is the Naraka for Kings who have violated all ordinances of Śāstras and for adulterers. It is the most terrible place of punishment. Vaitaraṇī is a river filled with human excreta, urine, blood, hair, bones, nails, flesh, fat and all kinds of dirty substances. There are various kinds of ferocious beasts in it. Those who are cast into it are attacked and mauled by these creatures from all sides. The sinners have to spend the term of their punishment, feeding upon the contents of this river.


This is a well, filled with excreta, urine, blood, phlegm etc. Brāhmaṇas and others who have intercourse with women of low caste against customs, ordinances etc. vagabonds who wander about irresponsibly like animals and birds and other such sinners are cast into this Naraka.


This Naraka is for the punishment of Brāhmaṇas who keep dogs, asses and other mean animals and constantly hunt and kill animals for food. Here the servants of Yama gather round the sinners and cut them limb by limb with their arrows and subject them to constant insult.


This Naraka is for the torture of those who perform Yāga by killing cows to display their wealth and splendour. They will have to remain there during the whole term of their punishment under the constant flogging of Yama’s servants.


This is the Naraka for lustful people. The lascivious fellow who makes his wife swallow semen, is cast into this hell. Lālābhakṣam is a sea of semen. The sinner lies in it feeding upon semen alone.


Those guilty of unsocial acts like incendiarism, poisoning food, mass slaughter, ruining the country, etc. are cast into the Naraka called Sārameyāśana. There, nothing but the flesh of dogs is available for food. There are 700 dogs in that Naraka and all of them are as ferocious as leopards. They attack the sinners who come there from all sides and tear their flesh from their bodies with their teeth.


This Naraka is for those guilty of bearing false witness, false swearing or assuming false names. They are hurled into Avīci from a mountain which is 100 yojanas in height. The whole region of Avīci is always shaken like an ocean with turbulent waves. As soon as the sinners fall into it they are utterly smashed into dust. They are again restored to life and the punishment is repeated.


Those who belong to the first three castes—viz. Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas and Vaiśyas—who indulge in drinking Soma, Surā etc. are bound and thrown into this hell. They are forced to drink melted iron in liquid form.


Braggarts and those who insult people of noble birth are cast into this hell. Here, Yama’s servants keep the sinners upside down and torture them in various ways.


This Naraka is for the punishment of meat-eaters. There are separate compartments in this hell for those who perform human sacrifice, eat human flesh or the flesh of other creatures. All the living beings they had killed before, would have arrived here in advance. They would all join together in attacking, biting and mauling these sinners. Their shrieks and complaints would be of no avail there.


People who take the life of others who have done no harm to them, by deceiving them or by treachery, with weapons like the trident, are thrown into the "Śūlaprotam" hell. Yama’s servants fix each of the sinners of the above class, on the top of a trident. They are forced to spend the whole term of their punishment in that position, suffering intense thirst and hunger, enduring all the tortures inflicted on them by Yama’s servants.


Sinners who persecute fellow creatures like venomous serpents are cast into this Naraka. There are many wild beasts and many hooded serpents here. They eat alive, the sinners who fall into this hell.


This hell is for those who persecute the creatures living on mountain-peaks, dense forests, hollow trunks of trees, etc. It resembles mountains, caves, forests etc. After throwing them into this hell the sinners are tortured with fire, snake, poison and weapons, just as they had tortured other creatures, while on earth.


One who denies food to a person who happens to come at meal-time and abuses him, is thrown into this Naraka. The moment he falls into it, his eyes are put out by being pierced with the beaks of cruel birds like the crow, eagle etc. It is the most painful experience for them.


Proud and miserly people who refuse to spend money even for the bare necessities of life, find their place in this hell. Those who do not repay the money they have borrowed, will also be cast into this hell. Here, their bodies will be continually pricked and pierced with needles. (Devī Bhāgavata, 8th Skandha; Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Part 2, Chapter 6).

Mantra (incantation) to invoke Yama.

"mahiṣastha yamāgaccha daṇḍahasta mahābala / rakṣa tvaṃ dakṣiṇadvāraṃ vaivasvata namo'stu te //" After invoking Yama with this mantra, one should worship with the mantra "Vaivasvataṃ Saṃgamanam". (Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 56).

Yama Defeated by Rāvaṇa.

Once the sage Nārada went to Rāvaṇa and expatiated on the glory and splendour of Yama. Immediately Rāvaṇa set out to Saṃyamanī with the intention of subduing Yama. Accepting Rāvaṇa’s challenge, Yama came out. After a terrible battle between them, which lasted for seven days neither of them was able to defeat the other. Both of them had received Brahmā’s boon. In the night of the seventh day, Yama rushed forth with his staff to beat Rāvaṇa to death. Then Rāvaṇa took his Brahmāstra. At that critical moment, Brahmā came to the battlefield and persuaded Yama to withdraw from the fight. Yama retreated to his city and closed the gate. Rāvaṇa went back with a triumphant shout. (Uttara Rāmāyaṇa).

Other details concerning Yama.

(i) Yama attended Draupadī’s Svayaṃvara. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 186, Verse 6).

(ii) It was Yama who performed "Śāmitra" (killing of animals) at the yāga done by devas in the Naimiśāraṇya. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 196, Verse 1).

(iii) In the fight between Indra and Arjuna in Khāṇḍavadāha, Yama joined the side of Indra. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 226, Verse 32).

(iv) Once in a thousand years, Yama comes to Bindusarovara and performs a yāga. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 3, Verse 15).

(v) Yama is a member of Brahmā’s assembly. (Mahābhārata Sabhā Parva, Chapter 11, Verse 51).

(vi) When Arjuna performed tapas and received Pāśupatāstra from Śiva, Yama was pleased and presented Daṇḍāstra to Arjuna. (Mahābhārata Vana Parva, Chapter 41, Verse 25).

(vii) Yama was one of the devas who tested and then blessed Nala who went to Damayantī’s Svayaṃvara. (See under NALA).

(viii) Indra made Yama, the King of Pitṛs. (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 16, Verse 14).

(ix) Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parva, Chapter 69, Verse 26 says that when Devas milked Bhūmidevī, Yama took the form of a calf. (See under Vena).

(x) In Tripuradahana (burning of Tripura) Yama remained in Śaivabāṇa (the arrow of Śiva, (Mahābhārata Droṇa Parva, Chapter 202, Verse 77. See also under TRIPURA).

(xi) Yama presented two warriors, Unmātha and Pramātha to god Skanda). (Mahābhārata Śalya Parva, Chapter 45, Verse 30).

(xii) Once Yama gave advice to the sage Gautama on the subject of Dharma. (Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 192).

(xiii) Yama once gave a boon to a Brāhmaṇa named Jāpaka. (See under JĀPAKA. Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 199).

(xiv) Once Mahāviṣṇu taught Yama, Śiva-Sahasranāma. Yama taught it to Nāciketa. (See under ŚIVA and NĀCIKETA. Also Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 17).

(xv) Yama sent his special agents to bring a Brāhmaṇa named Śarmi. (See under ŚARMI. Also Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 68).

(xvi) Yama once lectured on the efficacy of giving "tila" (gingelly seed) "jala" (water) and anna (rice) to a Brāhmaṇa. (Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 68).

(xvii) Yama once explained the secrets of Dharma. (Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 130).

(xviii) Yama used to worship Śiva on the mountain Muñjavān. (Mahābhārata Aśvamedha Parva, Chapter 8).

(xix) Dhūmorṇā is the name of Yama’s wife. (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 117, Verse 9).

(xx) There is a story in Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva about the condition of the world in the absence of Yama. Once Yama started a prolonged yāga at Naimiṣāraṇya. At that time there was no death in the world. All living beings continued to live indefinitely. The Devas all joined together and approached Yama with a request to solve the problem. Yama concluded his yāga and resumed his duties and death came to the world again. (Mahābhārata Ādi Parva, Chapter 199).

*) Kāla and Dharma are not the same person. See under Dharma.

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