What is NARAKA


The word naraka is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word naraka is hell. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.

The word naraka is derived from the root word nri by adding the suffix vun. The root word nri means to lead. The word naraka means the place where a human being’s head is, demon, hell, the infernal regions including a number of places of torture of various descriptions, the name of a demon, a liquor vessel, king of Prag­jyotisha, son of Anrita and Nirriti or Nirkriti, son of Vishnu and Bhumi, son of Vipra and Chitti, name of a place of pilgrimage, another name of Raurava, and a nephew of Hiranyakashipu.

Various texts of Sanatana Dharma give detailed descriptions of people who go to naraka. A false witness, one who wrongly takes sides, a liar, killer of an embryo, killer of a cow, killer of a brahmana, gold thief, insulter of one’s guru, insulter of the Vedas, thief, insulter of gods, insulter of ancestors, insulter of guest, supporter of evil, non-performer of scriptural duties, burner of house, killer of friend, adulterer, and one who causes great harm to people physically or mentally goes to naraka.

There are various descriptions of naraka in the Hindu scriptures: ‘A person going to naraka is forcefully bound by the snare of the messengers of the lord of death, Yama and is thrown into the nether worlds for thousands of years. In these worlds, Yama’s servants beat and torture the person going to naraka. This tribulation leads that person to attain deeper spheres of naraka. After suffering a great deal in these lower worlds, that person again attains to human birth. In that human birth too, that person suffers from various ailments and ill-fame. That person is hated by all living beings and only one’s family is available for succour. That person is constantly engaged in evildoings and falls into blinding depths of nether worlds. Ignorance makes human beings act in this careless manner.

The persons going to naraka fall into depths of naraka and are consumed by unending suffering. These persons indiscriminately kill other living beings for filling their stomachs. Yama orders these people to be thrown into deeper spheres of naraka. A hater of cow will be masticated by Yama’s servants for one thousand years for every hair of that cow. A king who punishes innocent people and beats virtuous people like the brahmanas would be tortured in a darker sphere of naraka by Yama’s servants.’

Jaina, Sikh, and Buddhist texts also have detailed descriptions of naraka. Buddhist texts have graphic descriptions of naraka and describe how a person can return to human birth by performing virtuous actions. Buddhist texts take recourse to terrible descriptions of naraka to encourage ethical behaviour.

Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the July 2020 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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