Srimad Bhagavata Purana has it that Sage Vedavyasa was tossed in turbulent distress (Vyakulata) when he saw people becoming weak and short lived, leading degenerate lives. He in his infinite goodness and compassion for mankind wrote the eighteen puranas (grand scriptures) besides dividing the bulk of Vedic lore into four Vedas.The puranas are called the fifth Veda. These are intended to raise the moral, devotional and intellectual levels of human beings.
Man is a bundle of Vasanas, acquired, inherent tendencies. He is swayed by the three gunas, attributes. Srila Prabhupada calls these modes. Satwik, Rajasik and Tamasik gunas are described as the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance respectively.
The eighteen grand scriptures are divided into three groups: each group extolling the power and the glory of one of the trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. The most important among the Vishnu puranas are Bhagawat purana, Vishnu purana and Garuda purana. Garudapurana is unique in that it was related by Vishnu Himself to his devout, mount, Garuda who asked him in all devotion and humility to tell him about the cycle of birth and death, the consequences of sinful behaviour, the nature of punishments that sin attracts after death and so on.
Many puranas extol the worth of Garudapurana. Narada purana, Agni purana and Matsya purana speak highly of this grand scripture. This has an encyclopaedic range for it deals with and explains in great detail creation, growth, sequence of events in the course of human evolution, the distinguishing qualities of the various eons, modes of worship, the incarnations of Vishnu, different sciences and the essence of the celestial song, the Bhagavadgita.
There is generally a prevalent wrong belief and misunderstanding that Garudapurana is not auspicious to be kept in our homes since it deals with rituals associated with cremation etc., and describes after life and the punishments meted out to the sinners in hell. But time and again great seers and sages have been telling us that the study and understanding of this purana would yield great merit. It is as auspicious as any other purana. It has certain chapters which are read out only on certain occasions but, it is desirable for us to know all about after life. A careful reading and understanding of this scripture helps us to discipline ourselves and stick to the path of goodness and rectitude. It attracts us to revere our forefathers and utilize our life here and now as a stepping stone to higher levels of existence.
In the first chapter the way Garuda Purana has come down to us is described. Sri Maha Vishnu narrated it to Garuda, his eagle mount, who asked him to let him know about sin and the fate of sinners after their earthly life. Vedavyasa gave this story to Sootamuni and Sootamuni narrated this Purana to the assemblage of seers and sages like Shaunaka in naismishaaranya. Sootamuni is highly revered as the narrator of great tales and legends that go into various puranas. To begin with, Garuda questions Him about sin, the sinners and the punishments meted out to them for their sins. What exactly happens to man after death and how he becomes preta, how he is transformed into yaatanasareera and later intopindasareera are described. Towards the end of the chapter is described the treatment meted out to the sinners by Yama’s servitors.
Shri Maha Vishnu is the slayer of the demon Madhu. So he is called Madhusudan. He is metaphorically spoken of as a strong tree trunk. Dharma is strong like the trunk of a huge tree. The vedas are the branches of the tree. The puranas are the smaller branches. Its flowers are the fire- rituals. The fruit of the great tree is salvation, or liberation from the cycle of Birth and Death. Shri Maha Vishnu is like a tree that gives man all and protects him. Thus shri Maha Vishnu is praised at the beginning.
Naimisha is a forest. The forest is named after the sleepless sages and seers. There these great ones do not sleep at all. Once the sages performed a fire sacrifice of one thousand years, under the leadership of Shaaunaka. After offering him obeisance with great devotion and humility, those sages requested Soota Maharshi, who came there one morning. They prayed to the sacred seer to enlighten them about the fearsome way of Yama, the Lord of Death. The sages had already heard from him, the renowned disciple of Sage Vedavyasa, the puranas that showed the way to the resplendent worlds. They submitted that they wanted to know about the miseries of those in the domain of Yama.
Soota Maharshi then replied to them saying that he would describe the path to the Kingdom of Yama, the most difficult one to traverse. Yama gives the most painful punishments for sinners. He told them that he would relate the purana as related to Garuda by Sri Maha Vishnu Himself.
Once Garuda, the blessed eagle mount of Sri Maha Vishnu, with great humility and devotion asked Sri Maha Vishnu for a favour. The Lord had related to him Puranas that showed the way to regions of extreme light and joy. In all those there was mention of sinners but there was no description of the places of the punishment and the punishments themselves. Garuda asked the Lord to tell him about Yama, his Kingdom and the people who are sent there. He was only told of those who strayed from the path of devotion to him. In this context Garuda says that the tongue which does not sing the praises of the Lord would come to a bad end. Garuda requests the Lord to enlighten him, a devout seeker, about the Kingdom of Yama.
Then the Lord told the best of Birds, Garuda, that he would describe the most dreadful way to the Kingdom of Yama, where the sinners go after their death. Those who take delight in doing sinful deeds, those who are without pity and those who are wicked and those who have no regard for holy scriptures are thrown into hell. These people hate the good and righteous people and avoid them or abuse them. These sinners are full of self-praise. They are arrogant, proud and disrespetful towards those who have good qualities. They are lustful and shameless. Lord Vishnu was pleased with Garuda’s question asked with humility and devotion. The Lord continued saying that the proud and ignorant, owing to their sinful nature think that the purpose of life is merely agressive enjoyment of things. The love of earthly pleasures leads them to sin and sin drags them into hell. The wise, the thoughtful, the humble and the really knowledgeable go to higher planes and reach Vykuntha. But the sinners described above would suffer the most powerful punishments. They must suffer long the torments of hell.
The dead ones have to experience the fruit of all their deeds, good and bad. Death overtakes them: they may have experienced joy-the result of their good deeds. But invariably they suffer many diseases in old age before death. Even on death bed the sinner does not shed his attachments. He becomes old, decrepit and disease-ridden. Then gradually the body loses all its capacity to keep healthy. He loses appetite, his eyes sink into their sockets. His lungs get congested with phlegm. His breathing becomes heavy and laboured. He would not be in a position even to speak. He dies while his near and dear ones break into sobs of grief. Then the phelgm and the accumulated saliva come out. His Prana, the vital breath, exits from the anus.
Two of Yama’s messengers come there to take away the dead one. (They are not seen by anyone around-The dead one is able to see them. They are black like crows). They are stark naked and frightful. They have twisted mouths, angry red eyes. Their nails are sharp and look like weapons. Their hair stands stiff and erect. They come with clubs and fierce ropes. The dead man’s excreta comes out without his knowing or volition. The dead person gets transformed into a thumb-sized being shedding his sthoola sareera, gross body. The moment he casts around his looks, Yama’s men capture him. Just as a criminal is treated by King’s officers of justice, the yaatana sareera the torment body would be bound with a rope and dragged far and farther till Yamapuri.
While dragging him along Yama’s servitors-threaten him and frighten him describing the torments he has to eventually suffer and endure in hell. They talk about various hells like the frightful kumbheepaka and other such hells. The Yaatana sareera or the thumb-sized torment-body of the sinner would be groaning and making hopeless and helpless appeals for mercy with shrieks. While he cries out in agony Yama’s servitors go an beating him mercilessly. All the while, the loud groans and sobs of his near relatives would be audible to the sinner in his little, torment-tossed new body.
On the way, the jeeva would trudge painfully trembling in fear, remembering his sinful deeds, while fierce dogs go on biting him. He has no strength to walk but the servitors of Yama goad him to walk fast along the hot sandy way while being whipped. He feels thirsty and hungry. He would be collapsing and rising again and again. Through darkness he is taken to Yama’s abode. In a short while the jeeva is taken there. The servitors of Yama show the jeeva the spots where tormentors constantly punish the sinners. Then he would be brought back on the air way to the earth. The jeeva yearns to get into his earlier body but he would not be allowed to by the nooses around his neck. He moans and groans and then the oblations of riceballs offered by his sons is his only food. Even these offer no comfort to him. His hunger and thirst do not abate. The one who does not get the oblations and the rice balls wander as evil spirits (pishaachas) in the uninhabited wilds till the end of the eon. The fruit of evil and wicked deeds needs to be suffered by the sinners for ages.
Sri Hari tells Garuda as toohow the son of the dead man (now only a jeeva the size of a thumb), must make oblation of rice-balls (pindas) for ten days. Every day the offering made would be divided into four parts. Two parts of that would go to the five elements of yaatana sareera, the torment-body, one part to Yama’s servitors and one part for the dead man. The jeeva having received the pindas for nine days, gets strength on the tenth day. A new body the size of a hand (cubit-about 18 inches) would be formed to experience the fruits of his good and evil deeds. During the ten days the body grows. On the first day (after getting the pinda) the head is formed; on the second neck and shoulders on the third the heart. On the fourth day the back would be formed, on the fifth the navel, on the sixth the waist and genitals, on the seventh the thighs, on the eighth the calves, on the ninth the feet and on the tenth, with his body grown-the jeeva experiences (or suffers) hunger and thirst. In the newly formed body, pinda deha, on the elventh and twelvth days the jeeva eats and drinks in great hunger and thirst. On the thirteenth day, bowed like a monkey and being beaten by Yamas servitors, the jeeva walks along the way. The river Vaitarani excluded, the way to Yama’s domain measures eighty-six thousand yojanas (Yojana is about eight miles). A pinda sareera walks a distance of two hundred and forty seven yojanas in one day and night. He has to pass through sixteen cities before he reaches the place of Yamadharmaraja, the Lord of Death. The cities are: Saumya, Sauripura, Nagendra Bhavana, Gandharva, Shailagama, Krauncha, Kroora, Vichitra Bhavana, Bahwapada, Duhkhada, Nanakrandana, Sutapta, Raudra, Payovarsha, Sheetadhya and Bahubheeti.
Continued to "The Abode of Yama"