Book Reviews

The Essence of Garuda Purana

To go through the sacred Garuda Purana was an exciting and enriching experience. Dr V V B Rama Rao, a distinguished English Language Teaching Professional, an author of more than fifty books of great value and a well-known poet and critic when sent me the book - The Essence of the Sacred Garuda Purana, a Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, Tirupati Publication 2015, I was pleasantly surprised. Therefore, I was tempted to write something on the book curious as I was to know more vividly as to what happens to man after death. How he suffers for good or bad acts in the land of Yama. Dr Rao has rendered each Sloka in simple English keeping aside inessential element.

Lord Vishnu narrated the tale of Garuda Purana to his divine Vehicle Garuda, the chief of Birds when he asked modestly about the nature of sins and the ultimate destiny of sinners after death.  Sage Vyasa was distressed when he observed people living in sufferings and dying after a short life and thus, transitory life gives no lasting joy. He was a pious and sanctified soul and so felt an innate desire out of infinite love and compassion for humankind to raise the quality of life. Therefore, he wrote Puranas –eighteen in number, which are colossal in concept, thought and narrative and encompass life of human beings in totality and whatever one finds in these phenomenal scriptures, exists nowhere else and Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana is the greatest of all. Puranas are the fifth Vedas, scholars opine.  The supreme objective of Puranas is to tell man how to grow and expand in ethical, devotional, spiritual and intellectual quality of life.

Sage Vedavyasa narrated the legend to monk Suta, who later, related the entire Purana to a holy gathering of sages and seers where sages Saunaka and others were present, in the forest of Namisa (Namisa-aranya). Monk Suta was highly revered as the narrator of great tales and legends that go into various Puranas. To begin with, Garuda questions the lord about the sins, the sinners and the retribution they meet out at the hands of Yama, the lord of Death for the sins they commit.

What exactly happens to man after death and how he becomes preta – a ghost, and how he suffers varied punishments, is the question. Why the lord drives him to hell? He asks about the nature of sins for which they suffer after they leave mortal frame. It depends upon the karmas of individual soul, who when in mortal casing acts as the three Gunas  -the modes of PrakritiSattva, Rajas and Tamas control and guide his deeds. He rightly says that people harbour a wrong notion that nobody should keep this Purana at home as it is inauspicious and portentous but it is an erroneous belief. However, sages and wise men tell, its correct understanding is good and it is as good and propitious as any other Purana. It is good for everyone to know what happens to a man after death and advises us to walk on the path of truth, probity, morality and goodness.

In the forest of Namisha, many sages and seers were engaged in severe tapa and performed a Yajna –fire sacrifice for one thousand years where the chief priest was Sanaka. They paid obeisance and asked sage Suta about lord Yama, the god of Death and about the sufferings of those, who were condemned to live in the land of Yama.

Yama punishes sinners he told and that lord Vishnu spoke about the Purana to Garuda. Vishnu told that it was a path to light and pleasure. Those who do not sing glories of the lord, suffer. Vishnu told the chief of Birds Garuda that the sinners, the arrogant and the irreverent, who love earthly pleasures and hate righteous people, go to the land of Yama after death. Earthly pleasures push these people to hell. However, the righteous and the virtuous go to Vaikuntha, the land of divine bliss.

The wicked reap the fruit of all karmas - good and bad. At the last hour, the envoys of Yama invisible to others, take the man to Yama. To the dead, they look black, stark naked and dreadful with disfigured bodies. The envoys drag the dead, now a thumb- sized body, tied up with rope to Yama’s land. On the way, the servants of the lord drag, threaten and tell him about the suffering he will undergo in hell. They talk about the most dreadful hell Kumbhapaka amidst his painful cries. Jiva trembles in agonies and remembers sins while the dogs bite into the flesh but with extreme agony, he has to walk on the hot sandy path.   He suffers for ages and even the rice balls he gets as oblations, offer no comfort. He who does not get oblations wanders as ghost –pisacha, and suffers.

The son of the dead suffering in hell should offer oblations of rice-balls –pindas, for ten days. The offering of rice ball has four parts –two parts go to the suffering body, two parts to the five elements (body) –one to the attendants and other to the dead man. He learns that body grows on the tenth day. After ten days, the Jiva feels hunger and thirst. The process continues and on the 13th day, Jiva bows as a monkey and gets thrashing from the servitors. Therefore, he walks a distance of eighty six thousand Yojanas (one Yojana is about eight miles) Jiva walks two hundred and forty seven Yojanas in one day and night, and has to go beyond sixteen cities before reaching the land of Yama.

On the way, the Jiva suffers immensely. At each step, he is tortured without a relief. Tied-up strongly, attendants of Yama drag roughly and rope that binds runs through the nose and ears, crows peck on, and thus, he suffers, insulted and punished and battered, thrashed and beaten up badly. They call up their offspring for help. Journey of Jiva continues in pain and agony. Next, he tells that if one does not obey elders, he suffers. A thoughtless karma drives man to sin and hell. Devotion and virtuous karmas guide human beings to the right path and they get rid of torments lord Vishnu describes.

The lord speaks about various hells and the extreme kind of tortures Jiva –the sinner suffers sans reprieve in various kinds of hells the number of which is eighty-four lacs out of which twenty-one are the most frightful. The envoys throw Jivas into the hell depending upon the enormity of offence they committed, for only the righteous go to heaven. Chitragupt, the chief of the offices of Yama, opens up the book of Jivas’ inventory of sins, and determines the quantity of sentence and the nature of hell he would go to undergo retribution. Now, one knows about the nature of sins Jivas do in life and the punishment they get.  The portrayal of different kinds of reprimand and its horrifying nature, in fact, acts as deterrents to human beings so that they do not indulge in sinful acts.

Now, Garuda asks Vishnu about the gravity of sins committed and the nature of retribution, for he knew the number of sins a man commits and the nature of hells depending upon nature of karmas –the evil and wicked acts, and the penalty for a particular misdeed. Now, the man comes to know about the sins and the nature of hells to which offender goes to undergo chastisement for the precise offence or sin and then, the attendants of the lord of Death, Yama act after Chitragupt ascertains the quantity of sentence. He tells us to observe discipline and adhere to the laws of good conduct. He talks about the sinners thrown into Vaitarani River to experience torture and intense anguish.

Those who abandon the path to rectitude, truth and righteousness, arrogance and pride undergo extreme agony in this river. All sinners driven to Vaitarani suffer inevitably, and further warn the man to act rightly. Vishnu speaks about the nature of sins and tells Garuda that those who act virtuously are the real devotees. The list of sins is long and if a man stays away from indulging in unethical acts, he gets appropriate reward and goes to heaven.

To warn man of aberrant nature the great lord gives a long list of various sins, which if avoided grant man joy and happiness. He gives a long list of sins –like killing a brahmin, a cow, a virgin, woman, to have sex with a woman of the same gotra or guru’s spouse etc and many more ...the list is never-ending. The simple counsel is - avoid a life of sins ...or continue to suffer for many ages, for the sinners would never get liberty from the cycle of transmigration. Let karmas be virtuous. Suffering because of sinful karmas ends if one does punya – charitable and upright acts.

After he suffers in the hell, and entirely exhausts the fruit of karmas, Vishnu now, speaks about the Jiva –the individual soul return to earth. Now, he undergoes agonizing time in the womb of mother. It is through religious and virtuous karmas that a Jiva can purify ‘the self’ and take birth as a human being. The lord gives description of Jiva in the womb of mother and his suffering for the acts of earlier birth and formation of body in the womb as the embryo grows from day to day. Sufferings in uterus are terrible and now, in humility, he pathetically prays to goddess Sri - Laksmi the destroyer of evil to show mercy and be compassionate, and regrets for the sins he or she did. He suffers because of influence of Maya –the delusory potency, and failed to realize the truth of ‘the self.’’

Ahankara was the reason of his suffering and therefore, he prays before the lord to grant liberation from the womb of suffering where he wallows in urine and human soil. After birth, he is dependent, and looks for help and so he grows and begins to live independently...however, Maya overpowers him, and he lives a life of sins, and suffers. After death, he goes to hell again to suffer. If karmas are righteous and virtuous, his journey to the land of god is comfortable and attains liberation or else he goes to the land of Yama. Thus, a cycle of birth, death and rebirth continues.

In section seven, he talks about the dead, who has no son to offer pindas and tarpan (offering with the material to the deity) goes into the yoni of preta – ghost. If other performs ceremonies of obsequies, oblations etc after death, they get release from the ghostly life. Here, he narrates the tale of great King Bhubruvahans, who performed all the obsequies, tarpan and other rituals for Sudeva, who lived a life of preta. Thus, last rites and ceremonies are necessary after the death and if the Jiva after death does not get oblations or obsequies, emancipation is not possible. Suta tells the exalted gathering about what Garuda heard from the Supreme.

He further tells the holy assembly that a son ought to perform his duties and complete all sacred obligations relating to last rites and obsequies so that the parents attain a world where they do not suffer in hateful Yonis, and thereafter, Garuda learns about the nature of offerings and oblations after the death.

It is essential to maintain purity and sanctity of sacrificial fuel, gifts and other offerings or else the sinner will not obtain liberation. Now, Garuda learns about the karmas, a person should not forget to do as the hour of death appears near. To avoid sufferings of hell he would undergo, in case, his sons or relations fail to perform last rites – oblations, obsequies etc, he should do some acts, which would protect him from miseries and tortures in the hell. Garuda’s question to the great lord is quite pertinent here and eliminates suffering of those, who die sans offering of any oblations after death.

Next, he wanted to know what needs to be done after the collection of bones, the mortal remains etc from the cremation ground where the dead body one confines to the fire. Funeral rites are necessary and if the son does, the dead gets the fruit.

To offer gifts or do acts of charity on this occasion is not required. With the head shaven, a son should perform last rites, and here he tells about the pyre and the wood. He tells about the Brahma randhra - the splitting of skull and oblation of butter. If an ascetic or sanyasi dies, one does not need to perform rituals or rites.   Thereafter, in the next section on tenth day, he speaks about the rituals and ceremonies, which are good for the dead. If one reads about it cautiously, it is good to add to the knowledge known to a few only.  A son has to perform ceremonies for the father properly for the good of the soul along with other ceremonies and rituals including Shradhas etc where one requires the service of a priest.

Similarly, the rituals and ceremonies for the eleventh day also carry the same significance and necessitate reverential care and feelings of devotion. Proper procedure in acts of charity - daan and tarpan called Shayadaan (is the offering to the priest at the holy place where remains of the departed soul are consigned to the holy water) is good. All rituals require faithful and dedicated adherence to the practice under the guidance of a priest well versed in such matters.

In the next section, the procedure of rites is more important because of which sapinda rites wash away the sins of the departed soul and here, daanas etc ensure wellbeing of the dead cut off from the material existence and its bondages. If the rituals and other ceremonies, one performs devotionally, it is good for the deceased soul to get rid of the monstrous and dreadful form, and join his tribe of manes – pitres – the ancestors, who have already attained peaceful living environment in the other world.

In segment fourteen, Garuda expresses his curiosity to know about the bastion and land of the lord of Death, Yama. He learns that the city of judgement one can reach only if one is virtuous, truthful, thoughtful and dedicated. However, the great sages and seers of Narada’s status can approach the city easily. His city measures a thousand Yojanas and Chitragupt’s mansion is also situated near which is twenty-five Yojanas. It has well-designed roads and streets, gardens and parks, and all are well decorated where other celestial officers live nearby. Among them are - Divine architects (who construct every structure) and Celestial damsels and singers who live here. Yama’s men keep the record of acts -karmas of men of good and evil nature. Around the palace of Chitragupt, the houses of various diseases, ailments, fever, Rheumatism, skin ailment, snare of death, ingestion etc are situated. Thus, he obtains graphic description of the entire region of Yama’s abode.

The Assembly of the great lord of death presents a grand scenario. Only virtuous, pious and devoted souls walk on the path that leads to the grand hall of Yama and thereafter, the portrayal of the grandeur and magnificence continues. It is simply amazing. Noble souls live there happily. It is full of comforts, peace and joy and these godly souls spend time with the force of truth and righteousness, and afterward, take birth as human beings because of their good conduct.

Next, it is striving of the soul to unite with the Supreme. Vishnu enlightens Garuda, his vehicle, the lord of Birds. He tells how a human being comes to the world and knows about the formation of various limbs and organs in the womb. Physical and extra worldly construction of body is clear – one is external and the other is internal. It is struggle of body in totality to identify ‘the self’ with the universal soul, and the approach of a true devotee makes it interesting. Good karmas, acts of charity and altruism are very near to the heart of the Supreme and as such, men of truth, compassion and uprightness attain the region of the Supreme lord.  The objective of life is to earn goodwill and the reward of charitable acts that make life noble. He gets knowledge of the inner and the outer world.

At last, in section sixteen, the lord tells that objective of human life is to attain salvation from the cycle of transmigration and getting unity with the Supreme lord. The great lord speaks in detail about the means for eternal, perpetual deliverance or freedom - Moksa. All live in the world of change amidst many sufferings and the allurements of the material world. Perform rites properly, live virtuously and devote wholeheartedly to the great lord and it takes a being to the right path - liberation. Man can get liberty through conscious efforts and devotion.

All beings coming to the material world ultimately die and take birth again and so continue to live in miseries. The birth in human form is the consequence of dignified karmas, one should know. Therefore, elevate life - life in purity of mind and heart, and concentrate on the Supreme. One should look after the body, for through a healthy and sound body one can do noble acts and attain the lord. This body is a path to self-realization a man ought to know.

Whatever one obtains through body in material form is perishable but if one elevates ‘the self’ through virtuous acts, truth and uprightness and ethically strong disposition, one is nearer to the lord while staying away from the objects of sense - gratification. Through efforts one can get rid of ignorance and darkness of life and walk on the path to truth, virtue and devotion to the lord collectively with service to humankind and thus, avoid the ghost of death waiting for the living being every moment in whatever Yoni, a being takes birth. After death, the being goes to the land of Yama, the lord of Justice. A living being ought to know that freedom, deliverance or Moksa is possible only for a pious, virtuous and upright human being.

If he does not nurse virtues, the region of Yamadharamaraja waits for him, Garuda learns. Abandon attachment to worldly pleasures and discard thought of sense-gratification and it will grant you ability to devote to the lord. Meditate on him, for he only grants liberation to a soul living in bondages and then, suffers in various hells. To know the essence of scriptures is essential, for a true knowledge leads to the right path.

A learned man, a scholar is never satisfied with what he learns and so it is continuous study in depth of scriptures and it never ends. If essence of scriptures a man holds, it is good, for out of the much irrelevant stuff only one should cherish wisdom and knowledge, its intensity of insight and revelation, and this strengthens sense of discrimination.

To know ‘the true self’ is must. When man begins with a sense of duality, he cannot realize ‘the self’ but he who has faith in ‘the self’ it is possible. The notion of difference between ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ is ego, pride and arrogance, which causes bondages. If one stays unattached to the material world –land, property, relations etc, it creates a feeling of self-sacrifice and altruistic mindset, which is a path to deliverance and salvation. To attain true knowledge is the highest goal of life, which creates no bondages and tells that all karmas are for the wellbeing of man and society sans any attachment to anyone. Such selfless acts – karmas lead to Moksa, salvation.

Therefore, a man must destroy the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the cause of bondages. Throw out ego and pride, and think that ‘the self’ is the same in all created beings - the Supreme. He, who knows truth, cuts asunder all bonds including cravings of the physical frame.  He abandons love for home, land and relations and embarks upon a visit to holy rivers, purifies ‘the self’ and is engaged in penance and meditation. He focuses on the Supreme –Parabraham and thus, withdraws from sense objects with the knowledge he has already attained.

With intense meditation and concentration on the Supreme lord, he becomes one with the lord and ultimately merges in him. Worshipping, and fixing the mind on the lord and total surrender to him will help attain salvation. A man, who acquires true knowledge and sense of objectivity and detachment, attains Moksa. Men of truth and righteousness go to the celestial land, and sinners suffer in hell.

After listening to the words of the great lord, Garuda bows down and prostrates in utmost humility, and feeling fully satisfied and then, concentrates on the Supreme lord.

Only a man of Dr Rao intellect, religious propensity and sensibility, who knows the pulse of scriptures and phrase these employ, can write pithily and effectively conveying the essence so well.  Interesting it is.


More by :  P C K Prem

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vvb ramarao
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