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Shapa in Hinduism – The Concept Of Curse In Hindu Religion

Shapa, curse, is repeatedly referred to in classical Hindu literature and is an important concept in Hinduism. As per Hindu religion beliefs, the power of a curse depends upon several factors, such as the person who curses, the one who is cursed, and the context and events relating to and culminating in cursing someone.

In Hinduism, a curse is considered a part of the divine plan of action. The evens related to classical curses form an integral part not only of the religious texts, but also of the histories of several holy places and of many cultural and religious festivities.

There are 62 curses in the Ramayana and around 150 in the Mahabharata. Puranas and other Hindu religious texts also talks about a large number of curses, counter curses and their consequences.

Number of sects and communities trace their origins to a curse. Puranas and the epics state that many incarnations of Vishnu were the result of curse. Many demigods, damsels, gandharvas and saints appear on earth due to curse.

Thus curses and their consequences are of great significance in Hindu religion.

The causes that lead someone to curse the other could vary from a simple violation of an instruction, or a mistake committed unknowingly, to the most heinous misdeed.

The variety of curses in Hindu literature is astonishing. There are curses on demigods, animals, kings, sages, living beings of all kind, individuals, families or clans.

Similarly, gods, sages, women, children, animals, birds, serpents and many other forms of living sentient beings curse the other.

The relationship between the one pronouncing the curse and the one on whom the curse is pronounced are also of many types.

In the story of Yayati, the parents curse on their children is described, there are curses of children on parents, as in the case of Aruna’s curse on his mother Vinita. Parashuram, the guru, curses Karna, the disciple. There are accounts of husbands cursing wives, such as the curse of Sage Gautama on Ahalya, and the curse of Jamadagni on Renuka. We find the curses of Sage Bhrigu, on the Supreme Reality, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and the mutual curse of Narada and Goddess Parvati. There are curses from animals on humans (Kamadhenu, the divine cow, curses King Dilipa). Then there are curse of Parvati on other Gods, the curse of Ganesha on the moon etc.

The curses sometimes have remedial measures which may be applied like Durvasa’s curse on Shakuntala in Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam, Urvashi’s curse on Arjuna in the Mahabharata. Some curses have a time limitation for their operation like Vasistha’s curse on Ashta Vasus in the Mahabharata.

There are instances where counter curses are also issued. There are gradations in the power of a curse. A curse issued by certain powerful personalities under certain special cases cannot be reversed or modified. The curse of a Guru for instance is considered to be unfailing and irreversible. There are also instances where the intervention of a higher authority curtails the scope of operation of the curse.

Some curses are manifest, some hidden. Examples of hidden curses are those of ancestors (pitr shapa), serpents (sarpa shapa) and ghosts (preta shapa). Some of them are recognized or inferred from astrological calculations. The remedial measures for such curses have the power of afflicting the entire family or affecting the descendents of an individual.
Shapa may also be linked with fulfilling an oath, failure of which will bring evil on the person concerned. In many inscriptions relating to charities to temples, the person who misuses such property is curse to suffer deformity, insanity and misery. A curse effects loss of power, position, wealth and family life. Some curses may take immediate effect, some may last for a specific duration and some may cause suffering throughout life.
In the divine plan, the curse is conceived as a tool for punishment and re-establishing dharma (righteousness). Its purpose is to promote obedience to eternal laws of religious, social, ethical rules and to the divine will, as well as the observance of universal principles of piety and charity.

Source - 
  • Tales And Teachings of the Mahabharata (1998) Janaki Abhisheki – Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
  • Mahabharata (1988) Kamala Subramaniam - Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
  • Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IX – page 254 – 255 - IHRF