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Preta In Hinduism – Ghost – Spirit Of The Dead Whose Obsequies Is Not Performed

In Hinduism, preta is ghost or the spirit of the dead whose obsequies have not been performed. Preta is referred to in Garuda Purana, Agni Purana, Padma Purana and Pretamanjari. These describe the state of the preta, the cause for the same, and the rites to be performed by the near kith and kin immediately after one’s death and succeeding days for release from that state.

Violations of the different principles of dharma make one a preta. The Hindu Puranas refer to five kinds pretas. The first type consumed food at a Shraddha before it was offered to learned people. The next one robbed an old woman of her belongings. The third one killed a companion while on a trading voyage and appropriated to himself the goods. The next one drove away his brother and imprisoned his parents to get their entire property. The last one stole the temple jewels and was devoured by a tiger when he was running away to a forest.

Puranas describe how a preta is tormented by hunger and thirst. The pot of water and the balls of rice offered every day alleviate its suffering. The head grows with the offering of a ball of rice on the first day, and the ears, eyes and nose on the second day. The neck, shoulder and arms grow on the third day, and the navel, genital and anus on the fourth day. The knees, ankles and feet grow on the fifth day. All vital parts appear on the sixth day, the arteries etc. on the seventh day, the teeth and hair on the eighth day and the semen virile on the ninth day. On the tenth day the preta gets a new body, known as the bhogadeha (subtle body), with which it experiences happiness or misery according to its good or bad deeds while alive. After acquiring this body, the preta is tormented by hunger and thirst and gets appeased by the huge quantity of food offered by kinsmen on the tenth day.

The preta gets released from its state and gets united with the forefathers after a sapindikarana (rite) to be performed at the end of one full year, but now performed on the twelfth day after the death on account of the uncertainty of the life of the doer. From the thirteenth day onwards the preta passes through different cities on the way to the world of Yama, partaking the monthly offering made by the sons. The gifts of an umbrella, footwear, lamp, dress, ring, small pitcher, vessel and seat, and the releasing of a vrisotsarga (young bull), help the preta get over its suffering.

The practice of expiations – like the candrayana; offering food, worship of gods; showing compassion to all beings; viewing alike gold and a lump of earth; showing respect to gods, guests and preceptors; and such similar acts – will help prevent one from becoming a preta and also protect a person from being afflicted by a preta.

The performance of the Narayana Bali (offering to Narayan) by the sons/descendents of the deceased enables the preta a union with Vishnu and vimukti (release) from pretayoni. This includes Shraddha ceremony, followed by various danas as detailed in Shraddhaviveka.