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Atmahatya – Suicide In Hinduism – Is It A Sin? Is It Allowed

Atmahatya, or suicide, holds a complex and nuanced position within Hinduism. In the context of dharma, or righteous living, the dharmashastras strongly condemn suicide, categorizing it as a great sin. This moral standpoint is evident in texts such as Parashara Smriti 4.1 and 2; Yama Smriti 20 and 21, which emphasize the gravity of taking one's own life.

However, Hindu scriptures also acknowledge certain exceptions where suicide is considered permissible, even under specific circumstances. For instance, a vanaprastha (forest hermit) suffering from an incurable disease and unable to fulfill his duties, an elderly person incapacitated due to severe old-age decrepitude or incurable illness, or a householder who has diligently fulfilled all responsibilities and harbors no desire to continue living might be exceptions.

These situations were not treated as acts of self-destruction but rather as religious acts, sanctioned under specific conditions. The permission for suicide under these circumstances was a recognition of the challenges posed by inevitable suffering, and it aimed to provide an avenue for individuals to exit life with dignity when faced with insurmountable hardships.

Various methods were prescribed for such sanctioned acts of self-exit. Fasting until death, embarking on a journey until the end (mahaprasthana), drowning oneself at the confluence of three rivers (Triveni in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh), or even immolating oneself in a fire prepared from cow dung cakes were considered permissible in certain contexts.

It is crucial to note that while the religious texts outline these exceptions, the overall emphasis in Hinduism is on the preservation of life and the pursuit of dharma. The approval of suicide under specific circumstances is a testament to the recognition of life's complexities and the acknowledgment that, in some instances, ending one's life may be a choice rooted in spiritual or moral considerations rather than sheer despair.