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Atipataka – Mahapataka In Hindu Religion – Worst Sin

In Hindu religion, Atipataka or Mahapataka is referred to as sin of the worst kind. Pataka or sin is an act which is considered to be an arbitrary violation of ethical laws. In Hinduism, sinful acts have been classified into several grades, such as maha pataka, anupataka, upapataka, etc. The mahapatakas, i.e., the worst sins, are, according to the law makers, five in number, viz.,

  1. brahmahatya – murder of a person who has attained the knowledge of Brahman,
  2. surapana – drinking of liquor,
  3. steya – theft of another’s possession,
  4. gurvanganagamana – cohabitation with the wife of one’s preceptor, step-mother, wife of one’s elder brother, aunt etc
  5. maha pataka samsarga – association with a person who has committed any one of the above mentioned four sins.

The law-makers have also prescribed some means to reduce the gravity of sins. These are pranayama (control of breathing), tapas (penance), homa (oblations in fire), japa (recitation of divine names), dana (gifting), upavasa (fasting), tirthayatra (pilgrimage), etc.

A prayaschitta (expiation) is an act performed by an offender to atone for a sin he has committed. The expiations for brahmahatya include thirteen types of severe penances, the performance of the Ashvamedha or vishvajit sacrifice, walking one hundred yojanas with limited food, and making the gift of all the wealth of the murderer to a learned brahmin.

For intentionally drinking liquor, a brahmin is to undergo vigorous penance which may led him to death. However, by easier penances, such as, by observing chandrayana vrata or by feeding other brahmins he can expiate himself from his sin.

For the theft of gold belonging to a brahmin, death has sometimes been prescribed for offenders of all varnas (castes), excepting the brahmins; the offender may, however, relieve himself from the sin of theft by giving as much gold or wealth as required for the maintenance of the brahmin’s family for the whole of the latter’s lifetime.

For the sin of cohabitation with the preceptor’s wife, one of the expiations is to make the offender embrace a red-hot iron image of a woman. In order to free oneself from the sin of association with any one of the above mentioned four grave offenders, one has to perform the prayaschitta that has been prescribed for the offender. Besides these, there are numerous other prayaschittas that have been prescribed in Smriti texts.

For the sinners, and specially for those who do not expiate, various punishments are proposed, such as imposition of fines, infliction of severe corporal punishment like banishment from the kingdom and even the sentence to death. For unintentionally committed sins, there is, however, provision for lighter punishment.