A Comparative Study of Justice in Ved Vyas’s


Essence of Justice: A Comparative Study of Justice in Ved Vyas’s Garuda Purana and Dante’s Inferno; the Devine Comedy.

The name of the religion can be differ, the way of performing different rituals can also be different but core of the religion are discussed as same. There are various religion like Hindu, Christian, Buddha, and Muslimetc. which deals about the purity of heart, feelings, and acts and so on. Not to harm other, not to feel negative, not to behave bad to other, not to sacrifice animal, not to perform rudeness ect are the common motto of various religion. Here, in this research paper, I am going to discuss about the concept of Justice in Garuda Purana and Inferno comparatively. On the face of it they seem to have nothing in common at all and this would be true except for one towering commonality: the Garuda Purana and the Divine Comedy are texts that deal with the afterlife, hell and most importantly the concepts of sin, justice and divine retribution.

Instead of being blind supporter in any religion and to be cunning in any religious philosophy it is better to have comparative study in between or among them. And it is good idea to look such good quality and concept of them. So, the primary aim of this comparison goes beyond mere academic curiosity and interest; it is to demonstrate in actuality the similarity with which both Dante and Ved Vyasa considered of and expressed the function, role and importance of justice for man and society. These literary works are similar in that they both address in detail the consequences of actions—good and bad that man must face in the afterlife. To both authors heaven and hell were the same in essence and concept. A factual background that will give a social, political, theological context for these texts is very useful to an analysis of how societies viewed socio-political concepts like those of Justice and retribution. Therefore, as I outline the factual similarities of the texts and their implications, I deliberately choose to acknowledge the differences because they will greatly lend to providing a realistic background, which in turn contributes to the context of the texts and ensures as much objectivity as possible in the analysis. The aspects that differed were in the physical “structure” of the narrative, in the details of the actual characters in the narrative and certain procedural, ritualistic details, which collectively illustrate the separation of the texts in time, place and contexts from each other.

I think that if the differences are given too much attention, they have the potential to distract from the larger concept of justice and retribution. At the same time, in my opinion, a comparison of the similarities keeping an eye on the differences, holistically validates how remarkable this conceptual mirroring is between these two texts, given how far apart in space and time they were from each other. It is with the final aim to represent the functions of justice in society that both these authors go into allegorical depictions of each punishment in every gory detail guided by social, political and cultural influences of their respective times. I begin the process of creating a background with facts on the texts. The Puranas have been referred to in many ancient texts such as the Brahamans, and even the Mahabharata, which has led scholars to believe that the Puranas predate almost all Vedic texts. The Puranic encyclopedia has quoted Rangacharya, a great Sanskrit scholar, as defining the Puranas as per the literal translation of the word “Purana,” which means “old, yet new.” He says that it is “things which are as good as new though existing from olden times” (Puranic Encyclopedia 617). The Puranas are divided into three main bodies, one for each of the main gods of the Hindu trinity—Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva—and consisted of six Mahapuranas each that totaled over four hundred thousand verses. The Garuda Purana is from the Vishnu Purana and is primarily in the form of the Lord Vishnu answering questions that Garuda has on various subjects like astronomy, medicine, grammar, etc.

The first six chapters of the second half of the Garuda Purana and the Divine Comedy’s Inferno are the subsections of these texts that deal with hell as a place where the souls of the dead face divine justice for sins committed in life. Both of these works are allegorical, so any reading of either one needs a reading at various levels of meaning. There is the first level that is at face value, which is the literary and textual aspects of these texts like the narrative techniques of the texts, the details of the “story-line”, the physical and geographical organization of hell as a physical place and reality etc. Running parallel, like an undercurrent, concealed yet powerful, are the allegorical aspects of these texts. Hidden within the horrors of hell the authors attempt, in their own ways, to convey to man the idea of sin, divine justice and retribution in their respective cultural and social settings. Vyasa reports hell to his living 1. The word grand is used here to describe the physical size and cultural impact of these texts. It is meant to indicate a measure of magnitude and impact. 2. The four main Vedas are the Rig (Rig) Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur (Yajus) Veda and Atharva Veda. 3. Also called “Ved Vyasa” because he is the one who is supposed to have reorganizedaudience indirectly, and manages to stay aloof and untouched by sin, and or retribution. Dante on the other hand, experiences hell, but he too witnesses it under the guidance of divine protection so he may learn from the sins of those being divinely punished.

Structurally Dante’s Divine Comedy is a made up of three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.Inferno is in turn made up of thirty-four cantos and tells of the journey of a living, breathing Dante who is in a “death-like” state of sleep (in a dream or vision) going through hell and purgatory as he seeks his final destination, which is the sight of God in paradise. The Garuda Purana Sarrodhara (or the essence of the Garuda Purana) by Ernest Wood and S.V. Subrahmanyam has divided the second half of the Garuda Purana into sixteen chapters. The first chapter begins with the misery and ailments that the sinful mortals must undergo before their souls move out of their physical bodies and onto the after-life journey that in turn will lead to a purification of their souls. Like the Divine Comedy, this text also deals with the souls of the virtuous who find heaven and paradise eventually, but the initial section of the account of the afterlife deals almost exclusively with the souls of those who have sinned and how they shall pay for their sins in life. Of the sixteen chapters of this section of the Garuda Purana, chapters one through six are devoted to this journey through hell including the ailments and low-births that the sinful must go through as a part of their punishments; chapters seven to thirteen deal with the proper ceremonial procedure for the kin of the departed with an idea to aid the soul of the dying on this onward journey of the soul; chapter fourteen is an account of Yama, the King of Justice (and popularly recognized as the King of the Dead); chapter fifteen is the manner in which the good souls shall be reborn; and the last chapter is devoted to how a soul can strive for and attain salvation.

This brings to light two very striking similarities in Vyasa and Dante’s idea of when punishment actually begins. As far as the “when” of justice is concerned, for both Vyasa and Dante the sinner begins his punishment even before actual death. The only difference lies in the fact that for Dante, only some sinners loose their souls before death and their mortal bodies continue to walk amongst the living while being inhabited by demons. In the case of the Garuda Purana, Vyasa begins by talking about how all sinners shall leave the mortal self in painful and demeaning ways. Punishment for sins does not just begin before death, but sequences of events that befall an individual are a result of the sins committed in either this life or the previous one. Dante acknowledges at the onset of the Divine Comedy that his life has not been free of guilt: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray/ from the straight road […] to find myself /alone in a dark wood” (Divine Comedy 16.1-3). Scholarship points to the allegorical significance of Dante’s having the vision at the hour of day break: “the first light of sunrise” and at Easter time, “a time of resurrection” points to the “regenerative peak when the lost soul realizes it has gone astray, for that realization is the beginning of the soul’s rebirth” (Divine Comedy 16, x). This seems to point to the idea of inevitable sin and to a desire to repent and return to virtue—the idea of rehabilitation that invites less severe punishment. This is also the Christian belief where they talk about the confession after committing sin to get salvation. Obviously every person want to reach heaven and to get happiness. But everyone are not able to maintain good deed all the time. So, there is the system of punishment on the basis of their mistake where Christian people belief to get redemption if they confess every misdeed in their life time.

For all religion, God lies everywhere so God is inside the heart of person and it is watching our every feeling, activities. So, even after our death God presents and make decision for our further days. So, It is like intentional sin from which the sinner never does or can return that condemns the soul to the unimaginable horrors of a hellish afterlife. In both Vyasa and Dante, their journeys into hell commence from the moment of death. While Vyasa talks of the deplorable conditions of the dying body of the sinner, Dante finding himself at the “dark wood” in the third line of the first Canto depicts the moment in ways that mirrors death very closely, both in language and spirit. He writes, “I find myself /alone in a dark wood […] / Its very memory gives a shape to fear/ Death could scare be more bitter than that place!” (Divine Comedy 16.1-6). For both Vyasa and Dante sin is inevitable; however, they both believe that what is within the control of man is free will, realization (in time and during life) and true repentance, which to both authors is the highest form of penance.
If we talk about narrative techniques, Dante and Vyasa have both adopted different styles to achieve a similar end. Both styles are ones that are, for the readers and believers, hard to ignore. Dante uses the easily relatable “first person” it-has happened-to-me technique of a fellow former sinner and sufferer, while Vyasa uses the all-powerful, undeniable “word of God” way. The idea was the same in both: to make the reader sit up and pay attention. Dante’s narrative is a first person account of his journey through hell, and it moves along with him giving his account of what he sees, the spirits he meets, speaks to and interacts with and his perceptions, emotions and sensations during this journey. In other words, this is a very personal account of Dante’s experience and is presented from a rather intimate point of view.

This personal touch is further highlighted by the fact that in each circle of hell and in almost each of the thirty-four cantos of Inferno, Dante mentions people he has known either personally by name, or who are well known personalities of his times. He is bold enough to name them, and seems to realize his fantasy of seeing them punished for sins he believes or knows them to be guilty of during their lives. Allan Gilbert believes that the allegory of Inferno lies in: representing evil men as they actually live on earth. [Through symbolism] […] he permits us to see the reality of evil in the lives of ourselves and other men as we go about our business and pleasure. Hence every punishment is an allegory of the evil and the unrepentant life the sufferer actually lived; as no sinner manifests any desire to escape from hell, so men in this world live in satisfaction with their unrighteous lives. This […] teaches that divine justice operates among living men by making each evil life its own punishment, lived without hope in genuine, though perhaps concealed, misery. (Dante’s Conceptions of Justice 74) Vyasa on the other hand is entirely impersonal as there are no explicit mentions of any names, places or events that Vyasa might have had any personal knowledge of or connection to.

The specific characters that do appear in the narrative like Chitragupta and Yama for example are not personal associates of Vyasa’s. The content within the Garuda Purana reveals that it is as much a critique of its times as Inferno was designed to be, but the absence of any specific references by Vyasa have kept the discourse at a more philosophical, moral, theological and general plane. It seems to be a record of the Hindu idea of hell with negligible (if any), personal references that might have influenced the work in any capacity. There are differences too in narrative technique where Dante has maintained a straightforward narrative that has the reader move along in a simple and linear fashion as a witness to Dante’s experiences, the Garuda Purana has a far more complex structure and often resorts to verses that have imbedded within them tabular structures, something similar to an information table in a modern day catalogue. As far as the narrative structure is concerned, the Garuda Purana is primarily in the form of a discourse by Lord Vishnu and Garuda; his Bahan. Garuda seeks his Lord’s knowledge on various subjects like astronomy, medicine and the afterlife, yet the structure of the narrative is a rather complex one. It begins with the description of a ceremonial sacrifice that was conducted in Naimsa4, conducted by sage Suanaka and which lasted twelve years.

From the sacrificial fire rose Suta, the son of Vyasa (conceived and born through divine means) who in turn tells of Vainateya’s (the son of Garuda) conversation with Vishnu, who in turn recounts his conversation with Garuda, which forms the body of the Garuda Purana. The primary purpose would appear to be the establishment of this account of the afterlife in the cultural and social structure of Hindu mythology in as firm a manner as possible. This ties in with the overall purpose of texts such as these, which was to establish and maintain a strong foundation upon which society would be forced to conduct itself in an orderly and civil manner. In Gilbert’s words “these sinners were not merely vile in themselves, but guilty of dragging down all human nature by sinning against the public order, in which alone human virtue can reach its perfection” (86). This idea of personal versus the impersonal is further highlighted by the identity of the main “characters” of these two texts. In Inferno Dante employs a whole host of characters that range from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, well known contemporaries of his time right up to people that were personally known to him. Since the whole of the Divine Comedy is allegorical, each character is literal and is also symbolic of something they were directly associated with in life (actual or mythical).

I hope if the people could not have full study of Puran and the Divine Comedy; if at least they study of this research paper, they would stop to be corrupted socially, politically, morally. In my judgement, every people who read this will be curious in overall Hindu cum Christian mythology. Dante used all of the mythical creatures in their capacities of dispensers of divine justice in hell while he used the people to symbolize real evils of the world of the living. Their outcome is a validation and exercise of the ultimate good, which is God’s divine justice. The characters of the Garuda Purana are without exception all characters from Hindu mythology alone. They are divided into two categories. The first are the generic characters like the messengers of Yama, the Shravanas, the shravanis etc. The messengers of Yama, for example, are assigned the specific task of leading the dead to Yama and to the site of punishment. The second type is specific names, but as in Inferno they are mythical and are present in their official capacities.

For instance, Chitragupta is assigned the task of keeping an account of all thoughts and actions of every individual. He achieves this with the help of a huge group of Shravanas and Shravanis. Vyasa is careful to specify that even though Yama is feared and revered as the dreaded Lord of the dead and of justice, he is fearful only to the sinful. Ved Vyasa also makes it clear that Yama, though the distributer of divine justice, can only pronounce judgment and can in no way alter the punishment of his own wish for any person or crime. The punishment is solely determined by the sins of the person who stands in judgment. This crucial difference between the reformative nature of the Hindu hell and the purely punitive nature of Dante’s hell seems to find roots in the difference in Christian and Hindu belief of a cyclical versus linear existence of the soul. Another noteworthy difference is that while in Dante’s Inferno hell is an inversion of heaven as Satan is an inversion of God, in the Garuda Purana hell exists independent of heaven and while the Gods rule heaven, there is no central overlord of hell. Hell as conceptualized by Vyasa is only opposed to heaven in that it is a place of punishment, not reward and is a place of pain, torture and misery as heaven is that of ecstasy and happiness. Moksha or salvation is eternal bliss, while hell is temporary and a means to win Moksha at some point in time. So while the mirrors of heaven and hell in Christian faith demands the presence of a king of hell (as 5Shravanas and Shravanis are divine beings that are said to wander amongst the living.

Whatsoever written in the text about imaginary Hell and Heaven; it is said that, Hell and Heaven lies within this world where we are living. There is a Nepali proverb “AAFU NAMARI SWORGA DEKHIDAINA” it means that we can’t see the heaven till our death if so that; we can’t see the Hell too. So, in conclusion we have to face the situation of Hell or Heaven within this life sooner or later. Thus, we should follow good morality, good deed, good thought and good living because it is all judge by God as he lies everywhere, every time. Judgement of God regarding our activities does not fail so we have seen so many people are punished even after escaping for long time.  – See more at: http://www.readerskhabar.com/viewdetail.php?id=340#sthash.Do1PiEnD.dpuf

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