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Three Functions of Hell in the Hindu Traditions

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In this article are analysed three functions of hell in the Hindu traditions, a narrative, a social and an economic. Because of the strong images the narratives of hell contain, they are excellent means to catch the attention of the audience. The social function of hell is to protect the social order, the security of the people and especially to protect the privileges of those on top of the hierarchy. Since gifts to the priests are matched with specific punishments in hell that they release from, one economic function of hell seems to be as a source of income for the priests. However, it is argued that even though hell is both a textual and ritual reality in the Hindu traditions, its significance should not be exaggerated. Death is not the end of life, but the end of one rebirth, and release, moksa, is not about escaping a destiny in hell, but to gain freedom from the rebirth realms.

Affiliations: 1: University of Bergen, Department of Archaeology, History, Culture Studies and Religion, P.O. Box 7805, 5020 Bergen, Norway;, Email:


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