Yonder world denoted as páraloka, pára loká or asáu loká1 is the heavenly world, the ideal situation wished for in Vedic literature dealing with the solemn (śrauta) rituals. There is, however, also a distant region associated with death which is less pleasant and therefore less mentioned in that literature. It is the realm of the dead which is not lying above but under or on the outskirts of the earth. In the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā heaven is the final destination for only a few meritorious human beings in the latest layers of this text (Bodewitz 1994; this vol. ch. 8). The relative silence about the probably older conception of a subterranean realm of the dead, even in the oldest layers, is quite understandable. There was no incentive for mentioning it as the ultimate fate of man and since the opposition of heaven and hell or underworld still did not exist, the deterrent was missing. At most one might express the wish that bad people or rivals would be sent to it as soon as possible in a premature death.
In the Atharvaveda Saṁhitā life after death is situated in both heaven and the nether world, namely as a reward for typically Atharvan rituals (the Atharvavedic answer to the challenge of the Vedic śrauta sacrifices) and in connection with sorcery (the magic of spells sending rivals or sinners to the nether world or of primitive medicine in which one tries to save the free soul of a dying person from the underworld) (Bodewitz 1999c; this vol. ch. 11).
In the other Saṁhitās and in the Vedic prose texts (which to some extent miss the magic of the Atharvaveda) almost all emphasis is put on the future life of the meritorious in heaven. Still even here there are some traces of the old conception of a Vedic Hades. In post-Vedic literature Yama’s seat is in the underworld and ideas about hell become further elaborated. In Vedic literature falling into the underworld or the hell occurs. These places are sometimes denoted as holes or pits, but some holes have to be interpreted as the doors to the underworld (Bodewitz 1999b; this vol. ch. 12). The catchwords for underworld (and hell?) are pit, hole, abyss, depth, down, darkness and distance. The last mentioned code will be examined in this article. References to a non-heavenly yonder world which is far away2 are mostly expressed by the term parāvát “distance.” Its connotation is negative, though it is doubtful whether this implies that only some sort of hell is meant.3 Hell and the underworld in general are lying under the earth. How can we connect the distant world with the underworld?
In several cultures the destination of the dead is situated in distant places on the outskirts of the world, often in the West. In Vedic texts, however, death is associated with the South. Since the West is the quarter where the sun sets, it may represent the entrance to the nether world. God Varuṇa is not only connected with the West but also with death and in the epics he is residing in the underworld. The fact that the sun appears from the parāvát may imply that the distance is not exclusively connected with the West and extends into the underworld.4
Kuiper (1983, 224) observes: “As for the term parāvát-, it has long been observed that it often denotes the underworld”5 and he even states that in the Rigveda parāvát “always denotes the nether world” (160). The latter conclusion is clearly exaggerated.
Hoffmann (1975, 50) criticizes Lüders’ interpretation of the term: “Die Gefahr, Wörtern seiner These zulieben eine bestimmte Bedeutungsnuance zu geben, hat L. nicht immer vermieden, so wenn er parāvát, das nach Ableitung und sonstigem Gebrauch nur ‘Ferne’ heissen kann, mit ‘Jenseits’ wiedergibt.” This criticism is not wholly fair, since derivation and application of the term sometimes may point to “Jenseits,” provided this is not (as Lüders assumed) a place in heaven.
The prefix párā expresses “far” as well as “away.” This “away” forms an opposition with “on this side” and consequently parāvát may be rendered with “Jenseits.” Words consisting of a prefix and the suffix -vat always denote places.6 In the plural parāvát may refer to cosmic subdivisions.7 So parāvát may denote yonder world, wherever its exact localisation should be.8 As a prefix to verbs párā means “away, off”; see e.g. parā-i and parā-bhū. These compounded verbs express dying, destruction and getting lost.9
1 Ṛgveda Saṁhitā
It has to be admitted that in the ṚV parāvát often just denotes distance, especially in the many cases where an opposition with nearness is found.
When coming from a or the parāvát is expressed and the subject is a solar deity connected with dawn, then the distant region may be the nether world (Kuiper 1983, 224–225). See ṚV 1, 35, 3 (Savitṛ); 1, 47, 7 (Aśvins); 1, 48, 7 (Uṣas); 1, 92, 3 (Uṣas and Aśvins); 1, 112, 3 (Aśvins); 1, 134, 4 (Uṣas) and 8, 5, 30 (Aśvins). It is remarkable that almost all the references are found in the late first book.
Soma and Agni are brought to the human beings from the parāvát. Kuiper (1983, 219) observes that Soma is not only fetched from the parāvát but also from the rock which would denote the cosmic hill under which the nether world is situated. See also Kuiper (224) on Agni being brought from the parāvát, from the womb of the waters, from darkness etc. In later versions of the myth Agni and Soma are fetched from heaven and sometimes nether world and highest heaven alternate, a problem which is difficult to solve. See Kuiper (1983, 225): “Possibly these terms primarily denoted the mysterious world of totality of the dualistic cosmos … Be that as it may, this much is obvious that the parāvát-, which could be identified with Nírṛti-, was not a dwelling-place of the Devas.”10 Agni is brought from the parāvát by Mātariśvan in ṚV 1, 128, 2; 3, 9, 5; 6, 8, 4; Soma by the eagle in 4, 26, 6; 9, 68, 6 and 10, 144, 4.
As observed already, several references do not convincingly point to a nether world. Uncertain is the situation of Turvaśa and Yadu in connection with parāvát (ṚV 1, 36, 18; 6, 45, 1). Perhaps they were rescued from the nether world, i.e. from death. In ṚV 1, 119, 8 Bhujyu, who had been thrown down in the parāvát by his father, may have been rescued from death or the nether world.
All the material discussed above refers to coming from the parāvát and, apart from the uncertain references to Turvaśa, Yadu and Bhujyu, it does not concern human beings. There are also some places in the ṚV where going to the parāvát is mentioned.
The Ṛṣi of 8, 30, 3 asks not to be led into the distances. In 10, 145, 4 the wish is expressed that a female rival should be sent to the párā parāvát. Indra is said to have thrown down (or destroyed) Namuci in the parāvát (1, 53, 7). In 10, 95, 14 Purūravas threatens his wife, the Apsaras Urvaśī who had left him and refuses to return, that he might commit suicide and then go to the farthest distance (parāvátam paramā́m) where he will be eaten by wolves in the lap of Nirṛti.
The material of the ṚV shows that parāvát often denotes distance, sometimes the nether world from which the sun, Soma and Agni come forth and that as a destination for human beings it is seldom found. Most of the relatively clear references to a nether world are found in the late first and tenth books.
2 Atharvaveda Saṁhitā
In the AV the specific connotation is more evident. General references to distance are almost exclusively found in the twentieth book (Śaunaka rec.) containing hymns from the ṚV. References to the nether world are only found in books 3–12 (with one exception, AV 18, 4, 41 dealing with the funeral). The parāvát is associated with the sun appearing from it in AV 6, 34, 3; 6, 35, 1; 7, 27, 2.11 Rivals are wished to be sent to the farthest distance in AV 3, 18, 3 (= ṚV 10, 145, 4); 6, 75, 2 (from which they should not return).12 The same applies to witchcraft (8, 5, 9) and sinners (12, 5, 64).13
The going to the parāvát of a seriously ill person is tried to be prevented in AV 8, 1, 8. In the context it is said that he should ascend out of darkness and not go after the Pitṛs. In 5, 30, 1 (an unclear verse in which the term parāvát occurs) again not following the path of the Pitṛs is mentioned. On account of these two verses one might conclude that dying is going to the parāvát and that this path is also followed by the Pitṛs. There is no indication that this Pitṛloka is positive; it is even associated with darkness in 8, 1, 8. In AV 18, 4, 41 (in a funeral hymn in which one might expect references to heaven rather than to an underworld) the Pitṛs and the parāvátas occur together, but the meaning of the verse is not certain.
The turn of phrase ā mṛtyor ā parāvataḥ is found twice in the Paippalāda rec.,14 in AVP 1, 98, 4 and 20, 65, 11. In both places a relationship should last “till death, till the parāvat.” Whatever should be the exact translation, so much is clear that obviously the world called parāvat was associated with life after death in general (and not exclusively with sinners and rivals).
It is evident that in this text parāvát denotes the destination of rivals, bad people and sinners and even of some Pitṛs and deceased people in general.
3 Yajurveda Saṁhitā and Vedic Prose
The prefixes compounded with the suffix vat and denoting “Ortsabstrakta” are only found in the ṚV, the AV and in Vedic verses (Wackernagel-Debrunner 1954, 871). Only parāvát sometimes occurs in Vedic prose. The fact that these prose texts do not give much material and that in the older Upaniṣads (with one exception) the term is not found, does not prove that ideas on the nether world disappeared. Other terms may have taken over its role.
The Yajurvedic Saṁhitās do not offer much new material in their Mantras. In TS 4, 1, 9, 3 (and parallels) the sun comes from the farthest distance. The four parāvátas mentioned in TS 4, 7, 12, 1 (and par.) form an extension of the three occurring in the ṚV and may imply the existence of a fourth world (= nether world?). In MS 4, 14, 1 Prajāpati is said to be the lord of the worlds, quarters of space, parāvátas, nivátas, udvátas. In this context the horizontal extension seems to be meant. For the verse of MS 2, 2, 11 as a variant of AV 3, 4, 5 see n. 11.
Vedic prose has a limited number of topics in which parāvát plays a role. The most famous is that of Indra hiding himself after having killed Vṛtra.15 The reason for Indra to withdraw was his misconception that he had failed.16 Now one may ask what was the place to which Indra went. Gods who hide themselves and have to be rediscovered mostly enter the nether world. In this episod Indra acts like a king who has lost his authority and withdraws to the wilderness. Therefore JB 1, 137 explicitly equates Indra with such a king and makes the ritual apply to dispelled kings. See also n. 11 on dispelled kings who are said to go to the farthest distance (MS 2, 2, 11).
There are some indications that the parāvát to which Indra withdraws is the underworld. According to TS 2, 5, 3, 6 and AB 3, 5 Indra is first discovered by the Pitṛs. AB 3, 15 and JB 3, 296 emphasize the identity of the paramā parāvat and the Anuṣṭubh metre. I think that the tertium comparationis is based on the fact that the Anuṣṭubh is elsewhere equated with the fourth world, with death.17
Another topic is the sacrificial horse which, if unrestrained, might go to the farthest distance.18 Since the situation does not refer to the horse which is freely roaming about before being slaughtered, I cannot imagine that the fear is expressed that this horse would actually run away. Probably the opposition is between reaching heaven and getting lost in the nether world.
In the Yajurvedic Saṁhitās (both in the Mantras and in the prose sections) the material for the equation of parāvát and nether world is rather limited. Moreover we still have not dealt with human beings in this connection.
In a verse found in TS 1, 1, 9, 1 (and Yajurvedic parallels) Savitṛ is requested to bind him who hates us and whom we hate, with a hundred fetters in the farthest distance. Instead of paramásyām parāváti parallels also read paramásyām pṛthivyā́m. The outskirts of the earth seem to be meant here, but ŚB 1, 2, 4, 16 interprets the version of VS 1, 25 as referring to the underworld by denoting it as blind darkness.
PB 5, 8, 8 equates going to the end of the six-day period of the sacrifice with going to the farthest distance, but does not give any information on the implications of this going to the farthest distance. This much is clear that anta “end” and parāvat are identical and consequently parāvat may refer to the end of the world. The same identification is found in the Brāhmaṇas when verses from the Saṁhitās are quoted and explained in which the ablative parāvátas is found. This “afar” is explained as “end” (anta) in AB 5, 2, 11; 5, 1, 16; ŚāṅkhB 22, 5; 23, 7. Or does anta here refer to death?
PB 15, 7, 2 states that using the Anuṣṭubh as Stoma-verse would imply that the sacrificer goes to the farthest distance. Does this refer to his death, since Anuṣṭubh is not only the end of the metres but is also equated with the fourth world (= death)? The formulation parām parāvataṁ yajamāno gacchen na pratitiṣṭhet has a parallel in ṢaḍvB 3, 8, 14, where, however, the rival is the subject. In its context it appears that the rival is removed from heaven and earth with two particular Sāmans and that due to the use of a Sāman of which the name denotes “floating” he misses a support. So perhaps both places refer to being sent to a world outside the universe.
According to ŚāṅkhB 5, 7 the Pitṛs have gone to the farthest distance.
Perhaps TB 3, 7, 12, 5 implies the relegation to the farthest distance of some deceased. The text states that sin is left at the farthest distance or place (paramé sadhásthe) and that one may rise to the world of the meritorious people where sinners do not come (since they have to go to the farthest distance?).
The Sūtras contain verses in which parāvat occurs.
It is evident that the creative use of the term parāvat already began to disappear in the Vedic prose texts. In the older Upaniṣads we find only one reference and a strange one at that.
BĀU 6, 2, 15 concludes its description of the devayāna by stating te teṣu brahmalokeṣu parāḥ parāvato vasanti. teṣāṁ na punarāvṛttiḥ. Hume unsatisfactorily translates “In those Brahmaworlds they dwell for long extents. Of these there is no return.” What does “for long extents” mean? Deussen more convincingly renders “Dort in den Brahmawelten bewohnen sie die höchsten Fernen,” but it remains strange that the Brahmaloka has a gradation based on distance.
Perhaps the observation on no return caused the insertion of the parāḥ parāvatas. These were in the older texts also associated with no return, but then not referring to rebirth but to the excluded return of rivals or of everybody who dies.19 See ṚV 10, 95, 14 … prapáted ánāvṛt parāvátaṁ paramā́m; AV 6, 75, 2 paramā́ṁ táṁ parāvátam indró nudatu yáto ná púnar ā́yati. This place does not prove anything on a heavenly parāvát.
4 Evidence from the Ṛgveda and Atharvaveda Saṁhitā
The interpretation of parāvát as a nether world (from which deities may come or to which deities go) is supported by evidence from the texts. For our purpose the parāvát as the destination of human beings who die or are killed is essential. We will summarize the relevant data and give some comments on details. Here we distinguish three categories: 1) sinners (hell); 2) rivals (underworld or hell); 3) ordinary people and Pitṛs (underworld).
4.1 Sinners (Hell)
Sinners are only mentioned by
AV 12, 5, 64 yáthā́yād yamasādanā́t pāpalokā́n parāvátaḥ “That he may go from Yama’s seat to the worlds of the sinners,20 to the distances.” The sinner, who elsewhere in this hymn is explicitly sent to hell, is someone who insults the Brahmin and takes away his cow. Apparently sinners and saints are selected by Yama.
4.2 Rivals (Underworld or Hell)
Rivals should be sent to the distance in the following three places:
ṚV 10, 145, 4 párām evá parāvátaṁ gamayāmasi “To the far distance we drive the rival woman away.”21
AV 6, 75, 2 paramā́ṁ táṁ parāvátam índro nudatu vṛtrahā́ / yáto ná púnar ā́yati śaśva-vatī́bhyaḥ sámābhyaḥ “Indra, the killer of Vṛtra, must drive him forth into the farthest distance, whence he shall not return in all years that come.”22 The whole hymn concerns a rival.
ṢaḍvB 3, 8, 14 yaṁ kāmayeta parām parāvatam iyān na pratitiṣṭhed iti pavamāne rathantaraṁ kuryāt bṛhat pṛṣṭham plavaṁ brahmasāma. bṛhadrāthantarābhyām evainam ebhyo lokebhya uddhṛtya plavena praplāvayati. parāṁ parāvatam eti na pratitiṣṭhati. “When he (the sacrificer) desires (about his rival): ‘may he go to the farthest distance, may he have no firm support,’ then he should apply in the Pavamāna laud the Rathantara, make the Bṛhat the Pṛṣṭha laud and apply the Plava as Brahma Sāman. By the Bṛhat and the Rathantara he removes him from these two worlds (i.e. from heaven and earth) and by the Plava he causes him to float. He goes to the farthest distance then and obtains no firm support.” Cf. ĀpŚS 22, 4, 27.
TS 1, 1, 9, 1 emphasizes the prevention of return from the farthest distance of someone who is an enemy: badhāná deva savitaḥ paramásyāṁ parāváti śaténa pā́śaiḥ / yó ’smā́n dvèṣṭi yáṁ ca vayáṁ dviṣmás tám áto mā́ mauk // “O god Savitṛ, bind him in the farthest distance with a hundred fetters who hates us and whom we hate. Don’t let him free from there.”
4.3 Ordinary People and Pitṛs (Underworld)
For ordinary people going to the distance should be prevented.
ṚV 8, 30, 3 mā́ naḥ patháḥ pítryān mānavā́d ádhi dūráṁ naiṣṭa parāvátaḥ “Don’t lead us far from the human path of the ancestors to the distances.”23
ṚV 10, 95, 14 sudevó adyá prapáted ánāvṛt parāvátam paramā́m gántavā́ u / ádhā śáyīta nirṛter upásthé ’dhainaṁ vṛ́kā rabhasā́so adyúḥ “What if your idol today should throw himself down (into an abyss) in order to go to the farthest distance without returning, and then should lie in the lap of Destruction, and the ferocious wolves should eat him?”24
AV 5, 30, 1 āvátas ta āvátaḥ parāvátas ta āvátaḥ / iháiva bhava mā́ nú gā mā́ pū́rvān ánu gāḥ pitṝ́n ásuṁ badhnāmi te dṛḍhám “For you nearnesses (should be) nearnesses, for you distances nearnesses. Remain here. Don’t go. Don’t follow the former fathers. I bind your lifesoul fast.” The first quarter is rather obscure. I follow Whitney in assuming plurals instead of ablatives singular and an ellips of the verb (which mostly supposes an imperative). The text seems to imply that the distances of life after death for the time being should be replaced by present life. By implication not following the path of the Pitṛs is not dying, not going to the (farthest) distances, and consequently Pitṛs are associated with the distances. This place illustrates the well-known conception of a lifesoul which at the same time as an external soul may temporarily or eternally leave the body. In ṚV 10, 58, 11 the mánas (another conception of the soul) has gone far away to the farthest distances (párāḥ parāvátaḥ; AVP 1, 84, 10 reads paramāṁ parāvatam; the hymn is missing in AV). This place, however, does not prove much since all kinds of other cosmographic entities are also mentioned.25
AV 8, 1, 8 mā́ gatā́nām ā́ dīdhīthā yé náyanti parāvátam / ā́ roha támaso jyótir éhy ā́ te hástau rabhāmahe “Do not long for the departed who lead to the distance. Rise up from darkness into light. Come, we take both your hands.” In the original application this must have concerned somebody who is on the verge of dying. Apparently all who die go to the distance. In the preceding verse is said: “Do not follow the Pitṛs.” The turn of phrase ā mṛtyor ā parāvataḥ (AVP 1, 98, 4; 20, 65, 11) likewise refers to ordinary people. On account of the parallelism with ṢaḍvB 3, 8, 14 (sending a rival to the farthest distance where he will find no support) we may assume that going to the farthest distance and getting no support there may be prevented in PB 15, 7, 2 by not openly applying the Anuṣṭubh (which is end or death).
Instead of preventing the going to the farthest distance (= death) one may also rescue someone who is almost dead (and whose lifesoul is perhaps already “in the farthest distance”). Here the ablative plays a role:
ṚV 6, 45, 1 yá ā́nayat parāvátaḥ súnītī turváśaṁ yádum / índraḥ sá no yúvā sákhā “He who guided Turvaśa (and) Yadu with good guidance from the distance, this Indra must be our youthful companion.” Since there is no reason to assume that the mentioned persons are simply led from a far region, it is likely that parāvát refers to (the realm of) death, the more so since Indra is elsewhere also said to have rescued them (i.c. from being drowned) (see Macdonell–Keith 1912, 316). This rescuing seems to be described as leading back from the world of the dead. In ṚV 1, 36, 18 the two mentioned persons are called upon by means of Agni from the parāvát, but the situation is unclear here.
Likewise rescued from being drowned was Bhujyu. In this case the Aśvins were the saviours.
ṚV 1, 119, 8 ágachataṁ kṛ́pamāṇam parāváti pitúḥ svásya tyájasā nibādhitam “You two came to complaining (Bhujyu) who had been thrown down in the distance26 due to abandonment by his own father.”
A different approach is found in the following text place:
AV 18, 4, 41 sá veda níhitān nidhī́n pitṝ́n parāváto gatā́n “He (i.e. Agni) knows the treasured stores gone to the Pitṛs, to the distances.” My translation agrees with Griffith. Whitney translates “he knoweth the deposited deposits, the Fathers that are gone away to the distances.” I do not think that the fathers can be described as “deposited deposits,” an expression that refers to sacrifices and their merits. Probably Agni knows the sacrificial merits of the deceased which earn him a place in the Pitṛloka. It is remarkable that parāvát here has a positive meaning and denotes a Pitṛloka in heaven. This may be an adaptation to the context of this hymn which exclusively deals with the heavenly future of the dead who is being cremated.
In ŚāṅkhB 5, 7 the Pitṛs are simply said to have gone to the farthest distance. There is no negative connotation and we do not know where their Pitṛloka should be situated.
We may conclude that at least in some contexts parāvát means more than just distance and that there are more than ten references in which this distant region denotes the destination of people who have died or are going to die. Apart from one or two exceptions this region is not in heaven. This distant world which if not identical with the underworld at least lies in the same sphere, should not be (exclusively) interpreted as hell. Only once sinners are mentioned. Often rivals play a role. Their only sin might be their hatred, but Vedic literature (also once here) describes the rival as someone who hates us and whom we hate. One fears to go to the farthest distance, but even Pitṛs are sometimes said to have gone there. The farthest distance is the realm of the dead which preceded the discovery of heaven as a destination for the deceased and is a conception which together with other terms denoting the underworld survived in Vedic literature. The ideal in the later Vedic texts of course was heaven, but those who did not sacrifice or failed to perform the sacrifice according to the esoteric rules still had to go down or far away instead of upwards. It is significant that parāvát was the only compoundending in -vat which was still found in the prose texts.