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The Petavatthu, or "Accounts of Petas", is the seventh book from the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Pali Canon.

It is composed of 51 verse narratives describing how the effects of bad acts can lead to rebirth into the realm of hungry ghosts (petas).[1]

The scripture includes stories of Maudgalyayana's travels to the Hungry Ghost realm and his discussions with pretas who live there.[2][3][4]

The scripture gave prominence to the doctrine that giving alms to monks may benefit the ghosts of one's relatives seen in the Hungry Ghost Festival and ceremonies conducted in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Laos.[5] While regarded by scholars as a later text with relatively little doctrinal content or literary merit, the Petavatthu and a similar text, the Vimānavatthu, became popular sources for sermons due to the narratives on the effects of karma contained in their commentaries.[6]


The Sariputta story of the Petavatthu was adapted in 6th-century China to form the Mahayana Yulanpen Sutra, which makes Mulian (i.e., Maudgalyayana) its hero. Similar to its effect in South and Southeast Asia, the dissemination of the story led to the spread of a Ghost Festival throughout the Sinosphere.[7]

A version of the Petavatthu's Maudgalyayana story separately became a Chinese legend or folk tale known as "Mulian Rescues His Mother".


  • "Stories of the departed", tr Henry S. Gehman, in Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon, volume IV, 1942, Pali Text SocietyPali Text Society Home Page, Bristol
  • In Peta-Stories, tr U Ba Kyaw & Peter Masefield, 1980, Pali Text Society, Bristol; translation of the commentary, with the verses embedded; the PTS's preferred translation



  1. "Petavatthu – Stories of a Hungry Ghost". Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  2. Pearce, Callum (2013). "Buddhist funeral cultures of Southeast Asia and China". Mortality. 18 (4): 388–389. doi:10.1080/13576275.2013.843512.  Unknown parameter |s2cid= ignored (help)
  3. Schober, Juliane (2002). Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia. ISBN 9788120818125. 
  4. "Maha-Moggallana". 
  5. "Ancestors |". 
  6. Skilling, Peter. “Scriptural Authenticity and the Śrāvaka Schools: An Essay towards an Indian Perspective.” The Eastern Buddhist, vol. 41, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1–47. JSTOR, Accessed 25 Feb. 2020.
  7. Template:Bare URL PDF


External links

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