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Naraka (P. niraya; T. dmyal ba དམྱལ་བ་; C. diyu [youqing/zhongsheng]), or hell realm, is the lowest of the six realms of samsara within Buddhist cosmology. It is characterized by intense suffering.

This term is usually referred to in English as a "hell realm." However, a naraka differs from the hell of Christianity as follows. In Buddhism:

  • beings are not sent to a "hell realm" (naraka) as the result of a divine judgment or punishment
  • the length of a being's stay in a "hell realm" (naraka) is not eternal, though it is usually incomprehensibly long
  • there are multiple types of hell realms, each with its own characteristics (see below)

According to tradition, a being takes rebirth into a naraka (in the form of a "hell being") as a result of their accumulated karma and resides there for a finite period of time until that karma (that caused the rebirth in the hell realm) has fully ripened. Afterwards, they will take rebirth in another realm (including possibly higher realms) as the result of karma that has not yet ripened.

Types of narakas

A common presentation of the narakas enumerates a system of eight cold narakas and eight hot narakas.[1]

Cold hell realms (narakas)

The eight cold hell realms (naraka) are:

  • Arbuda (頞部陀), the "blister" Naraka, is a dark, frozen plain surrounded by icy mountains and continually swept by blizzards. Inhabitants of this world arise fully grown and abide lifelong naked and alone, while the cold raises blisters upon their bodies. The length of life in this Naraka is said to be the time it would take to empty a barrel of sesame seeds if one only took out a single seed every hundred years.[2]
  • Nirarbuda (刺部陀), the "burst blister" Naraka, is even colder than Arbuda. There, the blisters burst open, leaving the beings' bodies covered with frozen blood and pus.[2]
  • Aṭaṭa (頞听陀) is the "shivering" Naraka. There, beings shiver in the cold, making an aṭ-aṭ-aṭ sound with their mouths.[2]
  • Hahava (臛臛婆;) is the "lamentation" Naraka. There, the beings lament in the cold, going haa, haa in pain.[2]
  • Huhuva (虎々婆), the "chattering teeth" Naraka, is where beings shiver as their teeth chatter, making the sound hu, hu.[2]
  • Utpala (嗢鉢羅) is the "blue lotus" Naraka. The intense cold there makes the skin turn blue like the colour of an utpala waterlily.[2]
  • Padma (鉢特摩), the "lotus" Naraka, has blizzards that crack open frozen skin, leaving one raw and bloody.
  • Mahāpadma (摩訶鉢特摩) is the "great lotus" Naraka. The entire body cracks into pieces and the internal organs are exposed to the cold, also cracking.[2]

Each lifetime in these narakas is twenty times the length of the one before it.

Hot hell realms (narakas)

The eight hot hell realms (naraka) are:

  • Sañjīva, the "reviving" Naraka, has ground made of hot iron heated by an immense fire. Beings in this Naraka appear fully grown, already in a state of fear and misery. As soon as the being begins to fear being harmed by others, their fellows appear and attack each other with iron claws and hell guards appear and attack the being with fiery weapons. As soon as the being experiences an unconsciousness like death, they are suddenly restored to full health and the attacks begin again. Other tortures experienced in this Naraka include: having molten metal dropped upon them, being sliced into pieces, and suffering from the heat of the iron ground.[2] Life in this Naraka is 1.62×1012 years long.[3] It is said to be 1,000 yojanas beneath Jambudvīpa and 10,000 yojanas in each direction (a yojana being 7 miles, or 11 kilometres).[4]
  • Kālasūtra, the "black thread" Naraka, includes the torments of Sañjīva. In addition, black lines are drawn upon the body, which hell guards use as guides to cut the beings with fiery saws and sharp axes.[2][4] Life in this Naraka is 1.296×1013 years long.[3]
  • Saṃghāta, the "crushing" Naraka, is surrounded by huge masses of rock that smash together and crush the beings to a bloody jelly. When the rocks move apart again, life is restored to the being and the process starts again.[2] Life in this Naraka is 1.0368×1014 years long.[3]
  • Raurava, the "screaming" Naraka, is where beings run wildly about, looking for refuge from the burning ground.[2] When they find an apparent shelter, they are locked inside it as it blazes around them, while they scream inside. Life in this Naraka is 8.2944×1014 years long.[citation needed]
  • Mahāraurava, the "great screaming" Naraka, is similar to Raurava.[4] Punishment here is for people who maintain their own body by hurting others. In this hell, ruru[clarification needed] animals known as kravyāda torment them and eat their flesh. Life in this Naraka is 6.63552×1015 years long.[citation needed]
  • Tapana is the "heating" Naraka, where hell guards impale beings on a fiery spear until flames issue from their noses and mouths.[2] Life in this Naraka is 5.308416×1016 years long.[citation needed]
  • Pratāpana, the "great heating" Naraka. The tortures here are similar to the Tapana Naraka, but the beings are pierced more bloodily with a trident.[2] Life in this Naraka is 4.2467328×1017 years long. It is also said to last for the length of half an antarakalpa.[citation needed]
  • Avīci is the "uninterrupted" Naraka. Beings are roasted in an immense blazing oven with terrible suffering.[2] Life in this Naraka is 3.39738624×1018 years long. It is also said to last for the length of an antarakalpa.[citation needed]

Distinction from hungry ghosts (pretas)

The sufferings of the dwellers in the hell realms (naraka) often resemble those of the hungry ghosts (preta), and the two types of being are easily confused. The simplest distinction is that beings in a naraka are confined to their subterranean world, while the pretas are free to move about.

There are also isolated and boundary hells called Pratyeka Narakas (Pali: Pacceka-niraya) and Lokantarikas.


  1. Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. nāraka.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 Alexander, Jane (2009). The Body, Mind, Spirit Miscellany: The Ultimate Collection of Fascinations, Facts, Truths, and Insights. London: Duncan Baird Publishers. pp. 150–151. ISBN 978-1844838370. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Malik, Akhtar (2007). Survey of Buddhist Temples and Monasteries. New Delhi: Anmol Publications. p. 50. ISBN 978-8126132591. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Morgan, Diane (2010). Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 73. ISBN 978-0313384523. 


Further reading

  • Matsunaga, Alicia; Matsunaga, Daigan (1971). The Buddhist concept of hell. New York: Philosophical Library. 
  • Teiser, Stephen F. (1988). "Having Once Died and Returned to Life": Representations of Hell in Medieval China". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 48 (2): 433–464. 
  • Law, Bimala Churn; Barua, Beni Madhab (1973). Heaven and hell in Buddhist perspective. Varanasi: Bhartiya Pub. House. 

External links

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