Adyar Gopal Parivar
the Hindu Concept of Fate  
      Praarabdha(praa-rab-dha) is fate. 'It is
praarabdha that determines our life'. This is
the concept in Hindu style of living. Who do
we hold responsible for what we go through
in life, good or bad? Who is accountable for
our well-being and happiness or misery and
wretchedness? Who casts the shape and
size of our body, frame the emotions and
feelings of our mind, measure the knowledge
and wisdom we attain, and keep us in either
darkness or in the light? Who is it that gives
us body and brains, builds us rivers and
mountains, opens and closes a day, provides
us with rest and sleep in the night? Is any
one responsible for our diseases and
disabilities, for our desires and yearnings, for
the direction that our life takes, the path that
we tread towards maturity and old age? What
stops us, if at all, from living a happy and full
life, a life of fulfillment, a life of plenty and
prosperity? And finally why do we get old and
weak, and what causes our death?
Is a road accident causing either injury or
death, the making of the victim? Why does a
certain baby die of diarrhoea and
dehydration, while another one lives a life
without such diseases? An airplane crashes
and hundreds of passengers die, but one
who cancelled his travel because he reached
the airport late survives. How could he get
lucky and escape the violent death in a plane
crash? One couple is happy and prosperous
while the next door neighbour is miserable
and is always in debt. How and why these
two couples lead such different lives?
Why did the king order that the enemy spy be
killed by the elephant stepping on his head
today, while yesterday he had ordered the
thief who stole the fruits and vegetables from
a farm, be hanged? On the third day the king
was kind and in a jovial mood and he merely
let another thief who snatched the gold chain
from a woman be subjected to the chopping
off both of his arms? But another spy and two
other thieves ran away and simply vanished,
thus escaped the punishment that the king
would have imposed on them. What is it that
let them off scot-free in this fashion?
A battle ends in the defeat of the local
chieftain. The triumphant king orders every
man, woman, and child in the enemy territory
be slaughtered and their belongings be
looted by his soldiers. He has done a cruel
and despicable act, yet he goes back to his
state capital and suffers nothing for his
wrong deeds. Is the king going to be
punished for his sins? Another king is very
kind to his subjects, and is adored by the
poor and rich alike for his good nature, yet
his brother rebels against him and kills him in
cold blood, and usurps the kingdom to
become the ruler. How and when will the
brother be punished for his crime of murder?
There are deaths by lightening, by floods, by
earthquakes, by tsunamis and by riots
followed by police firing. What brings on
these calamities and these deaths? Why do
some people suffer from cancer, suffer
severe pain and morbidity and die in spite of
getting the best and complete set of
treatment, through various systems of
medicine? Why many escape from this
dreaded disease called cancer? Why do
some people acquire the habit of drinking,
gambling, etc. suffer from complications of
drinking, or lose all their wealth and become
paupers, and some times die of the
complications or commit suicide? Why do
others lead a normal life?

Through ages, these questions have been
haunting man. It was not possible to explain
these by merely offering the theory of cause
and effect, or action and reaction. The big
questions were why do some children die,
why don't they grow to adulthood? What
brings on death early in some and late in
others? What happens in one's body that he
suddenly goes into a long and deep
sleep(death). Why doesn't he answer when
called, why does he not respond to painful
pricks, and why does the body speedily
decompose? How does a baby grow in the
mother's womb, why does the child get born
at the end of about nine months, and who
takes care of the baby if the mother dies
during child-birth? How do some children
lose their parents early in life, while other
children are fortunate to live with their
parents for a pretty long time?

The ordinary people would answer these  
questions usually with 'I don't know'. But
there are quite a number of people whom we
call intellectuals in every society. These
elderly advisors can not say 'I don't know', for
it will be a shame for them to say so. They
are really well-learned, having studied
various Siddhaantha(s) and Shaastra(s).
These people took great pains to learn
different vidya(s) and roamed the hills and
forests, plains and seashores, and walked
thousands of miles seeking knowledge and
wisdom. They would not sit idle until they find
an answer to these questions. Yet, they were
human and they could fathom only that much
(as much as they could learn and understand
about these puzzles). They had to answer
their king, or otherwise he will behead them.
They had to answer the chieftains, landlords,
army commanders, businessmen,
householders, men and women, and every
one. They could not back down, or run away
from their responsibilities of being wise men
and learned advisors. These situations
brought on a sense of urgency in the minds
of the intellectuals thereby they were forced
to give an answer now, or else.

The intellectuals all over the world were
constrained to come out with theories to
explain all kinds of events and occurrences.
There are equally eager people to find out
from the intellectuals, explanations and
answers to the problems the public face.
From the time of Vedas and Upanishads men
have been thinking of one formidable force
that rules the universe and oversees the
events and happenings on earth, and
The wise men named this entity God and
began to preach his qualities and properties.
Many prophets followed and agreed that it is
God that is responsible for all the things that
go different way in the world. The great
intellectual who invented God and began to
explain how God created the universe,
created man and woman, created day and
night, the sun, the moon, the stars, populated
the earth with people. How he controls the
lives of people and how he punishes them for
bad behaviour.
After God, came the souls. God's soul and
man's soul. Some people believe that the
animals have souls, but the plants don't.
Some say that even plants have a soul.
Fortunately no one says that the rocks have
souls. But there are people who believe that
God is present in every atom, in every
person, animal, bird, fish, plants and even
rocks. Initially many wise men decided that
they should worship the phallus, the male
genitalia and they constructed a phallus with
stone, or mud, or with wood and began to
worship it. They called it Shiva
Linga(Shiva=god, Linga=phallus). The Shiva
Linga was probably the first idol of God, ever
used by man. Many wise men differed with
this theory. They said God has no form, nor
any shape, nor any size. That he is
omnipresent, omniscient, and all mighty
Some wise men said that they do not know
much about him but he is there every where.
The Souls, God's, man's, how much are they
different, how far can God go, and how far
can man go, is all explained by the Vedas
and Upanishads, the Bible, the Kuran etc.
Then came Nature, to be explained, the
nature of sun, the nature of the moon and the
stars, the forests, the mountains, the animals,
the plants, every thing was explained with
various theories and calculations. There
were disputes and competitions, as to which
theories were correct and which theories
were wrong, and why. There were killings
and destruction to uphold one theory, and
dominate over other people who sincerely
believed in a different theory or practiced
another belief.
People grouped themselves and organised
hierarchy to perpetuate their respective
theory and said that they are practicing this
as their religion. The word religion came into
existence, and each family began to
associate with one religion or the other for
the sake of getting support. It turned out that
the members belonging to one religion would
hate the members of another religion just
because they did not want to be ruled by the
opposite religionists. There would be wars
and these wars would go on for a 'thousand
years' so to say and kill or maim man, woman
and child in the name of God, their God and
not God of another religion. God of another
religion is no God at all, they would say.
Over the years, a subject known as Science
got developed. Science was based on the
concept of 'we see, we hear, we believe.' We
won't believe, if we do not see, hear or feel,
the scientists would say. Science was not
able to explain every thing, and it could not
wish away God, Soul, Nature, or for that
matter, life, death, and many events and
happenings in the universe and especially on
earth, among men, among families, among
the society, and in the sky too. The scientists
had to contend with the mind and behaviour
of people, their faiths and beliefs.
Science could not make a man happy in all
aspects, all avenues, all situations, and all
the time. Man has been unhappy and
suffering in spite of the advances in science.
Science has been progressing with great
strides, such as exploding the atom bomb,
sending satellites around the earth, landing
man on the moon and inventing the
computer. The food situation has improved to
a great extent since the last century because
of scientific advances in agriculture.
Agriculture got mechanised and very large
fields could be tilled, watered, seeds sown,
and the produce harvested by one or two
men. Even now in India and in many
countries, a large number of labourers are
needed to do the same work that
mechanised farming would need only a
couple of labourers.
Movements of people and materials has seen
a revolution after trains were invented,
internal combustion engines powered the
motor vehicles, gigantic ships and tankers
sailed across seas and oceans from one
continent to another, and various engine
systems flew a variety of aircraft in the sky.
Childhood diseases got controlled or
abolished by vaccinations and preventive
measures, the various infections were cured
by antibiotics and anti-viral drugs, daring
surgical interventions were undertaken after
extensive animal trials to treat and cure
hundreds of thousands of diseases,
congenital or acquired, and drugs such as
anti-diabetics and anti-hypertensive which
gave succor to millions of patients and
prevented early deaths or disabilities.
Until recently there have been large and
extensive epidemics of small-pox and polio,
diseases that killed or maimed hundreds of
thousands of people in different parts of the
world. In every epidemic over 40% of the
population died and about 35% of the
survivors suffered complications and got
disabled in life. These two diseases have
now been almost totally eradicated. This is a
great turn that civilizations have taken
because of scientific inventions.
Tuberculosis was the cause of deaths of a
large number of people until, in the middle of
the twentieth century, anti-tuberculosis drugs
were invented. Now Tuberculosis is confined
to causing morbidity to a small percentage of
the population and deaths are also in smaller
numbers than before. Leprosy, the most
dreaded disease has been cut down to size
and anti-leprosy drugs have caused leprosy
to stage a vanishing act. In the
communication field, telephone and recently
mobile or cellular phones have revolutionized
the calling and the talking.
For entertainment, first the radio became the
hallmark of broadcasting news and music,
talks and discussions, and when transistor
radio was introduced, the radio could claim to
have taken a giant step in improving
reception and the sound of radio broadcasts.
Invention of the microphone and the
speakers has given relief to the talkers and
singers alike. Now, no  one need shout to let
others hear what they say or sing. Next came
television that has been an important gadget
in every home.

Cinema has given a big boost to all kinds of
art, be it acting, singing or dancing.
Photographic films have been of use not only
in producing images of likeness, but also in
producing motion pictures. X-Ray technology
has streamlined the treatment of fractures
and bone diseases. Presently imaging
techniques have advanced to such
innovative methods like the computerised
tomography and magnetic resonance
Mechanization of manufacturing and
miniaturisation of machinery have yielded
results to produce consumer goods by
greater speed and refinement.
Computerization has spread to each and
every field of manufacturing and even to
marketing products. In the past it was
firewood that provided fuel to cook food in
homes and other places. Large fires were
needed to cook food for hundreds of guests
in temples and Mathas. Next came the
kerosene oil which brought about some
cleanliness in the kitchens, and some relief
from smoke to women folks. Later the
liquefied petroleum gas was introduced and
gas stoves became a great help for cooks
preparing meals for both small and large
functions. Electricity was also used in
cooking with various kinds of heating coils
that provided heat for cooking, heating water,
and even providing room heat in winters in
many countries, where initially steam was
being used in radiators spread around the
rooms. It is not possible to list each and
every instance where science and scientific
instrumentation has brought a paradigm
change in the lifestyle of every man, woman
and child in the world.

Although science has brought relief to man, it
has not been able to answer all the questions
that were asked in the beginning of this
But before these scientific advances brought
about changes in favour of revision of our
concepts with regards to God and Soul, there
have been various theories put forth by the
wise men of ancient times and medieval
times as well, to explain the events and
happenings in the world. One major theory
was that of rebirth.

The Hindu thinkers offered the theory of the
soul which they theorised to  never perish.
Bhagavat Geetha which is a part of the great
epic Mahabharatha, has verses that
sermonizes that a man merely changes his
body when he dies. His soul is free from
death or destruction, does not turn to ashes
by fire or get wet by soaking in water. Dying
is like a man changing his clothes and that by
dying a soul changes its body. What
happens when a person dies? The Hindu
sages said that the soul leaves the body and
enters a new one, of a baby in a womb.
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Adyar Gopal and Radha Bai
The second theory that was offered was that
of Karma. Karma is work, action and
performance. What we perform sticks to us. It
accumulates in the soul. It is either good
work or bad work, also called 'paapa' (bad
deeds, bad thoughts, etc.) and 'punya' (good
deeds, good thoughts, etc.) These paapa
and punya are carried with the soul when it
leaves the body at the time of death and
taken to the new body which has to suffer
the results of the paapa and enjoy the fruits
of punya in the new birth. What we perform
in the second birth is carried to the third birth
and so on until one day all the punya and
paapa are exhausted and the soul becomes
The pure soul can go near God and either
get to become one with God (as per one
theory) or remain close to God permanently
(as per another theory). The soul that has
attained the vicinity of God or has become
one with God does not ever again return to
the birth cycle. Of the many branches of
Hindu thought, Vedanta has been the most
popular among the present day intellectuals.
They theorise that Nature is a mere illusion.
There is nothing but consciousness and
consciousness is God. We the men are all
God and we have been suffering from this
illusion called Maaya. Once we get rid of this
Maaya, by attaining Self-consciousness,
then we are one with God.
It is a very attractive idea that has been
developed from a fantastic blame game. In
this blame game we blame ourselves for all
the ills and for all the joys in life. We are
afflicted with ajnana (lack of knowledge). We
simply do not know that we are God himself.
We have been tricked by the Maaya into
believing that all events and happenings are
real. Oh, they are not real!
The ideas of rebirth and Karma have
received wide support in Hinduism. All that
we do, gets stuck to our souls. If we do good
then we accumulate punya, and if we do bad,
then we accumulate paapa. We enjoy with
our punya and suffer on our paapa, in the
cycle of rebirths.
The king who slaughtered the people in the
area he conquered will suffer in his next
birth, so one need not do any thing now
towards retribution for his actions. Let a man
commit all kinds of crimes, murders, thefts,
frauds, cheating, terrorising innocent people,
etc., and no one has to raise his voice or
engage himself to punish the fellow. This
criminal will be punished in his next birth,
because he is going to carry all his paapa
with him when he dies and enters another
body at another place.
The bliss called 'Ananda', of being in the
vicinity of God is unbelievably pleasant and
joyful. A man who commits many paapa will
take hundreds of births to suffer the
consequences of his actions, while a man
who does good things and helps people will
keep a low balance of paapa if any. He will
increase the balance of his punya and
ultimately enjoy all the punya in his births
soon enough to go near God to enjoy the
eternal blissful state.
There have been concepts of a place called
a heaven very high in the sky, to wherein
special souls that have a lot of punya in their
accounts will move. They enjoy the fruits of
all their good deeds in heaven. There is
another place called the hell to where the
souls who have a large balance of paapa will
move. In the hell these paapa-ed souls will
languish in steaming oil baths, get cut with
huge saws, fed to lions as food, and burnt in
raging fires. The souls in heaven will have
greenery all around, while those in hell would
roll in muck and garbage of the worst kind.
The souls in heaven will have hundreds of
beautiful angels on waiting, provide with
every conceivable happiness to the good
souls, while those in hell will have giant
eagles gnaw and pull at their open wounds
and eat their flesh, the pain of which could
be very severe. There will be no water to
drink and nothing that could be called food,
because these paapa-ed souls will be given
burnt grass to eat and drain water to drink.
So dear folks don't fret over what the cruel
king did to his enemy subjects, because he
will suffer for his actions in either in his next
birth or in hell, for a long, long time.
The third Hindu theory is that of Ayush (life
span) having been prescribed in the books of
God. This theory states that every man,
woman and child have their ayush written
down in the book that is maintained in the
heavens. The god of death, Yama will send
his dootha(s) (dootha=servant) to grab the
soul of the person whose ayush has expired
and send it back to enter another body or
take it to either heaven or hell according to
his balance of paapa or punya.
Therefore no matter how much one tries, he
will live only to the extent of his ayush and
not a second less or more. It is no use
grieving over the fact that a man has died,
because he has died due to the expiration of
his ayush. He is bound to die at this time. All
the events and happenings in one's life are
prescribed even at the time of birth. The soul
brings with it all the paapa and punya
account and thus facilitates the dictation of
the events and happenings in the life of the
person just born. This is called praarabdha
or fate. One's fate is prescribed at birth time
and hence he or she will suffer according to
his or her fate.
Many people believe that if they wear an
arm-band with a casket of tin or copper
containing some 'prasada' obtained after a
special puja or worship performed at a
temple and blessed by the deity, through the
temple priest of course, then any evil that is
giving them problems get neutralized. These
problems can be any thing from bringing
back a faithless husband to his wife, or
protect a child from night-mares causing the
child to scream in sleep, or wetting bed.
These amulets and talisman are like
anticipatory bail to keep the bhootha(s)
meaning ghosts and demons from attacking.
There are people who believe that if a man
has chest pains which are usually due to
heart disease, and if he wears a specially
consecrated neck-chain containing different
kinds of precious stones then he might be
spared of death due to heart attack.
Many highly educated people wear a ring
studded with a precious stone that the
Astrologer says is matching his Raashi and
stars to bring quickly any good times that are
delayed and deferred because of the
influences of rogue planets and stars. There
is no logic behind these claims and
undertaking such remedies will keep the real
tinder masked by the smoke of superstition.
And when these beliefs are struck down by
their failure and reality is dawned on the
victim of these frauds, then it propbably will
be too late to take proper modern course or
The worst kind of offering made to any
female deity like Shakti, Kali, or Durga is the
blood of a young boy or a girl. There are
some tantriks (sorcerers) who ask the client
to bring in a young person who will have to
be killed and his or her blood mixed with the
rice that is going to be offered to the deity in
order to please the deity. The deity thus
pleased will grant the boon the client is
asking for, such as the location of treasure
buried in the ground or hidden somewhere,
birth of a son to a childless couple, cure a
serious disease such as cancer,etc. This is a
criminal activity practiced even today in some
parts of India.
There are certain tantriks who collect human
bones, or bones of different animals and
birds and put them in a earthen pot, cover it
with a lid and decorate it with flowers, Then
they will dig a hole in the ground and bury
the pot in it. They chant manthra in strange
syllable and varying tones to enchant the
gods and goddesses to act on their behest
and grant the boon the client asked for,
which is usually the death of a person in the
house near which they buried the bones.
This maatta (black magic) is performed
secretly after midnight on amavasya
(new-moon day), and at a time when the
occupants of the house are fast asleep. If
there is a dog, it will be first drugged to
sleep. Often the bones belong to a young
human victim who was specifically sacrificed
on purpose.
Reports of these stories of black magic being
practiced in many parts of India are found in
the newspapers even in the 21st century. It is
believed that the Graha(s) (planets) invoked
by the tantrik, seize the targeted person and
afflict injury or cause death. On the other
hand, there are tantriks, who by sheer
calculations of the planetary and stellar
positions, by puja and chanting of mantra(s),
and by meditation, can locate the place
where these pots are hidden. Then they will
remove them from that location, and cause
the termination of their ill effects and thus
claim to have protected the supposed victim.
This activity is performed only in the middle
of the night when the ghosts and pisacha(s)
come alive, the tantrik claims.
But the real reason is that the darkness
helps the tantrik to bring with him, hidden in
his long dress, a similar charmed pot. By
making sure that no one is observing, the
tantrik puts the pot in the place, where he will
pretend to have found it later. Earlier this
tantrik or a different tantrik who was
consulted by the supposed victim had
explained the cause for his recent problems.
The tantrik will claim that some one has
planted a maatta pot in his home and this pot
is causing all his difficulties.
One other belief of the Hindus is that the
gods will grant their wish following a
commitment to offer gifts, or to perform
penance. The most common penance is to
shave one's head clean if the wish is fulfilled.
The common gifts are small idols of the god
made of silver or gold. There are those who
give a golden replica of an eye, if the wish
was to cure some eye disease, a replica of a
throne, if the wish is for fertility, a replica of a
cow, a coconut, or a plough if the wishes
were for prosperity, pass in an examination
or a good agricultural yield.
A very common commitment is a vow made
by the mother, at the time of some serious
illness of her child. If the wish is not granted
then, there is no provision for retribution or
compensation from the god. At times the
mother will invoke the blessings of a dozen
gods and fulfill the vow made to the last
prayed god only, if the wish gets answered. It
is presumed that the gods who were
worshipped prior to the last one failed to
deliver the wish. Another common wish is to
grant the birth of a male child, for which the
usual commitment is to present the god with
a gold necklace, a ring, or a visit to his shrine
on foot. If the deity is in a temple on a hill,
then there are people who promise to walk
up the hill and not use the bus or car for
transportation up the hill, if their wish is
granted. There are many other such beliefs
which appear illogical to rationalists.
It is difficult for us to believe in the principle
of fate being responsible for our good and
bad times. Just because the people in the
ancient times said those things about God,
soul, Nature, heaven, hell, rebirth, Karma
etc. with the warning that all of these theories
were put forth by God himself, then it
becomes even more difficult to contradict
these theories.
But, rational thinking makes one believe that
our life is dictated by our decisions and
choices, or by the decisions and choices
made by our parents and other close
relatives, and also by the environment in
which we grew up.
There are many natural conditions and
situations which affect our life. We lead a life
that is the result of our own choices. There is
no such thing as a fate that has been already
There is no such thing as a soul that travels
out of the body upon the death of a person.
The consciousness and the life a person
possesses, is the one that has been
transferred to that person from the mother
during the initial stages of development of
the embryo. The embryo is the result of the
fusion of mother's egg and the father's
sperm. The life has come from mother alone,
but the body is from both the mother and the
The body dies upon death and the life ends
then and there. There is no life after death
and no rebirth. Rational thinking does not
permit us to believe that there is what is
known as Karma theory which results in
paapa and punya being stuck to the soul.
When a king slaughters the innocent people
in the conquered enemy territory, then it is a
sad fact. The king will not suffer because of
what he has done. There is no fate that is
going to affect his life because of his actions.
He is not going to go to hell either. It is only a
wishful thinking that he will suffer for giving
pain to so many people. But it is unlikely that
he will suffer for his bad actions.
It is just a law of nature that man and animals
get killed either due to what choices people
make or decisions they take in the matters
connected with these events and
happenings, by the ravages of the nature, by
accidents, and by specified or unspecified
circumstances. The ravages of the nature
have nothing to do with fate and any one
who happens to be present at the place and
time of the natural calamity, will get injured or
The life of a child depends upon the choices
its mother makes regarding its food, its
language, its speech, its health etc. The
decisions made by both the parents
contribute to the education and learning skills
that are developed by the child.
When the person, himself/herself makes
choices regarding the career, about the life
partner, and many other opportunities offered
in his or her life, then the life will turn in that
direction. Health of mind and body also is set
upon the choices we make with regards to
food. A vegetarian will have different kind of
health of mind and body than a
Choices regarding religion and social
characteristics are however minimal since
the community in which the birth has taken
place has already put down rules about
these. Our choices are limited because of the
laws of the land. Much of our chances of
joining the army or airforce is curtailed due to
inherent dislike of fighting. One might not
become a barber because one hates hair. It
is one's choice.
An immigrant with lack of local language
would have to work as a janitor in the country
where he has migrated seeking jobs and
livelihood. He might have been a respected
government officer in his own native country,
and yet due to circumstances and many of
the subtle choices he made, he has to work
as a janitor in the country of migration.
Rarely does a son of a farmer choose to start
a business. He would rather remain a farmer.
A child born in a Hindu family has no choice
but to call himself/herself a Hindu. If the child
grows up in a home where food cooked is
purely vegetarian, then the child will not
enjoy non-vegetarian food. Many habits
develop in spite of a choice being offered to
We decide our fate. We make choices that
will turn out to be our fate. If our choices suit
the Nature then our fate will be bright all the
way. Our fate has grown around our choices.

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Our fate has grown around our choices.
Adyar Gopal Parivar
the Hindu Concept of Fate  
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By Mohan Shenoy
Adyar Gopal and Radha Bai