In many religious traditions, Hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict Hell as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict Hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically these traditions locate Hell under the Earth's external surface and often include entrances to Hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations include Heaven, Purgatory, Paradise and Limbo.
Other traditions, which do not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, merely describe Hell as an abode of the dead – a neutral place located under the surface of Earth (for example, see sheol and Hades). Modern understandings of Hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally underground, but this view of Hell can, in fact, be traced back into the ancient and medieval periods as well. Hell is often portrayed as populated with demons who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god such as Nergal, Hades, Enma or the Christian/Islamic Devil (Satan or Lucifer). In Islam, the Devil does not actually reside in Hell.
Naraka in Vedas, is a place where souls are sent for the expiation of their sins. It is mentioned especially in dharmaśāstras, itihāsas and Purāṇas but also in Vedic samhitas, Aranyakas and Upaniṣads. Some Upanisads speak of 'darkness' instead of hell. A summary of Upaniṣads, Bhagavad Gita, mentions hell several times. Even Adi Sankara mentions it in his commentary on Vedanta sutra. Still, some people like members of Arya Samaj don't accept the existence of Naraka or consider it metaphorical.
In Puranas like Bhagavata Purana, Garuda Purana and Vishnu Purana there are elaborate descriptions of many hells. They are situated above Garbhodaka ocean.
Yama, Lord of Justice, puts living beings after death for appropriate punishment, for example, in boiling oil. Even Mukti-yogyas (souls eligible for mukti or moksha, liberation), and Nitya-samsarins (forever transmigrating ones in Dvaita theology) can experience Naraka for expiation. After the period of punishment is complete, they are reborn on earth in human or animal bodies. Therefore neither naraka nor svarga are permanent abodes.
Yama Loka is the abode of Lord Yama. It is not equivalent to the concept of Hell in Christianity and other religions, as Yama is also Dharmaraja or God of justice; it is a temporary purgatorium for sinners or papis. According to Hindu scriptures, Yama's divine assistant Lord Chitragupta maintains a record of the individual deeds of every living being in the world, and based on the complete audit of his deeds, dispatches the soul of the deceased either to Svarga (Heaven) or to the various Narakas according to the nature of their sins. The scriptures describe that even people who have done a majority of good deeds could come to Yama Loka for redemption from the small sins they have committed, and once the punishments have been served for those sins they could be sent for rebirth or to heaven. In the epic of Mahabharata, even the Pandavas (who represent righteousness and virtuousness) spent a brief time in hell for their small sins.
At the time of death, sinful souls are vulnerable for capture by Yamadutas, servants of Yama (who comes personally only in special cases). Yama ordered his servants to leave Vaishnavas alone. The attributes of Vaishnavas are urdhva pundra tilaka (Tiruman and Sri Choornam for Sri Vaishnavas or Gopi Chandan for Gaudiya Vaishnavas), tapa samskara (shoulders branded with Sankha and Chakra), and tulasi mala (necklace/garland of tulasi beads). Sri Vaishnavas are taken by Vishnudutas to Vaikuntha and Gaudiya Vaishnavas to Goloka.
Main article: Naraka (Buddhism)
A vision of Buddhist hell from a temple wall in northern Thailand.
Buddhist texts describe the terrible sufferings of beings in the many subterranean layers of Narakas in intricate if not always consistent detail. However, Naraka in Buddhism is not equivalent to Hell in Christian faith. Naraka is a purgatory where the soul gets purified of sin by sufferings, so Naraka and Purgatory are equivalent to Hamistagan of Zoroastrianism, and not Hell. Hell is also a state of consciousness and this suffering need not take place after death, when the soul has vacated the physical body, but during incarnation. This can be related to the law of karma where one's inner and outer actions will sooner or later bear their fruits.
Main article: Naraka (Jainism)
In Jainism, Naraka is the name given to realm of existence in Jain cosmology having great suffering. The length of a being's stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long—measured in billions of years. A soul is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her previous karma (actions of body, speech and mind), and resides there for a finite length of time until his karma has achieved its full result. After his karma is used up, he may be reborn in one of the higher worlds as the result of an earlier karma that had not yet ripened. Jain texts mention that these hells are situated in the seven grounds at the lower part of the universe. The seven grounds are:
- Ratna prabha
- Sharkara prabha.
- Valuka prabha.
- Panka prabha.
- Dhuma prabha.
- Tamaha prabha.
- Mahatamaha prabha.