A description of different hells, from Sri Markandeya Purana, comprised of the dialogue between the sage Jaimini and the sage Markandeya.
The Brahmin said, 'O son! Describe in detail about hell.' Sumati said, 'O father! Yamadutas carry and lynch those people who eat inedible things, who deceive and dishonour their friends, who indulge in illicit relationships, who desert their wife, and who destroy public properties like gardens, water sources, etc. Yamadutas tie the hands and legs of such people and throw them into the fire. On their way to hell, such people are bitten by crows, storks, wolves, vultures, etc.
They stay in the inferno for a thousand years. Then they are shifted to another hell named Tama, which is always shrouded in darkness. Sinners who kill the cows and their brothers are thrown into this hell. They panic due to darkness and extreme cold. They get nothing to eat and drink. Moreover, chilling winds aggravates their miseries by making their bones stiff. These sinners then drink their own blood and eat their own flesh. They stay there until all their sins have been attenuated completely. Then they are thrown into yet another hell named Nikrintan, which revolves like the wheel of a potter.
Hoisting the sinners on the wheel, Yamadutas cut their organs but still their sufferings do not end, because the cut organs rejoin and get cut repeatedly. This continues for thousand of years. Then the sinners are put in Aprathisth hell where they experience unbearable sorrow and miseries. The sinners are then put in Chakrasankar hell where they are tormented with wheels and huge bells. They are disemboweled and their eyes are also pricked. The sinners have to pass through different hells, namely Asipatra, Taptakumbha and Lohakumbha.'
Yamaduta and the King of Videha
Sumati says, 'I was born in a Vaishya family, seven births before this present one. In that birth, I once prevented cows from drinking water. As a result of this sin, I was thrown in the hell named Daarun where I spent one hundred years without a drop of water.
Suddenly one day, a cool pleasant wind began to blow, its cool touch gave some relief to me. I saw that a Yamaduta was guiding a gentle looking man. Besides me, all the inmates of the hell felt extreme joy by the sight of that gentleman. The gentleman was asking that Yamaduta as to why he was being taken to the hell. From the words of that gentleman, it appeared that he was a renowned scholar. That man was, in fact, the ruler of a kingdom named Videha and was popular as the fosterer of his subjects.
Descriptions of Tortures in Hell
Thus asked by the gentleman, the Yamadutas replied politely, 'O king! You once deliberately prevented your wife Pivari from conceiving because you were more attracted to your second wife, Sushobhana. It is because of that action that you have been brought here to undergo severe torture.' The religious minded king said, 'I am willing to go wherever you want to take me, but before doing that I would like to have answers to my questions. I see many people undergoing severe tortures in this hell. Big and frightening crows prick their eyes. Tell me, for what sin they are facing such tortures.'
Yamaduta said, 'O king! Humans suffer or enjoy according to their Karmas. The effect of their Karmas diminishes in proportion to their sufferings. These crows are pricking the eyes of such people who had seduced other women and deceitfully acquired others' wealth. These people will suffer for the same number of years as their eyes blinked during the leering.
These crows prick the tongues of those people who had criticised the Vedas, Deities, Brahmins and teachers. Those who caused differences between friends, husband and wife, father and sons and relatives, or killed the performer of the yagyas are suffering under the saw. Those who insulted their parents and teachers have been thrown in the pit of pus, faeces and other excretions with their head down. Those who had food before offering it to the Deities, guests, servants, father and elders, fire and birds, stay in a pit of pus.
Iron nails are hammered into the ears of those people who gleefully heard the criticism of creatures, Deities, Brahmins and Vedas. Those who remarried their daughters to another person despite her former husband being alive are cut into pieces and thrown into saline river. Those who betrayed their friends are tied tightly with a rope. Worms, scorpion, crows and owls then bite their bodies.
Those who enjoyed carnal intimacy during daytime or had illicit relations with women are hammered with nails to a prickly Bombax tree. Those who insulted the Vedas and fire are thrown from the lofty peaks of a mountain. O king! Those who steal gold, those who a kill Brahmin, those who drink wine, and those who rape the wife of their teacher are burnt in fire.'
Attenuation of Sins
Yamaduta said, 'As a result of accepting money from a degraded person, a Brahmin takes birth as an ass. A Brahmin who carries out yagya for a degraded person takes birth as worm after undergoing severe sufferings in different types of hell. A person takes birth as an ass or an inferior bird as a result of abusing his parents. A person who does not worship his tutelary god before eating takes birth as a monkey. Traitors take birth as fish. Those who steal cereals take birth as mice.
A sudra, who manages to establish intimacy with a Brahmin woman takes birth as a worm. Similarly, killers of woman and children also take birth as worms. Ungrateful people take birth as worms, insects, grasshoppers, scorpion, crows, etc. Encroachers of land takes birth as grass shrubs, creepers and inferior trees. Butchers who kill bulls take birth as eunuchs. Thus a person has to face the result of his Karma according to the gravity of his sins.'
Sumati says, 'As Yamaduta began to push the king ahead, all the creatures in hell gave a loud cry, 'O king! Please stay here for few more moments. The wind that blows towards us after touching your body gives us immense joy. This wind has ended our sufferings and pains. Have pity on us.'
The king asked the Yamaduta, 'Why are these people so joyous by my presence?' Yamaduta said, 'O king! Initially, you used to sustain your body by the leftovers of the Deities, ancestors, guests and ascetics. This is the reason why the wind that blows touching your body is causing such pleasure to these people.' The king said, 'If I can eliminate the sufferings of these sinners merely by standing here, I will definitely stay here.' Yamaduta said, 'No, you cannot stay here. It is a place for the sinners only. Come with us. You will have to enjoy the pleasure of your pious action.' The king said, 'No, I will not go anywhere leaving these poor people in this pitiable condition.'
Yamaduta said, 'O king! Look, Dharma and Indra have themselves arrived to escort you to the heaven.' Dharma said, 'O king! You have worshipped me. Hence follow me to the heaven.' The king replied, 'No, I will not go anywhere leaving these thousands of people in the hell.' Indra said, 'Everyone has to taste the fruits of his Karmas. You cannot help them.'
The king said, 'O Indra! Tell me, how virtuous was I in my previous life?' Dharma said, 'Though your pious actions are fathomless, be sure that their significance are not much more than drops of water in an ocean, or the stars in the sky. The kindness you have shown towards these sinners has further enhanced your virtuosity.' The king said, 'If it is so, may all these people be released from their sufferings by the virtue of my good Karmas.' Indra said, 'O king! By your words, your pious action has increased like the height of the mountain and these sinners have also been released from their sufferings.