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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Mahāpātakas literally means ‘heinous sins’.

The concept of sin exists in almost all the great religions of the world. ‘Pātaka’ or ‘papa’ is the most common word used in the Sanskrit scriptures. It comes as a result of the transgression of the laws of the moral and the spiritual world as enunciated by the scriptures. These laws are considered as promulgated by God Himself.

The dharmaśāstras and the purāṇas generally classify sins into two main categories:

  1. Mahāpātakas or atipātakas - major, mortal or most heinous sins
  2. Upapātakas - minor or venial sins

Sins Under Mahāpātakas[edit]

Under the mahāpātakas are included:

  • Prohibited sexual relationships like incest
  • Murder
  • Drinking liquor
  • Theft
  • Associating with the sinners who commit such deeds

The prāyaścittas or expiation for the mahāpatakas range from voluntary death to long years of very severe penances.


  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore