Tales for the Dying

The Death Narrative of the Bhāgavata-Purāna

By E. H. Rick Jarow

Subjects: Hindu Studies
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791456101, 214 pages, February 2003
Hardcover : 9780791456095, 214 pages, February 2003

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Table of contents


A Note on Translation and Transliteration

List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Many Ways of Dying

1. Examinations of the Past

2. The Semiotics of Separation

3. Narratives of Absence

4. The Dominion of Death

5. Stri Naraka Dvara—Woman as the Gateway to Hell

6. The Rasa Dance and the Gateway to Heaven

7. Final Partings




Explores death and dying in the Bhagavata-Purana and in the Indian religious imagination using insights from myth, semiotics, and depth psychology as well as the Indian commentarial tradition.


Tales for the Dying explores the centrality of death and dying in the narrative of the Bhāgavata-Purāna, India's great text of devotional theism, canonized as an integral part of the Vaisnava bhakti tradition. The text grapples with death through an imaginative meditation, one that works through the presence and power of narrative. The story of the Bhāgavata-Purāna is spoken to a king who is about to die, and it enables him to come to terms with his own passing. The work does not isolate dying as an issue; it treats it on many levels.

This book discusses how images of dying in the Bhāgavata-Purāna relate to issues of language and love in the religious imagination of India. Drawing on insights from studies in myth, literary semiotics, and depth psychology, as well as from Indian commentarial and aesthetic traditions, the author examines the power of myth and narrative (storytelling or hari katha) and shows how a detailed awareness of the Puranic imagination may lead to a revisioning of some long-held presuppositions around Indian religious attitudes toward dying. By casting Vaisnava bhakti traditions and Puranic narrative in a fresh light, the mythic imagination of the Purānas takes its place on the stage of contemporary discourse on comparative mythology and literature.

E. H. Rick Jarow is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Vassar College and the author of In Search of the Sacred: A Pilgrimage to Holy Places.