ātmahatyā

(‘suicide’)

Ātmahatyā or suicide has been consi-dered a great sin by the dharmaśāstras (vide Parāśara Smṛti 4.1 and 2; Yama Smṛti 20 and 21). Though it was prescribed as the ultimate punishment for sinners of most heinous crimes (Manusmṛti 11.90, 91; Gautama Dharmasūtras 23.1), it was also disapproved by other writers.

However, it was permitted as a religious act under certain circumstances like a vānaprastha (forest hermit) suffering from incurable diseases and unable to perform his duties, an old man incapable of taking care of himself due to serious old-age decrepitude or illness beyond cure, a householder who has fulfilled all his duties and obligations and has no desire to live and so on.

Such suicides were committed in various ways such as fasting unto death, mahāprasthāna (See MAHĀPRASTHĀNA for details.), drowning oneself at the Triveṇī in Prayāga (modern Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh) or burning oneself in the fire prepared out of cowdung-cakes.