By Swami Harshananda
Mahāprasthāna literally means ‘the great or final departure’.
It means walking continuously towards the north, the Himalayas, without food and rest, until the body falls and dies out of sheer exhaustion. It was permitted to the Vānaprasthins who had completed all their duties in life and found no more reason to live.
Mahāprasthāna, a Punishment
It was also prescribed as a punishment for people who had committed heinous sins like murder of a brāhmaṇa or of a foetus, incest. However, it was prohibited in the Kaliyuga. Epigraphical evidences show that certain kings like Gāṅgeya committed religious suicide which might have included mahāprasthāna also.
Mahāprasthāna, a Chapter
The seventeenth book of the Mahābhārata is known as Mahāprasthānika-parva. It describes the final journey of the five Pāṇḍavas along with Draupadi towards heaven.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore