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By Swami Harshananda

Sometimes transliterated as: Vaitarani, VaitaraNi, Vaitarani

Vaitaraṇi literally means ‘the river to be crossed’.

Vaitaraṇi, a River

The purāṇas describe that those sinners who are destined to go to hell have to cross this fetid river, full of blood, hairs and bones. While crossing it they are tormented terribly.

Vaitaraṇi, a Cow

It is also the name of a cow that is donated to a brāhmaṇa during the antyeṣṭi,[1] which is supposed to help the soul of the dead to cross the river Vaitaraṇi.

Vaitaraṇi, a River

A river in Kaliṅga[2] has been called Vaitaraṇi. It is sometimes identified either with the river Mahānadī or the Betrani.

Vaitaraṇi, a Vrata

The ekādaśī of the dark fortnight of the month of Mārgaśīrṣā or Agrahāyaṇa[3] is called Vaitaraṇi. A special vrata[4] called Vaitaraṇīvrata is observed on this day by worshiping a dark cow so that it will help the observer to cross the Vaitaraṇi River after death. This vrata has to be observed for one year in three periods of four months.


  1. Antyeṣṭi means death-rites.
  2. It is in the modern Orissa State.
  3. It falls in November/December.
  4. Vrata means religious observance.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore