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When death happens, the soul should leave the body and it should go back to it's original realm (whatever or wherever that place is).

But we encounter stories of ghosts or spirits on earth. Why do these souls still remain on the material plane of earth ?

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    Atma doesnt go back its original realm until it knows about Paramatma. Until then it will be in repeated cycles of birth and death. The ghosts are the ones which may have faced death even before its time on Earth is supposed to end. Death doesnt mean Atma will leave .Because for 100 years Atma has forgotten its nature in different biths and is embodied to emotions, sadness, happiness! All of a sudden it cant accept the fact that it has lost its body and become disembodied! Its nature. Think of ourselves. We cant accept even a small loss in our life whom we had years till now. Same way for Atma – Parabrahman Jyoti Jul 17 at 15:02
  • Convincing explanation. Thanks. – Asutosh Panda Jul 17 at 16:27
  • Atma is a spark of thoughts called mind like a fire, a fire cant be extinguished as long it is given oil in the form of thoughts. For example, if i say keep your mind shut out of thoughts for an hour in full conscious state, you cant do it. Only an enlightened yogi can keep his mind devoid of thoughts and merge back to Brahman eventually via Moksha, but all others are dependent on nature for deep sleep(thoughtless state) or drugs(unconscious state). Ghosts are cursed spirits having way more active mind/ego and more bound to nature even than normal beings. – Manu Kumar Jul 17 at 18:23
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There are many reasons why a soul remains in this earth without getting higher lokas. That state is called Preta stage or ghost stage. Generally all the souls remain in this stage for a temporary period of time till the shraaddha karmas are over. After the funeral rites are over, they reach respective lokas based on their karma. If the funeral rites are not performed properly, the soul doesn't go to swarga or Naraka and roams here. It depends on karma charity and the spirituality of the jiva during previous life.

Lord Krishna talks attaining Pretahood for Jivatma, its (preta's) features and duties in detail in Preta kaanda Garuda Purana.

The Lord Krishna said

  1. It is the men of sinful actions actuated by their previous misdeeds who become ghosts after death. Please listen to me I shall tell you in detail.

8-13. Those who meet with foul death such as committing suicide by hanging from a tree, by poison or weapon, those who die of cholera, those who are burnt to death alive, those who die of foul and loath-some diseases or at the hands of robbers, those who are not cremated duly after death, those who do not follow sacred rites and conduct, those who do not perform Vṛṣotsarga and monthly Pinda rites, those who allow Sudras to bring sacrificial grass, twigs and other articles of homa, those who fall from mountains and die, those who die when walls collapse, those who are defiled by women in their menses, those who die in the firmament and those who arc forgetful of Vishnu, those who continue to associate with persons defiled due to births or death, those who die of clog-biting or meet with death in a foul manner, become ghosts and roam over the earth. [Preta kaanda chapter 22]

This chapter gives many other reasons why a soul becomes a ghost. Lord Krishna also says in subsequent chapters how ghosthood can be released and how a human being can be free from suffering of a ghost.

Related answer on ghosts and spirits Do ghosts and spirits exist in Hindu beliefs?

Returning to original realm is Moksha. But every soul is not eligible for moksha by single birth. Many are trapped in the cycle of birth and death due to Karma. Refer Why doesn't Lord Krishna give Moksha to everyone?

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When a person dies he or she attains a ghost-like state called a Preta. To remove this preta-hood the family members of the deceased person are required to do the funeral rites as prescribed. Only then the dead are relieved from the ghost-like state and attains the state of a Pitri (Mane).

For one dying of a disease of the hair one should perform eight Krichchhas. According to this regulation one should perform the funeral rites for them. (49)

Thereupon being freed from the condition of a preta (dead) the gratified Pitris (departed manes) grant sons, grand-sons, longevity, health and wealth. (50)

Here ends the [account of the] : fruits [of various] acts given by S'atdtapa to his disciple S'arabhanga accosting him with humility, (51)

Satatapa Smriti's last chapter.


The above verses are the last few verses among the ones that are describing how to do Shraddha for persons who have died in different circumstances.

Unless the Sapindakarana Sraddha is performed, the dead person roams around nearby the place where he or she has died. Until that Sharddha is performed the dead person is called a preta or ghost.

So, people for whom proper funeral rites have not been performed will have the chance of remaining as ghosts.

Apart from that, persons who have committed suicide or who had violent deaths have the chance to become ghosts for a long long time. Because for such deaths funeral rites are recommended not to be done.

[The offering of] water and funeral cakes [and the performance of] S'rdddha for the great sinners and for those who commit suicide, do not at all reach [them] but are stolen by the Rakshasas. (175)

Samvarta Smriti


However, even in cases of such violent and unnatural deaths, some other scriptures prescribe some remedies like performance of Narayana Bali etc.

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