Karmas and Diseases


SriSwami Sivananda




First Edition: 1959
Second Edition: 2000
(2,000 Copies)

World Wide Web (WWW) Edition : 2001

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Distt. Tehri-Garhwal, Uttaranchal,
Himalayas, India.


Karmas and Diseases

(Swami Sivananda)


It is common nowadays to hear it said that the Puranas are very unreliable scriptures and that they indulge in unlimited exaggeration about very many things. These critics say that the Puranas contain gross overstatements and preposterously puerile attempts to cajole or to cow down the reader with citations like the grandiose descriptions of heavenly regions and their joys as also of the awful pictures of hell fires and its torments. To criticise a subject requires very little wit or wisdom. For simple and direct condemnation without caring to consider the pros and cons of a matter is the inborn nature of the human mind. But even to these biased ones a little thoughtful consideration will forthwith reveal that the sagely writers of the Puranas had a special purpose in writing certain thing in the manner they did. They deliberately emphasised and laid particular stress upon some subjects with a definite end in view. Underneath this graphic and detailed descriptions of the Karmas and their consequences there is a shrewd psychology and insight being put to make a practical purpose.

Until and unless Self-realisation is attained, Knowledge-Absolute is gained, there is ever the ebb and flow, the constant see-saw between the animal and the man in every human being. The beast or the brute is never completely absent or overcome except through a final Divinisation of the individual. As long as there is the human, side by side there will be the animal also, now the one having the upper hand, now the other. It is only when the Jiva gets above and beyond both these and gets transformed and established in the third and hitherto dormant aspect of his nature, namely the Divine aspect, that he becomes “Mriga-Nara-Atita.” Then onwards there is no more of this tug-of-war between the animal and man natures to gain precedence and dominate over the field of Jiva-consciousness. For now the Divine Kshetrajna Himself reigns supreme over the Kshetra.

Now until this state is attained we find therefore that man is in turn animal and human according to the Vritti that possesses him. He shows himself alternately to be noble and petty. He swings between the sublime and the bathos. His two different aspects react to the external stimuli in their own distinctive manners. And equally likewise only particular modes of external approach succeed in evoking the desired response from these dual aspects in man’s consciousness. Thus it is that we find in persons who have evolved themselves to some fair extent and acquired a good measure of Sattva, of refinement, culture and character, the purely gross and degenerate impulses and temptations fail to have effect. They succeed only in exceptional situations when the person unfortunately happens to be in some rare moment of weakness due to a revival of Samskaras. Whereas in gross natures such temptations readily and immediately work havoc, and vice versa, noble impulses immediately influence a fine nature but fail to evoke any response in a gross person of low animal mentality. This has given rise to the proverb in the Marathi language “To the cobbler’s deity worship is by shoes,” or again the current Tamil saying “Without the cane the monkey will not dance.” The same is the case with noble sentiments too, as is amply exemplified by the overcareful psychology applied by the famous Dr. Arnold of Rugby in appealing to the worthier instincts in his boys. No less striking is the historic example of Mark Antony skilfully exercising his persuasive and provocatory eloquence upon his Roman audience, first to evoke compassion by playing subtly upon their human side, and then rousing a frenzy of revengeful violence by inflaming their strong animal passion of anger.

It is this deep human insight and admirable penetrating psychology that is at the basis of the Hell and Retribution ideas in the Puranic Hindu Religion. They knew that sweet whistling will not make the buffalo move, whereas whipping will. We know how on the eve of building the great bridge to Lanka, when requests failed to make the Ocean-King behave suitably, Rama took out an arrow in anger. The very next instant had the Sagara-Raja pleading with folded hands before Rama. Likewise to goad man on to noble deeds, high aspiration and righteous conduct, the Puranic sages held out before him bright prospects and extolled the untold benefits and blessings of a good life. Here they tried to appeal to man’s human side. But when he indulged in extreme sin and bestial acts of gross sensuality, they knew it was not the occasion for mincing matters. The beast could only be chastened through a true and vivid description of the inevitable results of his actions. Here we must note that they did not exaggerate or utter any falsehood, but gave a special importance to and emphasised the matter by dilating upon it in graphic detail and spared no pains in doing this. They therefore confronted the Jiva with a terrific array of dire consequences that would inevitably accrue to the evil actions of the sinner. They gave graphic descriptions of the various punishments awaiting the wanton transgressor of moral and spiritual laws. They vividly related past instances of transgressors and the retribution that overtook them, to testify to this truth. The Puranas abound in fearful examples of life-long sufferings in lower wombs suffered by people like Nahusha, Jaya and Vijaya, the well-known Gajendra and many others.

They do not stop with that. As though it were not enough to give instances of the “Phalas” of positive sinful actions and crimes, they cite certain cases when even the indulgence in a comparatively harmless, good emotion like affection, brings about grave suffering upon man. The warning implied in the story of the past lives of Sage Jadabharata is an instance in point. Also the accidental participation in a seeming falsehood was enough to send a soul to take a sight, though but for a moment, of the awful hell-fire. The incident of the great Yudhishthira’s Naraka-Darshan is referred to here.

Fortunately or unfortunately, out of the numerous Puranas very few are studied by the vast majority nowadays. Those few devoted people that read the Puranas or listen to their recital rarely go beyond the four or five classical Saivaite and Vaishnavaite Puranas that are popularly current throughout the country. We may say that Purana perusal is generally confined to the Skanda, Markandeya, Vishnu or the Srimad Bhagavata. It is not the scholar or the orthodox Brahmin section that is meant here but the common man-in-the-street who goes to form a distinct and important part of the population. Thus this whip-crack of the Karma and Karma-phala citation does not sound nowadays to chasten the sensual beast in man. And as a result of this it is running amok as never heretofore. But laws, be they mundane or divine, are inexorable. The ignorance of the Penal Code does not lay a premium on indulgence in crime nor does the offender go scot-free. He burgles and he gets jailed. He murders and is hanged. Likewise also he sins and he suffers. If this truth of the inescapable order of cosmic Law is placed before him in unvarnished and distinct outline it may serve just a little bit to persuade him to give up vice and follow virtue, to renounce Adharma and embrace Dharma. To do so is the purpose of this little tract on “Karmas and Diseases.” It has purposes confined mainly to the physical and mental forms that this heavenly retribution takes, and also to the forms it takes upon this earth-plane. For modern man is held by the motto “seeing is believing,” and he hardly requires to give a second glance to show the terrible truth of the price man pays in hospitals and clinics for the crimes against Dharma.

The diseases we suffer from the births we get here on earth are all products of actions done by us in previous times. Every action has its reaction and no action goes unrewarded in a suitable manner. Evil actions do not go without their bitter effects upon the doer. Here are given some of the many pitiable conditions of life which man has to live in due to his careless sinful deeds.

Hells are not an imaginary fiction as ordinarily conceived of by the modern rationalistic mind. The empiricist believes only in experience of sense-contact and feels himself unable to rise above the dictates of the intellect. But it does not mean that man has reason to overlook facts beyond his comprehension. We have no right to assert that this globe of earth is the most concrete reality and that others are mere apparitions. The stars do not become mere spots with a twinkling light in the sky merely for the reason that we perceive them to be so. If I have not seen America I have no right to deny the existence of such a country. There are evidences, both intuitional and rational, for us to accept the existence of worlds beyond, which are entirely different both in nature and size. The Yogavasishtha says that our earth is only an atom among many other larger worlds existing beyond our perception and is of one particular variety among many others which differ from it in every way. We have no authority to discard the account given by Vasishtha that there exist worlds which are made of different materials like copper, iron, gold, etc., filled with water, milk, and the like and inhabited by serpents, animals, devils, and so on. It is not necessary that human beings alone should inhabit all worlds and that the same earthly conditions should prevail in all planes of existence. The universe is a gradual revelation of the Infinite Absolute in various degrees of Consciousness, which is inclusive of every sort of life and experience. The Infinite is a great Wonder and we cannot say what things are thriving in its womb! We and our world are but one among the many in it! There are many families in Infinity, and earth, hell, heaven, men, animals, gods, devils, are all Its children with varying temperaments. The Absolute ranges from lowest matter to Pure Bliss or Ananda, and between these exist the countless universe with their contents. They differ both in their individual nature and in the nature of their contents. It is said that beings take birth in one or the other of these worlds in accordance with their actions which bear fruits of a kind that can be reaped only in that particular world. Only fire can give heat and only food can appease hunger. Even so only a particular condition and environment can enable us to reap the fruits of a specific actions. Though punishments need not necessarily be due to the wrath of any personal Divine Being, it can be asserted that it is necessary, by the very law of nature, that the soul should manifest itself with a body suited for its experience determined by its past actions. As such, it is not unreasonable that variety in the nature of worlds should be real. We have to remember that the real is unseen.

Hells, therefore, are as much real worlds as the regions of Indra or this mortal earth of ours. They are regions with difference only in the subtlety of the plane of their manifestation. They differ in the degree of the state of Consciousness revealed through them. The sufferings inflicted on the sinners as enumerated hereunder may be taken to mean either an actual birth in such regions, or an experience of suffering equal to that enumerated herein, in any other state of existence, or a life on earth with such entanglements, where one will undergo such pains either directly or through the agency of others.



Who insults others, breaks promises, causes great disappointment to another, deprives one of his property, disgraces others in public,

Gets mental agony and pain.

Who plugs up or blocks up the hole of a rat or a snake, who catches fish and causes them to die by suffocation, who stifles the life of any creature,

Gets Asthma, lung diseases, pleurisy, bronchitis (severe), pneumonia, etc.

Who kills or injures another by means of poisoned instruments,

Suffers from scorpion-sting and snake bite.


Who oppresses others and keeps them in permanent slavery by excessive vanity and pride,

Gets elephantiasis.


Who is a miser and money-lender, who ruins, impoverishes and drives his debtors to starvation through rack renting and abnormal interest,

Suffers from consumption.

Who indulges with prostitutes, commits adultery, and leads an impure life,

Gets leprosy.

Who is proud of his physical strength and misuses his power in oppressing and fighting with others,

Suffers from epilepsy.

Who casts lustful look on women, who eyes others’ property, whose heart burns at others’ well-being, who visits nautch-parties,

Gets permanent eye-diseases.

Who sets fire to a house and causes others’ death,

Gets erysipelas and fatal hot boils.

Who poisons others with irritating, fiery and corrosive foods, who adds chuna (lime) in rice and serves in hotels, who adds water to milk and sells it for high price passing it for pure milk,

Gets colic and gastritis.

Who is hypocritic, who under the guise of goodness and virtue continuously torments others with petty tyranny, who constantly ill-treats, beats and deals harshly with little children,

Gets bad itches and skin diseases.

Who indulges in gossip, who likes to hear Paraninda (abusing others) and Paradooshana (insulting others), who hears obscene songs in dancing shows, etc.,

Gets ear-sore and painful humming sound in the ears, and suffers from ear-inflammation.

Sons who disobey their fathers and drag them to court,

Get leukoderma and loss of vision.

Lawyers and advocates who twist truth and falsehood in court-cases,

Get colour-blindness, saint vitus’s dance, squint-eye and cataract; are born with a deformed body and afflicted with loss of memory.

Scientists who invent destructive fire-bombs and those who drop them on the innocent public,

Get multiplicity of dangerous incurable diseases; being born as insects will live in the hollow of trees and when the trees are cut and logs used for firewood will be cruelly burnt to ashes in successive rebirths.

Cruel doctors who ill-treat patients, and give worthless medicines charging high rates, who inject aqua and charge high fees,

Are born as women and have womb-disease. Their conceptions and delivery will be attended by severe complication, pain and will mostly result in abortion.

Sannyasins who falsely pose to be Siddhas and cheat the people of the world,

Will be suddenly overcome by impotency in the prime of their youth and will suffer terrible disappointment while eagerly hoping to enjoy pleasures.

Who drink intoxicants and liquors, and indulge in immoral acts,

Will be born as weaklings, underdeveloped or premature birth and suffer from neurasthenia and general debility.

Who deprive dumb animals of their food and drink, and beat innocent animals like cows, bulls, etc.,

Get pyorrhoea, lose all their teeth and get ulcers in the throat.

Who torture people in prisons,

Will be born cripples and paralytic and will suffer from chronic nervous pains and rheumatic troubles.

Who blaspheme the Supreme Lord, speak ill of saints and scriptures,

Get cancer in the tongue and become dumb.

Dacoits who rob people of their possessions and shoot poor people

Will be victims to every visiting epidemic and will suffer every time from severe relapses and complications.

Who burn sacred books and destroy spiritual literature.

Get gastric ulcers and cancer.

A twice-born who casts away his thread, does not keep tuft, and does not perform Sandhya-Vandana,

Gets impotence and fits of insanity.

Capitalists who extract forced labour from workers, and pay them very low wages in factories, etc.,

Suffer from Asthma, great suffocation, and tumour in the brain with unbearable pain, and will also become subject to gout, rheumatism, lumbago and hunch back.

Who deceive the masses through bogus concerns,

Get chronic diarrhoea and dyspepsia, and diseases of spleen with anaemia and malnutrition.

Who sells stale vegetables and fruits, spoiled wheat and rice for high price, by making them appear fresh,

Get falling hair, leukoderma, carious teeth and cataract.

Profiteers and black-marketeers,

Get incurable obesity, elephantiasis and tumour in the stomach.

Back-biters, tale-bearers and treacherous people,

Get boil on the head and shoulders, and internal abscess, eczema on back, etc.

Who refuse food to hungry guest at the door,

Get pyorrhoea and stomach ulcer.

Officers who oppress subordinates, clerks and peons by extracting illegal works from them and fining them unnecessarily,

Get chronic oppressive head-ache, high-blood pressure with acute giddiness.

Officers who misuse public money and produce false vouchers,

Get dropsy and septic fevers.

Husbands who beat their wives, and parents who beat their children without understanding,

Get angina pectoris (heart-pains), chronic tooth pain and nephritis.

Servants who pretend to work and thus ruin their masters,

Get paralysis and trembling of limbs and palpitation.

Brahmins who deceive people as Purohits in holy places of pilgrimage and as worshippers in renowned temples, by demanding money, clothing and food-materials in the name of God,

Get extreme bilious diseases, vomiting and chronic diarrhoea, and blindness.

Parents who tyrannise and worry their children of a spiritual bent and force them to lead a worldly life,

Get acute diseases of the respiratory system, diphtheria, pleurisy, pneumonia, etc.

Karmas and Birth

(From Garuda Purana)

The murderer of a Brahmin is born as a consumptive, the killer of a cow becomes hump backed and imbecile, the murderer of a virgin becomes leprous.

The slayer of a woman and the destroyer of embryos becomes a savage full of diseases; who commits illicit intercourse becomes eunuch, who goes with his teacher’s wife is born diseased-skinned.

The eater of flesh becomes very red; the drinker of intoxicants is born with discoloured teeth; the Brahmin, who, on account of greed, eats what should not be eaten, becomes big-bellied.

He who eats sweet foods without giving to others, becomes swollen-necked; who gives impure food at a Sraaddha Ceremony is born a spotted leper.

The man, who, through pride, insults his teacher, becomes an epileptic; who despises the Vedas and the holy scriptures becomes jaundiced.

Who bears false witness becomes dumb; who takes meal separately from company-row becomes one-eyed; one who upsets a marriage-match becomes lipless; who steals a book is born blind.

Who strikes a cow or a Brahmin with his foot is born lame and deformed; who speaks lies becomes a stammerer; who listens to lies becomes deaf.

A poisoner becomes insane; an incendiary becomes bald; who sells flesh becomes the most unfortunate and unlucky; who eats flesh of other beings becomes diseased.

Who steals jewels is born in a low caste; who steals gold gets diseased nails; who steals any metal becomes poverty-stricken.

Who steals food becomes a rat; who steals grains becomes a locust who steals water becomes a Chataka bird; who steals poison becomes a scorpion.

Who steals vegetables and leaves becomes a peacock; who steals perfumes becomes a musk-rat; who steals honey becomes a gad-fly; who steals flesh becomes a vulture; who steals salt becomes an ant.

Who steals betel, fruits and flowers becomes a forest-monkey; who steals shoes, grass and cotton is born in sheep’s womb.

Who lives by violence, who robs caravans on the road, and who is fond of hunting becomes a goat in a butcher’s house.

Who dies by drinking poison becomes a black serpent on a mountain; whose nature is unrestrained becomes an elephant in a desolate forest.

Those twice-born ones who do not make offerings to the Great Lord and who eat all sorts of foods without hesitation and consideration, become wild tigers in a desolate forest.

The Brahmin who does not recite the Gayatri, who does not meditate at twilight, who is inwardly wicked while outwardly pious, becomes a crane.

The Brahmin who officiates for one who is unfit to perform sacrifices becomes a village-dog, and by too many sacrifices becomes an ass; by eating without the thought of God he becomes a crow.

The twice-born who does not impart learning to the deserving becomes a bull; the pupil who does not serve his teacher becomes an animal, an ass or a crow.

Who threatens and spits at his teacher, or browbeats a Brahmin, is born as a great dreadful fiend in a waterless wilderness.

Who does not give to a twice-born according to his promises, becomes a jackal; who is not hospitable to the good becomes a howling fire-faced devil.

Who deceives a friend becomes a mountain-vulture; who cheats in selling becomes an owl; who speaks ill of caste and religious order is born a pigeon in a wood.

Who destroys hope and who destroys affection, who, through dislike, abandons his wife, becomes a ruddy goose for a long time.

Who hates mother, father and teacher, who quarrels with sister and brother, is destroyed when being in embryo in the womb, even for a thousand births.

The woman who abuses her mother-in-law and father-in-law and causes constant quarrels, becomes a leech; she who scolds her husband becomes a louse.

Who, abandoning her own husband, runs after another man, becomes a flying fox, a house-lizard or a kind of female serpent.

He who cuts off his lineage by embracing a woman of his own family, having become a hyena and a porcupine, is born from the womb of a bear.

The lustful man who goes with a female ascetic becomes a desert fiend: who consorts with an immature girl becomes a huge snake in a wood.

Who covets his teacher’s wife becomes a chameleon; who tries to go with the king’s wife becomes badly corrupt in character; who goes with his friend’s wife becomes a donkey.

Who commits unnatural vice becomes a village pig; who consorts with a Sudra-woman becomes an ox; who is very passionate becomes a lustful horse.

Who eats the eleventh-day offerings of the dead is born a dog; the Brahmin who subsists upon the offerings made to an idol is born from the womb of a hen.

The wretch among the twice-born who worships the deities for the sake of wealth is destitute of peace and becomes a forest-bird.

Who takes away a plot of land which was given by himself or another, is born for sixty-thousand years as a worm in excrement.

All the creatures of low-births, trees and the like, having come back from hell, are born again in the human kingdom amongst low outcastes, and even there, by the stains of sin, become very miserable.

They become men and women with oozing leprosy, born-blind, infested with grievous maladies, and bearing the marks of sin.

He who, having become a king, does not give land to the twice-born, is reborn for many times as a beggar, without even a village-hut. The king who, through pride, does not make gifts of land, shall dwell in hell as long as the sun and the moon exist.

Karmas and Hells

(From Srimad Bhagavata)

There are varieties of hells that a Jiva has to experience in accordance with the Karmas which he does through sin and passion. Twenty-nine kinds of regions of suffering are described in the Bhagavata, when Jivas are said to be born due to their Karmas.

There is a place of suffering called Tamisra. Those people who lay hands on another’s wealth, children and wives are born in this region. The Jiva experiences there extreme pain being bound with mortal cords and violently hurled into the dark regions. He has no food or drink. He is beaten with clubs, and by holding out threats and being brought to a state of weary affliction, the Jiva drops down in a swoon.

There is another region called the Andha-tamisra (blinding darkness). Here Jivas are born who deceive husbands and appropriate to them selves their wives and other property. Such Jivas are cast down into this hell to suffer torments where they lose all understanding and sense through excessive pain. The Jiva suffers like a tree whose roots are cut.

Those who grossly identify themselves with this physical body and regard the wealth of the world as their own, fall into a hell called Raurava. Those people who torment people here on earth become subject to the torment of poisonous worms called Rurus in this dangerous region.

Maharaurava is of the same type. Those men who indulge in passions are eaten here by carnivorous (flesh-eating) animals.

In the hell called Kumbhipaka, dreadful fiends begin to boil in oil that cruel and merciless person who cooks and eats living animals, birds and the like.

He is thrown into a hell called Kalasutra who insults spiritual men, Brahmins, and Pitris. He is placed on the surface of burning copper, forty thousand miles in extent, and constantly heated by fire below and the sun above, and being tormented by hunger and thirst, undergoes untold misery.

There is a hell called Asipatravan. This is a forest full of leaves made out of sharp daggers. The Jiva is made to run through the forest and is hunted like a beast. He who goes against the Vedic Dharma, who embraces infidelistic religions is thrown here! O pitiable sight! indeed he runs this way and that way and has every part of his body torn up in those dreadful woods of sword. The Jiva cries out, “Ah! I am undone!” and falls down in agony.

Kings who inflict punishment on innocent men, or who inflict corporeal punishment to a Brahmin, fall into the hell called Sukara-Mukha. There every part of the body of the sinner is crushed like sugarcanes! He shrieks in distress but none helps him!

Those men who having a good position in society inflict pain upon other poor people fall into a hell called Andhakupa. The Jiva is tormented on all sides in darkness by varieties of terrible beasts, serpents, etc., and learns such lessons that will not allow him to do such sinful actions again.

Brahmins who do not perform their daily Yajnas, who do not share with others what they possess, are fit to be called crows, and fall into a hell where their food are worms. They are cast down into a vast ocean of worms where they begin to tease the Jiva from all sides.

Who robs a Brahmin or a poor man and thus causes him to suffer without reason, falls into a hell where he is severely pinched by burning iron tongs and hit by red hot iron balls.

Those men or women who abuse innocent poor servants, and coolies who are rather to be pitied and helped for their miserable condition, fall into a hell where they are severely thrashed and forced to embrace a burning image of iron like unto a man or woman. Those who abuse their marriage beds are given a similar punishment.

Whoever here approaches under the force of passion all kinds of beings, is placed in the Salmali Hell with adamantine thorns and is dragged through the region of hell.

Kings who transgress the limits of righteousness, and administrative employees who discard the law of justice fall into the river Vaitarani after their death. The Jivas are bitten by aquatic monsters but are not separated from their body and are on the other hand supported by their vital breaths to be ever alive to the consequences of their Karma. This river is flooded with refuse, urine, puss, blood, hair, nails, bones, marrow, flesh and fat.

Those men born of a higher caste who choose to be husbands of unchaste women belonging to a lower order of life and lead like brutes a life of shamelessness, fall after death into a pit of hell, a sea of pus, refuse, urine, phlegm and swallow the same most detestable things.

Those Brahmins and others who act like husbands of bitches and asses and find delight in chasing animals and killing them in violation of Sastra are after death made the target and pierced with the arrows of merciless beings.

Those men who mercilessly slaughter animals are born as animals in the Hell of slaughter house, and are dealt with in a similar manner.

Those sinful twice-born men who deluded by passion cause their wives born of the same blood (Gotra) drink their semen, are thrown into a sea of semen and made to drink it.

Those who set fire to others’ houses and administer poison to others or plunder villages and caravans–be they kings or kings’ employees–they fall after death into a hell where they are voraciously munched by seven hundred and twenty hounds, with their dreadful teeth.

Who utters falsehood in giving evidence or in making gifts, falls into a hell called Avichimat where there is no support to stand upon. There the Jiva is hurled headlong from the summit of peaks of mountains four hundred miles in height. In this hell even hard stony surface appears like water and thus the Jiva is made to delude himself ever more. Though his body is shattered to pieces he does not die, and he is repeatedly lifted up to the top and hurled down again and again.

If a Brahmin drinks wine or eats objectionable food, he is made to drink molten iron in the region of hell. Those who go against the prescribed rules of Varnashrama Dharma are given suitable punishments here.

Those men who praise themselves as great personages, but do not respect those who are really great by birth, honour and learning, are truly living corpses and after death are thrown headforemost into a hell of brinish mire to undergo endless torments.

Those who worship gods by offering human victims, are thrown into a hell where they are cut to slices and eaten by devils, but even then they do not die but only experience pain.

Those wicked people who torment their refugees–because they are under their control–are made after death to suffer from extreme hunger and thirst and are on every side assailed by sharp instruments, and are made to recollect their sins.

Those who are here cruel like snakes by nature and terrify other beings, fall, when they die, into a hell called Dandasuka, where snakes of five or seven hoods attack them and worry them to death even though they do not die.

Those who here imprison people in dark holes and dungeons are in turn after their death imprisoned in dark atmosphere filled with fire and smoke.

Those householders who get angry with guests and look at them with cruel eyes, as if they would burn them, are plucked out their eyes after death by vultures possessing bills hard like adamantine rock.

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