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Preta is a supernatural being described in various religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion. The Sanskrit name for this type of being is “preta,” which translates to “hungry ghost.” These beings are said to suffer from extreme hunger and thirst, which causes them to wander the earth in search of food and water.

In Buddhism, pretas are considered to be one of the six realms of existence, along with gods, demigods, humans, animals, and hell beings. They are believed to be reborn from individuals who led selfish and greedy lives, resulting in their insatiable hunger and thirst in the afterlife. Pretas are depicted as having bloated stomachs and thin necks, as they are unable to consume enough food and water to satisfy their cravings.

Pretas are often associated with the concept of karma, as their suffering is believed to be a result of their past actions. In some Buddhist traditions, offerings of food and drink are made to pretas during festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Festival, in order to alleviate their suffering and help them move on to a better rebirth.

Origins of Preta in Buddhism

Early Buddhist Texts

In early Buddhist texts, the term “Preta” refers to a type of being who is constantly hungry and thirsty due to their past negative karma. These beings are depicted as having large bellies and small mouths, making it difficult for them to eat or drink. They are also said to have a strong attachment to their former lives and possessions, which causes them to suffer greatly in their current state.

Development in Mahayana Scriptures

In Mahayana scriptures, the concept of Preta is further developed to include various subtypes of these hungry ghosts, each with their own unique characteristics. For example, some Pretas are said to live in the air and feed on the smoke of incense, while others are said to dwell in the earth and feed on filth and waste.

Mahayana Buddhism also introduced the idea of offering food to Pretas as a way to alleviate their suffering and accumulate positive karma. This practice is known as “Preta-yoga” and involves making offerings of food and drink to hungry ghosts during special ceremonies.

Overall, the concept of Preta in Buddhism serves as a reminder of the importance of avoiding negative actions and cultivating positive karma in order to avoid rebirth in lower realms of existence.

Characteristics of Preta

Physical Descriptions

Pretas are believed to be invisible to the human eye, but some people claim they can be seen by humans in certain mental states. They are described as having human-like shapes, but with sunken, mummified skin, narrow limbs, enormously distended bellies, and long, thin necks. This appearance is a metaphor for their mental situation. Since they do not find anything to eat or drink for months and years on end, their bodies are emaciated like skeletons, and they lack even the strength to stand.


Pretas are said to inhabit the world of the dead, which is divided into six realms. The preta realm is the realm of hungry ghosts, where the spirits of those who were greedy and selfish in life go. These spirits are tormented by hunger and thirst, but are unable to find any food or drink to satisfy their desires. They wander around aimlessly, searching for something to eat or drink, but to no avail.


Pretas are known for their insatiable hunger and thirst. They are said to be constantly searching for food and drink, but are unable to find any. They are also believed to be jealous and envious of those who have food and drink, and will try to steal it from them. They are said to be able to enter the human world and cause mischief, but only if they are invited in. Some people believe that offering food and drink to pretas can help alleviate their suffering and bring good luck.

Cultural Interpretations

Preta in Asian Cultures

In many Asian cultures, Preta is a supernatural being associated with hunger and thirst. In Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion, they are believed to be undergoing greater suffering than humans. This suffering is often depicted as a result of their past misdeeds, such as greed or selfishness. In some cultures, offerings are made to Preta to alleviate their suffering and help them move on to a better rebirth.

Influence on Popular Media

Preta has also made its way into popular media, with various depictions in movies, TV shows, and video games. In some cases, they are portrayed as malevolent spirits or monsters, preying on humans and causing chaos. In others, they are depicted as tragic figures, doomed to suffer for eternity. Regardless of the portrayal, the concept of Preta has captured the imagination of many and continues to be a source of inspiration for creators in various media.

Overall, the cultural interpretations of Preta have varied widely across different cultures and media. While some see it as a symbol of suffering and misdeeds, others see it as a source of inspiration and creativity. Regardless of the interpretation, it remains a fascinating and intriguing figure that continues to captivate people’s imaginations.

Religious Practices and Beliefs

Rituals for Appeasing Pretas

In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is believed that Pretas can be appeased through offerings and rituals. It is common for people to offer food, water, and other items to Pretas during special ceremonies and festivals. These offerings are believed to help ease the suffering of the Pretas and bring good luck and blessings to the living.

Moral Lessons and Teachings

The concept of Pretas is often used in religious teachings to illustrate the importance of good deeds and moral behavior. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is believed that the suffering of Pretas is a result of their past actions and karma. Therefore, by living a virtuous life and performing good deeds, one can avoid being reborn as a Preta and attain a better rebirth in the next life.

In Umbanda, a Brazilian religion that combines African, European, and indigenous beliefs, the concept of Pretas is also present. However, in Umbanda, Pretas are not seen as evil or malevolent beings, but rather as spirits that can help people overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Umbanda practitioners often perform rituals to honor Pretas and ask for their guidance and blessings.

Comparative Mythology

Preta is a type of supernatural being that is described in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religion. In comparative mythology, scholars compare the myths of different cultures to identify shared themes and characteristics. This approach has been used to study the similarities and contrasts between Preta and other traditions.

Similarities to Other Traditions

Comparative mythologists have noted the similarities between Preta and other supernatural beings in different cultures. For example, in Greek mythology, there is a similar concept of “ghosts” or “shades” that are associated with the underworld. These shades are believed to be the spirits of the dead who are unable to move on to the afterlife. Similarly, in Egyptian mythology, there is the concept of the “ka,” which is a spiritual double that is believed to accompany a person throughout their life and after death.

Contrasts with Western Concepts

While there are similarities between Preta and other supernatural beings in different cultures, there are also significant contrasts with Western concepts of the afterlife. In Western traditions, there is a clear distinction between the living and the dead, and the afterlife is often portrayed as a place of reward or punishment. In contrast, in many Eastern traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism, the afterlife is seen as a continuation of the cycle of birth and death, with the possibility of reincarnation.

Overall, comparative mythology provides a useful framework for understanding the similarities and contrasts between different cultural traditions, including the concept of Preta in Eastern religions.