Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
The subject of ‘illicit relations’ is in itself a very vague subject in Sanatana Dharma. There are several accounts across the scriptures of men indulging in physical relationships outside their marriage, though most times such relationships are sanctified by marriage. There are also stories of two consenting unmarried individuals indulging in an intimate relationship without the stamp of marriage. There are even accounts of women desiring a man and openly expressing her feelings to her object of interest. But in almost all the cases, such unions would be a precursor to a larger purpose…a birth that is destined to bring about a major change in some way.
That said, there were still some relationships that were not permitted. The only available text that I know of that elaborates on any kind of punishments for sins is the Garuda Purana . There is a chapter in it that briefly touches on the subject of infidelity. I take the liberty of copy-pasting the relevant text as under…
26. The woman who abuses her mother-in-law and father-in-law, and causes constant quarrels; becomes a leech; and she who scolds her husband becomes a louse.
27. Who, abandoning her own husband, runs after another man, becomes a flying-fox, a house-lizard, or a kind of female serpent.
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. Who covets his teacher’s wife, becomes a chameleon; who goes with the king’s wife becomes corrupt; and with his friend’s wife, a donkey.
31. Who commits unnatural vice becomes a village pig; who consorts with a Śūdra woman becomes bull; who is passionate becomes a lustful horse.
36. The stealer of gold attains the condition of a worm, an insect and a bird. Who goes with his teacher’s wife, goes to the condition of grass, bushes and plants.
37. Who steals another’s wife, who misappropriates deposits, who robs a Brāhmiṇ, is born as a Brāhmiṇ-fiend.
The Garuda Purana is a very interesting scripture. It’s definitely not meant for the weak-hearted, and it can in fact be very unsettling and/or terrifying if you let open the doors of your imagination. The basic intent of the text is to serve as a deterrent from doing things that are harmful to society as a whole. A lot of people take the text in its literal sense and fret over the fate that awaits them after death. In reality, as is the case with almost every Hindu scripture, the text is written in a figurative fashion and the reader is expected to understand the deeper meaning behind the lines. There is no one single meaning. Each person who reads it arrives at their own conclusions. Some take it at face value, some read between the lines, while some others find the real meaning. It all depends on how spiritually evolved the reader is 🙂