Hinduism (the sanatan dharma ) is a way of human life. It is a path of eternal spiritual discipline.
Hinduism does not consider birth as the starting point of life. In Hinduism the samskaras for a person start from the time of his conception (Garbhadhana) and end with cremation rites (antyeshthi). There are total sixteen samskaras (sodasasasamskaras).
One owes a lot to one’s parents and ancestors. In modern scientific terms, one owes all of one’s genetic characteristics to one’s parents and ancestors. Each ancestor is actually present in the person as a genetic characteristic. In karmik terms, one inherits some karmas of one’s parents and ancestors and each ancestor is actually present in the person as a kaarmik predisposition. The latter approach obviously extends to multiple lives and some karmik predisposition is inherited from the ancestors from a past life too, though they may not be related to one in this life.
The antyeshthi stands for all the post-death ceremonies performed by the son of the deceased for his future welfare and to be freed from the debt or obligation he owes to his parents. These post-death rituals do not come to an end with the conclusion of the prescribed number of days of the mourning period immediately following the death but extends throughout the lifetime of the surviving son, though on a smaller scale.
From Hindu Scriptures:
Father and mother are the direct Gods as far as this world is concerned. But once the God competes with the parents, they are to be left for the sake of God. The Veda says ‘Maatru Devah Pitru Devah’ which mean that parents are the God as far as the world is concerned and God is the parent when God enters one’s life.
Manu Dharma Shastra (Manu Smruthi, 12-94) says:
Pitru deva manushyaanam veda: chackshu sanaatanam
Akshayam cha aprameyam cha Veda shastra miti sthithi:
According to Garuda Purana:
The Bhoo Loka is subdivided into four sub-worlds and as we go up, the component of energy in the body increases gradually. The Bhoo Loka is the starting world, which is subdivided into Martya Loka, Preta Loka, Naraka Loka and Pitru Lo
Martya Loka: It is the region in which the human beings live with materialised human bodies.
Pitru Loka: In Pitru Loka, the body has a lot of energetic-phase and very little matter-phase.
Bhuva loka: It starts in which all the bodies are of complete energy.
As we go up, the matter gets transformed into energy. The respiratory and digestive systems in the body become weaker and weaker as we go to Pitru Loka. The souls in Pitru Loka, take almost moonlight as their main food in which the concept of matter becomes almost negligible. The souls in the Pitru Loka or moon are almost having energetic bodies.
The pitrus in the pitru loka take three different forms called
Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya. Immediately after departing from this world the soul reaches the Vasu loka. When the next kin from the same family departs from this world, he moves to Rudra loka and newly arrived soul takes his place in Vasu loka. Similarly when still next kin departs, the first pitru moves to Aaditya loka, the second moves to Rudra loka and newly arrived takes the place in Vasu loka. That is the reason normally we call pitru (father), pitamaha (grandfather) and
prapitamaha (great grandfather) as Vasu Rudra Aaditya swaroopa (form).
Veda says there are 8 Vasus, 11 Rudras and 12 Aadityas. Probably they are administering the concerned lokas. They also act as courier to deliver our offerings to our relevant fore-fathers.
RUNA TRAYA: Concept of three debts
A discerning person will naturally seek an answer to the question why at all these rituals are required to be performed. Hinduism answers this query when it says that every person who is born is under five runas or debts to his manes and others from whom he derives benefit as a member of the society. They are called pancha maha runas (five great debts) to clear which he has to undertake pancha maha yajnas (five great sacrifices). They are:
1. deva yajna (sacrifice to the gods)
2. pitru yajna (sacrifice to the manes or forefathers)
3. rishi yajna or brahma yajna (sacrifice to the sages learned in the Vedas)
4. nriyajna (feeding the visiting hungry human beings)
5. bhuta yajna (feeding the animals)
Similar three types of debts are given in priority which is called runa traya.
1. Debt to the gods (deva runa),
2. Debt to the forefathers (pitru runa)
3. Debt to the sages (rishi runa)
The first type of debt is repaid by the performance of yajnas or Vedic sacrifices to the gods; the second by marrying according to dharma, begetting successors and doing shraaddhas to the deceased ancestors and the third by study of the Vedas. We are concerned in this essay with the rituals relating to the deceased forefathers for clearing pitru runa.
pitru paksha or the fortnight dedicated to the forefathers assumes significance.
The fifteen days of the dark fortnight (krishna paksha) of the month of Bhadrapada (according to the lunar calendar) or the month of Ashwin (according to the solar calendar) roughly corresponding to September-October in the Gregorian calendar are called pitru paksha or
mahalaya paksha and the new-moon day (amavasya) occurring in that period as Mahalaya
Amavasya or Sarvapitru Amavasya.
Why is Shraddha done?
According to Garuda Purana, after thirteen days of the death soul starts its journey for Yamapuri and it takes seventeen days to reach there.
The soul travels through Yamapuri for another eleven months and only in twelfth month it reaches to the court of Yamaraj. During the period of eleven months it has no access to food and the water. It is believed that Pindadan and Tarpan done by the son and family members satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul during its journey till it reaches the court of the Yamaraj.
Hence Shraddha rituals are considered very important during first year of death.
Mahabharatha story – Karna, when he left the mortal coil, ascended to the higher worlds and the great charity he had done here was returned to him hundredfold. But, it was all gold and silver; there was no food, as he had not done any food-charity! He prayed to the god of death. So, he was sent back to earth for fourteen days, to make-up for this deficiency. For fourteen days, he fed Brahmins and the poor, and offered oblations of water.
On his return to the higher regions, he had food in plenty. It is these fourteen days that are commemorated in the Mahaalaya Paksha. Due to the grace of the god of death, it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to the offer or not.
The original concept of performing the ritual of Shrāddha was conceived by Sage Atri, the son of Lord Brahma. Sage Atri narrated the ritual of Shrāddha, as laid down by Lord Brahma to Nimi, one of His descendants. This established ritual has continued till today. Manu was the first one to perform the ritual of Shrāddha. Hence he is called the deity of Shrāddha.
According to Ramayan when Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Lakshmana were staying in the forest, Bharat met and appraised them about the death of their father. After hearing this sad news
Lord Ram performed the ritual of Shrāddh for his deceased father.
The performance of Shraddha during Pitru Paksha is regarded as a compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to moksha.
In this context, Garuda Purana says, “there is no salvation for a man without a son”.
Markandeya Purana says that if the ancestors are content with the shraddhas, they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity, and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha) upon the performer.
Pindapradaana or simply pinda daana occupies an important place in the post-death ceremonies. Pindas are rice-balls prepared by mixing cooked rice with other articles of food left over in the cooking vessels after the invitee brahmanas have been fed. Three such balls are made which are kept on the ground on a banana leaf or a dried leaf covered with darbha or kusha grass and til and offered to the three generations of pitrus.
The word ‘tarpana’ means satiating or satisfying. It implies the rites relating to satisfying the departed souls particularly one’s forefathers. It consists of standing in water after bathing in a river or tank and offering water thrice taking it in the joined palms of hand, with appropriate mantras to all beings of creation from Brahma down to the blade of grass. Manusmriti (2.176) says that Tarpan to devas, pitrus and rishis is a compulsory part of the daily routine of every
brahmacharin. The water may be mixed with gingelly seeds (til). Tarpana is said to satiate the gods, manes and sages to whom it is offered.
Food to Brahmin
To complete Shraddha ritual, food offered to Brahmin is necessary. Offering to crows are also made before food is offered to Brahmin.
Finally, shorn of all the rituals and myths, this is a fortnight of remembrances and thanks giving.
It reminds all of us to be grateful to our forefathers on this day and to pray for them who have left this world. Even if our rational mind, soaked in scientific ideas, may not justify the rationale behind these ceremonies, it might still be a good idea to just remember our forefathers and silently pay our obeisance to them.