Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shradh


Shradh Held in Honour of Deceased Relatives

Shradh is a ceremony in honour and for the benefit of deceased relatives, observed at fixed periods,and on occasions of rejoicing as well as of mourning. The ritual is performed every year on the anniversary of the death of a person as per the Hindu Calendar or Panchang during the dark fortnight called Pitru Paksha in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu Vikram Samvat. A ritualistic custom unique to Hindu religion, the Mahalaya Shradh Pitru Paksh fortnight begins with Purnima in the Ashwin month. It is believed that the Shradh performed during this period is highly auspicious as it reaches the deceased relatives instantly making their souls rest in peace. Shradh can also be performed on every Amavasya or the last day of the dark fortnight of a lunar month.

The Matsya Purana mentions primarily three types of Shradh -one performed daily, another periodically and yet another with purpose (Kamya).The shradh performed for deceased ancestors with a single objective is known as Pitru Paksh Shradh in North and East India, Aadi Amavasai in Tamil Nadu, Karikadaka Vavu Bali in Kerala and Amavasi rituals in other regions.Expiating all sins of our ancestors it helps them attain moksha or salvation.

The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita talk about the journey of the dead and endorse the importance of rituals dedicated to them.

Early sacred Indian scriptures like the Vedas and Puranas explain the significance of Shradh with the Agni, Garuda, Vayu and Matsya Puranas guiding us on the procedures of the ritual.

According to the Matsya Purana, Agni (fire), Vasus (name of a particular class of Vedic gods) and Rudras ( a title of a Vedic storm-god) act as intermediaries during Pitru Paksha Shradh and transport the rituals and food offered to ancestors who in turn bless those performing the ritual. As per a legend this is possible due to a boon by Lord Yama, the god of death in Hindu mythology.


Pitru Paksha Shradh is also offered by people to ancestors whose death dates have been forgotten, relatives who had no children and those with gruesome deaths like accidents or murder. The ones who failed to perform barsi or the annual shradh (performed on the death date) also do Shradh during Pitru Paksha.
Shradh and Funeral Rites
Funeral rites and Shraddh are distinctly different from each other. Funeral rites or antyeshthi are considered inauspicious or amangal while Shradh are auspicious or mangal.

To understand this concept it should be clear that when a person dies, his gross body or sthula sharira is burnt. This is antyaishthi or the last sacrifice offered in fire, but the soul cannot quit the earthly body without a vehicle of some kind. The subtle body or linga-sharira, the size of a thumb, is one in which the deceased person lodged in, hovers around the cremation ground.


He is now a preta, the departed spirit of a dead person, particularly before funeral rites are performed. An embodied soul or jiva separated from the physical body at death is termed a preta. No longer equipped with a physical body capable of enjoying or suffering, he is consequently in a restless plight.

While in this condition he is stated to be an impure being and all relations who participate in his funeral rites are considered impure until the first Shradh is performed. Furthermore, if a person dies away from his relations who alone can perform the funeral rites but are unable to do so, he becomes a ‘pishaca’, a fiend or demon, desirous of taking revenge for its misery by evil acts.

The objective of the funeral rites carried out for twelve days after death, is not merely to give peace by libations of consecrated water to the troubled spirit but to bestow the preta with a transitional body, between the ‘linga’ or subtle body not destroyed by death and the ‘sthula’ or physical body. A body composed of gross particles, capable of enjoying or suffering, though not the same as the earthly body. In this manner gati can be attained or the preta progresses onwards with the Sons of the deceased shave their head on the day prior to Shradh and observe various rituals. On the day of the obsequies, the son treats his family, the priests and even neighbours to a feast prepared according to their means. People also donate clothes and other items to Brahmins and relations. Equally important is feeding the poor. Whenever rituals dedicated to the dead are performed, people distribute food and clothes among the poor. soul transmigrating into a different body.
The ‘Bhagavad Gita’, an intrinsic quotient of the Mahabharata, reveals that on the eve of death, the individual soul contracts all its energies centering them in the subtle body. The individual soul lodged in the linga-sharira enjoying its needs from one birth to another, can only be perceived by Yogis with their mystical perception.


 


Pinda Daan

According to Hindu religion, life doesn't end with death which is just another link in the ongoing process of life. It is hoped that the next life of the departed soul will be better than the last one. The rituals performed for this purpose are Shradh Karma, and are conducted on the thirteenth day after the death of a person, signifying the end of the mourning period. The house in which the death had occurred is cleaned and purified. Some people even get a fresh coat of paint for the house. The pinda daan made on that day is not only for the deceased but also for three preceding generations of the departed.


After the pinda daan (cake or ball of meal, flour or rice offered to spirits of ancestors by nearest surviving relatives), Lord Vishnu is worshipped. Once the process is over, the house is declared clean. A havan is performed. To appease the soul, bedding, jewelry and food are donated in charity. Thirteen brahmins are invited and fed along with 13 lotas (pots), 13 janeus (holy thread), 13 aasans (mats) and 13 Gitas being donated to them, in the hope that the departed soul is not left wanting for anything.


The day of the cremation is supposed to be observed as the Punya Tithi (anniversary of a death). On this date, a havan is performed and Gita path is done along with Brahmins being fed. After the death and till the first yearly Shradh, all necessary rituals are carried out in the house where the death took place. After barsi or the first yearly Shradh, all children can perform shradhs in their respective houses.

When is Shradh performed?

Throughout the Hindu world, departed souls are remembered during Pitru Paksha in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu Vikram Samvat.. On each day of the fortnight, special offerings are made to ancestors whose lunar date of death corresponds to that particular day. On Mahalaya Amavasya, the last day of the dark fortnight of a lunar month, the Amavasya Shradh or oblations can be offered to all those ancestors whose tithi (lunar date) of death is not known.

This year Pitru Paksha Shradh begins on September 15th 2008 and ends on September 29th 2008 with the Mahalaya Shradh also known as Sarvapitru Shradh being the most important day of the fortnight.
Shraddh and Tarpan Ritual
 
Lord Aryama, the god of Pitru Loka
It takes many months for the departed soul to reach Pitru Lok, the world inhabited by the souls of our ancestors. The word Pitras primarily means immediate ancestors, father, mother and so on.

The ritual of Shradh performed to help the departed soul is called preta-kriya. Hence Shradh is not a funeral ceremony but a Pitru-Yajna (act of sacrificing or food offered to the spirits of deceased ancestors) or worship of departed ancestors somewhat different from a puja or ceremonial worship to a god.Shradh is associated with the benevolent deities Vasu, Rudra and Aditya of the ancestors’ souls. The mantras chanted during the Shradh and the rituals enable us to connect with these deities.’

The deceased person for whom the ritual of Shradh is being performed, is considered a follower of Vasu, his parents are followers of Rudra and his grand parents are followers of Aditya. Therefore during Shradh, the names of father, grandfather and great grandfather are representatives of Vasu-Rudra-Aditya respectively. Shradh is performed for three generations of Pitras or for all Pitras.

During the Shradh offerings of pindas or round balls of rice, flour coupled with accompaniments of kusha or sacred grass and flowers are made to the father, grand-father and great grand-father. Tarpan or sprinkling of water is performed, along with repetitions of mantras and texts from the Sam Veda. The entire ceremony is conducted at any sacred spot such as a riverbank, seashore or some temples in India. A person who performs Shradh is known as the karta (usually the son of the deceased) and he invites Brahmins on that day and performs a homa, a method of expressing his heartfelt gratitude and thanks to his parents and ancestors. The karta offers food to the pitra by putting cooked rice and vegetable into the fire in very small quantities and also adding just a small piece of cooked vegetable. He serves hospitably and finally does pinda-pradaana. The Brahmin priest helps the karta to perform the ritual.


A series of actions are to be performed and the karta repeats the mantras after the priest, doing actions as instructed by the former. In addition, to the main priest, two more brahmins are invited to the house during the ritual. Through mantras, one is nominated as the pitra and the other as the guide; hence the karta is supposed to imagine they are his own father, grandfather and great grandfather and revere them with dedicated devotion. On completion of the ritual, the karta then gives dakshina to the priests and only after their consent, he and his family have the food. The karta also shows respect to the Brahmins, like giving a foot-wash and dress consisting of cotton dhoti. By these offerings during Shradh, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitras. The rites that the son performs for his father are known as Sapindi karana.


The rituals including the pind daan that are performed are said to reach the dead ancestors through the rays of the Sun or Surya. According to Matsya Purana, Agni (fire), Vasus (name of a particular class of Vedic gods) and Rudras (a title of a Vedic storm-god) act as intermediaries during the Pitru Paksha Shradh and transport the rituals and food offered to ancestors who in turn bless those performing the ritual. It is said that a year of humans is a day for the dead and therefore the ancestors enjoy the fruits of the annual Shradh throughout the year.


Apart from expectation of pinda and offering of food to priests (Brahmins) from its descendants, the deceased ancestors’ souls also expect offering of water from them. By performing tarpan or offering of water to deceased ancestors’ souls, the pitars are not only appeased and leave us, but they also bestow long life, radiance, superior intellect, wealth, success and foodstuff (ability to digest the food consumed) on the host performing the tarpan, satisfying him in the process.

Shradh and Tarpan (Libations of water or oblations in honour of deceased ancestors) relieve the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitra Loka, the abode of our ancestors' souls, which takes many months. Repaying the debt to ancestors is as important as making obeisance to God, sages and society. Performing Shradh has been cited as a part of dharma or the path of righteousness. The person who performs the Shradh must realize that he is deeply indebted to his ancestors for birth, body, knowledge, wealth and sanskaras and the custom is a sort of thanksgiving under the guidance of a priest in accordance to the Shastras.

It is also stated in the Holy texts that a person who does not accomplish the Shradh of his dead parents has to suffer much in life and even after, being born in lower planes of existence as a result.

Invariably Hindus believe in reincarnation. It is said that a body changes with every birth but the soul remains the same. Hindu philosophy affirms that this cycle can be broken and the soul can be eternally put to rest by performing Shradh.

Varying customs of Shradh:



Recalling Departed Ancestors

The world over Hindus customs and rituals vary during the Pitru Paksha Shradh fortnight but the essence remains the same.

During this time span, relatives of the deceased only take vegetables, protein-less food, and sunned rice without salt and others fast on that day. They refrain from venturing into new projects. Celebration and shopping sprees are put off and journeys are not undertaken. Some choose not to shave their beard or have a hair cut. People do not wear new clothes or even clip nails.

Sons of the deceased shave their head on the day prior to Shradh and observe various rituals. On the day of the obsequies, the son treats his family, the priests and even neighbours to a feast prepared according to their means. People also donate clothes and other items to Brahmins and relations. Equally important is feeding the poor. Whenever rituals dedicated to the dead are performed, people distribute food and clothes among the poor.

Usually performed on a riverbank or on seashore, there are also temples in India where the rituals can be performed. A small portion of the pindas or rice cakes prepared for the ritual is also given to crows who are believed to connect the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Are Shradhs inauspicous:
The ancient Vedic scriptures advocate remembrance of ancestors with full concentration to gather maximum benefit from their blessings. Therefore all new activities are put off so that our attention is not diverted and we can concentrate on this most important task at hand. Grand sales in all the leading markets of Delhi and other cities come to an end and business invariably slows down.

Astrologically and religiously speaking this time span can not be inauspicious when the same is considered as the most auspicious time for remembering our ancestors? We need to comprehend the philosophy of honouring our ancestors responsible for our very existence and seek their blessings to follow the virtuous path advocated by them, accomplishing our goals with the least hindrance.

The Karma theory:
One has to remember the karma theory and get detached in life particularly after witnessing the death of loved ones and performing shradh. The ceremony illustrates that the body is annamaya deha or made up of food meaning perishable. The pindas endorse that physical bodies consisting of food after death merge with physical matter. The soul is immortal and thus one should not grieve for the departed person but gather self knowledge before death arrives. The mantras do talk about hiranya garbh (an epithet of Lord Brahma, the creator amongst the Hindu Trinity) from where the souls of the departed had come and are now returning.
A person in the mundane world has to be guided by Holy Scriptures and Saints when death knocks. Both endorse that one is not this earthly body and neither this restive mind but "Tat Twam Asi". Sri Swami Sivanandji Maharaj discusses this subject in detail under, ‘What Happens To The Soul After Death!’

Chanting the Lord's name at the time of death helps greatly in the liberation of the soul. In fact, this practice is called Naam-Mahima or glory of the Lord’s name. In Srimad Bhagavatam the story of Ajamil elucidates this truth. If a person recites the Lord’s name during his life-time, he will intuitively chant it at the time of death. Gandhiji uttered, “Ram –Ram” even on being shot by a bullet!

There are 12 types of Shradh in the Hinduism. The details are given below:
1. Nitya Shradh: Wherein sesame seeds, grains, water, milk, fruit, vegetables and food are offered to the departed soul daily.

2. Neimitik Shradh: or Ekodisht Shraadh when food is offered to an odd number of priests say 1, 3, or 5.

3. Kamya Shradh: Prayers and obeisance is made to the departed soul with the aim of some wish being fulfilled.

4. Vriddhi Shradh: It is done for gaining prosperity and children.

5. Sapindan Shradh: Here four clean vessels are taken and in each some water mixed with fragrance and sesame seeds is taken. They are symbolic of preta-atma (wandering spirits), pita-atma (spirits of higher souls), deva-atma (spirits which are divine) and other unknown souls. Then the water from the first vessel is poured into the second.

6. Parvan Shradh: Observed on a moonless night or on some special occasion.

7. Goshth Shradh: It is done for the gain of cattle.

8. Shurdhyarth Shradh: Performed with the help of priests for acquiring wealth, plus appeasing scholars and ancestors.

9. Karmang Shradh: Here, prayers are offered to the ancestors when a woman becomes pregnant or when Seemaantonayan and Punsavan Samskars are being accomplished.

10. Deivik Shradh: Here, oblations are made with ghee in the holy fire for good luck in travel and seeking blessings of deities.

11. Oupcharik Shradh: It is done for physical health and riddance from diseases.

12. Sanvatsarik Shradh: The foremost of all Shradhs, it is observed on the day the soul departed. A very significant ritual for in the text Bhavishya Purana Lord Sun states - "I do not accept the prayers of a person who does not perform Saanvatsarik Shradh and neither do Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra and other deities".

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