The Matsya Purana
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 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 the 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 rituals dedicated to them. Indian scriptures explain the significance of Shradh with the Agni, Garuda, Vayu and Matsya Puranas guiding us in its religious observances.
According to the Matsya Purana, Agni,the Vedic god of fire,
Vasus, the eight deities who are attendants of Indra,
and the Rudras ( Rig Vedic storm-gods) act as intermediaries during the Pitru Paksha Shradh, transporting the rituals and food offered to our ancestors who in turn bless those performing the ritual. As per legend this is due to a boon given 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 who have had 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.
The fortnight of shradh is the time span when the pitras or ancestors from our current and previous lives are able to approach planet earth and their descendants; the period when the dead feed on energies of the living on earth.
The pitras suffer from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, fatigue and pain as punishment for their earlier evil karmic activities. In search of relief, they are attracted to their descendants who are karmic debtors to them.
Our Ancestors Feed on Us who are Living
By the grace of Lord Ganesha,the pitras approach the earth once a year during shradh to get relief from their sufferings. They feed on the offerings willingly made to them by us or by forcibly taking energies from their ignorant descendants.
- The ancestors feed once a day according to their time zone, which is equivalent to once every 12 months on earth during shradh.
- We are mainly indebted to our pitras for giving us a body which helps us advance in our material and spiritual goals.This capacity of progression is absent from the bodily form of the pitras.
Liberation of the Pitras
As you can guage, the pitras are serving out their karmic correction sentences. They are waiting to be liberated so that they can get a material body to progress towards freedom from the karma syndrome. This feat is impossible without help from their descendants.
During shradh Lord Ganesha’s energies withdraw from the planetary surface, and enter the central root survival chakra of the earth. His presence there creates healing and regenerating vortex forces that keep the planet stable.
Idols of Lord Ganesha being Immersed
Immersing idols of Lord Ganesha in water at the end of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is an acknowledgement of this fact. The disappearance of Lord Ganesha's energies from earth when he descends to the core of the planet allows the pitras to approach their descendants.
Pitralok, the Hellish Planet
Yakshas & Yakshinis
The pitras are in different hellish planets where different kinds of living entities exist.They may be posited in different zones of existence as 'yakshas', 'bhoota' and 'preta'. Some are helpful such as the yakshas who guard us against astral attack from the bhuta-pretas and the likes.
The pitras are unable to satisfy their senses of eating, drinking and this is tortuous for them. They are also assigned work which they have to do forcibly.
In some planes of their existence there is no sleep allowed, and they have to constantly slave for lifetimes.
A hellish planet lacks any descent of the Divine light, which multiplies their pain with no sign of redemption.
The Descent of the Dead
The 'pitras' approach their descendants and act in three ways. (Descendants are those human beings on earth who were connected to the pitra in a previous or present lifetime.)
- The pitras get help from their descendants for the progress of their lives further by feeding on their descendants' good fortune energies.
- They create impediments in the path of their descendants because they are dissatisfied especially where the descendants have not done any shradh or religious observances to help the ancestors progress in their life.
- The manes (deified souls of dead ancestors) worshipped by ancient Romans give up their materialistic positive karma they have accumulated (since it does not help them in their present condition) to their descendants in the hope of receiving the offerings of Shradh, which give them relief from suffering.
The Shradh Offerings
The shradh offerings to the ancestors are made by feeding brahmans and by donations to those who are handicapped and poor.Both are recommended for maximum 'tarpan' (relief).
Shradh is not a funeral ceremony but a Pitru-Yajna (food offered to the spirits of deceased ancestors) or worship of departed ancestors somewhat different from a puja or ceremonial worship to a god.
Aditya, the Sun God
The deceased person for whom the ritual of Shradh is being performed, is considered a follower of Vasu (a class of deities, eight in number, chiefly known as attendants of Indra) 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 the pitras.
Shradh on Banks of a River
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 incantations 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 Brahmans 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 Brahman 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 brahmans 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 brahmans, 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. 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 (Brahmans) 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.
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.
Benefits of the Shradh Offerings
- Offerings to the brahmans in the name of the ancestors reduces their suffering and urges them towards liberation from all material distress.
- The brahmins (or KQ Healer, Reiki Healer, Karmic healer, priest, rabbi and so on) are capable of invoking Divine energies directly. This is powerful healing and is more easily transferable for the pitras in a higher planetary plane of existence.
- Donations to the handicapped and poor work quickly to affect those ancestors who are in lower astral planes and hellish planets.
The benefits of making these offerings is to give relief to the ancestor and to stop him from feeding on the good karma energies of the living.In addition the descendant receives blessings and positive karma from the pitra which helps him materially. It can greatly help the individual advance spiritually as materialistic impediments are removed.
Varying Customs of Shradh:
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 starting new ventures. 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.
The Ritual of Shradh
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 Brahmans 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 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. Grand sales in all the leading markets of Delhi and other cities come to an end and business invariably slows down.
Astrologically 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 honour 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 Karmic Theory:
One has to remember the Karmic Theory and get detached in life particularly after witnessing the death of loved ones and performing shradh. The religious observance 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 or incantations do talk about Brahman taking birth as Hiranyagarbha from a golden egg deposited in water and the Brahm-anda or the Universe was created from the residual materials of the golden egg, from where the souls of the departed had come and are now returning.
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.The story of Ajamil in the Srimad Bhagavatam 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.
Pitru Paksha Shradh Dates in the year, 2010
Throughout the Hindu world, departed souls are remembered during Pitru Paksha in the month of Ashwin. 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.
23rd September, 2010: Purnima Shradh
24th September, 2010: Mahalaya Shradh Paksha Begins
25th September, 2010: Dwitiya Shradh
26th September, 2010: Tritiya Shradh
27th September, 2010: Chaturthi Shradh
28th September, 2010: Panchami Shradh
29th September, 2010: Shasti Shradh
30th September, 2010: Saptami Shradh
1st October, 2010: Ashtami Shradh
2nd October, 2010: Navami Shradh
3rd October, 2010: Dasami Shradh
4th October, 2010: Ekadasi Shradh and Dwadashi Shradh
5th October, 2010: Trayodashi Shradh
6th October, 2010: Chaturdashi Shradh
7th October, 2010: Mahalaya Amavasi, Most important day of Shradh
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 deceased being lodged in a subtle body or linga-sharira, the size of a thumb, hovers around the cremation ground.
He is now a preta, the departed spirit of a dead person, particularly before the funeral rites are performed. No longer equipped with a physical body capable of enjoying or suffering, he is in a miserable 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. A body composed of gross particles, capable of enjoying or suffering, though not in the same way as the earthly body. In this manner gati can be attained or the preta progresses onwards with the soul transmigrating into a different body.
The ‘Bhagavad Gita’, an intrinsic part 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 by their mystical perception.
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.
Lord Vishnu on the Garuda
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 a havan is performed. To appease the soul, bedding, jewelry and food are donated in charity. Thirteen brahmans 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 Brahmans 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.