Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Homage To Ancestors-Pitru Paksha Shraddh/Shradh Mahina

  Shradh is a ritual performed for the people who have passed away so that their souls rest in peace and they attain Moksha or salvation. It is performed every year on the anniversary of the death of the person as per the Hindu calendar.

Mahalaya shradh is performed during a fortnight called as the “Pitru paksha” in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu Vikram Samvat. This Mahalay Shradh is very dear to the ancestors souls because the time is such that it reaches them immediately.

Shradh is performed for three generations of Pitris – the father, the grand-father and the great grand-father, or to all Pitris. There are many rules and regulations that need to be followed. These rituals take place for sixteen days. This should be done under the guidance of a priest so that all the rituals are done in accordance to the Shastras and no souls get offended or left out. Instead all should be pleased and bless the person performing this ritual. All priests or pandits do not perform shradh rituals. So finding the right person to provide guidance is important. It is common practice for the male members of the family to partake in this activity but in case there are none then women too can participate.

Performance of Shradh and Tarpan (Libations of water) relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka. Repaying the debt to ancestors is as important as repaying the debt to God, sages and the society. It is the duty of descendants to respect their ancestors, make donations in their name and to undertake activities that will please them. Performing Shradh is a part of obeying Dharma (Path of Righteousness).

Shradh rituals can performed at three different occassions in a year. The date on which the person has departed, during this Pitru Paksha time or at the time of any auspicious occassions like marriage or celebration of a child’s birth. Performing such rituals before the actual marriage ceremony, indicates a sign of respect to the ancestors and to seek their blessings.

The most ausipicous ghat where people go to perform shradh is in the city of Ujjain, on the banks of the river Shipra. Here Lord Ram had performed the last rites of his father and since then, this place is known as “Ram Ghat.” If people are not able to go there, then Gaya is another significant place where this ritual is performed.

During this period, people do not invest money or purchase house, cars or get married. All auspicious activities are kept on hold as this month is only dedicated to the departed souls. Some people believe that the departed are present at different levels in the sky after their death.

At the time of shradh month, those in middle levels who haven’t received liberation hover around to derive some benefits. Some even say that during this time, the gods are asleep and they do not provide anything to these souls. In hunger and thirst these souls come down searching for their family members to provide them some nourishment.

Many families firmly believe in this and prepare food items, sweets and arrange for assorted foods that their departed family members enjoyed when they were alive. Though the departed ancestors cannot eat like normal beings as they do not have a body, they enjoy these foods with their sense of smell and vision.

The satisfaction that these souls get seeing that they are remembered and provided with their favorite delicacies, turn into blessings. Such blessings are indeed counted at the time of marriage, conception and birth of children. Their blessings provide the new generation freedom from physical and mental disabilities and abnormalities.

According to Hindu mythology, the souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestor reside in Pitru-loka, a realm between heaven and earth - governed by Yama, the god of death - who takes the soul of a dying man from earth to Pitru-loka. When a person of the next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites with God and are thus not given Shraddha offerings. Thus, only the three generations in Pitru-loka are given Shraddha rites, in which Yama plays a significant role. According to the sacred Hindu epics (Itihasa), at the beginning of Pitru Paksha, the sun enters the zodiac sign Virgo (Kanya) and at this time, it is the believed that the spirits leave Pitru-loka and reside in their descendants' homes a month until the sun enters the next zodiac Scorpio (Vrichchhika) - the next full moon. Hindus are expected to propitiate the ancestors in the first half - the dark fortnight.

When the legendary donor Karna died in the epic Mahabharata war, his soul transcended to heaven where he was offered gold and jewels as food, but Karna needed real food to eat in heaven. He asked the lord of heaven, Indra the reason for serving gold as food. Indra said that Karna had donated gold all his life, and never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddha. Karna replied since he was unaware of his ancestors, he never donated anything in their memory. Karna was allowed to return to earth for a 16-day period, when he performed Shraddha and donated food and water in their memory. This period is now known as Pitru Paksha.

 Importance Shraddha by a son in Pitru Paksha is considered a must for the ancestor soul to attain heaven. In this context, the scripture Garuda Purana says "there is no salvation for a man without a son".  The scriptures preach that a householder propitiate ancestors (Pitris) along with the gods (devas), ghosts (bhutas) and guests.  The scripture Markandeya Purana says if the ancestors are happy with the shraddhas, they will bestow upon the performer health, wealth, knowledge and longevity and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha).

Shraddha performed on Sarvapitri amavasya can also compensate for a forgotten or neglected annual shraddha ceremony, to be held on death anniversary of the deceased. According to Sharma, the ceremony is central to the concept of lineages. Shraddha involves oblations to three preceding generations, by reciting their names as well as to the mythical lineage ancestor (gotra), thus a person in his life gets to know the names of six generations in his life: three precding generation, his own and two succeeding generations - his sons and grandsons.

Usha Menon presents a similar idea: pitru paksha emphasizes the fact that the ancestors and the current generation and their next unborn generation are connected with blood ties. The current generation repays their debt to the ancestors in pitru paksha. This debt is considered of utmost importance along with a person's debt to his gurus and his parents. Rules of shraddha When and where Shraddha is performed on the specific lunar day in Pitru Paksha, when the ancestor (usually parents or paternal grandparents) was deceased. There are exceptions to the lunar day rule, special days are allotted for people who died by a particular death or their status before death:

* Chautha Bharani and Bharani Panchami - the fourth and fifth lunar day respectively - is allocated for people deceased in the past year.* Avidhava navami ("Unwidowed ninth") - the ninth lunar day is for married women, who died before their husband. Widowers invite Brahmin women as guests for their wife's shraddha.* The twelfth lunar day for children and ascetics, who had renounced the worldly pleasures* Ghata chaturdashi or Ghayala chaturdashi - the fourteenth for people killed by arms, in a war or suffered a violet death* Sarvapitri amavasya - ("all father's new moon day") is meant for all ancestors, irrespective the lunar day they died. It is the most important day of the Pitru Paksha and those who forgotten to perform shraddha, can do so on this day. The shraddha done on this day is considered as fruitful as one done in the holy city of Gaya.* Matamaha ("Mother's father") or Dauhitra ("Daughter's son"): It is the first day of the month of Ashwin and beginning of the bright fortnight. It is assigned for shraddha of the maternal grandfather by the grandson.

The ritual is also held on the death anniversary of the ancestor. The shraddha is performed only at noon, usually on bank of a river or lake or at one's own house.  Families may also journey pilgrimage places like Varanasi and Gaya to perform Shraddha. Gaya considered sacred to perform shraddhas, holds a fair in Pitru Paksha. Who and for whom

Shraddha has to performed by the son (usually the eldest son) or male relative for paternal section family, limited to preceding three generations, however on Sarvapitri amavasya or matamaha, the daughter's son can offer Shraddha for his maternal side of the family if a male heir is absent in his mother's family. Some castes only perform the shraddha for one generation.  The male who would perform the rite, should have undergone the sacred thread ceremony. Since the ceremony is considered inauspicious, in the royal family of Kutch, the king or heirs of the throne are prohibited to conduct Shraddha.

The food offering to the ancestors is usually cooked in silver or copper vessels. It is usaully on a banana leaf or cups made of dried leaves. The food must include rice Kheer - a sweet made of rice and milk, lapsi - a sweet porridge made of wheat grains, rice, dal - lentils and the vegetable of spring bean (guar) and yellow gourd (pumpkin). Rites of shraddha

The male who performs the shraddha, should be purified by a bath and is excepted to wear a dhoti. He wears a ring of darbha grass, in which the ancestors are invoked to reside. The shraddha usually is performed bare chested, as the position of the sacred thread worn as the person has to be changed a number of times in the ceremony. The shraddha involves pinda-daan - offering of pindas (cooked rice and barley flour balls mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds) with the release of water from the hand - to the ancestors. It is followed by the worship of gods Vishnu in form of the darbha grass, a gold image or Shaligram stone and Yama. This is followed by offering the food, specially cooked for the ceremony, on the roof. The offering is considered as accepted if a crow arrives and eats the food. The crow is considered a messenger of Yama or the spirit of the ancestors. A cow and a dog is also fed. Brahmin priests are offered food and then after the ancestors (crow) and the Brahmins have eaten, the family members have lunch. Mahalaya Mahalaya marks the formal beginning of the Durga Puja festival

Mahalaya , is the last day of the previous fortnight Pitri Pokkho , ‘Fortnight of the Forefathers’, the day is marked by recitation of Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi Path), and signifies the beginning of Durga Puja festivities. Bengalis traditionally wake up at 4 in the morning on Mahalaya day to listen to Mahisasura Mardini in the enchanting voice of the late Birendra Krishna Bhadra and the late Pankaj Kumar Mullick on All India Radio as they recite hymns from the scriptures from the Devi Mahatmyam or Chandi.  Other practices Some families also conduct ritual recitals of scriptures like the Bhagavat Purana and the Bhagavad Gita. Some families also perform charity in name of the deceased, give gifts to Brahmin priests or pay Brahmins to recite prayers for the ancestor's well-being.

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