Nannilam Rajagopala Ganapatigal
P I T H R U
P O O J A
Among the Hindus, the
sradda is religious ceremony, often performed annually, in propitiation
of there departed ancestors who are technically known as pitrus,
the word sraddda, according to sage pulastya, is derived as follows:"sradhaya
deyathe yasmath sraddam ithyabhidheeyathee: i.e., that which is
performed with great faith. The faith referred to here is the
faith in the Vedas, whose dictates are taken as incontrovertible
and which enjoin its performance as a duty. It is interesting
to note that sraddha or faith, and medha or intelligence, are
actually deified in the Vedas.
Among the important
items of a sradha are the argya (water libation): Havana (fire-offering),
the feeding of Brahmins, pinda dana, vikira, dakshina- offering
and tarpana.holy Brahmins are fed in a worshipful manner, after
invoking of them the souls of the departed ancestors of three
generations identified with vasu, rudra and adithya, on the paternal
or maternal side, as the case may be. The pitrus.who live in pitru
loka in the form of spirits, are fetched into the sradda venue
by the vishvedevas or the universal soul.The darbha or kusa grass
and til sesamum are two significant materials used in the performance
of sradda.the padmapurana states that the kusa grass and black
til sprang from the body of Vishnu.Aswalayana gruhya sutra points
out that the essence of waters became darbha, alluding to a Vedic
story. Since Vishnu in anathema to evil spirits, the use of til
prevents sradda offering from being pilfered by them. Use of kusa,
being the essence of all holy waters, makes the whole rite holy.
Silver vessels for argya and pinda in sraddaa are highly recommended
because, the ancient pitrus milked svadha in a silver vessel and they
are highly pleased with the sight, use and gift of such vessels.
The sraddha became an important limb of Hindu religious life.
The how of it
Question often asked
about the sradda as we perform it today is this; how, by feeding
some Brahmins here and now, one expects to feed ones ancestors
who are dead long since, and possibly, according to the karma
theory, live in other forms and
climes.The answer to this question is given in the matsya purana;
what we do in our sradda is to invoke the souls of the departed
ancestors on the venue of the sradda by viswedevas or or the universal
spirit. Thus for practical purposes, the spiritual bodies or souls
of our ancestors, identified with vasu, rudra, and adithyas who
are the sradda deities, are present, and we worship them. Now,
the food the Brahmins eat or the oblations one offers in the sacrificial
fire uttering the deportees name and gotra during the sradda
is transformed by the mantra and faith into food appropriate for
current bodies of the celestial messenger, agni, (the god of fire)
or the vasus, rudras, etc, who have access everywhere and gratify
the pitrus.if, for instance, the ancestor had been born an angle,
the oblation goes to him as nectar; if he be born as cattle, it
is taken to him as grass; or if born as human, it goes to him
as cereals,Just as a calf finds its own mother from the money
cows grazing, so the mantras uttered in the sradda ceremony carry
the food to the correct pitrus,The pitrudevathas, after completion
of the sradda and gratified by the worship, bless the performer
with health, wealth, children and prosperity and prosperity and
depart to their own region.Whatever the religious merit or otherwise
of sradda.it has this psychological merit, namely, it definitely
helps us recall with affection and gratitude the memory of our
elders and benefactors, which is an ennobling experience.
Secondly, it is a demonstrable fact that faith works miracles.
When that is the case with ordinary faith. What shall we say of
a faith such as the sradda, which has been a racial memory in
the sense that it is the continuous possession of successive generations
of Hindus since the Vedic times! It must work greater miracles.
IMPORTANCE OF SHRAADH
Hindu mythology is rich in
its legacies and traditions. Of the many rites, rituals, festivals
and ceremonies, Shraadhs appear to be quite different. Shraadhs
constitute 'a debt of the dead' which ought to be repaid assuming
the dead ones as being alive and living with us.
During this period called pitru paksha, the lord of death, Yama
raja enables all who shed their mortal frames to come back to
earth and receive offerings from their descendants. For ages,
it has been associated with such offerings being made to the dead
christened pretas (spirits) and pitrus(forfathers).
It is believed that one owes three main debts. First its Devarina
(debt to the gods), second is Rishi rina (debt to the guru) and
the last but, not the least is the Pitra rina (debt to the forefathers).
It is ordained that one must pay off these debts with utmost humility
During the fortnight of the Aashwin month, Hindus offer ablation
to their ancestors, While most people observe shraadhs at their
places, the more devout of them prefer to perform the rites at
the designated holy places but Gaya in Bihar (India) is considered
the holiest. A pinda daan is supposed to liberate all souls from
the control of Yama and help them attain moksha.
Gaya derives its name from al demon called gayasura. Legend has
it that after a severe penance demon Gayasura pleased Vishnu and
was granted a boon that whoever would touch him will be allowed
a place in heaven. This angered other Gods and they hatched a
One day when the demon sat for worship on the banks of river Phalgu,
the Gods not only put a stone over his head to render him immobile
but even persuaded Vishnu to put his feet on the stone.
On seeing Vishnu, Gayasura asked for another boon. He stretched
his body to four yojans (approximately 32 miles) and requested
that the place be named after him.
At Gaya there are as many as 45 sacred Vedic where shraadhs are
performed. In ancient times, Gaya was a holy place for offering
obseuies for merits of parents and was divided into two distinct
areas, dharamanya and dharmaprastha. In dharamanya were contained
the Aswatha tree near Phalgu. Buddha Gaya was the place where
pinda is offered by the Hindus from all over India, as par of
the Shraadh rites. There is also the Sita Kunda where lord Rama,
accompanied by Lakshmana and Sita, is believed to have performed
the shraadh of his father, Dasrath.
Shraadhs seem to be the outcome of the Karma theory to which all
Hindus subscribe to rather fruitfully and maintains relationship
till eternity. Like King Mahabali who visits Kerala during the
Onam celebrations to prepetuate the ties for ever onwards, so
the shraadhs seem to build bridges between the living and the
Gone are the days when shraadhs were observed in a spirit of true
indebtedness. The Brahmins were invited, served with rice meal
and a hefty dakshina amid puja recitations but now not many even
know what shraadh mean to us. Not even the Pandits accept the
invitation with pleasure which indeed is unfortunate, because
our values are being squandered away.
Little wonder then, that even devouts of other religions pay their
respects to their ancestors by remembering them on the birth and
death anniversaries and by raising memorials and offering flowers
at the graves. Christians, Muslims and Boudhs all observe the
ritual. The example of the world famous Taj Mahal at Agra can
also be assumed to be something akin to a shraadh.
The Chinese, Japanese and some other Asian partners honour their
ancestors in much the same sense of gratitude and remembrance.
While there are lots of people whose descendants remember and
honour their ancestors, there may be millions who die n harness.
Hindu religion even remembers those who die in wars and other
natural calamities, even the unseen and unheard of insects and
other creatures and upholds the highest celestial standards.
Funny though it may seem, the shraadh code of conduct provides
for observance of a shraadh in one's own life time at Gaya. Should
one, therefore, anticipate, a situation that there is no one after
him to perform the pinda-dan rite, he could go ahead to have one
done for himself for mutual peace and propensity.
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