Shradh is a festival where one pays homage to the ancestors. In this article, we write about what the festivities entail and why the festival holds so much importance in India.
As a child, I’ve asked various pandits and gurus about the importance of Shradh to understand why the rituals are performed. Only recently were these questions answered and when I understood their ideology, it made me realise the earnestness and beauty of this ritual. Here, I discuss briefly, what I could decipher, with a hope that it will help you look at the age-old ritual in a new light, just the way I did.
ya enam ajam avyayam
katham sa purusah partha
kam ghatayati hanti kam”
According to the Bhagavad Gita, this shloka was spoken by Lord Krishna before the commencement of the war to explain the concept of indestructibility of Aatma (soul) to Arjuna. It means that if the soul can neither be created nor destroyed, how can anyone kill or cause to kill anyone?
Although Aatma is indestructible, that does not make it omnipotent. It is still a concentration of energy searching for a body to reside in. It cannot reside in a body of its own will nor can it enter back into the vessel it was just released from. Some find a body, but others don’t, so they are said to wander in the wilderness of the spirit realm.
For the peace and salvation of such spirits, we celebrate Shradh. The second half of the Hindu Calendar month of Bhadrapada marks the Shradh period, falling right before the Navratri festival. The period also known as Pitra Paksha (fortnight of ancestors), continues Sarvapitra Amavasya (New Moon), i.e. 29th September. According to Hindu scriptures, it is believed that during the period of Shradh, the spirits of our ancestors descend from the spirit realm to the realm of the Earth. The essence of shradh is to devotedly offer our gratitude to these ancestral spirits.
The word ‘shradh’ is derived from the word ‘shraddha’, which literally means sincere faith. One needs to present their offerings to the forefathers with sincere dedication for their moksh (salvation). This activity among the Hindu religion gets place among the 16 ‘sanskaras’ defined by ancient rishis. These ‘Sanskaras’ are the important acts that one must perform to create possibilities for ‘liberation’ of soul.
Milk, barley and gangajaal are mixed with water to make ‘Tarpana’ which is presented to the gods every day throughout Pitra Paksha. People also make ‘Pind’ which is a mixture of rice, milk and sesame seeds. It is divided into 4 portions and offered to a cow, dog, crow and guests on the specific tithi (lunar day) of the death of your ancestor. If you are uncertain about the specific date, then you can present this offering on the day of Amavasya.
This ideology behind the rituals can be well explained by an excerpt from Sadhguru, yogi and founder of Isha Foundation, “When an Aatma is released from the body, their conscious and discerning minds are left behind. Now it just has a bunch of information that has certain tendencies of its own. Once there is a non-discerning mind, if you put one drop of pleasantness in this mind it will multiply a million-fold. If you put a drop of unpleasantness, that unpleasantness will multiply a million-fold. This is what is referred to as hell and heaven. If you go into a pleasant state, then it is called heaven and if you go into an unpleasant state of existence, this is called hell. The idea behind the rituals is that you can somehow put a drop of sweetness into that non-discerning mind so that the Aatma can live in a self-induced heaven.”
Pitru Paksha is also a period regarded for redeeming oneself from Pitru dosh (bad karma performed by the ancestors). It is believed that the bad doings of your ancestors or elders sow the seeds of bad karma in your Aatma too and its repentance is necessary for one’s moksha (liberation). The rituals also help in washing away these bad karmas (bad deeds) and to pave path towards heaven and peace a little more clearly.
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