Respect and reverence for parents, teachers and elders are an integral part of our Indian culture. Our highest regard and admiration towards them doesn’t limit to only the living but also includes the departed. Hence, similar is the logic behind observing shradh puja or ceremony for one’s ancestors. The following excerpt is extensive and a quite detail read for you to understand shradh meaning in the best possible manner.
Shradh: The Three Debts
According to the Hindu scriptures, while several factors shape our overall worldly growth and well-being, three play a more significant role. In spiritual parlance, the endowments via the three are known as either “Rins or debts”:
- One, the favours of gods and benedictions of nature is known as Deva-rin
- Two, the contribution and blessings of one’s teachers, gurus and ancient rishis is called Rishi-rin
- Lastly, three, the Pitri-rin, the debt one owes to one’s ancestors.
Shradh: The Deva-Rin Debt
Well, being grateful to those who favour us is another characteristic of Indian culture. One should preserve and respect everything that helps mankind. Nature gives light, air, water, food and habitat without even asking and that too for free. Such grace and blessing of nature are indeed a debt for mankind.
We pay back this debt via holding regular havans to detoxify and keep the air pollution-free. Also with the process of watering, planting, and protecting plants and trees, one can pay their debts in their own way.
Shradh: The Rishi-Rin Debt
Similarly, we repay the rishi-rin with the practice of observing the social customs and traditions. Ancient rishis are the ones who establish such intricate customs and traditions.
This world would surely not remain the same place without the contribution of one’s gurus, teachers or even the rishis. The great social thinkers of the past, are the ones who lay the foundation of a stable and organized society.
Shradh: The Pitri-Rin Debt
Last but not the least, we also owe a debt to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
After all, they brought us to this world to continue the lineage and the legacy in our respective families. Their genes are a part of our body system and their mental traits unknowingly influence our thinking.
Moreover, the food and the care they gave us while we were children help us to stand on our own. Their contribution to our life is indeed a debt which we must pay back whenever it’s feasible or possible.
The Departing Soul
Ancient books assert and write about situations wherein our ancestors depart from this world unwedded or childless. Or what happens when they meet with an untimely tragic death, or their inwardly unfulfilled desires or longings do not allow them to detach from this world. Isn’t that so extensive?
You would remain in surprise to know that such a person is not able to liberate himself. He cannot do so from this planet even after death and remains earth-bound. His departed soul fails to reach heaven and continues at a lower astral region, the Pitriloka. This region is below the Chandraloka, a region below heaven, in the form of a pinda or ball-like form. The presiding deity of Pitriloka is Lord Dattatreya, a minor incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The Issue Of Pitridosha
There are consequences if the descendants of such an unliberated soul do not offer tarpan on the tithi or day and date of his death during shradh. Shardh is nothing but the period between the full moon and new moon night of the month of ashwina (September– October). This is when his soul may turn hostile towards the family. Yes, you heard that right!
This may also cause regular loss of wealth, frequent deaths in the family, or the birth of only female children. This disorder in the family is called Pitridosha. And to protect oneself from such calamity, Pitri-Rin has to begin dutifully without any compromise.
The Pinda Ball Or The Pinda-Dhana
Our concern and respect for the one in departing are brought forth through regular Tarpan-Arpan. Now, ‘Tarpan’ means offering water to our ancestors while reciting their names and appropriate mantras. On the contrary, ‘Arpan’ means preparing dishes that the deceased person would relish. And one must offer the same to a true Brahmin on the day of his Shraadh.
One must mix a ball of boiling rice with jwar or millet, flour, black sesame and kusha grass. Then one should offer them to the birds in the form of a pinda. This pinda ball represents the soul of the departed ancestor. Alternatively, one can immerse the pinda into some flowing holy water. This offering is known as the pinda-dana. This is the aspect which propitiates the unliberated soul.
The pinda souls that reside in Pitriloka are limbless and without any stomach. But, remember that they have a very keen sense of smell. The souls satiate in a way of tarpan-arpan, just through the aroma of the food. Therefore, whatever we offer to them should remain pure, aromatic, fresh and clean. One should also offer them with faith and regard; only then do they accept our offerings.
Lord Yama’s Boon
Did you know that the Lord Yama bestowed a boon on mankind that ‘whoever offers tarpan- arpan to his ancestors will receive their blessings’?
As a thanksgiving gesture, Hindus propitiate their ancestors during the Mahalaya paksha or Sharada paksha. This is between the full moon and moonless nights of the Ashwin maas, i.e, from September to October. The significance of propitiating one’s ancestors with such rituals is there in detail in quite a few Puranas. Those Puranas are- the Vishnu, Varaha, Vayu and Matsya Purana.
The Mahabharata And Manusmriti Acts As Evidence
Both the Manusmriti and the Mahabharata explain in detail about the importance of shradh. People believe that during the fortnight of the waning moon of the ashwin maas, the astral bodies of ancestors leave their abode. They leave the Pitriloka, to spend the fortnight in their descendants’ homes. Their home is none other than the Prithviloka or earth, and then they expect them to offer tarpan.
Astrologically and astronomically, the earth is closest to the moon during these fifteen days. Hence, all these offerings reach our ancestors very quickly and swiftly.
Dakshinayan And Inauspiciousness Go Hand In Hand
Scientifically, the period between 14 July and 13 January is known as Dakshinayan or the lack of sun. During these months of the year, the sun is below the equator, towards the South Pole. And from 13 January, e.g., the day of makar Sankranti, the sun starts its northward journey. There is a popular belief that the dakshinayan period refers to a negative state of mind. The chaturmas, the first four months of:-
All of them have maximum negativity amid the atmosphere. During this period, no auspicious event is held with regards to the Hindus. Even marriages are put on hold and no one recommends such a date.
Why Is The Ashwin Maas An Ideal Time To Perform Shradhs?
Well, now as you know there are periods which aren’t ideal. This is when one can relate the negative state of mind into one’s
- Anger in Shravana;
- To a disturbing mind in Bhadra
- To non-fulfilment of one’s desires and uncontrollable ego
- In Ashwina, it relates to the discontent arising from non-fulfilment of desires of our ancestors, particularly during Amavasya.
For this reason, one performs shradhs, especially during the Ashwin maas.
People believe that once an individual performs shradh or pinda dana successfully at Gaya the majority of the work is complete. Then there is no need to perform the ritual thereafter. The only ritual that one has to perform is ‘remembrance’ on the shradh day. And one can do so via doing some charity in their name.
Astrologically, the importance of Gaya is due to its strategic geo-location on this planet. A prayer or a ritual here is quite effective as it reaches its desired destination. This happens only when one says it sincerely and performs it precisely.