Tuesday December 11, 2018

Pitru-Paksha: It’s time to worship ancestors

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By Nithin Sridhar

Pitr-Paksha (alternatively spelled as Pitru-Paksha)- the auspicious fortnight for the worship of ancestors has begun. Every year it begins on the first Poornima (full moon) after Ganesha Chaturti and ends on Mahalaya Amavasya which falls just a day before Navaratri starts. This year the Pitr-Paksha began on September 27 and will end on Oct 12.

Photo Credit: www.hindupriest.me
Photo Credit: www.hindupriest.me

The worship of the Devas (gods), Pitrs (Manes or Forefathers), and Rishis (the Seers) is central to the practice of the Hindu religion. When the father dies, the son performs funeral rites for the wellbeing and a safer journey of the departed soul. Similarly, the sons perform yearly rituals for the sake of departed fathers and mothers on the day of their deaths.

Apart from those specific rites that are performed for the sake of departed parents or immediate forefathers, Pitr-Paksha is a fortnight which is considered most auspicious time for worshiping and feeding, not only one’s parents and immediate ancestors, but also to any departed person be it a teacher, a friend or relatives.

Who is the Pitr?

Pitr basically refers to departed forefathers. Hinduism does not accept the theory of permanent heaven or hell. The Hindu scriptures speak about how Karma determines the journey of a particular individual after the death of his body and how the individual will eventually take a re-birth in a new body.

The scriptures speak about three paths a departed soul may take based on its actions when it was alive. Some who have lived life according to dharma and have practiced extensive devotion and meditation, then by the merit of such actions, he or she will attain Devaloka (the realm of the gods) through the northern path.

Some people who have practiced various duties and rites alone without devotion or meditation, may have to take a southern path to “Pitrloka” (the realm of ancestors/manes). On the other hand, those who live life selfishly and perform adharmic actions, may have to enter realms of hells called Naraka and suffer there for their unrighteous actions.

But, ultimately, all of them, according to their actions and its fruits, will again take birth as humans in the physical universe.

Without going into further details, it is suffice to say that, once a person dies, he discards his gross body and travels to Pitrloka in his subtle body and stays there until his karmic fruits that took him there get exhausted.

Manu Smriti (3.192) describes the Pitr as “free from anger, careful of purity, ever chaste, averse from strife, and endowed with great virtues.” Our forefathers who managed to reach there did so based on the merits of their own actions as well as due to the efforts of their offsprings’ who performed proper funeral rituals.

But, Pitrs, similar to humans, have unfulfilled desires. Many people when they die, die in misery and frustration. Most of them have strong, unfulfilled desires. These unfulfilled desires get carried even after one discards the physical body, as the desires belong to the mind, which is associated with the subtle body.

Therefore, Pitrs refer to our immediate parents who have departed, to our forefathers with whom we share a blood relationship, and in general to all ancestors who have come before us.

Why observe Pitr-Paksha?

Photo Credit: http://www.astrosage.com
Photo Credit: http://www.astrosage.com

As noted above, Pitrs refers to our ancestors. No person can take birth in this physical universe without being given birth by his/her parents. Therefore, each person owes to a debt to his parents for giving him/her an opportunity to enter this Universe. Then, the parents support their children, give them education, and help them grow up. Even though all these are done out of love by the parents, a Karmic bond and a debt is formed that the children owe to their parents.

This Karmic debt is called as “Rina” and such a bond of debt between two individuals is called as “Rina Bandha.” Now, it is not just parents who are responsible for the birth of an individual. The parents themselves were given birth by their parents. Hence, a person has a Rina Bandha with the whole family and lineage into which he or she is born.

The famous King Bhagiratha did practice severe Tapasya (austerity) to bring River Ganga on earth so that he could free his ancestors from Sage Kapila’s curse. This was his way of paying the debt to his ancestors.

In modern scientific language, a person derives his genes that are the basis of his existence from his ancestors. Therefore, there is a debt even on that count.

It is said that during the period of Pitr-Paksha, the Pitrs come down from their abodes in Pitrloka and reside near their descendants. If, one were to offer food and water and worship the Pitrs during this time, they will be very pleased and they will in-turn bless the descendants.

Manu Smriti (3.259) says that after performing Shraddha (a ritual to satiate Pitrs), the performer must pray for the blessings of Pitrs thus: “May liberal men abound with us! May (our knowledge of) the Vedas and (our) progeny increase! May faith not forsake us! May we have much to give (to the needy).”

P V R Narasimha who has prepared simple manuals for worshipping Pitrs says: “By thinking of the deceased ancestors with gratitude and trying to give them an emancipation, one is actually trying to free oneself from various Karmic predispositions that one has as a result of the Rina (Karmik debt) with several people. One can view this as an external event of satisfying and emancipating an external entity (a Pitr). Alternatively, one can view this as an internal event of satisfying and releasing an internal Karmik predisposition.

Thus, the worship of Pitrs during Pitr-Paksha, will not only help a person to pay back his Karmic debts to his ancestors by satiating their desires, but also helps to gain their blessings that will give rise to both material and spiritual welfare. Most importantly, the worship of Pitrs will help one to purify one’s mind by reducing the internal Karmic burden.

How to observe Pitr-Paksha?

Detailed rituals and procedures have been given in the scriptures regarding the worship of Pitrs during this period. Two main rituals that are suggested are: shraddham and Tarpanam.

Shraddham or Shraddha refers to that which is done with faith. This is different from Bhakti which is devotion towards God. Shraddham refers to worship of forefathers in reverence and gratitude. The normal annual Shraddham that is to be performed annually on the day when one’s father and/or mother had died includes Homam (fire ritual), Vastradharanam (gift of cloth), feeding of proper Brahmanas, and Pindapradhanam (balls of rice etc. given to Pitrs) among other things. Some hold that, during Pitr-Paksha, a simpler version of Shraddham called “Hiranya Shraddham” which does not involve fire ritual; gifting of clothes etc. can be performed.

It is suggested that, the most auspicious day for performing this Shraddham during Pitr-Paksha is on Mahalaya Amavasya, the last day.

Tarpanam or Tarpan is another simple ritual that can be ideally practiced on almost any day throughout the year (except few days during which it has been prohibited). The practice of Tarpanam during Pitr-Paksha is especially considered very auspicious.

Tarpanam basically means “satisfying” and as the name denotes its very purpose is to satiate the gods, seers, and the Pitrs by fulfilling the karmic debts we owe them. In case of the Pitrs, the satiation is also through either freeing them from some of their cravings. The ritual includes invoking Pitrs in water, holding that water in one’s palm and then releasing the water from the palm in a specific way using mantras by which the Pitrs are freed and satiated.

These both rituals are very auspicious and will help immensely to the performer. Pitrs who are thus satisfied bless the performer with progeny, wealth, good health, knowledge, and liberation. These blessings will in-turn lighten the burden of Karma and become conductive to the practice of Dharmic lives. Therefore, everyone must remember and worship their ancestors using this auspicious period of Pitr-Paksha.

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.