Monday August 20, 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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Hinduism Should Not be Viewed Through the Narrow Prism of Marxism

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies

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Hinduism
Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male.

By Salil Gewali

“A little knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance”. And far more dangerous is when that little knowledge is spread in the society being propelled by the fuel of “prejudices”.  This write-up is with reference to a number of articles by a certain class of writers published in the mainstream media. Those articles are intended to rake up the issues in order to push the sacred temple of “Sabarimala” of Kerala or Shani Shingnapur and the culture associated with it, into the mire of controversy. Tarnishing the image of Hinduism is the main goal. Not unexpectedly, some stories even proclaim that in India “women” are thus demonized and their menstruation is abhorred.

Having gone through some of them I immediately contacted a number of top scholars in Kerala for hands-on verification — whether “women” are being despised so heartlessly or not. Since one of my books is translated into their language I did that with all ease. Not a single scholar (women included) informed me suggesting that they, or temple management of Sabarimala, have ever “despised women”, or hated “menstruation”.  I rather got an earful for asking such absurd questions.  They instantly reiterated referring to Hindu scriptures which teach all and one to look upon women as “Motherly figures”. One scholar remarks, “this confrontation has actually been orchestrated by the politicians with the help of certain forces which want to demean our culture”.  I heaved a sigh of relief!

Indeed all ancient Hindu scriptures put the female on the same footing as the male. But some vested interests with an ulterior motive have been distorting the true history/legends of India and also merrily belittling or shrugging off the literary treasure troves of the country. It was first done by the British in order to divide and rule Indians, in which they were very successful. And later, the legacy has been faithfully and aggressively carried forward by the Indian intellectuals influenced by certain thinkers and writers of the West and their culture.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Well, the seers of ancient India not only knew as information but they “fully realized” that everything, in and out, is pervaded by “Brahman” (Almighty). The modern science too has arrived at the “same conclusion”. The father of Quantum Mechanics — Erwin Schrodinger has scientifically discussed this fact in his world-famous book – “What is Life?”.  All knowledge associated with the ONENESS of Universe and the “Unity in Diversity” is systematically enshrined in 108 Upanishads.  They expounded with a force that “Purusha” (male) and “Pratriki” (female) both combine themselves to put forth the infinite COSMIC CREATION. One without other is like the fire without the heat. They are mutually complementary, inter-dependent and inter-related. The “discrimination” of any kind, not just “against women”, but even against the tiny “insects” and “plants” are considered irreligious. I would also request such biased scholars to read between the lines from the literature authored by Sri Aurobindo and Vivekananda who just quote from them to gloss over the footprint of their agendas. One wonders when they will learn to shake off the baggage of prejudices against while getting down to study the literature of the home country.

Now about the legend Ayyappa of Sabarimala in brief. The story which is long and interestingly too drawn-out, says —  Lord Ayyappa, who was born out of Lord Shiva and the feminine energy of Lord Vishnu, had exceptional power. His birth on earth was in order to kill a female demon– Mahishi. After having been killed the demoness, the curse against her ends. She again takes birth, this time the Goddess incarnate. This is laws of karma works. When she grew up she approached Lord Ayyappa for the marriage. But Ayyappa, who was practicing celibacy, denied. But, he consoles her saying that he will only marry her when no “first timer” will visit his temple for blessings. However, Lord Ayyappa asks her to reside just near to his temple. Later, in her memory, the devotee constructed a temple known as Malikapurathamma just adjacent to the temple of Ayyappa.

Since Lord Ayyappa, who was known for his celibacy, and had promised to marry Malikapurathamma, it has become a sort of a tradition among women not to visit the temple.  It should not be  misunderstood that it is apparently as a mark of showing respect to both Lord Ayyappa and Goddess Malikapurathamma.

Hinduism
Representational image.

Regarding menstruation, the seers of ancient India set down certain dos and don’t. It is no exaggeration that they realized the subtle intricacies of not only the tangible body and but also various sheaths of spiritual bodies (five sheaths mentioned in Upanishads). The areas of study are very vast. They caution that a woman during her monthly cycle should abstain from the religious public rituals, but can perform the personal spiritual practice. In fact, contrary to the modern tradition and practice, the seers didn’t “limit themselves” to the personal and public hygiene alone, but they went further, and so taken the “spiritual aspect” into consideration. Of course, lot many such dos and don’ts are beyond the understanding of we mundane people with limited five senses and “scattered mind”. It is too absurd who interpret that it is a practice of “untouchability”. A medical doctor will never allow you to enter into ICU unless you are well washed. Is not everything there meticulously sterilized?  Do you say that the hospital is practicing “untouchability”? I don’t think any mother will allow her children to enter the kitchen and take food immediately after the latrine without washing hands and feet.

Going by such biased articles in the mainstream media intended to denigrate the culture and heritage of the country; and also literary books (who unfortunately receive “Sahitya Akademi” and “Padma Shree” awards), I fervently wish that one should have the deeper knowledge of the subjects. Here the crucial prerequisite is that they must first unlearn false history and start to learn the true history without being weighed down by the prejudices.  Moreover, the cosmic ocean of the Indian wisdom is so deep, even it has described many “inconceivable” laws and principles which are seemingly out-of-box and discriminatory. I humbly suggest not to selectively pick up a few odds and use them to demean this vast culture of knowledge. The Vedanta should not be view through the narrow prism of Karl Marx and LeninEven their favorite master Fredrick Hegel (front ranking philosopher of the west) cheerfully confessed the depth of ancient wisdom, –  “It strikes everyone in beginning to form an acquaintance with the treasures of Indian literature, that a land so rich in intellectual products and those of the “profoundest” order of thought”. How I wish that a dagger not be wielded by an untrained person or else it will be disastrous!

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