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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Pitru Yagna & Aadi Amavasya

A prayer offered for deceased ancestors 

“Let the ancestors residing on Earth attain an evolved region and ancestors living on a higher plane of existence ‘in heaven’ never degrade. Let the ones who are at a medium plane of existence, attain a higher plane. Let the ancestors who symbolize the Truth protect us.” 

The Three Debts

The famous epic Mahabharata says that a human soul has three types of debts to be cleared before leaving the mortal coil.
  • Debt to Lord Vishnu – This is called Dev Rin. This debt can be cleared by doing charity and making donation.
  • Debt to Lord Shiva – This is called Rishi Rin. This debt can be cleared by seeking knowledge of the scriptures and sacred study.
  • Debt to Lord Brahma– This is called Pitru Rin. This debt is cleared by doing tarpanam or Shraddha by children to their ancestors.

We inherited the biological genes of our parents, which they had taken over from their parents and so on. Likewise, we also inherit the soul genes (properties) from our ancestral lines. Many of our thoughts come from our ancestors. This means our ancestors have an influence on the decisions we take and the way we manage our lives. This phenomenon is called Soul Genetics.

Sometimes we may find ourselves caught up in disappointing situations and find it very difficult to break away from it. This could be the result of the negative karmic impressions that our soul genes have acquired from our ancestral lineage. The easiest way to end such situations of stalemate is by honoring one’s ancestors.

The Story of Shraddh

On the Amavasya day (new moon day) the forefathers remain present on the doorway of the house assuming the form of wind, expecting Shraddh offering from their Kinsman. Tormented by hunger and thirst they bide their time at the doorstep until sunset. At dusk they draw long inward breaths and return back to their respective planes of existence dejectedly, vilifying their progeny with a contrite frame of mind. Hence, one should painstakingly perform Shraddh on the Amavasya day. If the descendants and kinsman of the Pitrus, perform Shraddh at the pilgrimage center of Gaya, than in consequence they gain privilege of residing with the self-same Pitrus (forefathers) in Brahmlok. They never experience the pangs of hunger and thirst. Hence, the erudite should unfalteringly perform Shraddh ritualistically with vegetables as a minimum.  

Garuda Purana

कुर्वीत समये श्राद्धं कुले कश्चिन्न सीदति ।
आयुः पुत्रान्यशः स्वर्गं कीर्तिं पुष्टिं बलं श्रियम् ॥ २,१०.५७ ॥
पशून्सारैव्यं धनं धान्यं प्राप्नुयात्पितृपूजनात् ।
देवकार्यादपि सदा पितृकार्यं विशिष्यते ॥ २,१०.५८ ॥
देवताभ्यः पितॄणां हि पूर्वमाप्यायनं शुभम् ।
ये यजन्ति पितॄन्देवान्ब्राह्मणांश्च हुताशनम् ॥ २,१०.५९ ॥
- गरूड़ पुराण

kurvIta samaye shrAddhaM kule kashchinna sIdati |
AyuH putrAnyashaH svargaM kIrtiM puShTiM balaM shriyam || 2\,10\.57 ||
pashUnsAraivyaM dhanaM dhAnyaM prApnuyAtpitR^ipUjanAt |
devakAryAdapi sadA pitR^ikAryaM vishiShyate || 2\,10\.58 ||
devatAbhyaH pitR^INAM hi pUrvamApyAyanaM shubham |
ye yajanti pitR^IndevAnbrAhmaNAMshcha hutAshanam || 2\,10\.59 ||
- Garuda Purana 10.57-59

‘Sorrows don’t afflict the members of those families, who perform the Shraddh rites timely. By venerating the fore-fathers, humans attain longevity, progeny, fame, heavens, strength, wealth, livestock, happiness and food- grains. Pitrukarya (the rites pertaining to the forefathers) is more important than even Devkarya (the rites pertaining to Gods). It is far more beneficial to please the forefathers first even before pleasing Gods.’                                                                                                                  
The ones who worship the manes, Gods, Brahmin and fire, in effect worship Me in the in-dwelling consciousness in all beings. By ritually performing the Shraddh in accordance to one’s enablement, a human being gratifies the entire sentient and insentient universe right up to Brahma.

O Skybound Garuda! The manes who, have been born in Pisachyoni (ghostly plane of existence) are gratified with the foodgrains that have been scattered on the ground by the humans. The manes that have attained to the floral plane of existence are pleased with the water that drips from clothes after bathing on Shraddh. The manes in the Devyoni are pleased with the fragrance that emanates from the falling droplets on the ground. Those manes who, have been ostracized by their clan, who are not fit for rites, are impure and afflicted, devour water and food that spills on the ground.
The Aachman (sipping of water as a part of religious ceremony) partaken by Brahmins following the Shraddh meals gratifies the manes. The manes, who have attained to the Ghostly plane of existence, who have taken the form of worm or are born as humans all nurture expectations of the food grains contained in offerings of the rice-balls (Pind) made to the earth. Such offering satisfies the manes.

The manes who, have been born in other genus are thus satisfied with the food and water (pure or impure) that is cast on the terra-firma as a part of Shraddh rites performed by Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.
O Pakshin (noble bird)! The offering of food, wealth etc. made by the relatives for the purposes of Shraddh is all well received by the manes.  The Shraddh offering of foodgrain, water, vegetables etc. made in accordance to one’s capacity serves the purpose of gratifying the manes.

Pitru Yagna

Manu Smriti says, out of five important rites of a householder, Pitru Yagna or worship of Ancestors forms an important duty of a householder. Pitrus are our forefathers who inhabit the Pitru realm. They need to be propitiated with suitable oblations on important days of the year. Offering of Tarpanam brings salvation to our deceased ancestors.

Pitru Tharpanam is a ritual where oblations of water and sesame are offered to the dead ancestors to elevate them to higher planes of existence. This ritual is offered to three generations of ancestors from the maternal and paternal side. Invoking the presiding Pitru deities, Vasu, Rudra and Aditya, chanting of Vedic mantras are done for the food to reach the ancestors. These deities carry the food to the ancestors and the food is called swadha.

Garuda Purana says Shraddha (an ancestral ritual) is very important to every householder and those who fail to do this ritual to their ancestors earn demerit.

Benefits of offering Pitru Tharpanam

Garuda Purana says that Pitrus live in Pitru Loka or Soma Loka, which is near the planet Moon. Offerings of water and til make them very happy and greatly pleased. They bless their descendants with good life in return.

Pitrus bestow upon their blessings of fame, longevity, relief from debts, destruction of enemies, wealth, happiness and progeny.

Departed Ancestors

For several days and nights, the Rishi Jaratkaru (Jaratkaru appears in the tales of Astika and Manasa in the Mahabharata, the Devi Bhagavata Purana, and the Brahma Vaivarta Purana. The tale of Astika is narrated twice in Astika Parva chapter of the Mahabharata, Adi Parva.) was tormented by visions of old men hanging precariously upside down from a ledge extending across a dark bottomless pit. 

“Save us, save us,” they cried. 

“Who are you?” asked the sage. 

The old men replied, “We are Pitrus, your ancestors. Save us. Save yourself.” 

“How?” asked Jaratkaru. 

“Here is how,” said the ancestors, “get a wife and beget upon her children. If you don’t we will forever be trapped in Pitru-loka (the land of ancestors), hanging upside down, and you will be trapped forever in the hell known as Put.”

This story recurs several times in the Puranas. Rishi Agastya had a similar vision. Following this vision, Jaratkaru and Agastya get married and produce children. 

A male offspring was called Putra and a female offspring was called Putri because by their birth they saved their parents from the hell known as Put reserved for men and women who refuse to produce children. Pitrs are typically portrayed in art in male form because in the language of symbols, the male form is used to represent the soul while the female form is used to represent the flesh.

Traditional Hindus believe that every living man and woman is obliged to his ancestors, the Pitru, to reproduce. This is called Pitru-rin or debt to the ancestors. This debt is repaid by producing children and enabling the dead to be reborn in the land of the living. During the Tharpanam rituals performed by Hindus, mashed rice balls mixed with sesamee seeds are offered to toothless Pitrus with the promise that the Pitru-rin will be repaid. The rice balls represent food which is the raw material of the human body.

Eternity in Put

In the Mahabharata when the prince Devavrata takes a vow never to marry, or father a child, the gods call him Bhishma, the one who took the terrible vow. What was this terrible vow? To understand this vow, one must appreciate the mythological framework of Pitru-rin. Out of love for his father who wanted to marry a fisher woman, Devavrata took the vow of celibacy and thereby publicly declared he would not repay his Pitru-rin. By doing so, he doomed himself to an eternity in Put, with no hope of being reborn. Traditionally, Pitru-lokam is closest to Bhu-lokam (land of the living) when the sun is on its southerly course (from June to December). Perhaps Bhisma did not want to face his disapproving ancestors which is why he chose to die only in January, after Makara Sankranti, when the sun began its northerly course. Even today, around later winter and early spring there is a holy day called Bhishma-ashtami when in temples across India Tharpanam rituals are performed for Bhishma – for the obedient son still stands toothless in Put, for the sake of his father.

It is believed that the immortal soul is enclosed in three mortal bodies. The first body is the flesh, that we can touch and feel. The second body is the nervous energy that animates the flesh. The third body is the spirit body which cannot be seen. The spirit body is the container of karmic debts and equities. Until this body is free of debts and equities, accumulated in past lives, the soul is obliged to return to the land of the living and experience circumstances resulting from past karma.

When a person dies, the first and second body dies but the third body does not die. Through various funeral rituals, the spirit body is encouraged and assisted to make its journey out of Bhu-loka across the river Vaitarni to Pitru-lokam, the land of ancestors. While the journey to Pitru-lokam is through the crematorium, the journey back to Bhu-lokam is through the mother’s womb. While passing over the river Vaitarni, or while passing out of the mother’s womb, the spirit body loses all memory of previous lifetimes.

Some souls are unable to make their journey from the land of living to the land of dead. As a result they do not turn into Pitru; they remain here as Pisasu or ghosts. Another word for Pisasu is Vetalam. Both Pisasu and Vetalam are visualized hanging upside down, usually from a Banyan tree in the crematorium, perhaps because they do not possess the human body and hence are not affected by the natural law of gravity. Since they are upside down, they have a topsy-turvy view of all things. They are known to torment the living by questioning them all that happens in Bhu-lokam. Thus, they are seen as the voice of conscience as well as the source of nightmares who have to be appeased or warded off. 

Many people believe that if a person or a house is tormented by ghosts, funeral rituals must be performed because in all probability no one performed these rites for them causing them to be trapped on the wrong side of Vaitarni, transforming them into angry poltergeists.

The blessings of our deceased ancestors are a major reason why we do or do not succeed in this life. If our ancestors are not resting peacefully, then they can cause much disruption and hardship in our life.

Aadi Amavasya

Amavasya is a Sanskrit term for a New Moon day and Aadi is a Tamil month, which starts in the middle of July and ends in the middle of August every year. Amavasya in the month of Aadi is one among the 3 New Moon days considered extremely powerful to honor one’s ancestors and receive their blessings. 

This New Moon in the Tamil month of Aadi is of great importance. To appease one's forefather, Tharpanam is offered in holy places like Rameshwaram, Gaya, Allahabad and other sacred places. People take a dip in rivers and oceans to cleanse themselves of impurity and offer prayers to their ancestors for a good life.

There are 96 days in a year when tharpanam can be performed to our departed ancestors. Generally, Hindus offer worship to their ancestors on New Moon days. There are 12 New Moon days in a year to offer worship to our departed ones.

Aadi Amavasya assumes greater importance because every year during this period the Sun moves towards the South and hence it is called the Dhakshinayana. This is the first New Moon day of this period; hence it is the most powerful day to perform Tharpanam rituals for our ancestors. Annadhanam - Food feeding for needy is also important during Amavasya.

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