Pitras and Shradh Karmas
Every year as Pitra Paksha approaches, many people start thinking about the meaning as well as relevance of Shradh. Some people may think that it is some kind of religious obligation and some may think it is some kind of good karma. Some may think the concept of Shradh is another religious superstition which has been imposed on them.
Then there are some people who may think it is their duty towards the senior members of their family line who are no longer present in this physical world but who need Shradh rituals to be conducted, in whichever worlds they are. Hence being the junior members of their families; it is their duty to give their ancestors what they need the most, as their ancestors have given them a lot, starting with the gift of human life.
Let’s discuss the topic of Shradh and look into various aspects related to it. Hindu Shastras mention that Shradh karmas should be performed for at least 3 generations which include father, grandfather and great grandfather; and other family members in their generations. Whichever of the family members are dead in these generations, Shradh may be performed for them. It is considered compulsory to perform Shradh for father, grandfather, great grandfather and their respective wives, whichever of them are dead.
Some people believe that donating some goods and money to pandits in temples is Shradh. Some others think that arranging a Braham Bhoj which includes inviting 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 pandits at their places of residence and offering food, fruits, clothes and money to these pandits is Shradh. Whereas all these acts are parts of the process of Shradh, they are not the complete process. There are more rituals that need to be performed in order to complete the process of Shradh.
According to Vedas, four specific types of karmas performed for the benefit of Pitras or ancestors are called Shradh or Shradh karmas. These specific karmas are called Havna, Pind Daan, Tarpan or Tarpana and Brahman Bhojan commonly called as Brahma Bhoj. Hence Brahma bhoj is a type of Shradh Karma and it is not the entire process of Shradh. The Vedas mention different benefits for all four kinds of Shradh karmas. Accordingly, it is believed that performing all these karmas ensures maximum benefits for Pitras.
The first type of Shradh karma called Havna is performed by getting a Pitra Gayatri Pooja or a Pitra Kalyaan Pooja or simply a Havna performed with Pitra Gayatri mantra, for the benefit of Pitras. The second type of Shradh karma called Pind Daan is somewhat technical. During this Karma, Pinds or bodies are made for each ancestor and these Pinds are made from mashed boiled rice, mixed with Desi Ghee. This mixture is converted into specific shapes and each one of such masses of this mixture is called a Pind which literally stands for Body. Hence it can be said that bodies are passed on to ancestors through the process of Pind Daan.
The next type of Shradh karma is Tarpan through which streams of water are offered to ancestors or Pitras with the chant of specific mantras and with the help of specific gestures of hands and fingers, which are guided by the pandits who help in performing Tarpana. After Tarpana, fourth type of Shradh karma is called Brahman bhoj which has already been explained.
Looking at the relevance of Shradh karmas, Atharva Veda mentions that the first type of Shradh karma called Havna may provide nourishment to the ancestors. Pind Daan may provide superior bodies to the ancestors so that they may go to better lokas (worlds) with such bodies. Tarpan may be passed on to the ancestors as the streams of nectar which means it may provide great relief or great pleasure to Pitras in their respective lokas. Brahman Bhojan may pass on pleasure equal to the pleasure obtained by the Brahmans eating the delicious foods. All these acts done together may provide Punya (positive energy) to Pitras so that they may enjoy in good lokas or they may get rid of bad lokas.
Hence all four types of Shradh karmas are recommended to be performed by every native who can afford to do so, in order to pass on maximum benefit to his Pitras. The natives who can’t afford to perform each one of these Shradh karmas, they are recommended to perform as many of them as many they can.
Benefic results of these karmas are said to increase many times when they are performed during the days of Pitra Paksha, which means the days of the ancestors; since any effort done towards the benefit of ancestors may bring maximum results during Pitra Paksha. The natives who perform Shradh Karmas are advised to abstain from consuming non vegetarian foods and alcohol during the days of Pitra Paksha.
Let’s look at the relevance of Shradh karmas. As the present life is a payout of past life’s karmas, it means that the next life will be a payout of this life’s karmas. Human body is made of five essential elements of nature called Panch Tatvas which are Water, Earth, Fire, Air and Sky or Ether element. When a person dies, his soul leaves the body. After this, a new body is assigned to the soul during the next birth.
However, next birth is easier said than done, since there may be many transitory worlds which a soul may have to go through; after leaving a physical body and before getting a new body. To understand this concept in a better way, let us assume that a soul has left its physical body and it starts its journey to these transitory worlds. This soul is said to be first taken to Yama Loka where the accounts for good and bad karmas done by this soul are settled and accordingly the next paths for this soul are decided.
Let’s assume that this soul has committed very bad karmas in its recent life. Let’s suppose the punishment for such karmas is that it should spend 25 earth years in various types of Narakas (hells); and only after that it may be ready for next birth in human body. Let’s suppose that this soul can take next birth in human body, only after 45 years. This is because all the people with whom its karmic accounts are meant to be settled in its next life, may be born again; only during a phase of time which starts after 45 years.
It means that this soul may first spend 25 years in various types of Narkas or hells, and then for the remaining 20 years, this soul may be sent to Pitra Loka (the transitory world for the ancestors). Pitra loka is said to be specifically meant for the souls which have completed their after death journeys to good or bad lokas, depending on the good or bad karmas done by them in their recent human lives; and which are waiting to take next births in human bodies.
This is the process by virtue of which; each and every soul is said to pass through good or bad after-death worlds. Such worlds may change depending on the good and bad karmas done by a soul in its recent human life. For example, if a soul has done very good karmas in its recent human life, it may be decided that this soul should spend 25 years in various types of heavens or Swarg lokas. After that, this soul should spend 20 years in Pitra loka and then this soul should be assigned a new human body.
Now that we know about the journey of a soul through various types of lokas after death, let’s try to understand the need for Shradh karmas. Let’s continue from the aforementioned example which says that a soul has been punished to spend 25 years in various types of hells due to the bad karmas done by it in its recent human life. No soul may wish to go through horrible experiences in various types of hells where it may have to bear many types of sufferings and tortures.
However, a soul sent to such lokas is absolutely helpless. Regardless of the fact that this soul may want to get out of such Narak Lokas as soon as possible, there may be nothing it may do to escape such hells or to minimize the duration of punishment so that it may go to Pitra Loka and wait there for the allotment of next human body. There is only one way out of such hells; which is that someone in a human body should do good karmas on behalf of this soul and those karmas should be transferred to this soul through due Vedic procedures.
These are the procedures by virtue of which; the punishment may be decreased in quantum as well as in duration. As benefic energy from Shradh karmas reaches this soul, such energy may balance out a part of the negative energy carried by the soul. As that happens; the quantum and/or duration of punishment may reduce. Such reduction is directly proportional to the amount of positive energy received the by soul in question. Hence more energy means more relief and less energy means less relief.
This process of sending positive energy to departed souls is called Shradh. In simple terms, it can be said that the good karmas which the Pitras need but they can’t do them by themselves due to lack of physical bodies, can be done and sent to them through proper Vedic procedures, by someone else having a physical body. These good karmas go to the account of the soul for which they have been performed. As the karmic account of the soul in question shifts towards positivity, such soul is relieved from its miseries. Such reliefs depend on the intensity of miseries of such soul as well as on the quantum of good karmas done on behalf of such soul.
Looking at another probability, Shraadh karmas done for the souls which may have already done many good karmas in their recent human lives and which may be enjoying good times in heavens; may send more positive energy to them. This may increase their enjoyment and improve their fates in their next human lives. This way, positive energy sent to Pitras through proper Vedic procedures called Shradh, may benefit them whether they are in heaven, hell or Pitra loka.
The next question that may come to mind is that this way; anyone can do Shradh on behalf of any dead person. Then why should some specific people do this for a specific soul? People in the family line of a soul may be connected to that soul more closely than the people who had no relation to that soul in its latest human life. This closeness of connection may act as a strong factor when someone tries to send positive energy to a departed soul.
It means when it comes to send positive energy to a specific soul through Shradh, people who were closely attached to this soul in its latest human life may have far better chances than anyone else. That is why people directly related to the bloodline of a departed soul are asked to perform Shradh on behalf of such soul. Relatives who are not sons or grandsons of one such departed soul, may have relatively weak chances of sending positive energy with the same speed and quantum. The people who are not connected at all to a soul in question, may have even weaker chances of doing so.