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Every year as Pitra Paksha comes closer, many people start making guesses and debates like what is this term called Shraadh and how to do it properly; and even before that, why do we need to do Shraadh in the first place? Some people think that it is some kind of religious obligation; some think it is some kind of good karma and some think it is just another religious superstition which has been imposed on them so that the pandits benefitting from Shraadhs may get more and more things and money from them.
Then there are some people who think that above everything, it is their duty towards the senior members of their family line who are no more in this physical world but who need these rituals to be conducted, in whichever worlds they are. These natives think that being the junior members of their families; it is their duty to give their ancestors what they need the most, as they have given them a lot, starting with the gift of human life in the first place.
There are many other opinions and beliefs about this ritual of Shraadh and there are many misconceptions as well as confusions related to this ritual. That is why I have decided take up this matter for the present chapter in which we will discuss the most important things related to this concept or ritual called Shraadh in Hindu Religion. To start with the topic, let’s first try to understand what this term called Shraadh in reality is.
Hindu Shastras mention that Shraadh karmas should be done for at least 3 generations which include father, grandfather and great grandfather; and the other family members in their generations. Whichever of the family members are dead in these generations, Shraadh can be done for them, but it is compulsory to do Shraadh for father, grandfather, great grandfather and respective wives of all three of them, whichever of them are dead. Many people in India believe that donating some goods and some money to pandits sitting in temples is Shraadh and some people think that arranging a Braham Bhoj which includes inviting 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 pandits at their places of residence and then offering food, fruits, valuables, clothes and money to these pandits is Shraadh. Whereas all these acts are parts of the process of Shraadh, these acts are not complete Shraadhs in themselves and there are more rituals that need to be performed in order to complete the process of Shraadh.
According to Vedas, four specific types of karmas done for the benefit of Pitras or ancestors are called Shraadh or Shraadh karmas and these four specific karmas are called Havna, Pind Daan, Tarpan or Tarpana and Brahmin Bhojan commonly called as Brahma Bhoj. It can be easily understood from the above explanation that Brahma bhoj is a type of Shraadh Karma and it is not the entire process of Shraadh. The Vedas mention different benefits for all four kinds of Shraadh karmas and accordingly it is believed that performing all these karmas ensures maximum benefits for the ancestors or Pitras. Hence if possible, everyone should perform these four types of Shraadh karmas. The first type of Shraadh 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 Shraadh karma called Pind Daan is a bit technical and during this type of Shraadh, 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 a body is passed on to the ancestors through this process of Pind Daan.
The next type of Shraadh karma is called 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 this karma of Tarpana. After Tarpana, fourth type of Shraadh karma is called Brahmin bhoj which has already been explained above.
Looking at the relevance of all types of Shraadh karmas, Atharva Veda mentions that the first type of Shraadh karma called Havna provides nourishment to the ancestors and the second one called Pind Daan provides a superior body to the ancestors so that they may go to better lokas or divine lokas with these bodies. The third one called Tarpan passes on to the ancestors as the streams of nectar which means that it provides great relief as well as great pleasure to the ancestors or Pitras in their relevant lokas. Finally, the fourth type of Shraadh karma called Brahmin Bhojan passes on pleasures equal to the pleasure obtained by the Brahmins eating that delicious food. All these acts done together can provide sufficient Punya or benefic karmas to the Pitras so that they may enjoy in good lokas or they may get rid of bad lokas.
Hence all four types of Shraadh karmas should be performed by every native who can afford to do so, in order to pass on maximum benefit to his Pitras. For the natives who can’t afford to perform each one of these Shraadh karmas, they should try and do as many of them as many they can. The benefic results of these karmas are said to increase many times when they are done during the days of Pitra Paksha, which means the days of the ancestors, as any effort done towards the benefit of ancestors brings maximum results during Pitra Paksha. It should be noted that everyone should abstain from consuming non vegetarian food and alcohol during the days of Pitra Paksha as doing so can pass on bad karmas to the ancestors instead of passing on good karmas. This condition should be strictly observed by the natives who are going to do Shraadh karmas for their ancestors.
Now that we know what four types of Shraadh karmas are and what kind of benefits they can provide to our ancestors or Pitras, let’s move on to the next question. Some people may think what is the need of performing Shraadh karmas in the first place? So let’s first look into the need for doing these shraadh karmas. As our present life is a payout of past life karmas, it means that the next life will be a payout of this life’s karmas. Every 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 present life body and as the soul leaves the physical body, it becomes devoid of Earth element as well as Water element and hence it becomes an incomplete body as far the execution of Karmas is concerned.
It means that any type of good karma done by this soul now; won’t be counted for good benefits in future since this soul does not have all the elements required to complete the process of fructification of karmas. This means that this soul has now become virtually Karmaheen (without Karmas) till it takes its next birth in a human body and it will have to wait for the next birth in order to do more result bearing Karmas.
However, taking next birth is easier said than done, because there are many transitory worlds which lie between the journey of a soul after leaving a human body and before being reborn into a new human body, and almost every soul has to pass through these transit worlds. To understand this concept in a better way, let us assume that a soul has left its human body and it starts its journey to those transitory worlds. This soul is 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 and the punishment for those karmas is that it should spend 25 Earth years in various types of Narakas (hells); and only after that it will be able to become ready for next birth in human body. It is further calculated that this soul can take next birth in human body, only after 45 years because all the people with whom its karmic accounts are meant to be settled in its next life, will be born again only during a cycle of time which starts 45 years later.
This whole calculation now means that this soul will first spend 25 years in various types of Narkas or hells, and then for the remaining 20 years, this soul will be sent to Pitra Loka (the transitory loka of the ancestors). Pitra loka is specifically meant for the souls which have completed their after death journey to good or bad lokas or worlds, depending on the good or bad karmas done by them in their recent human lives; and which are now waiting only for the time decided for them to take next birth in human body.
This is the process by virtue of which; each and every soul has to pass through good or bad after-death worlds, and such worlds may change depending on the good or bad karmas done in recent human life. For example, if a soul has done very good karmas in recent human life, it may be decided in Yama loka that this soul should spend 25 years in various types of heavens or Swarg lokas, then this soul should spend 20 years in Pitra loka and then this soul should be reborn in a 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 Shraadh karmas which is the primary topic of discussion for this chapter. Continuing from the already mentioned example which says that a soul has been punished to spend 25 years in various types of hells or Narak lokas due to the bad karmas done by it in recent human life; not even a single soul wants to spend horrible time in various types of hells where it has to bear many types of sufferings and tortures.
However, a soul sent to such lokas is absolutely helpless, and regardless of the fact that this soul wants to get out of such Narak Lokas as early as possible, there is nothing that this soul can do to escape such hells or to minimize its duration of punishment in such hells so that it may go back to Pitra Loka and wait there for the allotment of next human body. There is only one way out of such hells in this case and this way 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 and in time, as some good karmas have reached this soul now, which will pay for part of the punishment, by virtue of their goodness.
This process of sending good karmas to dead people is called Shraadh. In simple terms it can be said that the good karmas which the souls of dead people need but they can’t do these good karmas by themselves due to lack of physical body, can be done and sent to them through proper Vedic procedures, by someone else having a human body. These good karmas go to the account of the soul for which they have been done, and as the karmic account of the soul in question shifts towards goodness and positivity, such soul is relieved from its miseries, where such reliefs depend on the intensity of misery of such soul as well as on the amount of good karmas done on behalf of this soul.
Looking at the other possibility, good karmas done for the souls which have already done good karmas in their recent human lives and which are enjoying good times in heavens; will further send positive energy to them. This will increase their enjoyment and improve their fate in their next human lives. This way, good karmas sent to the departed souls when done with proper Vedic procedures called Shraadh, benefit them whether they are in Swarg or in Narak (heaven or hell).
After knowing how the process of Shraadh helps the souls of dead people, the next question that comes to mind is that this way anyone can do Shraadh on behalf of any dead person. Then why should some specific people (male members of family line) do this for their ancestors and not anyone else? The answer to this question is comparatively simple and now we will look at this answer. People in the family line of any soul are 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 acts as a strong factor when someone tries to send good karmas to the souls of dead people.
It means that in order to send good karmas to a specific soul through the ritual of Shraadh, people who were very closely attached to this soul in its latest human life have far better chances of sending good karmas to this soul, in a stronger and better way than anyone else. That is why, people directly from the bloodline of a soul are asked to do Shraadh on behalf of the soul. Relatives who are not sons or grandsons of a soul, have comparatively weaker chances of sending good karmas with the same speed and same quantum, and the people who are not connected at all to a soul in question, have even weaker chances of doing so.
After this, another question may arise that why should the son of a soul or male members of a family line should do Shraadhs and why is this ritual not performed by female members of a family line? In order to understand this fact, we should first understand that every family line has a seed, and this seed is carried forward from generation to generation, through the male members of the family. This means that the male members of a family line are better connected to the family line and to the souls departed from the family, than the female members. This is the reason due to which, male members are asked to do the ritual of Shraadh so that maximum benefit may be passed on to the soul or souls in question.
It should also be noted that generally the eldest male member of the family or the eldest son of a soul is asked to do the rituals of Shraadh instead of giving this job to the younger members. This is again due to the fact that, the elder male members of a family line are better connected to the departed souls of their family than the younger members of the family line. To simplify this fact, we should understand that if the son, grandson and let’s say even the great grandson of a dead person are all present to do the ritual of Shraadh, the son of this soul is the best choice as the son has a stronger direct connection to this soul compared to the grandson and great grandson. Grandson is connected to this soul through the son whereas the great grandson is connected through the Grandson and then through the son.
We can clearly see that only the son is directly connected to this soul and other male members in question do not have that type of direct connection like the son has. So the eldest son of a departed soul has the first right to do Shraadh rituals, and in case of absence of the eldest son, the next strongest connection may be asked to do this ritual. Vedic pandits almost always know that out of the living members of a family line, which one is the best connected to a soul, for which Shraadh is being done. Hence the choice of who should do Shraadh rituals should be left for pandits to decide, in case there are more than one people present for doing this ritual. It should also be noted that though the main person chosen for Shraadh rituals should do all the Shraadh karmas, other male members of the family can also join him in the process, playing supporting roles.
Therefore each and every person alive on this earth should do Shraadh for their ancestors as this is their right and we are not giving them any favors by doing it. We should understand that our ancestors have given us the gift of this human life which is the most valuable gift we can ever get. We should also understand that if some of our ancestors are suffering in some Narak Lokas due to their engaging in bad karmas in their latest human lives, many of those bad karmas were done in order to give good things and good lives to us. For example, a father may do many types of bad karmas in order to give better life to his son and such father may have to pay for these bad karmas after death, by suffering tortures through various types of hells or narak lokas. Hence it is the moral duty of the son and a binding on the son, to relieve his father from such hells and to upgrade him to better lokas, by sending him good karmas through Shraadh rituals.
Hence it should be understood that Shraadh Karmas are not some types of favors that we may do for our ancestors, it is the right of our ancestors and it is our duty to do these rituals. People who don’t perform Shraadh rituals, gain bad karmas by not doing their duty towards their ancestors and such bad karmas reflect in the horoscopes of the family line, in the form of a specific type of Pitra Dosh which is formed by Sun, as Sun stands for the ancestors. Hence everyone should do Shraadh rituals for their ancestors in order to send good karmas to them and in order to get their blessings in return. This is the least we can do for our beloved father or mother or grandfather who loved us throughout his or her life and who provided us with the best he or she could. What we are sending them in return, once every year or even once every month, is nothing compared to what they have given to us, throughout their lives.
Therefore, you should do Shraadh karmas for you father, grandfather or other dear and departed members of your family because this is the only thing that you can do for them after they are no more present with you in their physical bodies and this is the only thing that they now need from you. Choosing to do or not to do Shraadh karmas for them, may be a deciding factor whether they will continue to be in their state of misery, if they are in any such state or they will be relieved of such misery because you have sent them the pay out, in form of good karmas. Hence act now, so that the ones who loved us the most while they were alive may get the best they can, in those worlds which are far beyond our vision and imagination.