Sraaddha And Tarpana
Sraaddha is the name of the ceremonies performed by relatives to help the Jiva who has cast off his physical body in death. A Jiva who has cast off his physical sheath is called a Preta. The part of the Sraaddha performed to help him at this stage is called the Preta Kriya.
How Sraaddha And Tarpana Benefit The Departed Souls
Sraaddha gives satisfaction to the Pitris. By the offering of the sixteen Sraaddhas, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitris. The son should perform the Sapindikarana rites for his father. Performance of Sraaddha and Tarpana relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka.
Those who go to hell are extremely oppressed by hunger and thirst. Performance of Sraaddha and offerings of rice and oblations to them, relieve their sufferings.
Hence, performance of Sraaddha is indispensable. Those who dwell in heaven also get satisfaction, strength and nourishment.
The Advantages Of Cremation
Cremation is the best way of destroying a dead body. This is highly beneficial for the departed soul. If the body is not burnt; the Jiva is linked to the earth. The soul hovers round or hangs about the dead body on account of Moha or attachment to the physical body. Its journey to the celestial regions is interfered with. The vibrations set up by the recitation of Mantras and the offerings and oblations of water, bring solace and comfort to the departed soul.
The Sapindikarana ceremony helps the Jiva to pass from the Preta Loka to the Pitri Loka. He is then enrolled among the Pitris or the ancestors. The son walks three times round the dead body of his father before fire is set to the pyre and sprinkles water once, reciting the Mantra: “Go away. Withdraw and depart from here.” The bones are collected on the next day and thrown into a river.
Those who can afford take them to Benares or Haridwar and throw them into the Ganga. It is believed that the soul whose mortal remains are consigned to the sacred Ganga attains to the higher regions of spiritual light and splendour and, in the end, salvation.
The Two Classes Of Pitris
Immediately after death, the Jiva obtains the Ativahika body which is made up of fire, air and ether. Later on, it may have a Yatana Deha for suffering the tortures of hell if it had done great sins on the earth-plane, or a celestial body for enjoying the pleasures of heaven if it had done virtuous actions while living in the world. In the Yatana Deha, the air-element preponderates; while, in the celestial body, the element of fire is dominant. It takes one year for the Jiva to reach the Pitri Loka.
There are two classes of Pitris, viz., the celestial Pitris who are the lords of the Pitri Loka, and the human Pitris who go there after death. Brahma is the paternal grandfather of all. Kasyapa and the other Prajapatis are also Pitris, as they are the original progenitors. Pitri Loka or the Abode of the Pitris is also called by the name Bhuvar Loka.
The word Pitris primarily means the immediate ancestors, viz., father, mother, etc. Sraaddha proper is performed for three generations of Pitris, or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather. Seven generations can mutually influence one another by the giving and receiving of food.
Pitripaksha And Mahalaya Amavasya
The dark fortnight of the month of Asvayuja is known as the Pitripaksha or the fortnight of the month specially sanctified for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. And the last day, the day of the new moon, is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and like rites.
Now, ordinarily, the orthodox Hindus offer oblation of water—Tarpana-Arghya—to the departed every new-moon day.
The prescribed rites are also performed every year on the anniversary of the day of death. This is the Sraaddha ceremony. What, then, is the special import of these observances particularly during the Asvayuja Krishna Paksha? The reason is that such ceremonies done during this fortnight have a very special effect.
The offerings reach the Pitris immediately and directly, due to a boon from Lord Yama. The occasion for the boon arose as follows:
Origin Of The Pitripaksha
A Story from the Mahabharata
The renowned hero of the Mahabharata, Danavira Karna, when he left the mortal coil, ascended to the higher worlds and reached the region of the heroes. There, the fruit of his extraordinary charity while upon earth came to him multiplied thousandfold, but it came to him in the form of immense piles of gold and silver. Karna had done limitless charity of wealth, but had neglected to do Anna-Dana.
Thus he found himself in the midst of wealth and plenty, but with no food to appease him. He prayed to Lord Yama. The Great Ruler responded to Karna’s prayer and granted him a respite for fourteen days to return to the earth-plane once again and make up for his former neglect.
Karna came down from the Mrityu Loka, and for fourteen days, he fed the needy, and made offerings of water, etc. He performed the prescribed rites also on the last day. On his return once again to the higher world, the effect of Karna’s observances during this fortnight removed all his wants there. The time of this occurrence was the dark fortnight of Asvayuja.
Due to the grace of Lord Yama, it came to be so ordained that such rites done at this particular period acquired the following unique merits.
Offerings made at this time reached all departed souls, whether they were kins directly in the line of the offerer or not. Even those who died without progeny received these oblations given on this Pitripaksha Amavasya day. All those who had failed to do deeds of charity and Anna-Dana and were thus denied these comforts in the Pitri Loka, benefited by these ceremonies.
Those deceased whose date of death is not known and whose annual Sraaddha cannot be done, they also get these oblations of Pitripaksha.
Souls whose life was cut off by violent, accidental or unnatural death and to whom, therefore, offerings cannot reach in the ordinary course, to them, too, the Pitripaksha offerings reach directly.
All these the boon of Lord Yama made possible from the time the great Karna performed the Asvayuja-Paksha rites. The Hindus now observe this Paksha with great faith, with strict regulation, taking bath thrice, with partial fasting, etc. On the newmoon day, Sarvapitri Amavasya, the full rites are done and plenty of charity given.
Propitiation Of Departed Spirits
The day of Mahalaya Amavasya is a day of great significance and importance to all Hindus. It is the annual festival for propitiating the spirits of our ancestors, with devout prayers for peace. The Hindu Itihasas say, that on the Mahalaya Amavasya, there is a conjunction of the sun and the moon and that the sun enters the sign Virgo (Kanya).
On this day, the departed manes, i.e., our ancestors, leave their abode in the world of Yama and come down to the world of mortals and occupy the houses of their descendants.
The fortnight preceding the new moon is specially consecrated for the propitiation of such departed spirits. The ceremonies performed in honour of the manes or ancestors during each day of this fortnight are considered to be equal to those performed at Gaya.
The principle in all such rites is the worship of the departed souls and the satisfaction of their wishes so that they might be in peace during the rest of the year