Shradh, in Sanskrit, implies any act performed with sincerity and faith. This 15-days long period (known as Pitru Paksha) is devoted to sincere remembrance of our deceased ancestors and other family members who have left us for their next journey ahead. Performing Shradh with utmost devotion not only liberates the departed souls from the life cycle of birth and death, but also the blessings of the gratified souls pave way for health, wealth and happiness in the life of its descendants. The tradition of performing Shradh rituals started long ago.
Significance of performing Shradh
- The journey to a new world, Pitra Loka: Pitra Loka is the realm between earth and heaven ruled by Lord Yama, the God of death, where all the departed souls (Pitra) reside until they attain salvation. As the legend states, 13 days after the death of a person, his soul starts a journey to Pitra Loka. It takes 17 days for a soul to bridge the gap between earth and Pitra Loka and another 11 months to reach Lord Yama’s court. During this period, the soul has no access to food and water, thus to satisfy the soul’s thirst and hunger, it is important to perform Shradh by offering food to Brahmins (the departed souls accept food through Brahmins). Another legend states that the souls of three preceding generations of a family reside in Pitra Loka until they get liberated from all their sins and transcend to heaven. The soul gets liberated with the offerings made by its descendants in the Pitru Paksha which starts when the Sun enters the zodiac sign, Libra. During this time, the Pitras (or departed souls) leave Pitra Loka and stay in their offspring’s home so as to acknowledge the Shradh rituals and leave when the sun enters the next zodiac sign, Scorpio which coincides with a full moon day.
- Story of Karna: Karna, apparently, the eldest son of Kunti and Suryadeva, was a generous man. He always welcomed anyone who knocked his door and bestowed the visitor with precious gifts of gold and silver jewels. As a reward for his good deeds, he was granted a place in heaven after his demise. In heaven, he was regularly fed with food made of gold and silver which greatly surprised him. Upon enquiring, Lord Indra said that since during his entire lifetime, he donated only gold, silver and never offered food to his dead ancestors. Hence, he was deprived of original food in heaven. Upon hearing thus, Karna justified himself by stating his ignorance about his ancestors. Lord Indra, hence, asked Karna to return to the mortal earth during Pitru Paksha and offer food to his ancestors. To this, Karna complied and freed both his ancestors and himself from the sins of previous birth.
Rituals performed during Shradh
There are five important rituals that must be performed during Shradh :
- Vishwadeva Sthapana : A learned priest should be requested to perform Shradh Puja that starts with Vishwadeva Sthapana. Make sure that Puja asan is made up of silk, wool,blanket, wood, grass and foliage. Iron should not be used for Puja asan as it upsets the Pitras. Use cow’s milk, curd, ghee, barley, peas, mustard, sesame and millet in Shradh Puja.
- Pind daan : The ball shaped rounded structures made of rice, barley, cow’s milk, ghee, sugar and honey should be worshipped with Holy basil and offered to the departed souls.
- Tarpan: Water mixed with sesame, barley, kush grass and white flours, when offered to the ancestors, pleases and gratifies their soul.
- Offerings to Brahmins, animals and birds : Serving food to pious Brahmins proves a blessing for the departed souls as they receive food through Brahmins. Also, feeding animals especially, cow with chapatti, sugar, curd and tulsi leaf appeases the ancestors. Food offered to birds such as crow yields beneficial results of Shadh Puja.
- Donations : Donations in the form of money, clothing and other essential items made to the revered Brahmins and the needy are considered auspicious during Pitru Paksha, specifically on the last day called as Mahalaya Amavasya day.
With this, let’s pray for the salvation of our beloved family members who have left this mortal world for an unknown journey ahead.