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Shradhs are observed every year in Dakshinayana during Chaturmas in the Krishna Paksha of Ashwin month. Many rituals are performed to satisfy the unfulfilled desires of three generations of our ancestors.
According to the Vedas, every individual has three debts to be paid off, firstly that of the Devtas (Dev Rin), secondly of Guru and teachers (Rishi Rin) and, thirdly, of Ancestors (Pitra Rin). From the scientific point of view, devtas represent people with Daivik qualities; teachers represent the ones who have teach us and Pitra, three generations of our ancestors. Rin from scientific point of view would mean unfinished desires or tasks.
The rituals scientifically would mean detaching oneself from the guilt of unfinished tasks of our ancestors by detoxifying our mind.
Debt refers to the desires of our ancestors that could not be fulfilled while they were alive. The responsibility to fulfil them falls onto the eldest son and they need to be carried out. If not, it is a sign of guilt disorder in the family and may end up in loss of wealth, loss of direction and courage and health. The resultant problems are termed‘Pitra Dosh’ in mythology.
The ritual of performing Shradhs originated to remove this guilt and the resultant illnesses. Shradh has many components.
- Tarpan - offering water to the ancestors while reciting Mantras.
- Arpan - preparing food what the ancestors used to like on the day of Shradh.
- Brahmin bhoj - offering Satvik food to Brahmins.
- Pind Daan - offering black sesame, Kusha Grass, Jwar and boiled or baked rice; observed by some.
- Observing a spiritual holiday or incubation period - taking a break from the routine worldly desires and going to a distant place, like Gaya.
- Remembrance -once the unfulfilled desires of the ancestors are over, remembering them on their death anniversary.
Dakshinayana refers toa period of negative state of mind, when nights are longer than days. It starts from 14th July and ends on 13th January. The period of Chaturmas, i.e., the first four months during Dakshinayana,is associated with the maximum negativity in the mind. Chaturmas includes the months of Sawan, Bhado, Ashwin and Kartik.
The negative state of mind in Sawan is related to anger and disturbed mind; in Bhado, it is tied to non-fulfilment of desires and uncontrolled ego and in the month of Ashwin, it is linked to guilt due to non-fulfilment of desires of others (ancestors), particularly during Amavasya.
Tarpan of Jal (water) is offered to ancestors. Jal, in mythology, signifies flow of thoughts and offering Jal is equivalent to confession and getting connected. Tarpan is done to purify the mind and wash off guilt.
Tarpan is done after the desires of our ancestors have been fulfilled by the person performing the Shradh. Tarpan and Arpan on the day of Shradh mean getting connected to our consciousness and informing that all the unfinished tasks are over so that we can get rid of the long persisting guilt from our mind. Offering and making food which was liked by our ancestors on that day is just to remember and pay respect to them.
Confession is possible in a Satwik state of mind. This requires eating Satwik food for a few days. Offering Satwik food to Brahmins during Shradh means preparing only Satwik food on that day so that everyone in the family eats Satwik food.
Pind Daan signifies medicinal ways of detaching oneself from guilt. The offerings - black sesame, Kusha grass, Jwar and boiled or roasted rice- in Ayurveda have been described to detoxify the mind and making it Satwik by removal of Rajas and Tamas.
If the guilt is not removed by repeated Shradhs, one has to go for a spiritual vacation during Shradhsin order to move away from the worldly desires for a few days before the Shradh.This is the significance of going to Gaya. This spiritual journey acts like an incubation period for the disturbed mind in order to get rid of the disturbed mind and enables the undisturbed state of mind to confess and purify.
The Pitra ceremonies are usually performed either on Amavasya every month (period of most negativity in a month) or on the death anniversary or the Hindu Tithi (day) of the death of the ancestors coinciding with the day during Shradh days. If the date of death is not known then the Shradh is observed on Amavasya.
Some people perform Shradh for 15 days and others perform it from the first day till the day of their ancestors’ Shradh.
Once you successfully perform a Shradh or Gaya Shradh, there is no need to perform Shradh thereafter. Once the guilt is over, further detoxification of the mind is not needed. The only ritual that needs to be performed after that is remembrance, which is performed on the death anniversary, usually by doing some charity in their names.
One is not supposed to do auspicious things during Shradh as during this period, the mind is in a process of detoxification.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this write up are entirely my own.