HINDU RITES FOR THE DECEASED PARENTS AND ANCESTORS
Discourse by N.R.Srinivasan
Men in their normal life are caught up in the unreal, feel dull and clouded, threatened by death and torn with anxiety and sorrow. The popular Upanishadic prayer
"Lead me from the Unreal to the Real,
From Darkness to Light and
From Death to Immortality or Deathlessness"
--seeks divine help for its comforting treatment of the subject. Upanishads talk all the time about how to get free, to become deathless to get rid of impurities, to overcome confusion.
In God's creation human body represents his Microcosm of creation while the Universe his Macrocosm. They both obey the same laws of nature. There is orderliness in their systematic creation and dissolution. Human body is called Pindaanda and the Universe Brahmaanda emerging out of Hiranyagarbha (Brahma). Human body gets its gross body by a process called Pancheekarana when the subtle elements called Tanmatras turn out gross elements called five elements (Pancha Bhootas). These five elements are worshipped in the form of Lingas in the five famous temples of South India being the basic creations. These are:
- Space or Sky (expansion) (aakaash)
- Air (movement) (vaayu)
- Fire (energy) (agni / tejas)
- Water (liquidity) (jala / aapah)
- Earth (solidity) –(Prithvi / bhoomi).
Physical body of the human being constitutes all these five elements. All objects in nature also arise by the mixture of the same gross elements.
|Space||Sri Natarajar Temple,|
|Air||Sri Kalahasthi Temple|
|Water||Sri Jambukeswarar Temple, |
|Earth||Sri Ekambareswarar Temple,|
When Hiranyagarbha (life and mind of Macrocosm) dies, it merges into God and becomes one with him. At the death or liberation of Hiranyagarbha, the world undergoes dissolution, which is called Praakrita Pralaya. It is also possible for the subtle bodies after casting off the physical body constituting five gross elements to merge with God if it is mature enough. But caught up in the whirlpool of Samsaara (earthly desires), it takes several births before it could make final correction and merge with God. The physical body is just an outer gross shell for the soul (subtle and casual bodies) and at the time of death, physical body is cast off which process we call "death". In fact, there is nothing to mourn about as the soul has started its upward journey to readjust itself and return to earth by reincarnation. It may even cast off its subtle body based on its experience, cast off its casual body and merge with God culminating its long journey or stay for long there with its casual body enjoying bliss delaying merger with the Supreme. It is also possible that some may go downwards increasing the number of rebirths due to earned very bad Karmas. Nobody mourns the death of a true Sanyasi (liberated soul) for everybody knows that it is his final journey before merging with the Supreme. It is therefore a common practice to celebrate the death anniversary of a saint and not his birthday as it is the most sacred day of his liberation.
Ligayat sect in India was founded in the 12th century by Basaveswara in Karnataka. His followers are called 'Veerasaivas' or 'Lingayats' as they wear Linga throughout their life on their body. They neither pray nor perform any rites for the dead as they firmly believe that the departed soul has found its union with Siva. They believe god and soul are in a state of inseparable union, through the inalienable power called Sakti. The goal of life is to realize this union called Lingaanga Samarasya, identity in essence between the 'Linga' and 'Anga', "Siva and Soul".
Patanjali's Yogasootra says in 2-12-13: "Klaesamoolah karmoesayoe drishtaadrishta janmavaedaneeyah | Satimoolae tadipaakoe jaatyaayurbhoegah"—"If the soul accumulates good deeds and rituals from the past birth it is born in a good home endowed with good abilities and long life. When the soul leaves the body it only takes with it the knowledge, deeds and the intellect with it (but not the physical body)". The soul then takes rebirth based on these. These show up in the new life as time passes.
When the subtle body enters the womb and grossification takes place, we welcome the joyous occasion and start the fifteen Samskaaras. Similarly when the body takes leave of us, we have to give it a grand send off and make its journey comfortable and memorable by a series of Samskaaras like Anthyeshti, Sraaddhas and Tarpana which will be explained later in this article.
It is moral binding on those who are very closely associated with it to constantly cherish its memory by annual and periodic ceremonies called Sraddhas after making it comfortable in its early adjustment to attain divinity called "Pitru" from its preparatory stage called "Preta" which enables it to carry on its evolution process smoothly and also bless the loved ones with sweet memories, sense of reverence and gratitude and prosperity. During these ceremonies, it is repeatedly addressed in ritual mantras that father, grand-father and great grand-father attain the status equal to that of Vedic divinities Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya (Vasu-Rudra-Aaditya swaroopaaya) living in Pitruloka during their short sojourn before further adjustments take place. This is a long process which looks further lengthened, because one day of its journey is equal to one human year. One day of Hiranyagarbha, called Kalpa, is 4,320,000,000 human years as we all know. Though our varied memorial services to the deceased look long and tedious it is only a very short period in terms of divine years for the departed soul.
Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad classifies deities into four categories or Varnas—Agni is Brahmin; Indra, Varuna, Soma, Yama and Easaana are Kshatriyaas; Vasus, Rudras and Aadityas are Vaisyas; and Poosaana is Soodra. Human beings are born out of these four classes. Of these four Varnas Dwijaas who belong to the first three Varnas are obliged to perform regular Shraaddhas and Tarpanas to the departed souls or Piturs. So, the least a Karta or performer of these rites can aspire for is to reach at least the level of Vasus, Rudras and Aadityas. Therefore the mantras in Shraaddhas and Tarpanas repeat Vasu, Rudra and Aaaditya Swaroopaya. Sudras who do not study Vedas are not bound by these levels of scriptural injunctions. They achieve the same benefits by Paksha Shraaddha and Gaya Shraaddha. Scripture have been stricter on higher castes as knowledge goes with strict compliance where ignorance is considered to be bliss.
Bhagavadgeetaa also says: "Yaanti devavrataa devaan pitrun yaanti pitruvrataah | bhootaani yaanti bhootejyaa yaanti madyaajinoepi maam || (Worshippers of Devas go to Devas; the worshippers of ancestors go to the ancestors; and worshipper of the ghosts go to the ghosts. But my devotees come to me and are not born again (9--25).
The departing soul casts off its physical body consisting of five gross elements. These five elements and life's vital energies have to get back to nature in their cyclic process. This is the law of nature and law of conservation of mass and energy. Dr. Ruth describes that the physical transformation of matter of inanimate objects is also rebirth. Both objects and energy are capable of transformation. Science says matter and energy can neither be destroyed nor created. They can only change form. Past memories, knowledge and past experiences have passed from generation to generation and it is felt that DNA passes in invisible form through the soul to next birth in invisible form. Vedanta says on similar lines that in addition that Consciousness can neither be created nor destroyed and it is all ultimately one Consciousness source which it calls as Jeevaatma and Paramaatma. Whether one decides to give a fair and decent cremation (in rare cases to some burial) or not, the body will undergo this course sooner or later. Why not then give it a fair cremation? It is ethics, decency and culture. In Vedantic view, this physical body is the Annamaya Kosha. The subtle body consists of Praanamaya Kosha, Manoemaya Kosha and Vijnaanamaya Kosha (subtle body). Casual body constitutes Bliss sheath or Aaanandamaya Kosha.
In very early Vedic period, since everybody led an austere life the subtle bodies attained their divine status immediately after death. Almost all Rishis attained their release from subtle state and rare few even from Bliss state sooner, because of their austere life after casting off their physical bodies. Later, as the world degenerated in moral values, it is felt that even the adjustment from death to Pitru status takes some time for most of them and needs spiritual boost. Therefore, during this delayed adjustment period, as a sort of duty, we have to perform Pitruyajna as hinted in Vedas. Shraddhas and Tarpanas fall within the definition of Pitruyajna. In fact, Tarpana is also a kind of Sraaddha and is called Darsasraaddha as we say in Sankalpa (religious resolve). It is also often combined with Rishiyajna. This gives a chance to revive our living memory with the departed ones and make us feel comfortable and happy that we have not forgotten them and grateful to them. In addition, we repay a part of the debt towards Rishis and Devas also in the process. In the case of enlightened Sanyasis, neither cremation takes place (for they have none to perform it for them) nor Shraaddhas done. But their death anniversaries are celebrated as the day of their deliverance.
In Vedas, it is clearly mentioned: "Gratitude to the departed souls in the form of Sraaddha
karma and rituals like Tarpana are to be observed. Not only eternal souls are benefited with Shraaddha Karma and rituals performed by the successor along with close relatives (called Daayaadis) but also their successors will also prosper by this act of gratitude observed with reverence". In the ninth chapter of Bhagavadgeetaa, Lord Krishna makes it clear that those good people who perform sacrifices in memory of ancestors to reach out to heaven will also attain the world of enjoyments. During the indisposition of Lord Srirama to perform the Shraaddha of his father Dasaratha at the prescribed time, Sita rose to the occasion and performed it on his behalf. Thus it is a tradition set up by Lord Rama as early as Tretaayuga as we learn from Ramayana, the Hindu sacred scripture. Bharata did his father's Shraaddha on the twelfth day after his death, as soon as he came to know of it. Mahabharata says:
Dhanyam yasasyam aayushyam svargyam satruvinaasanam |
kula santaarakam chedi sraaddhamaahur maneeshinah ||
[Sraaddha performed to ancestors will bring in wealth, fame, longevity, celestial pleasures and will terminate all foes and contribute towards the prosperity of the progeny].
In Vedic days, in all such rituals help of fire god Agni was sought after and all oblations were offered to the fire with the hope Agni carried the food to Pitrus. The most significant sacrifice was human sacrifice as per the model in Purushasukta. After some time, the horse was substituted for humans. In turn, the ox became the object of sacrifice; then sheep followed by goat. Then, the sap of life left goat and became earth. Earth then became rice and therefore in all these ceremonies rice became the fit substitute. This is the origin of today's offering rice and rice balls called Pinda to the deceased ancestors as food in addition to water and sesame seed (Thil). Even as late as the period of Madhvacharya, goat was used for sacrificial offer. Madhvacharya seriously objected to this animal sacrifice and advised to use symbolically clay models instead of live goat of Puranic period in sacrifices. Puranas have a strong influence on these rituals and to-day's practices are based on practices of those days avoiding animal sacrifices completely. Ramayana mentions how Ilvala and Vaataapi used to offer lamb meat in shraaddhas ceremoniously to Brahmin sages. Jagadguru Chandrasekharendrs Saraswati also says in his book On Hindu Dharma, meat was offered as food in Shraasddhas during Vedic period.
Feeding of the Brahmanas was also a practice developed from the Puraanic period. Now-a-days there is a tendency to replace Shraadha with Annadaana or poor mass feeding which is not considered right as per saastric injunctions by religious authorities; but they favor it as an additional charitable act to Shraaddhas. Many temples run Annadaana schemes for a specific donation. There is also a practice to offer food first to Vishnu and then offer the blessed food to other deities and Pitrus (as said by Siva in Skanda Purana) as Prasaada. Prasaada means mercy or grace and the food offered to Lord Vishnu is therefore considered as blessed food.
CREMATION, IMMERSION, SHRAADDHAS AND TARPANAS
Shraaddha and Tarpana rituals as are practiced to-day are based on the practices largely followed during the Puraanic period. These rites are well described in Smritis. Shraaddha ceremony is not explicitly mentioned in Vedas but forms a part of Smaarta Karma mentioned in Smritis. These are domestic rites (Grihya Sutras) in which Vedic Mantras are chanted offering oblations to ancestors by Tarpana and performing Shraaddhas—rites after death and then at regular periods as prescribed in Smritis. It is the service we do to the denizens of other worlds. These rites are also gone through with the intoning of Vedic Mantras. But, whatever is done, it should be done with complete dedication and reverence to the departed soul.
Vaidyanatha Deekshateeyam is an authoritative Manual in South India which is very exhaustive and deals with the duties and rites pertaining to different castes and Varnaashrama followers, ritual purity, Sraaddhha, Praayaschitta (expiatory rites; atonement), Streedharma (duty of the ladies), etc. This is also called Smriti-Muktaphala Nibhandana Grantha. Nibhandanas are almost like Vedas and are authoritative. Individuals can either follow the Smritis like this or follow the practices of his region and the traditions of his fore-fathers.
Nibhandanas based on scriptures called Grihya Sutras have established Saastric directives on how to deal with death and how to morally support the soul in its endeavor to find a new home and then evolve itself in its onward journey or reincarnation process to earth. As per Manu Smriti, they are stricter on followers of higher Varnashrama Dharmas, than the lower but everyone has to follow these rites. It is easier for people of lower Varnashrama Dharma to reach full benefits of Pitruyajna than those of higher Varnashrama Dharmas.
These codes for rites can be broadly classified under following heads which are briefly described under each head as they are too elaborate and voluminous followed by different interpretations by knowledgeable religious heads belonging to different Aagama traditions as well as renowned authors. Unfortunately, in Hindu religion, each religious head has small number of followers compared to the vast population. These are:
- Cremation— Final disposal of the discarded physical body by the subtle and casual bodies by burning to ashes or burying under earth which enables it to return to elements. At funerals, at the time of cremation the Fire God warms the immortal part of the deceased, and in his most auspicious form accompanies souls on their journey to the heavens.
- Immersion—of the ashes in holy waters.
- Ekoddishta Sraaddha—Rites connected with the immediate soul of the deceased which has just discarded its physical cover (gross body) to make it fit to join the ancestors called Pitrus who have attained a sort of semi-divine status.
- Sraaddha—rites for ancestors up-to three generations who are in the form of Pitrus to which status the deceased has been elevated by the rites mentioned in 2, while all the other souls are making necessary adjustments for their travel to various psychic levels (described as Lokas in Puranas) depending on their past deeds (Karmas). These consist of Sankalpa (resolution to perform the rite), Invocation (Aahvaana)—inviting symbolically Pitrus to grace the occasion, Homa (fire sacrifice offering the oblation), reminiscent of early Vedic practices, Tarpana, libation of water and Visarjana—warm and happy symbolic send off.
- Tarpana—water libation which is the essential part of all Pitruyajnyas (debt towards ancestors.
Note: Though Tarpana is part of earlier Ekoddhishta and regular Shraaddhas for all ancestors because of its prime importance, it needs individual explanation and therefore treated as a separate subject.
Why do Hindus cremate the body and immerse the ashes in holy Waters?
Hindus invariably cremate the dead body with the prescribed rituals called Anthyeshti which is 16th Samskaara under the 16 Samskaaras prescribed in the Saastras. Anthyeshti means last rite for the physical body. Relatives and friends gather together to bid farewell to the departed soul on this occasion. Atharvaveda says:
Aa rabhasva jaatavedas tejasvad-haroe astu te |
sareeramasya sam dahaathainam dhehi sukritamu loeke ||
[O Agni (Fire God)! Accept the dead body. Give it refuge. May your acceptance of the body bring you glory! Kindly burn the body and deliver the subtle body and others to the abode of righteousness].
Achaedyoeyam adahyoeyam akladyoe soeshya eva cha |
Nityah svagatah sthaanur achaloeyam sanaatanah ||
[The subtle body (which comes out of its physical body or shell) cannot be cut, burned or dried. It is eternal, all pervading, stable, immovable and primordial].
Yajurveda too says:
"Vaayuranilamamritamathedam bhasmaantam sareeram | Om kratoe smara kilbae smarakritam smara ||"
[Oh busy person! At the time of leaving the physical body chant Om, the principle and outstanding symbol of Brahman. Remember your past deeds. The air and heat that leaves the body is like the nectar (amrita). But the end of the physical body is ash and so it will end as ash].
The dead body is therefore worthless and only worthy of being turned into ash when the soul departs for its evolution. Hindus believe that after death the soul continues to hover around the dead body due to its earlier vaasanas (attachment). When body is burnt to ashes, the relationship between the body and soul should end and the soul must proceed on its onward journey to higher psychic levels. Care is also taken to burn the body completely to ashes. In early Vedic period it was customary to collect the left out bones. The skull is the hardest bone and hardest to burn and the skull use to be broken with the help of bamboo shafts known as Kaapaala Kriya. It is believed the soul resides in the forehead and therefore by breaking the skull the soul's earlier residence is destroyed. This helps the soul to search for a new birth. Now-a-days added help from electric crematoriums accelerates the process to completely reduce the body to ashes including skull.
Chudamana Upanishad mentions Brahma the Creator gave birth to a flame like soul. From this flame the sky was born; from the sky air was born; from the air fire was born; from fire water was born. These five elements constituted body, which is the Microcosm, similar to the Macrocosm, the Universe. When the body is cremated these five elements return to nature from which they initially sprung up. The process of assimilation from five subtle elements to constitute physical body has been explained vividly in our earlier lectures on Upanishads at several places.
Verses 17 and 18 of Isavasyopanishad constitute a prayer uttered at the moment of death. Even today they are employed in Hindu funeral rites. The mind is exhorted to remember its past deeds because these are the deeds that accompany the departing soul and determine the nature of its next incarnation. Since cremation involves fire, it is natural it should be presided over by the God of Fire, Agni. The God of Fire here is invoked in these mantras both in his own character and as Vyahriti (emanation) of Brahman.
Vaayur-anilam-amritam athedam bhasmaantam sareeram | Om kratoe smara kritam smara kratoe smara kritam smara || 17 ||
Let the vital forces in my body which are about to leave go back and merge themselves in the all-pervading air about me! Let this body be reduced to ashes! O Jeevaatma, the very form of all life and the embodiment of all will and volition! Just remember what thou hast done (remember your past Karmas). O Jeevaatman! Remember once all that has been done by thee. Remember all the past deeds.
The state of Aatman after passing out of the body is described here. The physical body after passing out of the body-mind complex reduces to ashes by cremation or gradually if buried. This is suggestive of all ways of disposal of the dead body (Antyeshti). The mantra also describes the true nature of Self after leaving the body. It will be moving here and there according to its knowledge of Karma without any resting place. It does no remain permanently in any material body.
At the same time it is immortal though many bodies in which it rested are destroyed. Kratau refers to Paramaatman who is the object of meditation. Kritam smara may mean remember me for whatever little good I have done or You alone complete the task left behind after considering whatever good done by me, pleading to Paramaatman.
Agne naya supathaa raaye asmaan visvaani deva vayunaani vidwaan | Yuyoddhyas-majjuhu-raana-menoe bhooyishthaam te nama uktim vidhema ||18
Oh Agni! Take me along the auspicious path to enjoy fruits of my action! O Yajnapurusha! Thou hast a record of what was done by me. Cleanse me from all the sins committed! I will address unto you my sincerest words of obeisance!
Here Supreme Being is addressed as Agni (Jaataveda). We are chained to our sins. The grossness of our sins is unthinkable. Therefore one surrenders to the Supreme by repeating the word namah—nama vukti. In fact the prayer is offered to the Lord to make one habituated to repeat namah even when liberated. The good Lord knows all our deeds; we cannot hide anything from him. Therefore we appeal to him to deliver us from all evils and pay our obeisance again and again.
It is customary to collect the ashes on the fourth day from the crematorium (and sometimes even earlier) and immerse them in the sacred rivers preferably in Ganges. The celebrated seven holy rivers are Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi, Sindhu Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri. Sarswathi is now extinct and Sindhu is with Pakistan. If it is not possible to do so immediately, they are carefully preserved and immersed later, or as early as possible. Sage Bhageerata brought Ganges from heaven according to Puranas to immerse the ashes of his forefathers. So, Hindus believe that ashes should be immersed in Ganges. It is also permissible to immerse the ashes in a sea since all rivers however holy they may be ultimately end up in the seas and all seas are interconnected except a few like Caspian and Dead Sea. "Naddenaam saagaroe gatih" says a Sanskrit poem meaning for all rivers the sea is the refuge.
Shankha Samhita says:
Yaavadasthee Gangaayaam tishtantae purushasya cha |
Taavad varsha sahasraani brahmaloeke maheeyate ||
[A person continues to enjoy happiness in the upper worlds (Brahmaloka) for thousands of years when the ashes of the deceased person remains in the Ganges].
There is also a scientific explanation to this religious custom. Science also says cremation is the best form of disposal of the body from environmental safety point of view. Bones constitute phosphates. The ashes when immersed in water increase their phosphate content. That helps the water that irrigates the fields. Phosphates are essential ingredients for crops. The ultimate purpose is to ensure that these elements of the body return to nature after death. Body is thus given an opportunity to do some sacrifice for a good cause even in its helpless state after death.
Hindu religious leaders believe that the deceased person's journey towards the higher psychic levels does not start until the ashes are consigned to the Ganges River. Koorma Purana says:
Sarvatra sulabhaa Gangaa trishu sthaaneshu durlabhaa |
Gangaadvaare Prayaage cha Gangaasaagarasangame ||
sarveshaameva bhootaanaam paapoepahatachetasaam |
Gatimanvesha maanaanaam naasti Ganga samaa gatih ||
Mantras like Purooshsookta and slokas from Bhagavadgita when chanted with proper understanding of their meaning build up the confidence and helps one from break-down at the time of performing these two last rites called Antyeshti. Performer, being human, need time to overcome the grief which he thinks an irreparable loss, being attached to the visible form of the physical body for too long though he knows that death is inevitable and the body decays soon if left uncared for. When he understands how Purusha in Purushsookta helped with his sacrifice of the body for the creation of the macrocosm and the microcosm, he will also console to the situation that the ashes from the physical body would help in the process of enabling the soul to return in an improved form to earth and help the microcosm formation. Hindus believe mother earth is Punyabhoomi (holy land) and the soul has to return back to earth only for any adjustment for its further onward journey, though earth is a very small planet of the Milky Way and there are 350 billion like that in the Universe as we know today. Fortunately these mantras and slokas besides others from the Vedas have no religious taboo not to be chanted during these samskaaras. Our only pity is many do not understand these mantras in the Sanskrit language and they just repeat them like a parrot told by the priest. It is also not easy to render these in other languages with the same spiritual effect and intonation. Sanskrit language has its own charm and magic spell. So the best approach would be to understand and chant them in the Sanskrit language, in which form they were delivered to us by the divine voice. This requires study of Sanskrit and practice Vedic culture form the beginning besides our other activities.
Every religion has its own code of practice for such rites and performing religious mandates is not exclusive to Hinduism alone. But, Hinduism gives added confidence because it believes in reincarnation and postulates that death is a journey for a progressive evolution as we learnt in other lectures and it is of repetitive nature giving an opportunity for correction each time instead of one time punishment. Geetaa in 8/6 says:
"Yam yam vaapi smaranbhaavam tyajyate kalevaram |
Tam tamevaiti Kaunteya sadaa tadbhavabhavitah ||"
[Whatever the soul is thinking of at the time of death, having always being absorbed in it, the soul will attain the same in the next life]. I am sure everyone thinks for the better only!
From the law of conservation of mass and energy cremation is justified. Scripture describe how by the process of "pancheekarana" human birth takes place, being a product of microcosm similar to macrocosm. One may question as to how to explain the population outburst to almost double around 2050 A.D. and so on. This could also be explained by Vedanta as there is constant evolution going on at all levels of life. It is also possible to go to lower psychic levels than to go to higher levels. But this trend is not very considerable. Puranas call it by different names as going to Patala, Svarga, etc. (14 Higher worlds and Nether worlds).
Let us briefly consider present day procedures in disposing off the body and ashes. These are essentially based on the rites prescribed during the Puraanic period. When a person dies the cremation has to take place on the same day unless postponed by unavoidable circumstances. The body is washed and dressed. If a woman dies while her husband is still alive her body is dressed in new garments, adorned with ornaments, turmeric (haldi) and vermilion (kumkum). The body is carried on shoulders or cart to the cremation ground reciting prayers. Purushsookta Vishnusahasranama and Bhagavadgita are allowed to be chanted but not normal slokas used in poojas. The body is placed on the funeral pyre with the head facing south. The Karta (performer of the rites) places sandal wood and ghee on the body chanting prayers. All jewels and ornaments are removed and small cow dung or its cake is placed on the chest. Karta then walks around the body three times in counter-clockwise direction while sprinkling water from the earthen vessel. The vessel is then broken. Then the Karta lights the fire at the head chanting prayers. Prayers are recited to direct the various parts of the deceased body to merge with the universal elements—the voice to the sky, the vital breath (pancha praanaas) to the wind and so on. The mourning party then returns without looking back, to bathe and purify them with Shanti (Peace) Mantras. The Karta then returns on the fourth day to the spot and religiously sprinkles the ashes with sanctified water. The ashes are then collected and poured into holy waters of Ganges called Visarjanam. They are often preserved and later dispersed in Ganges water if not possible to do so immediately. This is only a broad outline and details are given in Nibhandas mentioned above. Also Sampradaayas (Traditions) vary quite often but fall within the details above.
Whether one does the last rites or not, whether one does burial or cremation or other means of disposal of the purposeless body after death the process of dissimilation will continue and so also assimilation. Some process is fast and some process slow but the process itself is inevitable. Proper cremation as per scriptures adds dignity expressing gratitude, dedication and respect. It gives an opportunity to mentally convey a farewell to the departing soul. It reminds everyone of the ultimate truth that everyone has to die some day or other and we could also be expected to be treated with respect when we depart by those concerned. It further reminds one of the futilities of living only for one self.
Of late some Americans prefer cremation to burial. Therefore facilities are available in designated funeral homes in USA and other European Countries to cremate bodies where Hindu migrants are significant. This has helped a lot migrant Hindus in cremating the bodies as per their tradition. I still remember how the body of my cousin had to be flown to India in a casket from Rio de Janeiro in a casket by air. The body arrived almost after a week at a prohibitive cost.
Several companies have recently arisen in USA to serve people who have the desire to become artificial reefs. Neptune Memorial Reef is an under-water cemetery with decorative arches and columns installed on the ocean bed of Miami Beach. The cremated remains of about 200 people who could afford the cost has been mixed with cement and molded into memorial sculptures. Did they get the inspiration from the Hindu tradition of carrying the ashes of the deceased in a preserved casket and then immersing in the Ganges? Perhaps they do not realize Ganges water flows through all the oceans and seas which are all inter-connected.
These placements would be soon be engulfed by invertebrate life, that damsel-fish would one day be laying eggs and cultivating patches of algae on the bones of the immersed to speak. Any object intentionally or otherwise sunk under water provides a habitat that attracts fish and may nurture the growth coral. Reefs provide small fish protection from predators. We all know for long that ship-wrecks are prime fishing sites.
Sea has the marvelous power to claim almost every sort of material including human beings and make it flower with life. It may not be far-fetched as population explodes under-water cemeteries become more and more popular and affordable getting the necessary religious sanctions. Hinduism has no problem as this is built in its religious tradition. Recently in 2009, it took two minutes to sink the missile tracking ship General Hoyt S. Vandenberg intentionally seven miles off Key West.
Generally in Hindu tradition infants under two and reputed saints are not cremated, but buried. There is a strange practice in some parts of North India to sink the dead body of an infant child to the bottom of the deep waters along with a heavy pot filled with mud tied to the body so that the body may not come up and float. This has also the religious sanction. I was shocked then! Now after seeing the modern practice and the reasoning, I understand the rationale. What a fitting memorial service to the discarded physical body which has no use further and the soul which is on its journey for reincarnating! Even in its useless state the discarded physical body supports the living fish and in turn blossoms into flowery coral reef! The departing soul is happy and contented and moves on its further mission, appreciating the affection and gratitude of those loved ones left behind as the inevitable time had come for it to depart. People left behind cherish the long memories as they revisit those spots and some even indulge in under-water photography of those relics.
According to US officials Osama Bin Laden's dead body was taken on May 2, 2011 to U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea. There his body was washed and wrapped in a white sheet, then dropped overboard. This was done as per Islamic traditions as there would be no claimants to his body. It is necessary to bury the dead body as soon as possible in Islamic tradition unless forced by unavoidable circumstances. This sea burial served the desire of the Western World and Justice as well, as there would be no grave for his admirers to venerate. The face that haunted the western world, the eyes that looked on the blazing towers with pride of motive force authorship behind, sank sightless beneath the waves. Water graves also exist in western tradition as you have seen above. However none of the News media brought this to the notice of the public, perhaps intentionally to quote his burial as purely an Islamic Traditional practice. In India too, there are organizations that take care of proper cremation for the unclaimed bodies. Thus deep water burial is an established tradition in many Faiths and Religions. The philosophy behind this is physical remains of the mortals become one with the natural elements.
other types of Sraaddhas
The word Shraaddha comes from the Sanskrit word Shraddha meaning dedication, Therefore Shraadha is the ceremony that is done with faith and dedication to the departed souls. All human beings must express their gratitude to their deceased ancestors called Pitrus in Sanskrit and the act itself is called, Pitruyajna. This is one among the five sacrifices that every man is expected to do. The five yajnas (sacrifices) are:
- Brahmayajna, chanting of Vedas and teaching Vedas;
- Devayajna, sacrifices directed towards celestials;
- Pituyajna, sacrifices directed towards a deceased ancestors;
- Manushyayajna, duty towards fellow beings;
- Bhootayajna, duty towards lower creatures or love to all creatures.
Shraaddha ceremony is not explicitly mentioned in Vedas but forms a part of Smaarta Karmas mentioned in Smritis. These are domestic rites (prescribed in Grihya sutras) in which Vedic Mantras are chanted offering water libation to ancestors and performing Sraaddha (rites after death and then on at regular periods as prescribed in Smritis). It is the service to the denizens in the other worlds. But whatever is done it should be done with faith and dedication to the departed soul.
Hindus believe if rites are performed according to Saastras, the deities concerned will carry the message and offerings to those they are meant. This is like an E-mail that carries the message through electronic medium to whom it concerns and delivers promptly, though the whole process is invisible to naked eyes and silent to the ears. The deities concerned carry out the orders of the Supreme Being. In the Shraaddha mantras the deities Vasu, Rudra and Aditya are invoked who are all mentioned in Vedas. What is all the more important is a sense of gratitude to our ancestors and faith in the Saastras. Lord Krishna says in Geetaa that when you are in doubt, go by the directives of the Saastras (tasmaat saastram pramaanam te kaaryaakarya vyavasthitou). This is a divine directive. The departed soul does not wait for us and will continue its work anyhow.
Sraaddhas repay not only debts towards deceased ancestors but also make it easy to repay debts towards God and sages (celestials). During Sraadha, we identify the ancestors with Gods. These are Puroorava, Aardrava and Dhurilochana. Bhagavadgeetaa also mentions about Aryama. Lord Krishna says in Geetaa: "amongst Pitrus I am Aryama"—amongst manes I am Aryama. The deceased person to whom Sraaddha is performed is considered as follower of Vasu, his parents are considered to be followers of Rudra and his grand–parents are considered to be followers of Aditya. The Shraaddha and Tarpana
Mantras often repeat "Vasu Rudra Aaaditya swaroopaaya".
By performing the ritual of Shraaddha for the ancestors' souls one can slowly progress towards reaching God by the virtue of combined support of Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya. Vasu symbolizes aspiration; Rudra symbolizes dissolution; and, Aaditya action. Performance of the Shraaddha is not only for the departed Pitrus (ancestors), the sages and God but also for the Karta (performer) to reach God by his sacred act. Sraaddha mantras, through the support from Vedic mantras has the subtle power of providing momentum to the soul of the deceased ancestors. Performance of these rituals enables the subtle bodies to progress to higher psychic levels. These rituals are necessary so that the journey of their subtle bodies after their death is full of comfort and devoid of any distress. They acquire momentum which allows the souls to progress to higher psychic levels.
Manu Smriti says:
"Yad dadaata vidhivat samyak sraddhah samanvitah |
Tat tat putraanaam bhavati paratraanantamakshayam ||
Garuda Purana says:
Aayuh putraan yasah svarga keerti pushtim balam sriyam |
Pasoon saukhyam dhanam praapnuyaat pitrupoojanaat ||
Atharvaveda prescribes the following Mantra in 18/3/42 for reaching the food to forefathers:
Tvamagna eeditoe jaatavedoe vaddhavyaani surabheeni kritvaa |
Pradaah pitrubhyah ||[Oh! Venerable God of Fire! You know how and what form or place my father resides. Whatever food I present as an offering, please reach it to him with your blessings]
There are different kinds of Shraadddhas described in Smritis. It is not possible to describe all of them here. The one that is performed annually on the Tithi day of the deceased is called Pitrushraaddha. The other shraadddhas are: Bhimashanti, Naandi, Parvana, Mahalaya, Teertha, Goshthi, Ghruta, Dadhi, Ashlataa, Daiveeka, Hiranya, Hasta, Aaatma, etc.
Many of these are not regularly performed but meant for special days and special occasions. The Shraaddhas performed for the deceased from the first day to the twelfth day, monthly shraaddhas, Sapindeekarana shraaddha performed after one year completion after death, anniversaries then after and Mahalaya shraaddha are the only ones regularly performed.
Sraddhas essentially consist of Sankalpa (Resolve), Homa, Tarpana and Pinda Pradaana. Before going into the description of important shraaddhas following cremation and immersion of ashes, it is necessary to know what Pinda Pradaana and Tarpana are. Hindus are quite conversant with Homa (fire sacrifices) rituals which form an integral part of all forms of worships and rituals.\
To the general text of Sankalpa with which all Hindus are familiar the following are specifically added to indicate Sraaddha or Tarpana rites:
…..Vasu-Rudra_Aaditya swaroopaanaam asmad pitru, pitaamaha, prapitaamahaanaam, maatru pitaamahi, prapitaamaheenaam….. gotraanaam sarmanaam vasurudraaaditya swaroopaanaam asman maataamaha, maatuh pitaamaha maatuh prapitaamahaanaam vargga dwaya pitrunaam akshayya truptyartham darsa sraaddham tilatarpana roopena karishye.
[Thus it is resolved to perform the rites of Tarpana Darsa Sraaddha for three leniencies from paternal and maternal sides that are invoked in the form of deities Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya].
The word "Pinda" means' 'Body' and "daana" means 'charity'. This means giving a body to the deceased. As you know when a person dies he leaves the body behind. The body is consumed by the flames to end the relationship between the soul and the physical body. The ashes are also immersed in water and therefore nothing of the physical body remains are left behind. The soul waits for a new body. This is done symbolically by the son or any other authorized blood relative ritualistically.
It is believed that it was Brahma who performed first Pinda daanam. Symbolically, Pinda used in Ativaahika Sraaddha is a rice ball or cake comprising of cooked rice, wheat flour with sesame seeds, dried fruits, jaggery, milk, honey and other condiments. In regular Shraaddhas it is a rice ball made of cooked rice sesame seeds and ghee. Yogavasishta Purana says:
Aadau mritaa vayamiti budhyante tadanukramaat |
Bandhu pindaadidaanaena proetpanna ivaa vedinah ||
[At this stage the soul is aware that the old body is dead and that it is through the Pinda Daana of the son or brethren that a new body is being created. These physical rites are symbolic. On receiving the Pindadaana the soul feels happy and then proceeds to psychic worlds].
It is believed that it takes ten days of Pindadaana to create the body. Many do this in Gaya. In Koorma Purana, it is said that whosoever goes to Gaya for Pindadaana he is blessed and seven generations from the paternal side and seven generations from the maternal side are benefited along with the personal self who also achieves salvation.
Gayaateertha param guhyam pitrunaam chaativallabham |
Kritvaa pinda pradaanam tu na bhooyoe jaayate narah ||
Sakrid gayaabhigamanamkritvaa pindam dadaati yah |
Taaritaah pitarastena yaasyanti paramaam gatim ||
Tarpana literally means pleasing or satisfying. This comes from the Sanskrit word 'Trip' meaning to gratify. It is the act of offering oblations to the fathers, seers and celestials. It is customary to add sesame seeds and rice to the water. In some traditions milk, oats, rice, sandal wood and flowers are also added. Water mixed with barley or rice is poured through the hands as an offering to Gods. Water mixed with black sesame is poured through the hands as an offering to Pitrus. Also different parts of the hands are used for pouring water when offering worship to different classes of beings.
According to Manu, the center of the palm is called Bramha teertha or Prajaapati teertha; the region of tips of the fingers is called Daivateertha; the space between the bottom of the thumb and the index finger is called Pitruteertha. Pitrus are offered water libation through Pitruteertha, Devas with Daivateertha and Rishis with Prajaapati teertha locations. For God the Yajnoepaveeta or sacred thread is worn in Upaveeta position (across the left shoulder); Pitrus in Praacheenaaveeti position (across the right shoulder); Sages or Rishis in Niveeti position (garland form). Libations are also offered for Pitrus on the paternal as well as maternal side.
One faces east direction to offer libation to Gods, north direction to Rishis and for Pitrus south direction. Also, God is offered libation first then Rishis and last Pitrus. The mixture is offered in thin streams of water flowing through the Kusha grass called dharba chanting mantras. This is to make the deceased soul happy and content with devotion, gratitude, goodwill, love and good wishes. Tarpana is done during Shraadha ceremony as well as on Amavasya (New Moon day), specific Sankramanas and eclipse days as specified in Hindu Panchaangas (almanacs).
Manu Smriti considers Tarpana as Pitruiyajana dedicated to forefathers. One remembers the deceased often by Tarpana and offers his reverence. He also gets the satisfaction symbolically that he is appeasing the thirst of his forefathers, who are eagerly looking forward to it being offered by their living son. This is an offering of goodwill and an occasion to recall and remember the past association with the departed soul.
It is also customary to offer Rishi Tarpana to nine sages during the Upakarma ceremony annually called Navakaandrishi Tarpana by those who have undergone Upanayana Samskaara.
Why is water considered as an ideal media? Depending on where the soul goes Pitrus need different kind of food. For Pitrus who are in the upward journey nectar is the food; for those returning to earth rice is the food; and, for those who go downwards to animal kingdom grass is the food. All the three need water for its formation. Therefore water is considered ideal neutral medium to offer oblation. Sesame is supposed to ward off evil forces (Rakshasas). Tarpana mantra says: "apahataa asuraa rakshaagumsi pisaachaah".
Tarpana is the most important part of Sraaddha. The opening prayer of Tarpana runs as follows: "From the highest point to the lowest point so far as this Universe extends, let all divine sages and patriarchs, all deceased father's and mother's side be worshipped. Let this humble offering of sesame seeds and water go to the benefit of the whole world from the highest heaven to lowest earth to benefit inhabitants of the seven continents belonging to unlimited families in the past".
Aa Brahma stamba paryantam devarshi pitru maanavaah |
Traapyanta pitarah sarve matru maata mahaadayah ||
Ateeta-kula-koeteenaam sapta dweepa nivaasinaam |
Aa Brhama bhuvanaat loekaadidam astu tiloedakam ||
Tarpana ritual ends with the following Mantra:
Yeshaam na pitaa na bhraata na bhandu naanya goetrinah |
Te trupti makhilaa yaattu mayaa tyaktai kusai stilaih ||
[May all who are neither my father, nor my brother, nor my relative nor belonging to my gotra (leniency), may get the satisfaction by this water librated by me through the medium of Kusa grass and sesame seeds! Thus this is a Universal prayer which is very common way to end all Hindu prayers, praying for the welfare of all.]
Ativaahika Sraaddha or
Ativaahika means to carry the subtle body of the deceased to the other world. This is an upanishadic term (Ativaahe ihe lokaat paraloka praapane niyukta). When the gross body is burnt the soul is contained in the subtle body composed of Tejas (heat), space (Aakaasa) and Vaayu (wind or air). This is Ativaahaka body. This body is gradually dissolved by a series of rites and Preta body is created which is the body in preparation to travel and join the Pitrus. This involves offering a handful size of cake made with cooked rice sesame, honey, milk jaggery, dried fruit etc. The subtle body gets its nourishment and obtains various limbs of the body and the process is completed on the ninth day. On the full development of the Preta body ativaahika body is dissolved. The newly created Preta body is less subtle than Ativaahika body, but subtle compared to the physical body and therefore invisible. These ten days are also observed as mourning days by all Hindus. The cakes are disposed off in water sources or used to feed cows.
This Preta stage lasts for one year. One human year is one day to the soul. Pooraka rites are followed by sixteen Ekoddishta Shraadha. Ekoddhishta means single purpose and therefore these Sraadhas are intended only for the deceased. It is done over the period of one year as per the directives of the Nibhandanas. The first Sraaddha is on the 11th day after death followed by 12 Sraaddhas on 12 Lunar months on the day of the Nakshatra of the deceased. Two further Shraaddhas are performed on the six months' anniversary. The final Sapindeekarana Shraadha is the sixteenth Shraaddha, a day after the last Nakshatra Shraaddha.
Religious books prescribe the details on these Shraaddhas as to how to perform them. They also include feeding of Brahmins who regularly observe their Varnashrama Dharma and daily rituals. They include Pinda Pradaana and Tarpana. The food oblation made up of cooked rice with sesame seeds, is also called Pindas similar to Pooraka cakes described above.
Those who follow the Pancharatra Aagamas observe in addition Vrishotsarga which means release of a bull to freely roam about. This release of the bull is done along with the eleventh day Sraaddha, either a bull as such or symbolically an image made of earth, grass or rice. This is based on the ancient Vedic tradition. In ancient days an animal was killed and its skin and vital parts were used to cover the dead body during cremation. Rigveda and Atharvaveda prescribe the skin and organs of bull or she-goat called Anustaran, animal to be burned along with the dead body. This was done in order to subdue the pain inflicted on the dead body by the raising flames, and to control emotional bursts and psychological break down. This practice was later given up and instead rice was used to cover the body and hands. This was called Anustarani. This is described in Ramayana while Ravana was cremated. The bull-calf is branded with holy marks during the ritual and is set free. Such branded bulls enjoy public sympathy and receive care and rich food. No cow-calf is permissible as it may hinder the growth of the species. Later in some parts of India like Rajasthan, Sahagamana, meaning traveling together (wife burning herself with the dead body of her husband) practice came into being based on this model and also inspired by Madri' s entering funeral pyre of her husband Pandu in Mahabharata. This practice is no longer in Vogue and Saastras condemn it as suicide.
The sixteenth Sapindeekarana shraaddha elevates the departed soul to the rank of Pitru from Preta stage. For this four cakes of rice are prepared for the deceased father, grand-father and the great grand-father of the deceased, and the fourth one for the deceased. The fourth cake which belongs to the deceased is broken and added to the other three cakes ceremoniously. This signifies the Preta of the recently deceased has joined the Pitru status of the other three.
Regular Shraaddhas are performed on the Nakshatra day or on the Tithi day of the deceased in the Hindu month death occurred, annually, according to the tradition or Sampradaya. It is also prescribed Brahmins be fed during Shraaddhas. These Brahmins are considered to be representatives of Pitrus and therefore care has to be taken to request pious Brahmins for this honor. When possible invariably three Brahmins are fed representing the deities Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya with whom the deceased father, grand-father and great grand-father are identified.
In Pancharatra tradition food or water is first offered to Vishnu (traditionally Vishnupaada or the Lord's feet) and then to the Pitrus. The food offered to Vishnu becomes Prasaada. Prasaada means 'grace' in Sanskrit. Vishnu Prasaada is God's blessed food. This graced food is then offered to Pitrus. God's grace cannot be matched with the reverence of the Karta or performer. In the Homa, fire sacrifice, the food is first offered to Vishnu and then to Pitrus. The fire God is used as the delivery man. He acts as the link between this world and the world of Pitrus. He is therefore invariably thanked for his good offices and this courteous service. It is a logical psychological approach to invoke God's grace, for human endeavors can be futile quite often.
The soul after attaining the status of Pitrus, enjoys the benefits all of Pitruyajanas performed to pay for the debts to ancestors. Pitruyajna is virtually a sort of Pitru Shraaddha wherein Pitrus enjoy the benefits same as Sraadddhas directed towards general class of ancestors. Pitrus are also included when Shraadddhas are performed on specific times of the year and days of the month like Sankramana, Grahana (Eclipse) and designated Ammavaasyaas (New Moon days) for all ancestors. These are called Parvana Shraaddhas. The dark fortnight of Aswayuja (September—October) is known as Mahaalaya Paksha or the fortnight specially designated to perform Shraaddhas to all ancestors in which the three customary Pitrus get automatically included. Satapata Brahmana singles out Mahalaya paksha shraaddha as the best time for the worship of ancestors which is the Dakshinaayana time when the Sun is in the Southern course. Due to the grace of God of Death Yama, it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls whether they are related to the Karta (performer) or not. Charity in the form of food is important during this observance. This Mahaalaya Paksha also known as Pitru Paksha lasts for fifteen days. Three Pitrus' shraaddhas are performed with Homa, Tarpana and Brahmin feeding like regular shraaddha as well as poor feeding on the Tithis on which one's father, grand-father and great grand-father passed away in that special fortnight. Karna of Mahabharata fame was said to have performed this Shraadha for fourteen days returning back to earth breaking his onward journey for liberation as directed by Yama for his earlier act of forgetting to do food charity (Annadaana).
Nandi Shraaddha is the ritual performed during the start of any joyous ceremony and performance of the various auspicious Samskaaras prescribed for all Hindus. This is also called Vriddhi Shraaddha. Vriddhi means increase. One such Vriddhi Shraaddha is called Naandi-mukha-Sraaddha. A certain class of Pitrus called Nandi-Mukhas are evoked and prayed to bring prosperity and progeny to marrying couple during wedding ceremony.
The discourse above deals with Hindu rites and debts, after the locked up soul discards the physical body and tries to reach different psychic levels before starting its journey upwards or return back to earth when the time comes based on its past actions (Karmas), to be executed by the individual who is indebted to the just departed and to the other souls of individual's ancestors. These rites are not only for the living soul of the dead person but also for the physical body which the soul has discarded which has no more use and for the welfare and mental consolation of the performer who is the eldest son in most cases. The rites described above are only educative and informative as to their significance and need. They are by no means exhaustive or conclusive. Hindu traditions are too numerous and too diversified too. The authoritative religious heads are also too numerous and sectarian with limited number of followers, who have set up guidelines of these rites for their followers. By and large, the above discourse makes an attempt to accommodate these different views within the directive of Vedas. It is therefore necessary for the individuals to take help of knowledgeable priests in performing these rites or follow the traditions set by their fore-fathers or to consult the Nibhandas and home manuals called Grihyasootras.
We invariably seek the help of priests to guide us in performing these rites. Some of these rites can be performed by the individual himself without the help of the priest with some effort and understanding. There are also authentic guides available. It is necessary to understand that it is the performer on whom the onerous of performing these rites lies and no one can substitute him. It is therefore necessary to understand the meaning of the various mantras chanted, and acts performed and do it correctly with faith and dedication. With modern facilities people may even attempt to perform some of these rites by video photos and telecast procedures with the help of professional priests as a formality and hope to reap benefits if any exists. Such tendencies should be avoided. This will be clear when one understands the Sankalpa or the religious resolve he undertakes at the beginning before performing the rite.
Vedas' directive in performing all the above rites is as follows:
Jaayamanoe vai braahmanah tribhir rinavaa jaayatae |
Brahmacharyaena risibhyah |
Yajnaena daevaebhyah |
Prajayaa pitrubhyah ||
The three debts are: (1) Debt towards celestials; (2) Debt towards Seers or Sages; (3) Debt towards Pitrus or ancestors.
Celestials' debt must be repaid by Jyothishta homas (fire sacrifices) Agnihotras, and Five Maha Yajnas (These are different sacrifices prescribed in scriptures). Debt towards Sages must be repaid by observing celibacy, learning Vedas and teaching Vedas. Debt towards ancestors must be repaid after completing the study of Vedas marrying to a good family and together with wife doing duties and engage in charitable acts. Vedas do not say one should become a recluse or Sanyasi in the pursuit of liberation. One must live with society, observe these guidelines and help the society. That is why the above mantra says 'Prajaaya' meaning being a good citizen.
It is also customary to conclude the rites with a plea to the Supreme to forgive for any lapses and seek his pardon by the following mantra:
"Kaayaena vaachaa manasendryervaa | buddhyaatmanaa vaa prakritae svabhaavaat || karoemi yadyat sakalam parasmai | naaraayaana iti Samarpayaami ||"; "Sarvam Krishnaarpanmastu ||"
[Whatever I have done by action, speech or thought, mind, intellect, and sense organs guided by my naturally inclined tendencies I surrender all these at the feet of Narayana seeking his pardon for any lapses on my part].
Sarvam Krishnaarpanmastu—I surrender everything at the feet of Lord Krishna.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavadgeetaa: "Sarvam kaarmakhilam Paartha Jnaanae parisamaapyatae"—"All works find their goal in Jnaana". Therefore all karmas must be consecrated and must be laid at the feet of the Lord".
Considerable help has been taken in preparing this lecture by suitably extracting, abridging and editing for Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple from the following:
- Prem Bhala, Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs and Traditions, Pustak Mahal, Delhi, India.
- Chandrasekhrendra Saraswati, Hindu Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Sri Devsthanam, Hindu Funeral Rites and Ancestor Worship, sanskrit.org
- Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
- Amavasya Tarpanam (Tamil), Little Flower Co., T.Nagar, Chennai, India
- R.Gopalakrishnan, Sraaddham and Tarpanam, Internet Google Search
- Stephen Harrigan, Relics to Reefs, National geographic Magazine, February, 2009.
- Swami Harshananda, The Ten Cardinal Upanishads, Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chnennai, India.
UPANISHADS ON THREE LOKAS (WORLDS)
Most of the Upanishads contain very little information on Brahmaloka (the abode of Brahman). Upanishads propound the theory that the
liberated soul travelling by the Archiraadi Marga or the Bright Path (also known as Devayaana and Uttaraayana) reaches Brahmaloka (also known as Satyaloka).
Chandogya Upanishad in 8.5.3 describes it as a world third from the earth, wherein there are two lakes Ara and Nya; a smaller reservoir of food juice known as Airammadeeya; Soomasvana; a peepul tree; and a city called Aparaajita containing golden hall.The Kauseetaki Brahmopanishad (1.3-4-5) gives a more picturesque description of Brahmaloka with its river Vajraa where two door keepers Indra and Prajaapai are guarding a throne called Vichakshana and a couch by name Amritaujas. Five hundred celestial nymphs greet the liberated soul and adorn it. The fragrance and flavor of Brahman enters the soul at the appropriate state of soul's entrance. Anyone reaching Brahmaloka will not return to mundane existence.
Mundaka Upanishad says those persons who have rightly understood the principles of Vedanta and become pure through renunciation and contemplation on the Aatman will go to Brahmaloka and get merged in Brahman, the Supreme Spirit.
Chandogya Upanishad indicates three kinds of destinations for the soul after discarding the physical body:
- Those who meditate on five fires (Panchaagni vidya) and other similar Upaasanas (meditation) will go by Archiraadri Marga or Path of Light to Brahmaloka and will not return to worlds which are trans-migratory.
- Those who perform only rituals without enlightenment will travel through the hazy Path of Smoke (Dhoomaadi Marga) and attain the worlds like the World of Manes (Pitruloka) from which they return to human world after some time. This is perhaps the Pitruloka referred to in shraaddha and Tarpana mantras.
- Those who lead a beastly life without practicing either upaasana or ritualistic karmas will constantly go through the cycles of birth and death.
Can Brahmaloka be a state of inner bliss or inner experience or can it be another world different from ours but not illusory (Maaya), as Vedanta says our world is all Maaya? Upanishads are too sketchy on this important subject. They however mention an intermediate world "Svarga" for those who have performed desire motivated (ritualistic) actions. They no doubt reap the benefit for their good actions but have to return back to this world after exhausting their good deeds as said in the Upanishads as well as Bhagavadgeetaa. It looks as though that these types of good Karmas include Shraaddha and Tarpana, which Nibhandas and Aaagamas say as Punyakarmas. Upanishads rarely talk about 'Naraka' (Hell) and punishments which are widely talked about in Puranas. The type of hell and punishments described in Puranas are nowhere found in the Upanishads. "If Karmas like Shraaddha and Tarpana do not help us, certainly they would not harm if performed" is the type of attitude with which these are performed often completely ignoring the faith and dedication needed in performing such acts. May be it is the fear got from reading Puranas or as scriptural injunctions found in the later writings in minor scriptures! Sanyasis do not perform Shraaddhas as they have renounced this material world! It is also true that it is not possible for everyone to follow the intense austerity and sacrifice (tapas) required for attaining Brahmaloka by few minimal incarnations. So they have to resort to harmless but desire oriented Ritualistc Karmas initially, though long and tedious. Even here some resort to short cuts like Gaya Shraadha and Tarpanas as glorified in Puranas. No doubt they give some sort of mental satisfaction like the parrot chanting of slokas inspired by Phalasrutis (fruits reached by simple chanting once alone!).
Significance of Immersing Ashes in Holy Rivers
Posted by Prem P. Bhalla | Feb 22, 2016 | IndiaDivine.Org
The remnant of the dead body after burning is left behind in the form of ashes. Hindus respectfully call these ashes “phool” – literally flowers – to express devotion and respect for the departed soul. While children are symbolically referred to as “fruit” it is appropriate to refer to the ashes of forefathers as “flowers”.
It is customary to gather the ashes on the fourth day after death. They are then immersed in sacred rivers like the Ganga. If it is not possible to immerse them immediately, they are kept in a locker in the crematorium and immersed as soon as possible.
In Shankhsmriti, page 7, the consigning of ashes to the Ganga is explained:
As long as the ashes of the deceased person remain in the Ganga, the person continues to enjoy happiness in worthy places for thousands of years.
In the Kurmpuran, 35/31-34, it is said:
Whatever number of years the ashes remain in the Ganga, the departed soul is held in reverence in heaven for thousand times the number. Of all the pilgrimages and of all the rivers, Ganga is considered most holy.