Monday, September 17, 2012

MAHALAYA PITRUPAKSHA--HINDU MEMORIAL FORTNIGHT






 MAHAALAYA PITRUPAKSHA—HINDU MEMORIAL FORTNIGHT
(DISCOURSE BY N.R.SRINIVASAN, SEPTEMBER 2012)

GENERAL
A man is born with Pitru-rina, that is a man is indebted to his ancestors. This debt is repaid by offering libations and performing Sraddhas (ceremonies) to the departed ancestors. Our birth in this world is according to our past karma and we have to perform the rites that are proper to us. Offering oblations to fathers and performing Sraaddha must be regarded as an extension of service we do is in this world to the denizens of the other world. This thinking is not exclusive to Hinduism alone. Mahaalayapaksha offers an opportunity for all to repay our debts to all our ancestors as well as other departed souls we sympathize with.

PARVANA SHRAADDHAS (CEREMONY)
The soul after attaining the status of Pitrus, enjoys the benefits all of Pitruyajanas (fire sacrifices to ancestors) performed to pay for the debts to all 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 common Shraadddhas are performed on specific times of the year and days of the month like Sankramana, Grahana (Eclipse) and Ammavaasyaa (New Moon). 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 Mahaalaya paksha shraaddha as the best time for the worship of ancestors which is the Dakshinaayana time when the Sun is in the Southern course.

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. The last day, the New Moon Day is the most important day (Amavasya) in the year for performing obsequies and rites irrespective of the dates the ancestors departed. This ceremony can be performed with no caste, creed or sex considerations. Due to the grace of the God of Death, Yama it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to the performer (karta) or not.

Such observances are not peculiar to Hinduism alone. Perhaps you are all aware Catholics all over the world observe All Souls Day each year praying for the departed souls. This sanctification is carried out posthumously in Purgatory. Souls after death move to a state or place of punishment wherein according to Roman Catholic doctrine the souls of those who die in God’s grace may make satisfaction for past sins and so become fit for heaven. Souls are supposed to be in an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification. One may not attain full satisfaction and moral perfection at the time of death which is a requirement for entrance into heaven according to Christian faith. This is similar to the ceremonies Hindus conduct to raise the departed to the status of Vasu, Rudra and Aaditya divinity status in Pitruloka. (Perhaps others might have copied this most ancient Hindu Tradition). Veneration of the dead is also practiced by Chinese on Qing-Ming Festival Day, Buddhists on Ghost Festival Day and Mexicans on the Day of the Dead and perhaps by others too.

IMPORTANCE OF FOOD CHARITY
Daanasoora Karna (Karna was known for his charitable disposition and hence the title) of Mahabharata fame forgot one thing in his list of charity in this world. He offered no food as charity to others in his entire life. So he felt the pangs of hunger even in the higher worlds. He was therefore sent back to Earth for fourteen days to make up for his deficiency. On his return to higher regions after Annadaana (Food Charity) he had plenty of food and enjoyed his life.

Life depends on food. Food Charity (Annadaana) is important. The gift of food is the greatest gift. Therefore focus your thoughts on food charity not only during this special fortnight but all through the year. All celebrated temples in India have in their program Food Charity Scheme (Annadaana Kainkarya). USA also runs such programs during Thanksgiving and Christmas when they collect all food materials from all residents and distribute to the poor.
FIRE SACRIFICE
Rigvedic religion was mostly sacrificial and therefore Agni, the Vedic God of Fire naturally got a pride place in sacrificial form of worship (Yajnas and Homas). Often Rudra is identified with Agni in Vedas. He is often eulogized as the Supreme God (Vyaahriti of Brahman), the Creator, the Sustainer, the All-pervading cosmic spirit. All other Gods are his different manifestations. He manifests himself as Fire (Agni) on this Earth, as lightning or Air in the Sky (Indra or Vaayu in Antariksha)), and as the Sun (Soorya) in the Heavens (Dyuloka). He acts as the mediator between men and Gods carrying the offerings of men to gods. Agni is described as the Lord presiding over the southeast quarter. Agni is attended by his two consorts, Swaaha and Swaadhaa. Agni will not carry any oblation to Gods unless his consort Swaaaha is invoked and propitiated during fire sacrifice according to Puraanas. That is why in all fire sacrifices to the Gods word Swaahaa is repeated for each offering. Similarly for any offering to Pitrus his other consort Swadhaa is invoked. You are all conversant with the line in Lakshmi Ashtottara Sloka “Vaacham padmaalayaam padmaam suchim swaaahaam swadhaam sudham”. Since Agni is propitiated as the Sustainer or Vishnu his two consorts Swaahaa and Swadhaa are considered as none other than Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort. Probably Swadhaa refers to Bhudevi while Swaahaa to Sridevi.

WHO ARE VASU, RUDRA AND AADITYA DEVATAS
It is customary to offer all oblations to Pitrus to raise them to the status of the deities Vasu, Rudra, Aaaditya through the good offices of Agni for their spiritual journey further by conducting homas during this Pitrupaksha or Ancestors’ Fortnight. Vedic gods are thirty-three in number. These gods are assigned to the three regions of the earth (prithvi), the heavens (Dyus) and Space (antariksha). In Santi Mantras you mention these three regions: Prithvee Santih! Dyaus Santih! Antarikshah Santih! In Shraddhas we invoke 31 out of these 33 gods by way of Vasu, Rudra and Aaaditya leaving behind Indra and Prajaapati. Though these deities appear to be different and independent, they are really facets of the same Brahman, the Supreme Principle, for Vedas say “Ekam sat vipraah bahudaa vadanti”

The twelve Aadityas are: Mitra (the friend); Varuna (one who encompasses and binds); Aaryamaan (the destroyer of foes); Daksha (the skillful); Amsa (the liberal); Bhaga (the giver); Tvastri (the shaper); Savitar (the vivifier); Poosaan (the nourisher); Sakra (the mighty); Vaivasvata (the resplendent): Vishnu (the pervader). Aaditya is often identified with Sun (Soorya). Brihadaarnyaka Upanishad (BAU) says they are 12 months in a year (Samvatsara). They are called aadityas because they go taking all with them. Samvatsara is Brahman.

Rudras are eleven in number. They are actually the principles of life, the ten vital breaths and the mind according to Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad.When they depart from this mortal world they make us cry. Hence they are called Rudras, those which make us cry. They include some names later used in mythological literature as epithets. These are: Vaamadeva, Jyeshtha, Kaala, Kalavikarana, Balavikarana, Bala-pramathana, Sarvabhoota-damana, Manonmana, Bhavodbhava, Sadyojaata, Mahaadeva (Source; Mahaa naaraayana Upanisahad). Rudra is often identified with Agni.

Vasus are eight in number—Anila ( Agni or fire); Anala (Wind or Vaayu); Aaha (Sky or Antariksha); Dharaa (earth); Pratyusha; Dyus; Soma; Tarangini (Stars). They are called Vasus because they are all the precious wealth of the world (BAU). Mythology describes Vasus as ten in number: Vasu (dwelling place); Satya (truth); Kratu (will); Daksha (skill);Kaala (time); Kaama (desire); Dhriti (forbearance); Kuru (the ancestors of the Kurus); Purooravas (a being dwelling in the atmosphere). Maadravas (cry of joy). These deities are said to be fond of funeral or Sraaddha (ceremony) offerings offered with the mantra Swadha.

WHY SO MANY GODS INVOKED?
It beats imagination of faith based religions and the ignorant, why so many gods have to be invoked during these ceremonies with so many epithets or so many qualities and so many indirect means. This is also the modus operando in Ashtottarasata and Sahasranama archana worships. Names of gods have psychological and symbolic significance. This is conveyed to us by an esoteric sentence in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad: “Parokshenaiva parokshapriyaa iva hi devaah pratyaksha-dvishah”—Divines have a fondness as it were for indirect names and hate to be called directly. Is that the reason why in Vedic culture a Hindu wife does not call her husband or children their parents directly by name? The wise declared “Eko sat viprah bahudaa vadanti”— One Truth wise call by many names, justifying for many names.

CONCLUSION
Hindu Saatras proclaim due to the grace of God of Death, it has been ordained that offering oblations to the departed, whether they are connected or not to the performer of the ceremony, benefit all the departed souls during this sacred fortnight irrespective of the date and time of the deceased. In a way Mahaalayapaksha can be called Hindu American Memorial Fortnight for all Hindus living in USA. Many of us who have visited the holy city of Gaya in India, know that mass ceremony is conducted every day to assist the faithful pilgrims to offer oblations to 31 generations of their ancestors, all their deceased relatives, friends and the desired ones irrespective of the date and time of their death. The sacred fortnight of Mahaalayapaksha has the same mandate. Hindu Temples in America could help in similar mass participation and also run Annadaana Fortnight (Food Charity Fortnight). Hindu Americans influenced by the major culture of the land and their busy pursuits may not be able to carry out the same at their own homes and also may not know the spiritual benefit behind it. They may not also be able to carry out the Naimittika (stipulated and mandatory ceremonies) Sraddhas as in India. To them the above suggested mass participation will be a blessing in disguise. Let us avoid also the costly mistake in life made by Daansoora Karna, Champion of Charity, though there is none equal to him in charitable disposition, and repent for it! It is not sure whether any such mass program runs in India but they can always take a trip to Gaya during the period if they can afford. But almost all famous temples run Annadaana (Food Charity) Programs as a routine feature. Also plentiful priest services are available to guide the faithful to conduct such rituals at homes.

REFERENCES:
1. Swami Sivananda, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, Divine Life Society, Shivanandanagar, India
2. Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
3. Srinivasan, N.R., Hindu Rites for the Deceased Parents and Ancestors, Hindu Reflections:

4. Chandrasekharananda Sankaracharya, Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.





APPENDIX

SOME SAASTRIC STIPULATIONS FOR OBSERVING MAHAAALAYAPAKSHA

1.  This ritual is observed during the fortnight of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada during the dark-half of the month (Bhadrapada Krishnapaksha).

2.  This ritual is performed by water oblation (tarpana) or feeding ceremony (shraaddhas) after the fifth day (Panchami tithi) of the fortnight. If both are not possible money donation should be done to food charity schemes.

3.  It is considered most appropriate if the Tarpana or Shraasdha is done on the death day (Tithi           of one’s parents.

4.  Sraddha  and Tarpana have to be done for the deceased father, grand-father, great grand-father, mother, grand-mother and great grand-mother according to “Ashtakaasucha vriddhaaucha      gayaayaamcha Mahaalaye | matru sraadham prithak kuryaat, anyatrapatinaa saha ||

5.  If mother is living offerings to grand-mother and great grand-mother are omitted.

6.  Sraaddha and Tarpana are done to   those who die premature death by killing or calamities or accidents on the fourteenth day (Chaturdasi).

7.  Fasting is to be observed the previous night.

8. Lady has to perform the Sraaddha when male member is not there. She has  to do Sraaddha for the deceased   father-in-law, father’s sister, mother, father,  grand-father, grand-mother for 3 lineages. For others it is individual based.
9. Sanyaasis (recluse) have to perform Sraaddha on twelfth day (Dwaadasi)

(Based on Poorvaachaarya Aahnika and Poorvaprayoga Saastras


 


Pitru Paksha Shraddha: Paying Homage to Ancestors for the Peace of Souls

Posted by Temple Connect | Oct 01, 2015 | IndiaDivine.Org

In Hinduism, Shraaddha is the ritual performed by relatives for the departed souls of ancestors, parents and relatives. It is a way of telling them that they are still an important part of the family and they still reside in our memories. Period of Shraddha is also known as Pitru Paksha. Pitru Dosha arises if one does not perform the rituals of Tarpan in Shraddha.

When to Perform a Paksha Shraaddha?
As we approach towards middle of Bhaadrapada Masam as per Hindu Lunar Calendar, it is time to worship the departed souls (forefathers). This worship is held for a period of 15 days during the waning period (dark period) of Moon in the second fortnight called as Krishna (Bahula) Paksha of Bhaadrapada Masam that generally occurs during the months of September–October every year. The period of 15 days starting from Bhaadrapada Bahula  Prathama to Bhaadrapada Bahula Amaavaasya is called Pithru Paksha or Apara Paksha or Paksha Masam when Sun will be transiting Kanya (Virgo) raasi in the zodiac. This period is totally dedicated and earmarked for worshiping the departed souls (forefathers).

Why Should one Perform Pithru Shraddha ?
Maathru Devo Bhava; Pithru Devo Bhava; Aachaarya Devo Bhava; Athithi Devo Bhava; Worshipping these four is given highest significance and importance in Hindu Dharma. Among the four, Mathru (Mother) and Pithru (Father) Aachaarya (Guru) have attained greater prominence since they are the people who are responsible for our birth, culture (samskaara) and existence. They are the one who have contributed for our welfare and growth; they are our friends; philosophers and guides; they are our mentors and our role models. Maata-Pithru seva (serving parents) when they are alive and performing Pithru Yagna after their departure has been prescribed as the best way to get discharged from Pithru Runa.

Why only During this Period ?
Actually oblation to Pithrus is prescribed to be performed on a daily basis through Brahma Yagna; through Shannavathi (96 specific days during a year); during Parva kaala like Uttaraayana; Dakshinaayana; Eclipse etc; during Pithru Paksha (Bhaadrapada maasam); through annual ceremony; theertha/kshethra sraaddha etc. Out of which the one during Pithru Paksha is given greater prominence. Mahaalaya Pithru Paksha occurs during Dakshinaayana; also known as Pithraayana Dakshinaayana represents Pithrus. It is believed that Pithrus descend on Earth during the period of Dakshinaayana in anticipation of their progeny perform sacred rites enabling them to attain better placement in other worlds. Hence, lot of significance is given.
During this period for performing Pithru related activities. Pithru Paksha also coincides with Chaaturmaasam the most sacred period for worshiping both Deities as well as Pithrus. It is the most auspicious time to pay our obeisance and salutations to forefathers. Hence, it is specifically referred to as Pithru Paksha.
It is also called Mahaalaya. Maha means great or big or large. Laya means destruction. Mahaalaya means great destruction. It is said that during one of the occasions of Deva-Asura Sangrama (war between Deities and Demons) large number of Devathas and Rishis had died at the hands of Raakshasas starting from Bhaadrapada Bahula Prathama (Paadyami) to Amaavaasya. This Mahaalaya is also called as Sasthrahatha Mahaalaya. These Deities and Rishis are like our forefathers and it is befitting to worship the departed souls during this fortnight that coincides with Mahaalaya. Hence, this period of 15 days has become very sacred and celestial for performing sacred rites to forefathers.
As per Hindu time element one month for human beings is equivalent to one day for Pithru Devathas out of which Sukla Paksha (waxing moon days) 15 days is the day time and Krishna Paksha (waning moon days) 15 days is the night time for Pithrus. It is believed and said that sacred rites like Thila Tharpana and Pinda Pradhana (offering of rice balls) performed during Pithru Paksha acts as food for the departed souls that will be adequate for them throughout the year. Hence, Paksha Shraaddha is required to be performed during dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha) of Bhaadrapada maasam.

What are the Specified Days for Paksha Shraaddha?
Paksha shraddha is actually prescribed to be performed on all the 15 days except on Ekaadasi day. Since it is not practically possible to perform on all the days; it should at least be performed for one day preferably on the day corresponding to the Father’s Thithi (death day). Rest of the days at least, Thila Tharpana should be given to Sarva Pithru or at least to Dwaadasa Pithru (three generations on paternal side and three  generations on maternal side). On the day of Mahaalaya Amaavaasya Thila Tharpana should be given to all the eligible forefathers. In case a person due to some reason misses to perform the rituals on the said date; or doesn’t know the Father’s death thithi; it can be performed on any one of the other specified days viz.
Ashtami; Dwaadasi; on the day coinciding with Bharani star; On the day of Vyatheepaatha Yoga; Mahaalaya Amaavaasya.
During Krishna Paksha there will be no Pournami thithi. Hence, for those Pithrus whose thithi (lunar day of death) happens to be Pournami (full moon day), rites should be performed on any of the other specified days mentioned above. If one misses to perform even on any one of the specified days; still one can perform on any day before Aaswayuja Sukla Panchami. Even then if it is not possible; still one can perform Paksha shraddha on any of the specified days mentioned above during Thula Masam when Sun is in Thula Raasi (Libra) before He transits into Scorpio (Vrischika Raasi). Those performing daily Thila tharpanam or Paksha shraddha during Paksha maasam should perform on all days except Ekaadasi; including Yati Mahaalaya and Ghaatha Chaturdasi.

Where to Perform the Paksha Ceremonies ?
As per sacred texts it is suggested to perform Paksha ceremonies on the banks of sacred rivers or in sacred and celestial places like Gaya, Kaasi, Prayaaga, Kurukshetra, Naimisharanya, Rameswaram etc. If it is not possible they should be performed at least in one’s house. But in view of several practical difficulties and intricacies involved, they are being performed at various temples and religious mutts specifically meant for that purpose. For example; all branches of Sri Raghavendra Swamy Mutt; Sri Uttaradi Mutt; Udupi Mutt and other dhaarmic institutions across the country provide such facilities to the Karthas.

Who Can Perform These Ceremonies ?
One who is a Dwija (undergone the process of Upanayana) should start performing these ceremonies, only after the death of his father. In such a case it should be performed by the son and not by the daughter. When more sons are available it should be performed by all collectively in case they are staying together; otherwise individually at their respective places. In case a person doesn’t have sons, widow of the deceased by making a proper sankalpa can get it performed through a Brahmin.

What are the Items Required For These Ceremonies ?
Dharbha (Kusa Grass); Cooked Rice; Black Sesame (Thila seeds); Water; Thulasi leaves; Ghee; Honey; Pavithra (made with Dharbha); Vishnu Paadam (foot print impression of Lord Vishnu); Kalasha; Panchapaatre; Uddharne; Copper plate; Poorcha; Areca nuts; Coins; Betel leaves; Plantains (Bananas); Gopichandana, Yagnopaveetha etc.

How to perform? (Brief about the Ritual & Significance)
“Sraddhaaya charitam shraaddha”; literally shraaddha means the one that need to be conducted with utmost sincerity, attention, care and devotion. While essence remains same; procedure, customs and rituals may differ from region to region; according to sampradaya; based on Varnaasrama dharma. Shraaddha should be performed wearing a ring made with Dharbha called Pavithra.
Strictly speaking shraaddha has to be performed in the direct presence (Pratyaksha) of two Brahmins. In view of practical difficulties it is performed generally with their symbolic presence by using Dharbha called Dharbha Braahmana;
One representing Pithru Devathas called Pithru Braahmana;
The other representing Visvedevathas called Daiva Brahmana.
Agni Kaarya will be performed first and then Pithru Kaarya. In view of intricacies involved in the process; it is better performed under the guidance and supervision of a learned Purohit who is specially trained for the purpose. Pindaas are made with cooked rice and mixed with Thila (sesame seeds); During Pinda Pradhaana; rice balls (Pindaas) are arranged in a specific order on Vishnu Paada (foot print of Lord Vishnu) kept on Dharbha (Kusa grass). Left over Anna (cooked rice) after making Pindaas will be treated as Pithru Prasaada (Pithrusesha). Specification for the size of Pindaas is “Sameepathra Pramaanena” that means it should be of the size of a Samee tree leaf.
Significance of Dharbha; Anna (cooked rice); Thila
Dharbha; Thila (black sesame seeds); cooked rice are the three major items widely used during the rituals. They are highly sacred and celestial. Dharbha from hair; Thila from the sweat have surfaced from the body of Lord Vishnu. Dharbha is used for sanctity. Anna (cooked rice) is so sacred and celestial that it is called ParaBrahma Swaroopa; personification of the supreme Lord SrimanNaaraayana the primordial person.
“Annam ParaBrahma Swaroopam” It is not only used during Pithru Kaarya; but also during Agni Kaarya while performing several sacrifices viz. Homa; Yajna etc. Pindaas made with Anna are symbolic representation of forefathers.

Why & How does Pithrus get satisfied with (Pinda Pradhaana & Thila Tharpana)
It is believed that Pinda Pradhana (offering of rice balls) and Thila tharpana act as food for the departed souls. After the death; the soul (praani) will dwell in different Lokas (worlds) according to its Karma phala. Since we do not know where and in which Loka forefathers are dwelling; it is prescribed to perform Pithru Yagna in seven forms (Saptaanna) the ritual being called Chataka shraddha.

What should be done when shraaddha could not be performed?
As far as possible don’t avoid performing sacred rites on the scheduled date or at least on one of the specified days. In a given situation where, it is not possible to perform shraaddha due to circumstances beyond one’s control, one can adopt one of the following.
Perform Pithru Thila Tharpana;
Observe fasting on that day;
Saaka-Paaka Dana to a Brahmin along with Dakshina;
Feed a Cow with grass; plantains; when nothing is possible; pray & offer a sincere Namaskara.
On these days perform these rituals, without fail, without counting upon the benefits one has derived from fore-fathers. If not started earlier, start doing it at least now. Better be late than never. Today’s alive are tomorrow’s forefathers.