Significance of Shraddh in Hindu Religion
Shraddh (Offerings to ancestors)
Shraddh is a ritual of offering food to please the pitrus (manes) and for their spiritual beneficence. Vasus, Rudras, and Adityas are devatas and pitrus of shraddh (Yajnavalkya smruti I/269). They are gratified by the offerings, which they pass on to the pitrus wherever they may be. Respectively, the three deities represent the father (pita), paternal grandfather (pitamaha) and paternal great grandfather (prapitamaha) (manu smurti 3/284).
The shastras cite that the ritual of shraddh originated with Vishnu during his Varaha (boar) avatar and that Vishnu dwells in the three pins offered to the three aforementioned pitrus (Mahabharat shanti parva 345/14-21, Vishnudharmottar I/239/14-16)
The act of offering food balls to the three ancestors necessarily requires that in an ethereal body they are still able to enjoy the tanmatra-essence-of the balls, years after demise. The pitrus being pleased then bestow on their living descendants, children, health, wealth, longevity, knowledge, prosperity, moksha and swarg (Agni Purana 163/41-42, Padma Purana, Srustikand 34/217-218).
A question then arises, of how food offered to a brahmin is availed of by departed manes (jivatmas)? Vedic mantras chanted with faith convey the offerings made to the pitrus:
Shraddhaya diyate yatra tachchraddham parikiritam – Marichi in Chandrodaya (Nirnayasindhu III, p.372) that which is offered with faith is called shraddh.
It is believed that the jivatma of a deceased does not leave the vicinity of his house for twelve days (Matsya Purana 18/5-7). After cremation, the jivatma attains a vayavya body. Prayer is offered to Agnideva – the deity of fire, to take the jivatma to Vishnu (Rig Veda X/15/3). In the worlds of pitrus, the departed atma enjoys food offered in shraddh with the utterance of the word svadha (Vishnudharnmasutra 20.34-36)
The Kurma Purana states that on atmas, the darkest and moonless day of Hindu lunar month, pitrus assume the vayavya body and arrive at the door step of their homes. Here they long see whether their descendants are offering shraddh. They remain till sunset. If nothing is offered then hungry and thirsty they depart solemnly. Shraddha (faith), from which shraddh is derived, is the most important factor of shraddh (Skand Purana VI.218.3). One entertains firm faith that, what is given to the Brahmin for pitrus will reach them. And pitrus are appeased only with shraddh offered through Brahmin (Skand Purana, Nagar, 221/47)
Types of Shraddh
There are 4 main types of shraddh:
- Sapindikaran – Performed after the antyeshti samskaras, to propitiate father, grandfather and great grandfather.
- Ekodishta – performed once a year on the death tithi of the parents.
- Parvanshraddh – performed on an auspicious day or festival for fulfilling mundane desires.
- Vruddhishraddh- performed during yagna, vivah, murti pratishtha, yagnopavit, samavartan, garbadhan, pumsavan, simant, jatkarma and at samnyas diksha.
Of the above, the most meritorious is one in which one’s Ishtadeva is offered food every day. The shastra stipulate that the family from which the person has become the sadhu has performed all shraddh. This is because his whole life is spent in bhakti and paropakara (for good of others). One hundred One generation of such person is uplifted (Vachanamruta gadhada I-75).
Time for shraddh
The dark half – Krishna paksha of Bhadrava is considered appropriate for pitru shraddh, when the sun is in middle of dakshinayan, in the Kanya Rashi (Virgo).
However whether the day is appropriate for shraddh or not, when a person reaches to piligrim or tirth, he should always bathe and perform tarpan and shraddh (Padma Purana, Srishtik and 34/218-219) \
Twelve days after the impurity of the death, on the 13th, sayyadan is performed. In this fruits clothes and Kapila cow (brown colored) are given to brahmin or a mandir.
Bhadarva vad 13 is considered especially auspicious for pitru shraddh. Bhadarva vad, known as shraddh paksh. In Gaya and other holy places, any tithi is considered auspicious except 14th. For a person who has died by injury, Shurapura shraddh is performed on 14th.
Offerings and Rituals
The pind balls are made up of eight items- ashtangam pindam uchyate– milk, yogurt, ghee, flour (rice or barley), sesame, flower, aushadhi (herb) and chandan. To bind the food balls, the water of darbha grass (darbhodak) is used. Usually, pinds of cooked rice flour are offered to Brahmins. The three represent the three ancestors described above in sapindikaran sharaddh. Lentils, wheat, barley, sesame, milk, ghee and dan of wealth earned lawfully, also please the pitrus for a long period. Khir- a sweet of rice cooked in milk is also an important offering. Those who are poor can offer the shak shraddh – just vegetables. If unable to afford this, they may offer grass to a cow. If still more destitute, a person can raise his hands and offer his prayer.
Bhojan (proper meal) as a shraddh rite should be offered to the following 10 people: nana, maternal uncle, bhanej, guru, father in law, grandson, son in law, friend, ritvij pandit and the pandit officiating the yagya (Manu Smriti 3/48)
Sacred Places for Shraddh
There are five tirths for Shraddh, named after the parts of the human body: Gaya, Nabhiagay, Padgaya, Kapalgaya, and Matrugaya.
- Gaya, near Patna in Bihar (eastern India) is considered a pitru tirth. An asur (demon) named Gaya, performed austerities to please Brahma. He then offered his body on which Vishnu could perform a yagna. This place then became known as Gaya. Named after this event, there is Vishnupad mandir here.
- Nabhigaya is today’s Jojpur in Orissa (eastern India). Here there is a mandir of Varah, Vishnu’s third avatar. Nabhi means navel. Pilgrims perform shraddh after bathing in the nearby river.
- Padgaya, also known as Pad tirth (pad means feet/legs), is today’s Pithapuram, Andhra Pradesh. It is located near the river Pampa and is an important tirth for people in south India.
- Kapalgaya, Kapal means forehead. This tirth is located near Badrinath, on the banks of the Alaknanda. Here there are hot water kunds. Nearby, there is a large shila (rock) named Kapal. Hence this tirth is also known as Brahmkapal and Kapalmochantirth. The above four are pitru tirths, where shraddh of fathers is performed. The fifth is the only matrutirth, in India.
- Matrugaya, This is located at Siddhpur, north Gujarat. The actual tirth, also known as Shristhal, is Bindu Sarovar, a pond on the banks of the old river Saraswati. Bindu means drop. The pond (sarovar) formed from the teardrops which fell from Vishnu’s eyes. He was pleased by Kardam rishi’s austerities. He then granted the rishi a boon to be born as his son. Sometime later, Bhagwan Manu arrived on a tirth yatra at Shristhal. Pleased with Kardam rishi’s austerities, he gave his daughter Devahuti, in marriage to him. Vishnu’s boon then led to Kapildeva Bhagwan’s birth, who later propounded Samkhya philosophy. After his mother’s demise, Kapilveda Bhagwan performed her shraddh rites here. Bhagwan Parshuram too performed his mother Renuka’s shraddh here. Since then people have performed matru shraddh at Bindu Sarovar. These include acharyas such as Shankar, Madhav, Ramanuj and Vallabh.
It is reported that only at Bindu Sarovar do pitrus enter their relative and actually voice the type of food they desire.
The fruits of shraddh are considered indestructible (akshay) if performed in: Gaya, Prayag, Prabhas, Pushkar, Kashi, Ganga, Yamuna and Narmada (Shankhsmurti 14.27-29). Shraddh is to be performed in a pure area, facing south, smeared with cow dung. ‘Pure’ areas include holy places. Deva mandirs, banks of rivers, mountains and forests, which do not belong to a person (Brahma Purana 220.5-7, Kurma Purana, Uttar 22/16-17).
Financial constraints and proximity of sacred places nearer home, often induce people to choose these in preference to those in distant placed. For example, people in Saurashtra and north Gujarat often perform shraddh on the seashore at Somnath. Some choose Vautha, a place near Dholka, situated on the confluence of seven rivers. Those living in the south of Amdavad perform shraddh in Chanod, on the banks of the Narmada. People in Madhya Pradesh prefer the holy river Shipra at Ujjain.
Why should shraddh be performed?
Besides being an injunction of the seers, shraddh is performed to repay the debt of parents and forefathers, while nurturing children until they grow up. Shraddh relieves the offspring of their obligations. Secondly, it is an occasion to remember them. Thirdly their blessings endow virtues, as well as conferring many other benefits. Sanatan Dharma firmly believes that a person’s life on earth is not only lived as a result of his past and present karmas but also aided by the blessings of devas and his pitrus.
By Astrologer Vinayak Bhatt