Sraaddha And Prayer For The Dead: Importance Of Sraaddha Ceremony
February 3, 2011 Comments Off
Sraaddha And Prayer For The Dead: Importance Of Sraaddha Ceremony
By Sri Swami Sivananda
The Karma Kanda of the Vedas, the sacred books of the Hindus, has laid down different duties of man according to his position in life and according to the order to which he belongs. All these injunctions are embodied in the book called Manusmriti. Manusmriti is the code of law and conduct for the Hindus. Kings and rulers of the past were guided by the rules contained therein for the maintenance of peace and order in the country. The Manusmriti has divided human society into four main divisions known as Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. It has also made four divisions of the different stages of life of an individual viz., Brahmacharya, Garhasthya, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. Brahmacharya is the life of a student, Garhasthya, the household life, Vanaprastha, the life in the forest given to religious pursuits, and lastly Sannyasa, the life of a mendicant after renouncing all worldly activities.
These are the four Ashramas of life. This order of society gradually perished due to modern civilisation and deterioration of spiritual life in man. Materialistic dark forces of Rajas and Tamas have overpowered the effects of Sattvic ones and religion is given secondary importance. Nay, religionists are looked upon with contempt in these days. A devotee or a Sadhaka with a tuft of hair (Choti) is not liked by the modern men of the University. Study of scriptures, observances of religious rites, a spiritual life of moderation and real ethical cultures are denounced as useless or old-fashioned and consequently they are fading into insignificance. The problem of life is very serious now.
The struggle for existence is very keen in these days. The question of food and other luxuries of life has taken the place of religion. For a householder the scriptures have imposed the Pancha Maha Yajnas, the five great sacrifices as obligatory duties of life. The neglect of these duties entails penalty. These great sacrifices are: 1. Deva Yajna (sacrifice to gods), 2. Rishi Yajna (sacrifice to Rishis), 3. Pitri Yajna (sacrifice to ancestors), 4. Bhuta Yajna (sacrifice to animals), and 5. Atithi Yajna (sacrifice to guests). The Sraaddha ceremony comes under Pitri Yajna. It is the sacred duty of the householder. Every householder should perform the Sraaddha ceremony for his ancestors. Pitris are forefathers who dwell in the Pitriloka. They possess the power of clairvoyance and clairaudience. When Mantras are recited, they exercise tremendous influence through their vibrations. The Pitris hear the sounds through the power of clairaudience and they are pleased. They bless those who offer the oblation. In Sraaddha, the essence of food offerings is taken up by the Sun’s rays to Suryaloka and the departed souls are pleased with the offerings. Even in Germany and other foreign countries many persons perform Tarpan and Sraaddha.
They have scientifically investigated the beneficial effects of such oblations. It is the imperative duty of all householders to perform Sraaddha and Tarpan to please the Rishis and Pitris. The Gita and the Upanishads clearly bear testimony to the fact that the performance of Sraaddha is very important. It is only the deluded souls with perverted intellect who misconstrue things and neglect to perform the sacred ceremonies and consequently suffer. They are misguided by false reasoning and logic. Satanic influences affect them very easily. Ignorance is the root cause for this state of affairs. Sraaddha ceremony is done once in every year. A day of the Pitris is equal to one year of human computation.
This is the reason why we have to perform Sraaddha ceremony once in a year. If we perform Sraaddha ceremony once in every year, it is equal to daily performances of Sraaddha for the Pitris. In their calculation we, their sons, live only for a few days, because the longest period of human existence of 100 years is merely 100 days for them. Some people entertain the doubt, When the Jiva undergoes transmigration and takes another birth after leaving this physical body, is it necessary that we should perform Sraaddha ceremony for him? He is no more in the heavens. To whom will the oblations reach? In the ninth chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna has made it very clear that those virtuous persons who perform sacrifices for the attainment of heaven attain to those worlds of enjoyments.
They having enjoyed that spacious world of Svargas, their merit (Punya) exhausted, enter the world of the mortals; thus following the Dharma of the triad, desiring objects of desires, they attain to the state of going and returning. This establishes the theory of attainment of heaven after death, and rebirth in the mortal world after the exhaustion of virtuous acts. The enjoyments in heaven and peace of the soul are enhanced by the performance of Sraaddha ceremony. The suffering in worlds other than heaven according to the merits of one’s own actions is mitigated by the performance of Sraaddha ceremony by his sons. So in both cases the performance of Sraaddha is a great help. The Pitris
remain in heaven (Pitriloka, Chandraloka) for a very long period. According to the theory of transmigration, even if the individual is to take another birth immediately after his death, the performance of Sraaddha adds to his happiness in his new birth. So it is the imperative duty of everybody to perform Sraaddha ceremony for his parents and forefathers. Sraaddha ceremony should be performed with great Sraddha (faith) as long as you live. Faith is the main support for religion. In olden days the question -whether to perform Sraaddha ceremony or not- did not arise at all.
Then people were full of faith and had reverence for the scriptures. In these days when faith is almost-dwindling into an airy nothing and when the list of non-performers of Sraaddha has increased, others of wavering faith begin to doubt whether it is necessary to perform Sraaddha or not, and whether any good will accrue out of it. This lack of faith in the Sastras has degraded us to the present deplorable condition. “Sraddhavan labhate jnanam…the man of faith attains knowledge and thereby immortality and eternal peace” is the declaration of the Gita. Some people argue and say that if a man once performs Sraaddha ceremony to his forefathers at Gaya and other places of religious importance, he need not do it every year thereafter. This is not a general rule and does not apply to all. It applies only in certain exceptional cases. If people take shelter under this exception and discontinue Sraaddha ceremony by once offering Pinda, etc., at Gaya, they do so out of sheer ignorance. They consider it merely a burden to perform Sraaddha ceremony and avoid it. They have not discharged their duties properly.
The various religious observances imposed upon mankind by the Sastras tend to purify the ignorant man. The goal of Karma Yoga is purification of the mind. Sraaddha ceremony, being one of the obligatory duties, as per the injunctions of scriptures, also tends to purify the mind. Besides this, the forefathers are also pleased and their good wishes and blessings tend to our material and spiritual growth. People who die without a son will suffer in the other worlds. (This is, of course, not applicable in the case of Nitya Brahmacharins and spiritual aspirants who tread the spiritual path alone after renouncing all selfish desires and worldly enterprises). That is the reason why people adopt a son before their death for the due performance of Sraaddha ceremonies after their death. The Gita also supports this view. ”Patanti pitaro hyesham luptapindodakakriyah”: their forefathers fall (down to hell) deprived of the offerings of Pinda (rice-ball) and water. But, if a man is religious-minded and if he has discrimination and dispassion, belief in the Sastras and the Vedas, if he has led a virtuous life till the end of his life, if he has devoted his last days in devotional practices, Japa, meditation, study, etc., (even if he has no son) he will not have a fall. He will surely enjoy perfect peace. He will not be affected by the dark forces of ignorance. He is free from base attractions of the world. The Lord takes care of his progress. He has got self-surrender and there is no fear of downfall. He has mental purity. All religious observations have Chitta Suddhi (purification of the mind) as their goal. This he attains by virtue of his past Samskaras and virtuous life in previous incarnations.
People of some communities in India spend money enormously and indiscriminately on Sraaddha ceremony for show. This is mere wastage. Money should not be spent on luxury. It is a delusion to think that the Pitris will get more peace by spending more money. Money does not count for the ease of the Pitris, but the intensity of Bhava, with which the Sraaddha is performed, counts. On such occasions the poor and deserving persons are to be fed sumptuously. Their necessities of life should be attended to. Study of scriptures should be done on such days. The performer of the Sraaddha ceremony should observe spiritual discipline like Japa, meditation, Mouna, etc. He should maintain strict Brahmacharya. He should not spend his time in idle pursuits.
He should pray to God for the whole day. Recitation of appropriate Vedic hymns should be done. The story of Nachiketas of the Upanishads should be studied. The performer attains immortality. Revive the Vedic religion. Tread the path of Truth. Perform Sraaddha ceremony. Shake off this slothfulness and indifference to the path of righteousness. Awake, arise! Tap the right source. Stick to your Varnashrama Dharma. There is no greater sacrifice than performance of one’s own duty. Study the Gita daily. Live in the world, but be not of it. Assimilate the teachings of the Gita. This is the surest way to success in life as well as God-realisation. May you enjoy the bliss of the Eternal. May you attain the immortal and imperishable seat of Brahman by regular performance of your Svadharma (duty), singing Hari’s names, serving the sick and the poor, following the path of righteousness, by regular study of the Vedas and by meditation on the Supreme Self! May the Lord guide you in your activities!
* * *
Tags-ancestors, death, duty, eternal, God, householder, immortality, meditation,
mind, money, prayer, purity, righteousness, study, virtuousness, yoga,
This was an excerpt from the book What Becomes Of The Soul After Death by Sri Swami Sivananda.