Hindu mythology is rich in its legacies and
traditions. Of the many rites, rituals, festivals and ceremonies,
Shraadhs appear to be quite different. Shraadhs constitute 'a debt
of the dead' which ought to be repaid assuming the dead ones as
being alive and living with us.
During this period called pitrapaksha, the lord of death, Yamaraja
enables all who shed their mortal frames to come back to earth and
receive offerings from their descendants. For ages, it has been
associated with such offerings being made to the dead christened
pretas (spirits) and pitras(forfathers).
It is believed that one owes three main debts. First its Devarina
(debt to the gods), second is Rishi rina (debt to the guru) and the
last but, not the least is the Pitra rina (debt to the forefathers).
It is ordained that one must pay off these debts with utmost
humility and respect.
During the fortnight of the Ashwin month, Hindus offer ablation to
their ancestors, While most people observe shraadhs at their places,
the more devout of them prefer to perform the rites at the
designated holy places but Gaya in Bihar (India) is considered the
holiest. A pinda daan is supposed to liberate all souls from the
control of Yama and help them attain moksha.
Gaya derives its name from al demon called gayasura. Legend has it
that after a severe penance demon Gayasura pleased Vishnu and was
granted a boon that whoever would touch him will be allowed a place
in heaven. This angered other Gods and they hatched a conspiracy.
One day when the demon sat for worship on the banks of river
Phalgu, the Gods not only put a stone over his head to render him
immobile but even persuaded Vishnu to put his feet on the stone.
On seeing Vishnu, Gayasura asked for another boon. He stretched his
body to four yojans (approximately 32 miles) and requested that the
place be named after him.
At Gaya there are as many as 45 sacred Vedis where shraadhs are
performed. In ancient times, Gaya was a holy place for offering
obseuies for merits of parents and was divided into two distinct
areas, dharamanya and dharmaprastha. In dharamanya were contained
the Aswatha tree near Phalgu. Buddha Gaya was the place where pinda
is offered by the Hindus from all over India, as par of the Shraadh
rites. There is also the Sita Kunda where lord Rama, accompanied by
Lakshmana and Sita, is believed to have performed the shraadh of his
Shraadhs seem to be the outcome of the Karma theory to which all
Hindus subscribe to rather fruitfully and maintains relationship
till eternity. Like King Mahabali who visits Kerala during the Onam
celebrations to prepetuate the ties for ever onwards, so the
shraadhs seem to build bridges between the living and the dead.
Gone are the days when shraadhs were observed in a spirit of true
indebtedness. The Brahmins were invited, served with rice meal and a
hefty dakshina amid puja recitations but now not many even know what
shraadh mean to us. Not even the Pandits accept the invitation with
pleasure which indeed is unfortunate, because our values are being
Little wonder then, that even devouts of other religions pay their
respects to their ancestors by remembering them on the birth and
death anniversaries and by raising memorials and offering flowers at
the graves. Christians, Muslims and Boudhs all observe the ritual.
The example of the world famous Taj Mahal at Agra can also be
assumed to be something akin to a shraadh.
The Chinese, Japanese and some other Asian partners honour their
ancestors in much the same sense of gratitude and remembrance.
While there are lots of people whose descendants remember and
honour their ancestors, there may be millions who die n harness.
Hindu religion even remembers those who die in wars and other
natural calamities, even the unseen and unheard of insects and other
creatures and upholds the highest celestial standards.
Funny though it may seem, the shraadh code of conduct provides for
observance of a shraadh in one's own life time at Gaya. Should one,
therefore, anticipate, a situation that there is no one after him to
perform the pinda-dan rite, he could go ahead to have one done for
himself for mutual peace and propensity.