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By R.L.Pathak
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 father, Dasrath.

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 squandered away.

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.
Article Appeared in The Hindustan Times
New Delhi
Issue Of Sep 17 1997

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