Importance Of Sraaddha Ceremony
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!
Prayer And Kirtan For The Dead
The prayers, good thoughts or good wishes and Kirtan become helpful to the departed souls. They can be of invaluable assistance to the dead. Prayers for the dead form an integral part of most of the religions. The Catholic Church conducts prayers for the dead.
Prayer acts on the principle of a radio station and broadcasts the waves of good thoughts just as the radio station broadcasts waves of sound.
Prayer or Kirtan is a mighty force which helps the departed souls in their progress towards heaven and their quiet passage through the intermediate state.
The departed souls remain in a state of swoon or unconsciousness immediately after death. They cannot feel that they are detached from their previous gross material bodies. Prayers, Kirtan and good thoughts from the relatives and friends can give real solace to the departed souls. They create a potent vibration and an awakening in their stupefied condition of mind and bring back their veiled consciousness. The souls begin to realise that they are not really in their gross material bodies.
Then they endeavour to cross the borderland, a narrow river of ether, which is known as Vaitarani by the Hindus, Chinavat bridge by the Parsis and Sirat by the Muslims.
The weeping and mourning and the uncontrolled grief of their relatives give them pains and drag them down from their astral planes. This may seriously retard them on their way to the heaven-world. This produces serious injury to them. When they are sinking peacefully and when they are ready to have glorious awakening in heaven, they are aroused into vivid remembrance of the mundane life by the weeping and wailing of their friends and relatives. Their thoughts produce similar vibrations in their minds and produce acute pain and discomfort.
Therefore, relatives and friends should do Kirtan and prayers for the peace of the departed souls. Then only they can really help and comfort them. If ten or twelve persons sit together and do Kirtan and prayer, it will be decidedly more powerful and effective. Collective prayer and Kirtan exercise a tremendous influence.
Why Scriptures Are Read To A Dying Man?
Man takes birth in this world with a definite purpose. It is not for mere sensual enjoyment that man is born in this world. The goal of life is Self-realisation or God-consciousness. The various activities of life should ultimately lead to that ideal or goal; or else the life is wasted. There is no difference between the life of a beast and that of a man if he does not attempt to attain the goal of life.
In the Gita you will find: “Whosoever leaving the body goes forth remembering Me alone, at the time of death, he attains My being; there is no doubt about this.”
It is very difficult to keep up God-consciousness at the time of death when diseases torment the body when consciousness fades away. Some people imagine: “Why should a man become a Sadhu and spend his life in the Himalayas? What is wanted is that one should think of God at the time of death. That can be done even at home.” This is a mistake.
The thought of God comes to a man at the time of death only through the grace of the Lord. You have to keep the practice of remembrance of Nama-Smarana every day, every hour, rather every second. When a strong habit is formed by unceasing practice throughout the period of your life, then it would be easy to remember God at the time of death. For this you will have to lead a well-regulated life after learning it from a saintly personality and living with him for some years. If you can do this while remaining in the world, it is all the more helpful for your spiritual growth. You can be in the world and at the same time be out of it.
Pursuing the worldly activities throughout the day and sleeping at night, you will find no time to think of God at all. Even if you do some Japa or prayer for 10 or 15 minutes daily while the rest of the time you spend in worldly activities, you cannot make very great spiritual advancement. Therefore, the remembrance of God should be constant so that the thought of God may come automatically at the time of death as well.
A devotee says to the Lord: “O Lord, let me enter the cool shade of your lotus-like feet this very day when my senses are strong, when my memory is good. When the intellect is perturbed and perverted at the time of death, it may be carried away by the threefold diseases of the body.” Even the most devout aspirant may fail to think of the Lord at the time of death due to the weakness of the physical body.
That is the reason why the Gita, the Bhagavata, the Vishnu Sahasranama and other holy scriptures are recited at the death bed of the sick man; even though he may not be able to speak, he may hear what is read out to him. This will help the sick man in forgetting the body idea or his ailment and think of the Lord. Man always desires to die a peaceful death with his mind fixed on God. When his memory fails, these sacred sentences of the scriptures will remind him of his real nature.
Ordinarily a dying man is haunted by various horrible thoughts. He cannot concentrate his mind on God. His mind will be clouded with innumerable thoughts. He will be thinking: “Who will look after my young wife and children if I die? What will become of my property? Who will realise the outstanding dues from the debtors? I have not done such and such work. The second son is not married. The first son has not been blessed with a child. The work is half finished; many law-suits are pending judgment.” Thus reviewing the actions of his whole life and thinking of the future, he will feel miserable.
When holy books are read and if his interest in the Lilas of the Lord is created, there is every possibility of the man forgetting his worldly attachments. The relatives gathered round him should not begin to weep. Then his mind will be more afflicted. On the other hand they must encourage him to think of God alone. When the mind of the sick man is thus gradually turned from the network of worldly matters and centred on the picture or Lilas or teachings of the Lord, all favourable conditions are created thereby for the passing off of the life-breath. The mind also is peacefully alighted on the thought of God.
He will then repent for his follies and pray to God sincerely. Sincere prayers can undo the evil effect of bad Karma. Viveka and Vairagya will dawn in him in the twinkling of an eye. Even if at the time of death, real Viveka and Vairagya dawn in him, it is enough to give him the solace which the soul strives for.
Ajamila was a pious man, but due to contact with a woman of ill-fame in the forest, he lost all his Tejas, divine splendour and Tapas-Sakti. When he saw the messengers of Yama threatening him with noose and spears, he called for Narayana, his second son. As soon as he uttered the name of Narayana, the messengers of Vishnu arrived with the celestial car, drove away the messengers of Yama and took Ajamila to Vaikuntha.
King Parikshit heard Srimad Bhagavata from Sri Suka, the born Siddha, and the son of Sage Vyasa, for seven days. He observed fast for seven days and on the seventh day Sri Suka initiated him into Brahma Vidya. He meditated on the Supreme Tattva and became one with Supreme Brahman. The mighty Takshaka appeared before him and by his deadly venom killed Parikshit. Parikshit felt as if some insect was licking his feet. He went above body-consciousness. He burnt his body by the fire of Yoga practice even before Takshaka bit him.
King Khatvanga realised the Supreme Brahman in less than an hour.
These great men had done intense Sadhana throughout life and they remembered the Lord constantly.
May all realise God in this very birth by constant remembrance of Him! May He appear before you at the time of your departure from this body! (Sri Swami Sivananda)