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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


'Rituals' and 'Ideal behind the Idol'-
these two pages complement each other

Click on underlined words to open paragraph

The ritual of sraddha (Pitr-Paksha)
Shraddha & Tarpan / Pitr-Paksha

Why are three rice-balls offered
separately at a Shraddha?

From The Mahabhatara

Grasping covetous priests

Mahalaya Amavasya

Adoration and worship
Prana Pratishtha (Consecration)

Rituals of religion, like the husk of a seed
preserve its life and make it germinate

Philosophy without religion becomes meaningless. Religion without rituals becomes insipid. The rituals of a religion, like the husk of a seed, preserves its life and make it germinate. It is only when the rituals are separated from the faith and assume an independent existence that they become mechanical and lifeless.

Human beings have not yet reached those heights where they can dispense with all sorts of symbols and rituals and devote themselves to purely abstract principles. Rituals give a concrete shape to the abstract spiritual ideals and add colour and zest to life.

Worship of God through symbols and images, offering oblations into specially consecrated sacrificial fires, the practice of meditation at sunrise, noon and sunset,- these were some of the rituals obligatory on almost all the Hindus during the ancient days. Even to this day, these have been kept up, though in a modified form, and with lesser intensity.

A wisely planned and solemnly conducted ritual prepares the ground, creates the atmosphere, suggests the mood and predisposes the mind so that the spiritual aspirant may easily detach himself from the world and feel the mysterious presence of the Supreme power called God.

Swami Vivekananda Wrote About:
The foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Compiled by Sri G.M.Jagtiani

Mythology and rituals

The world’s great spiritual giants have all been produced only by those religious sects which have been in possession of very rich mythology and ritual. All sects that have attempted to Worship God without any form or ceremony have crushed without mercy everything that is beautiful and sublime in religion. Their religion is a fanaticism, at best a dry thing. The history of the world is a standing witness to this fact. Therefore do not decry these rituals and mythologies. Let people have them; let those who so desire have them. Do not exhibit that unworthy derisive smile and say, "They are fools; let them have it." Not so; the greatest men I have seen in my life, the most wonderfully developed in spirituality, have all come through the discipline of the rituals.

From The Bhagavad Gita
Ch.12-Verse 5

The Blessed Lord said:
Greater is their trouble whose minds are set on
the unmanifested; for the goal, the unmanifested,
is very hard for the embodied to reach.

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The ritual of sraddha
From the Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section LXXXIV + Sec.XCII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Bhishma said: When my father Santanu of great energy departed from this world, I proceeded to Gangadwara for performing his Sraddha. My mother, Jahnavi, coming there, rendered great help.

Having with a concentrated mind performed all preliminary rites as laid down in the scriptures, I set myself to duly offer the obsequial cake. Reflecting then, by the light of the scriptures, the conviction soon came upon me that the ordinance does occur in the Vedas that the cake should not be presented into the hand of him whose Sraddha is performed. The Pitris do not come in their visible forms for taking the cake.

On the other hand, the ordinance provides that it should be presented on the blades of Kusa grass spread on the earth for the purpose. What I did was perfectly consistent with the scriptural ordinance.

In making offerings at Sraddhas a share is first offered to the deity of fire(Agni). If a portion of the offerings be first made to the deity of fire at a sraddha, Rakshasas of regenerate origin
cannot then do any injury to such a sraddha. Beholding the deity of fire at a Sraddha Rakshasas fly away from it.

The ritual of Sraddha is that the cake should first be offered to the deceased father. Next, one should be offered to the grandfather. Next should one be offered to the great-grandfather. Even this is the ordinance in respect of the Sraddha. Over every cake that is offered, the offerer should with concentrated attention utter the Savitri Mantra. This other Mantra also should be uttered, viz., unto Soma who is fond of the Pitris.

A woman that has become impure in consequence of the advent of her season, or one whose ears have been cut off, should not be allowed to remain where a Sraddha is being performed. Nor should a woman (for cooking the rice to be offered in the Sraddha) be brought from a Gotra other than that of the person who is performing the Sraddha.

While crossing a river, one should offer oblations of water unto one's Pitris, naming them all. One should next offer such oblations of water to one's deceased friends or relatives. From them that cross a river on boats, the Pitris expect oblations of water. Those that know this always offer oblations of water with concentrated attention unto the Pitris. Every fortnight, on the day of the new moon, one should make offerings unto one's deceased ancestors. growth, longevity, energy, and prosperity become all attainable through devotion to the Pitris.

Even this is the high ritual in respect of the Sraddha. Through Sraddhas performed on earth the deceased members of ones race become freed from a position of misery. I have thus,
O prince of Kuru's race, expounded to thee agreeably with the scriptures, the ordinances in respect of Sraddhas.

FromThe Yajur Veda
Chapter 2, Mantra 34

"Satisfy the Pitris (departed ancestors) with
oblations of Tarpan (water etc.) using the word 'Svadhaa' ".

Sanskrit text :  Svadhaa Stha Tarpayata Me Pitrin.

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From Other sources

Shraddha & Tarpan/Pitr-Paksha

Funeral rites and Shraddha must be distinguished from each other. Funeral rites (antyeshthi) are amangal (inauspicious) while Shraddha are mangal (auspicious).

To understand this it should be borne in mind that when a person dies, his or her gross body (sthula sharira) is burnt. This being in fact the ‘Antya ishthi’ (antyeshthi) the last sacrifice offered in fire, but the soul cannot quit the gross body without a vehicle of some kind. This vehicle is the Linga-sharira or subtle body, sometimes described as angushtha-matra (of the size of a thumb), invested in which the deceased person remains hovering near the burning ground or crematorium.

He or she is then in the condition of a simple individual soul invested with a subtle body, and is called a PRETA, i.e. a departed spirit or ghost. Thus an embodied soul (jiva) who has departed from the physical body at death is called a Preta. He or she has no real body capable of enjoying or suffering anything, and is consequently in a restless, uncomfortable plight.

Moreover, while in this condition he or she is held to be an impure being, and all the relations who participate in his or her funeral rites are held to be impure until the first Shraddha is performed. Furthermore, if a person dies away from kindred (relations), who alone can perform the funeral ceremonies, and who are perhaps unaware of his or her death, and unable therefore to perform them, he or she becomes a ‘pishach’, a foul wandering ghost, disposed to take revenge for its misery upon all living creatures by a variety of malignant acts.

The object then, of the antyeshthi or funeral rites, which are carried out for twelve days after death, is not only to soothe or give shanti (peace) by libations of consecrated water to the troubled spirit, but to furnish the preta with an intermediate body, between the ‘linga’ or subtle and the ‘sthula’ or gross body- with a body, that is to say, which is capable of enjoying or suffering, and which is composed of gross particles, though not of the same kind as the earthly gross body. In this manner only can the preta obtain gati or progress onwards.

A brief account of Shraddha and tarpan

On the first day after death a pinda or round ball (made from rice flour and milk) is offered with libations of water etc. on which the preta is supposed to feed, and which endows it with the basis of the requisite body. Next day another pinda is offered with water etc. which gives it perhaps, limbs such as arms and legs. Then it receives hands, feet etc. This goes on for twelve days and the offering of the pinda on the twelfth day gives the head. No sooner the preta obtains a complete body then it becomes a PITRI, when instead of being regarded as impure, it is held to be a deva or deity, and practically worshipped as such in the Shraddha ceremonies, the first of which takes place on the twelfth day after death.

Shraddha is the name of the ceremonies performed by relatives to help the departed soul. The ceremony of Shraddha performed to help the soul at this stage is called PRETA_KRIYA. Hence a Shraddha is not a funeral ceremony but a Pitri-Yajna or worship of departed ancestors, which worship, however, is something different from a puja (ceremonial worship) to a god. It is performed by making offerings of round balls of rice, flour etc. with accompaniments of sacred grass (kusha grass), flowers, and sprinkling of water, and with repetitions of mantras and texts from the SamVeda, the whole ceremonial being conducted, not in a temple, but at any sacred spot such as the margin of a river.

It takes many months for the departed soul to reach the abode of the Pitris or the souls of the ancestors. The word Pitris primarily means the immediate ancestors. Viz. Father, mother etc. This abode of the Pitris is known as Pitri-loka.

Shraddha proper is performed for three generations of Pitris (the father, the grand-father and the great grand-father), or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, grand-father and great grand-father. Gifts to deserving Brahmins (priests) for the benefit of the Pitris, in the proper time and place and with faith, are known as Shraddha. Shraddha gives satisfaction to the Pitris. Performance of Shraddha and Tarpan (libations of water) relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka. By the offering of the Shraddha, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitris. The rites that the son should perform for his father are known as Sapindi karana.

Shraddha must be performed with faith, devotion and reverence. The son who does not perform Shraddha and Tarpan is an ungrateful son. The sacred scriptures declare: "He who does not perform Shraddha will lead a miserable life and suffer from poverty". The ceremonies performed during Pitr-Paksha have very special effects. According to a legend, the offerings of libations of water-tarpan, arghya etc. to the departed reach the Pitris immediately, due to a boon from Lord Yama (the God of death).

The Bhagavad Gita, which forms a vital and philosophically important part of the great epic Mahabharata, states that on the eve of death the individual soul contracts all its energies and centers these into the subtle body. Our ordinary sight is incapable of perceiving it. How the individual soul inhering in the linga-sharira enjoys the consequences of its needs from one birth to another can only be perceived by the Yogis with their extraordinary cognitive insight.

From The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, Verse 10
The deluded do not see Him Who departs, stays and enjoys; but they who possess the eye of knowledge behold Him.

Related articles:

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCLIII
Translated by sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vyasa said; Those that are conversant with the scriptures behold, with the aid of acts laid down in the scriptures, the Soul which is clothed in a subtle body and is exceedingly subtle and which is dissociated from the gross body. As the rays of the sun that course in   dense masses through every part of the firmament are incapable of being seen by the naked eye though their existence is capable of being inferred by reason, after the same manner, existent beings freed from gross bodies and wandering in the universe are beyond the ken of human vision.

As the effulgent disc of the sun is beheld in the water in a counter image, after the same manner the Yogi beholds within gross bodies the existent self in its counter image. All those souls again that are encased in subtle forms after being freed from the gross bodies in which they resided, are perceptible to Yogis who have subjugated their senses and who are endued with knowledge of the soul. Indeed, aided by their own souls, Yogis behold those invisible beings.

Those who betake themselves to the science of Yoga for the purpose of obtaining a knowledge of that Soul transcending the inanimate and gross body, the imperceptible Linga body (subtle body), and the Karana body that is not destroyed on the occassion of even the universal destruction. [Note: the Karana bodies are the potentialities, existing in the tanmatra of the elemental substances, of forming diverse kinds of linga bodies in consequence of the acts of Jiva (individual soul) in previous periods of existence.]

Comments by Sri  Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Those who die become at first what is called a Preta. They remain so for one year, till the Sapindikaran  Sraddha is performed. They then become united with the Pitris. The gifts made in the first Sraddha as also in the monthly ones, have the virtue of rescuing the Preta or bringing him an accession of merit. The gifts in annual Sraddhas also have the same efficacy.

From the Mahabharata
Asramavasika Parva, Section XXXI
Translated by ri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vaisampayana said: On the twelfth day, the king, properly purified, duly performed the Sraddhas of his deceased relations, which were characterised by gifts in abundance.

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section XXIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said:I desire thee, O grandsire, to tell me what the ordinances are that have been laid down by the acts touching the deities and the (deceased) ancestors on occasions of Sraddhas.

Bhishma said: Having purified oneself (By bathing and other purificatory acts) and then going through the well-known auspicious rites, one should carefully do all acts relating to the deities in the forenoon, and all the acts relating to the Pitris in the afternoon. The food offered by the three regenerate classes, in which Mantras are either not uttered or uttered incorrectly and in which the ordinances laid down in the scriptures are not complied with, if distributed to guests and other people, is appropriated by Rakshasas (demons). The food that is distributed to guests without having been previously dedicated to the deities or the Pitris with the aid of libation on the sacred fire, which has been stained in consequence of a portion thereof having been eaten by a person that is wicked or of irreligious behaviour, should be known to form the portion of Rakshasa.

From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva Section XXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Yudhishthira said: It has been said that a Brahmana that is sought to be employed in an act having reference to the deities, should never be examined. The learned, however, say that with respect to such acts as have reference to the Pitris, the Brahmana that is sought to be employed, should be examined (in the matter of both his conduct and competence).

Bhishma said: As regards acts that have reference to the deities, these fructify not in consequence of the Brahmana that is employed in doing the rites but through the grace of the deities themselves. Without doubt, those persons that perform sacrifices obtain the merit attached to those acts, through the grace of the deities.

[Note: The sense is that with respect to acts having reference to only the Pitris, the conduct and competence of Brahmanas should be examined.] 

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Why are three rice-balls offered
separately at a Shraddha?


From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section CXXV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing Yudhishthira, Bhishma said: Listen to me with concentrated attention, O king, as I explain to thee, O Bharata, these mysteries appertaining to who are truly deserving of honour and worship, after the same manner in which the holy Vyasa had explained them to me in days of yore. The subject is a mystery to the very deities, O monarch. Yama of stainless deed, with the aid of vows well-observed and Yaga meditation had acquired the knowledge of these mysteries as the high fruit of his penances.

Once upon a time, a celestial messenger, coming to the court of Indra of his own accord, but remaining invisible, addressed the chief of the deities in these words:

At the command of those two deities who are the foremost of all physicians, and who are endued with every desirable attribute, I have come to this place where I behold human beings and Pitris (deceased ancestors) and the deities assembled together. Why, indeed, is sexual congress interdicted for the man who performs a Shraddha and for him also who eats at a Shraddha (for the particular day)? Why are three rice-balls offered separately at a Shraddha? Unto whom should the first of those rice-balls be offered? Unto whom should the second one be offered? And whose has it been said is the third or remaining one? I desire to know all this.

After the celestial messenger had said these words connected with righteousness and duty, the deities who were seated towards the east, the Pitris also, applauding that ranger of the sky, began as follows.

The Pitris said: Welcome art thou, and blessings upon thee! Do thou listen, O best of all rangers of the sky! The question you have asked is a high one and fraught with deep meaning. The Pitris of that man who indulges in sexual congress on the day he performs a Shraddha, or eats at a Shraddha have to lie for the period of a whole month on his vital seed.

As regards the classification of the rice-balls offered at a Shraddha, we shall explain what should be done with them one after another. The first rice-ball should be conceived as thrown into the waters. The second ball should be given to one of the wives to eat. The third ball should be cast into the blazing fire. Even this is the ordinance that has been declared in respect of the Shraddha. Even this is the ordinance that is followed in practice according to the rites of religion. The Pitris of that man who act according to this ordinance become gratified with him and remain always cheerful. The progeny of such a man increases and inexhaustible wealth always remains at his command.

The celestial messenger said: Thou hast explained the division of the rice-balls and their consignment one after another to the three (viz., water, the spouse, and the blazing fire), together with the reasons thereof. [Note: The reason is the declarations in the scriptures to that effect.]

Whom does that rice-ball which is consigned to the waters reach? How does it, by being so consigned, gratify the deities and how does it rescue the Pitris? The second ball is eaten by the spouse. That has been laid down in ordinance. How do the Pitris of that man (whose spouse eats the rice-ball) become the eaters thereof? The last rice-ball goes into the blazing fire. How does that ball succeed in finding its way to thee, or who is he unto whom it goes? I desire to hear this, - that is, what are the ends attained by the rice-balls offered at Shraddha when thus disposed of by being cast into the water, given to the spouse, and thrown into the blazing fire!

The Pitris said: Great is this question which thou hast asked. It involves a mystery and is fraught with wonder. We have been exceedingly gratified with thee, O ranger of the sky! The very deities and the munis applaud acts done in honour of the Pitris. Even they do not know what the certain conclusions are of the ordinances in respect of the acts done in honour of the Pitris. Excepting the high-souled, immortal and excellent Markendeya, that learned Brahmana of great fame, who is ever devoted to the Pitris, none amongst them is conversant with the mysteries of the ordinances in respect of the Pitris. Having heard from the holy Vyasa what the end is of the three rice-balls offered at the Shraddha, as explained by the Pitris themselves in reply to the question of the celestial messenger, I shall explain the same to thee. Do thou hear, O monarch, what the conclusions are with respect to the ordinances about the Shraddha. Listen with rapt attention, O Bharata, to me as I explain what the end is of the three rice-balls.

That rice-ball which goes into water is regarded as gratifying the deity of the moon. That deity, thus gratified, O thou of great intelligence, gratifies in return the other deities and the Pitris also with them. It has been laid down that the second rice-ball should be eaten by the spouse (of the man that performs the Shraddha). The Pitris who are very desirous of progeny, confer children on the woman of the house. Listen now to me as I tell thee what becomes of the rice-ball that is cast into the blazing fire. With that ball the Pitris are gratified and as the result thereof they grant the fruition of all wishes unto the person offering it. I have thus told thee everything about the end of the three rice-balls offered at the Shraddha and consigned to the three (viz., water, the spouse, and the fire).

That Brahman who becomes the Ritwik at a Shraddha constitutes himself, by that act, the Pitri of the person performing the Shraddha. Hence, he should abstain that day from sexual congress with even his own spouse.[Note: The Brahmana who becomes the Ritwik and eats at a Shraddha becomes a Pitri of the person performing the Shraddha. Hence, when his identity has been changed, he should, on that day, abstain from sexual congress with even his own spouse. By indulging in such congress, he incurs the sin of adultery.]

O best of all rangers of the sky, the man who eats at Shraddha should bear himself with purity for that day. By acting otherwise, one surely incurs the faults I have indicated. It cannot be otherwise. Hence, the Brahmana who is invited to a Shraddha for eating the offerings should eat them after purifying himself by a bath and bear himself piously for that day by abstaining from every kind of injury or evil. The progeny of such a person multiply and he also who feeds him reaps the same reward.

From Manu Smrti

Whatever a man, full of faith, duly gives according to the prescribed rule, that becomes in the other world a perpetual and imperishable  (gratification) for the manes.

The days of the dark half of the month, beginning with the tenth, but excepting the fourteenth, are recommended for a funeral sacrifice.

As the second half of the month is preferable to the first half, even so the afternoon is better for the performance of a funeral sacrifice than the forenoon.

Let him not perform a funeral sacrifice at night, because the night is declared to belong to the Rakshasas, nor in the twilight, nor when the sun has just risen.

At all rites in honour of the manes the word SWADHA is the highest benison.
[Note: During Agni-Hotra or Havan ceremony, oblations are offered to the gods with the word SWAHA but to the manes during funeral sacrifice, the word SWADHA must be used.]

The manes are always pleased with offerings made in open, naturally pure places, on the banks of rivers, and in secluded spots.

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How Sraddha and Tarpan
benefit the departed souls

By Swami Shivananda
Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Sraddha is the name of the ceremonies performed by relatives to help the Jiva (individual soul) who has cast off his physical body in death. A Jiva who has cast off his physical sheath is called a Preta. The part of the Sraddha performed to help him at this stage is called the Preta Kriya.

Gifts to deserving Brahmanas for the benefit of the Pitris, in the proper time and place and with faith, are known as Sraddha. Sraddha gives satisfaction to the Pitris. By the offering of the sixteen Sraddhas, the son helps his father to dwell in joy with the Pitris. The son should perform the Sapindikarana rites for his father. Performance of Sraddha and Tarpan relieves the hunger and thirst of the departed soul during its journey to the Pitri Loka.

Those who go to hell are extremely oppressed by hunger and thirst. Performance of Sraddha and offerings of rice and oblations to them, relieve their sufferings. Hence, performance of Sraddha is indispensable.Those who dwell in heaven also get satisfaction, strength and nourishment.

Performance of Sraddha in honour of the manes or forefathers is indispensable. Sraddha must be performed with faith, devotion and reverence. The son who does not perform Sraddha and Tarpan is an ungrateful son. He goes to hell. The sacred scriptures declare: "He who does not perform Sraddha takes his next birth in the lowest caste. He leads a miserable life and suffers from poverty.

The two classes of Pitris

Immediately after death, the Jiva obtains the Ativahika body which is made up of fire, air and space. Later on, it may have a Yatana Deha for suffering the tortures of hell if it had done great sins on the earth-plane, or a celestial body for enjoying the pleasures of heaven if it had virtuous actions while living in the world. In the Yatana Deha the air-element preponderates: while in the celestial body, the element of fire is dominant. It takes one year for the Jiva to reach the Pitri Loka.

There are two classes of Pitris, viz., the Celestial Pitris who are the lords of the Pitri Loka, and the Human Pitris who go there after death. Brahma is the paternal grandfather of all. Kasyapa and the other Prajapatis are also Pitris, as they are the original progenitors. Pitri Loka or the Abode of the Pitris is also called by the name Bhuvar Loka.

The word Pitris primarily means the immediate ancestors, viz., father, mother, etc. Sraddha proper is performed for three generations of Pitris, or to all Pitris. Three cakes are offered to the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather. Two Brahmins are fed first. Seven generations can mutually influence one another by the giving and receiving of food.

Pitri-paksha and the
Mahalaya Amavasya

The dark fortnight of the month of Asvayuja is known as the Pitripaksha or the fortnight of the month specially sanctified for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. And the last day, the day of the new moon, is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and like rites.

Now, ordinarily, the orthodox Hindus offer oblation of water-Tarpan-Arghya- to the departed every new-moon day. The prescribed rites are also performed every year on the anniversary of the day of death.This is the Sraddha ceremony. What then, is the special import of these observances particularly during the Asvayuja Krishna Paksha? The reason is that such ceremonies done during this fortnight  have a very special effect. The offerings reach the Pitris immediately and directly, due to a boon from Lord Yama.

Due to the grace of Lord Yama, it came to be so ordained that such rites done at this particular period acquired the following unique merits. Offerings made at this time reached all departed souls, whether they were kins directly in the line of the offerer or not. Even those who died without progeny received these oblations given on this Pitri-paksha Amavasya day. All those who had failed to do deeds of charity and Anna-Dana (gift of food) and were thus denied these comforts in the Pitri Loka, benefited by these ceremonies.

Those deceased whose date of death is not known and whose annual Sraddha cannot be done, they also get these oblations of Pitri Paksha. Souls whose life was cut off by violent accidental or unnatural death and to whom, therefore, offerings cannot reach in the ordinary course, to them, too, the Ptripaksha offerings reach directly. All these the boon of Lord Yama made possible from the time the great Karna performed the Asvayuja-Paksha rites.

The Hindus now observe this Paksha with great faith, with strict regulation, taking bath thrice, with partial fasting, etc. On the new-moon day, Sarvapitri (all ancestors)Amavasya, the full rites are done and plenty of charity given.

Propitiation of Departed Spirits

The day of Mahalaya Amavasya is the day of great significance and importance to all Hindus. It is the annual festival for propitiating the spirits of our ancestors, with devout prayers for peace. The Hindu Itihasas (histories) say, that on the Mahalaya Amavasya, there is a conjunction of the sun and the moon and that the sun enters the sign Virgo (Kanya). On this day, the departed manes, i.e., our ancestors, leave their abode in the world of Yama and come down to the world of mortals and occupy the houses of their descendants.

The fortnight preceding the new moon is specially consecrated for the propitiation of such departed spirits. The ceremonies performed in honour of the manes or ancestors during each day of this fortnight are considered to be equal to those performed at Gaya. The principle in all such rites is the worship of the departed souls and the satisfaction of their wishes so that they might be in peace during the rest of the year.

Mahalaya Amavasya

The dark fortnight of Aswayuja (September-October) is known as the Mahalaya Paksha or the fortnight specially sacred for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. The last day of this period, the new moon day, is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites.

The renowned hero of the Mahabharata, Karna, when he left the mortal coil, ascended to the higher worlds and the great charity he had done here was returned to him hundredfold. But, it was all gold and silver; there was no food, as he had not done any food-charity! He prayed to the god of death. So, he was sent back to earth for fourteen days, to make up for this deficiency.

For fourteen days, he fed Brahmins and the poor, and offered oblations of water. On his return to the higher regions, he had food in plenty. It is these fourteen days that are commemorated in the Mahalaya Paksha. Due to the grace of the god of death, it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to you or not.

Charity in the form of food is important during this observance. Life depends upon food. You cannot preach religion to empty stomachs. This human body is the most important vehicle for realising God. How precious must food be which keeps the body fit for Yoga! The gift of food is the greatest gift. Therefore, give food in plenty, not only during the Mahalaya fortnight but all through the year.

Om Tat Sat Brahmaparnamastu

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Adoration and worship

Prana Pratishtha (Consecration)

The Agamas prescribe certain objects of worship symbolising in form the Deities or representing their dwelling places, as perceived by their seers. These are of three kinds:

1. Image, murti, which represents the Deity
in human form with limbs and the like.

2. Emblems which stand for particular Deities.
e.g., Saligram stone for Vishnu, Linga for Siva.

3. Diagrams - geometrical figures consisting of lines and curves, circles and squares and triangles all of which are symbolic, called Yantras or Mandalas. The Yantra literally means an instrument, the means by which worship is done. It is looked upon as the body of the Mantra which itself is ensouled by the Devata. The Yantra is drawn or engraved on metal or stone or on any surface. Mandala is a figure drawn on a surface and may represent any Devata whereas the Yantra stands for a particular Devata alone.

These are the figures, pratima, symbols or representations of the Divinity which the worshipper places before him or her as pratik (symbol), for adoration and worship.


The image or the diagram does not by itself become a fit object of worship. It remains but a material form until it is infused with a life principle. The worshipper contemplates in his or her inner being the form of the Deity as induced by the physical form before him or her, dwells upon it with an intense concentration and devotion; a spiritual force is generated as a result, and transmits this power, released in the consciousness of the person, to the object which then becomes alive with the spiritual energism. This is called the Prana-pratishtha, installation of life force.

To such a living form of a Deity is the worship offered, in which not only the mind and heart but the whole body of the worshipper participates. Traditionally this worship has sixteen stages:-

1. Asana (seating of the image

2. Svaagat (welcome of the Deity)

3. Paadya - water to cleanse the feet

4. Arghya -offerings

5. Aachman - water for sipping and cleaning the lips

6. Aachman offered again

7. Madhuparka - honey, ghee, milk and curds

8. Snaan - water to bathe the Deity

9. Vastra - garments

10. Aabharana ( ornaments)

11. Gandha - sandal paste or perfume

12. Pushpa - flowers

13. Dhupa - incense

14. Dipa - light

15. Naivedya - food for consecration

16. Vandana - prayerful homage

From The Mahabharata
Udyoga Parva, Section XXXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Sanjay said:
What person is there, who attended upon by foremost of counsellors, possessed of intelligence, capable of discriminating between virtue and vice in times of distress, not destitute of the rituals of religion, and retaining the use of all his faculties, would commit cruel deeds? 

From Mundaka Upanishad:
Translated from the original Sanskrit by
Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

Finite and transient are the fruits of sacrificial rites. The deluded, who regard them as the highest good remain subject to birth and death.

Considering religion to be observance of rituals and performance of acts of charity, the deluded remain ignorant of the highest good. Having enjoyed in heaven the reward of their good work, they
enter again into the world of mortals.

But wise, self-controlled and tranquil souls, who are contented in spirit, and who practice austerity and meditation in solitude and silence, are freed from all impurity, and attain by the path of liberation to the immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self.

Let a man devoted to spiritual life, examine carefully the ephemeral nature of such enjoyment, whether here or hereafter, as may be won by good works, and so realise that it is not by works that one gains the Eternal.

From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCXX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Success in respect of religious rites never occurs in the case of one that is not self-restrained. Religious rites, penances, truth,- all these are established upon self-restraint.

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Grasping covetous priests
From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCLXIII
Translated by sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Many persons of faith that are covetous and fond of wealth, without having understood the true meaning of the declarations of the Srutis, and proclaiming things that are really false but that have the show of truth, have introduced many kinds of Sacrifices, saying, `This should be given away in this Sacrifice. This other thing should be given away in this other Sacrifice. The first of this is very laudable.'

The consequence of all this is that theft and many evil acts spring up. It should be known that only that sacrificial offering which was acquired by righteous means can gratify the gods. There are abundant indications in the scriptures that the worship of the deities may be accomplished with vows, with libations poured on the fire, with recitations or chanting of the Vedas, and with plants and herbs. From their religious acts unrighteous persons get wicked offspring. From covetous men are born children that are covetous, and from men that are contented spring children that are contented. If the sacrificer and the priest suffer themselves to be moved by desire of fruit (in respect of the Sacrifices they perform or assist in), their children take the stain. If, on the other hand, they do not yield to desire of fruit, the children born to them become of the same kind.

From Sacrifices spring progeny like clear water from the firmament. The libations poured on the sacrificial fire rise up to the Sun. From the Sun springs rain.From rain springs food. From food are born living creatures. In former days, men righteously devoted to Sacrifices used to obtain therefrom the fruition of all their wishes. The earth yielded crops without tillage. The blessing uttered by the Rishis produced herbs and plants. The men of former times never performed Sacrifices from desire of fruits and never regarded themselves as called upon to enjoy those fruits.Those who somwhow perform sacrifices, doubting the while their efficacy, take birth in their next lives as dishonest, wily, and greedy men exceedingly covetous of wealth.

That man who by the aid of false reasoning holds up all the authoritative scriptures as fraught with evil, is certain to go, for such sinful act of his, into the regions of the sinful. Such a man is certainly possessed of a sinful soul, and always remains here, bereft of wisdom.

Those wise men who are the refuge of righteousness and whose delight is in righteousness, are persons that have certain knowledge of what is to be done and what should not be done. One possessed of such wisdom always regards all things in the universe to have sprung from his own self. Such men do not covet heaven. They do not adore Brahma in costly sacrifices.They walk along the path of the righteous. The sacrifices they perform are performed without injury to any creature. These men know trees and herbs and fruits and roots as the only sacrificial offerings . COVETOUS PRIESTS, for they are desirous of wealth, never officiate at sacrifices of these (poor) men. These regenerate men, although all their acts have been completed, still perform sacrifices from desire of doing good to all creatures and constituting their own selves as sacrificial offerings.(i.e., they perform mental sacrifices.).
For this reason, grasping priests officiate at the Sacrifices of only those misguided persons who, without endeavouring to attain to Emancipation, seek for heaven. As regards those, however, that are really good, they always seek, by accomplishing their own duties, to cause others to ascend to heaven.Those that are truly wise, sacrifice without being urged thereto by desire of fruit.

Of those, however, that are truly wise (viz., those who sacrifice without being urged thereto by desire of fruit), in consequence of the success that attends the purposes formed in the mind of such men, bulls without being forced thereto, willingly set their shoulders to the plough for assisting at tillage and to the yoke for dragging their cars, and kine (cows) pour forth milk from udders untouched by human hands.

Sometimes sacrifices performed by some persons do not become sacrifices ( in consequence of the absence of faith of those that perform them). These men, it should be said, are not worthy of performing any sacrifice (internal or external). As regards the faithful, however, only one thing, viz., the cow, is
fit for upholding all sacrifices by means of full libations of ghee (clarified butter), milk and curds. (The Vedas declare that sacrifices cannot be performed by an unmarried man). In performing sacrifices, however, according to the mode I have pointed out (viz., by abstaining from slaughter of animals and dedicating only clarified butter etc.), one may make Faith one`s wedded wife, for dedicating such (innocent) offerings to the deities....the rice-ball is a worthy offering in sacrifices. All rivers are as sacred as the Saraswati, and all mountains are sacred. The Soul is itself a Tirtha (place of pilgrimage). Do not wander about on the earth for visiting sacred places.

These are the duties that are consistant with reason, and that are always observed by those that are good and wise.

From The Bhagavad Gita
Chapter 9, Verse 26:

The Blessed Lord said:
Whoever offers Me with devotion and a pure mind (heart), a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water - I accept this offering.

[Note;Commentary by Swami Shivananda, Divine Life Society, Rishikesh:   A gift, however small, is accepted by the Lord, when it is offered with profound faith. The Lord is quite satisfied even with a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water when it is offered with single-minded devotion and pure heart. You need not build a golden temple for Him. Build a golden temple in your heart. Enthone Him there. He wants only your devoted heart.  A leaf, a flower or a fruit are merely symbols. The true means of attaining the Lord is pure unflinching devotion. All the objects of the state belong to the king. If servants of the state offer with devotion some objects to the king he is highly satisfied. Even so all the objects of the whole world belong to Him. Yet, He is highly pleased if you offer even a little thing with devotion.]


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