Update: 2009 Shraadh begins on 5th September to 18th Sept in India. For USA and Canada Shraadh began yesterday 1.e. 4th Sept.
Shraadh or Pitrapaksh begins today, ending on 29th September, leading on to Navratri.
Lifes most memorable moments are often those spent in the company of a dear one who has imperceptibly left an indelible mark in our journey. When they are snatched away by death”s steely clasp, we are left behind to mourn and grieve, not just for their death but what died within us in their loss.
Whilst tainting every joyous occasion with suffering in remembrance is not advisable, our sages therefore in their wisdom, appointed a certain time of the year to honour them. This period of 16 days which begins today, is known as ‘Shraadh’ or Pitrapaksh” . It is recommended that new ventures, business, or clothing not be bought during the length of Shraadha. Instead, depending on the ‘tithi’ or day of death, according to the hindu calendar, corresponding to that day, among the 16, ceremonies involving charity be performed, in remembrance of the departed souls, as also to pray for their well-being, to whatever realm they may have progressed .
I am not a religiously ritualistic individual like most others. Yet there are certain ceremonies which seem in consonance with even a cynical questioning mind. If one day in a year be devoted to praying for those who have helped shape our lives, given it a form which has enriched us, then it is but a negligible step to repay our indebtedness to them, pray for their salvation, while at once seeking their blessings.
Tears seem just a drop of nothingness, even if arisen from the depths of a bereaved soul.
For those to who finding the ‘tithi’ is problematic, or others who might prefer in a single day to honour all the departed souls of their family, it is the last day of the period,the 16th day, today when through the chantings of mantras, a plea is made to the Divine for helping them in their onward journey. Their favourite food is prepared, without onion, garlic, and distributed. Four portions one each for the crow, dog, cow, ant is kept aside, to reflect that all forms of life ought to be respected.
Needless to add that for those to who the services of a Pandit are not available, a simple visit to the temple and a prayer made with an earnest heart would suffice. It is the intention behind any practise which is of utmost importance. Rituals are at most a disciplining, and mood enhancing methodology. Sifting through a practise always reveals the underlying attribute , which serves the purpose of a guideline along the path to spirituality. This helps in avoiding a blinkered approach to our customs while simultaneouly keeping the spirit of the tradition alive.
The 15 day long rituals in worship of our ancestors Shraadha or ‘Pitrapaksh’ is a good time to feed at least one hungry person and the birds some rice and milk. Too many Why’s, What’,what for’s are not really necessary. All the same if answers are sought a little reading on the subject will help. In any case lovingly feeding hungry souls can never be a bad idea nor can worshipful remembrance of ancestors.
It is recommended that new ventures , new purchases not be made during this period. You will notice the decrease in number of releases of Bollywood films or for that matter announcements/mahurats for new ones. Perhaps those who most strictly adhere to this rule is our Bollywood fraternity. ‘Why risk it’ perhaps their inner dialogue.
For non believers this is simply meant to be time of the year when we should concentrate our energies and prayers for those departed souls who have played a role in our life. Our karma here may help them forward in their journey. Its the spirit world, proof of its prevalence surrounds us if we only care to notice. We take the prevalence of the remote and its functions for granted , yet are hugely skeptical of Indian rituals. .isnt the underlying principle similar?
On Shraadha however..
I wage not any feud with Death
For changes wrought on form and face;
No lower life that earth’s embrace
May breed with him, can fright my faith.
Eternal process moving on,
From state to state the spirit walks;
And these are but the shatter’d stalks,
Or ruin’d chrysalis of one.
Nor blame I Death, because he bare
The use of virtue out of earth:
I know transplanted human worth
Will bloom to profit, otherwhere.
Alfred Lord Tennyso