Mine is a generation caught between the traditional rituals ( especially if you are from a semi-orthodox family) and Modern World, there are times when we are in a dilemma as to which side to take.
Take for instance, today is Mahalya amavasya and the fortnight preceding this is called Mahalaya paksham, traditionally in orthodox families men are supposed to pray for their ancestors and conduct a ritual called ‘Tarpanam’. Having done the tarpanam you are barred from eating outside food through the fortnight.
After the ritual, what if you have to attend a very important working lunch with your customers or official dinner or if you are to travel on work or if you are on an onsite project. How practical is this ritual then?
Shunning the rituals could agonise the elders in the family and shunning office work, well you know whom we would agonise. Isn’t it like a catch -22 situation? Either ways you feel guilty.
At times like this, many of my generation tweak the rituals according to our convenience contributing to the lifestyle change, but read on what this ritual is all about.
Pitru paksh/shraddh paksh / Mahalaya paksh is a pan Indian hindu ritual practiced by many. This is a ritualistic custom to reflect on the contributions our ancestors/forefathers made, the cultural and traditional values they set for us in order to make our lives better. The practice of the ritual varies from place to place like in some regions they fast, some abstain from eating certain vegetables and in Northern India my friends say that they do not buy any new things during this period. It is the responsibility of everyone to keep up the pride of the family lineage by performing actions that promote the good of all. The fortnight of ancestor worship is nothing but a reminder of one's lineage and duties towards it.
Only once in a year a great celebration takes place in the Pitra loka (ancestral world) and only for 2 weeks during the “Mahalaya Amavasai/ Fortnight”. This year it commenced on the 13th of September 2011, right after the full moon day and ends on the Mahalaya New Moon day, which is today on the 27th of September 2011. This two week’s period is the most important period to appreciate your departed ancestors.
Our departed forefathers / ancestors cannot come to this world whenever they think, except on Amavasai ( New Moon ), the starting day of every month and during Malaya Paksha. So they all come in sookshma (means not visible to naked eyes) dehas and if we offer them the sesame (gingelly/til) and water they accept that, and bless us directly. The last day of the mahalaya paksh called Mahalaya Amavasya is very significant for Hindu rituals. It is called Mahalaya Shraddh.
According to Saranam, a devotional journal, Generally a priest perfoms the rituals of shraddh in a sacred place or along a river bank. It is believed that as the physical body is lost after death, the absolute earth element from the sheath surrounding the subtle body reduces and the water element increases. The constitution of the sheath is such that level of humidity in it is maximum since the rituals are related to the body of the deceased, they are perfomed on the banks of a river where humidity is high and attracts the subtle body, hence all these rites and rituals are perfomed along river banks. Our ancient Siddhas understood that honoring ancestors through tarpanam ritual keeps us living with good health, wealth, prosperity and enlightenment.
A similar type of ritual is practiced by the Chinese called ‘Hungry ghost’ festival and the westerners called ‘Halloween’. The main reason why Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese community are successful in material wealth is just simply because they are strictly observing their ancestral ritual both monthly and yearly. Just by following elaborate ancestral rituals and dharma as thought by our Siddhas (the great South Indian Mystic Scientist) monthly and yearly we can attain both material and spiritual success in life easily.
Mahalaya Paksha is much like the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival or the Halloween. According to Siddhas (South Indian Mystics) the main reason for all of our everyday problems besides planets is the departed spirits of our ancestors. Our role is that we should constantly connect to the departed ancestors to live a peaceful life. The blessings of our deceased ancestors, both maternal as well as paternal, are a major reason why you do or do not succeed in this life.
Chinese 'Hungry Ghost' festival
Halloween Pumpkin lanterns
'Tarpanam' ritual on the river banks
Pics and info courtesy: Indian scientific knowledge academy- a journal devoted to scientific study of Indian rituals, customs and practices