THE ETERNAL SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF MAHALAYA AMAVASYA AND ANCESTOR WORSHIP
Today (7-10-2010) is Mahalaya Amavasya Day. This day of Pitr Paksha or Mahalaya Amavasya has great significance and importance for all Hindus in all parts of the world. It is the annual festival for worshipping and propitiating the spirits of our ancestors, with devout prayers for peace and spiritual tranquility.
Mahalaya Amavasya Tarpanam
According to age-old tradition going back to the beginnings of pre-history, earnest performance of the rites of Shrardha on this day would positively gratify the immortal souls of our ancestors unto eternity. Our forefathers/ancestors cannot come to this world whenever they think, except on Amavasai, Srardha day and 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 til (gingili) and water they accept that, and bless us directly. According to Hindu religious belief, on the Mahalaya Amavasya day, there is a conjunction of the sun and the moon and that the sun enters the sign Virgo (Kanya). Tradition has it that on this day the departed ancestors leave their abode of Yama and come down to the earth to take their duly ordained rites from their descendants. The most vital difference between ‘Funeral’ rites and Shrardha is that, while the funeral rites are considered inauspicious, the Shrardha is considered as ritually auspicious and spiritually gratifying.
Mahalaya Amavasya Day is the day of Ancestor Worship for all the Hindu castes and communities in India cutting across linguistic and other local ritualistic and cultural differences. Ancestor Worship, also known as Ancestor Veneration or Ancestorism, is a religious practice based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence, take an interest in the affairs of the world, and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. All cultures attach ritual significance to the passing of loved ones, but this is not equivalent to ancestor worship among the Hindus.
‘Jago Tumi Jago’ Wake up, Oh Goddess Durga! Wake up
On Mahalaya Amavasya Day, food is offered to the ancestors in different forms by people belonging to different Hindu castes and communities in all parts of India. Seen in this light, Mahalaya Amavasya is the only common festival for all the Hindu castes and communities and this serves as a strong cementing and integrating factor, instilling in the minds of the people the sacred fact of immortality of the soul and the continuity of existence through rebirth and transmigration of souls from generation to generation. The goal of ancestor worship by the Hindus is to ensure the ancestors’ continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living and sometimes to ask for special favours or assistance. The social or non-religious function of ancestor worship is to cultivate kinship values like filial piety, family loyalty, and continuity of the family lineage. Generally speaking, however, the purpose of ancestor worship is not to ask for favours but to do one’s filial duty. Some people believe that their ancestors actually need to be provided for by their descendants. Others do not believe that the ancestors are even aware of what their descendants do for them, but that the expression of filial piety is what is important. Whether or not the ancestor receives what is offered is not the issue. Therefore, for people unfamiliar with how ‘ancestor worship’ in Hindu India is actually practiced and thought of, the use of the translation ‘worship’ can be a cause of misunderstanding and is a misnomer in many ways. In English, the word ‘worship’ usually refers to the reverent love and devotion accorded a deity or divine being. However, in Hindu culture, this act of ‘worship’ does not mean the belief that the departed ancestors have become some kind of deity. Rather the act is a way to respect, honour and look after ancestors in their afterlife, in addition to seeking their guidance and benediction for their living descendants. In this sense, ‘ancestor veneration’ may convey a more accurate sense of Tarpanam and Srardha in the Sanatana Dharma tradition.
According to the age-old Hindu tradition, when one refers to ANCESTORS, it includes the following:
* Subtle bodies of all our known and unknown departed relations from all the previous generations are included in the category of our ancestors.
* Relatives from all the previous generations from the father’s and mother’s side; for a woman from her parent’s side as well as from her husband’s side are included in this category.
* Along with this subtle bodies of departed relatives from previous births are also included in ancestors.
* Normally a daughter married away to another family will never visit her previous generation and will instead visit her husband’s previous generation because it’s a custom for the women to follow the family tradition of their husbands.
Mahalaya Amavasya Day is an auspicious Hindu occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of DURGA, the Goddess of Supreme Power. The dark fortnight of Aswayuja is known as the Mahalaya Paksha or the fortnight especially sacred for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. Durga, Goddess of deliverance, comes to earth on the seventh day after the autumn new moon. She is depicted by the ‘kumors’ or potters as a resplendent golden figure standing on a lion’s back, each of her ten arms bearing a particular weapon, as she triumphs over the demon Mahisasura. Mahalaya Amavasya Day, the day Durga was assigned the task of eliminating all evils from the world, is a sacred day of invitation to the Mother Goddess Durga to descend on earth like a celestial lightning to put down evil and to restore Dharma on earth. The whole of Bengal, for centuries, has reverberated with the rapturous cries of ‘Jago Tumi Jago’ in Bengali which means ‘Wake up, Oh! Goddess Durga! Wake up’
From this day starts ‘Devipaksha’ and marks the end of ‘Pitri-paksha’. It is the day when many throng to the banks of river Ganga, clad in dhotis to offer prayers to their dead relatives and forefathers. People in the pre-dawn hours pray for their dead relatives and take holy dips in the Ganges. This ritual is known as ‘Torpon’ in Bengal and ‘Tarpan’ in the rest of India. According to Hindu mythology Sri Rama performed Durga Puja on a war footing, just before he set out for Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana. It was on the day of Mahalaya, the beginning of ‘devipoksha’, the Gods and Goddesses woke up to prepare themselves for Durga Puja.
Having born as Hindus, we have to perform two types of ‘Kaaryaas’ namely ‘Deva Kaarya’ and ‘Pithru Kaarya’. The first one is to please the ‘Devas’, who are the representatives of The Almighty and it must be done with ‘Bakthi’, by means of ‘Homams’ and ‘Yagnas’, so that, the Devas bless us all with natural requirements and resources. The second one is to please our ancestors (Pitrus) and it must be done with ‘Srardha’ and hence known as ‘Srardham’ & ‘Tarpanam’, so that, they bless us with a life full of health, happiness and peace. As the ‘Mahalaya Paksha’ time of 15 days fall in the month of ‘Purattasi’ during the ‘Dakshynayana’ period, the ‘Srardham’ & ‘Tarpanam’ becomes more auspicious and important, because of the fact that, ‘Dakshin’ denotes ‘South’ and our ancestors (Pitrus) are supposed to be resting in the southern hemisphere. That is why the great Tamil poet, sage Thiruvalluvar addressed our ancestors as ‘Thenpulathaar’(Ilvaazhkai).
Thus, Tiruvalluvar says:
To conclude, ‘performing ‘Tarpanam’ on Mahalaya Amavasya is a must for all Hindus and similarly, performing ‘Srardham’ and ‘Tarpanam’ at Prayag (Allahabad), Kaasi (Varanasi) and Gaya (Bihar) is compulsory for at least once in a life time, because, our ancestors are believed to be eagerly awaiting our ‘Tharpanam’ and ‘Pindams’ (rice balls or flour balls) at those places to attain ‘Moksha’. In Tamil it is called as ‘Munnorkalai Karai Aetral’.
The blessings of our ancestors are very important for us to lead a hassle- free life full of health, wealth, happiness and peace of mind.