On Performance of Sraadhas
Srivatsa V. Somadeva Sarma was great Vaidik schoar of the last century.
He edited the "Vaidhika Dharma Vardhini", also authored a book on Aapastambha Paarvana Sraadha Prayoga.
I have a copy of this book and have read it.
What I am now attempting is, primarily, on the basis of the Mantras and practices hitherto followed by many brahmin families, in India. I am making some suggestions for rationalising the concept of this ritual, consistent with modern social conditions and limitations and the realisation that a very large section of this community is spread all over the world, and trying very hard to match the ancient precepts and practices with what is possible in the changed circumstances.
Rapidly Changing Rules of Game
The rules of the game are fast changing, and the sooner we adapt to this, the better for the future preservation of the basic concept of the Sraadha ritual. The views expressed are my own and, Somadeva Sarma is not at all supporting this. Whether you agree or not is immaterial, my convictions are firm and my own!
The process and practises of the ritual depend on local/family Sutra variations. Thus, the number of brahmins participating, the number of Pindaas offered etc. vary from place to place and with different families.
Ramayana, Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatham mention even meat being offered in Sraadhas.
"Sraadha" means Devotion
The word "Sraadha" means "action performed with devotion" (Sradhayaa karoti iti Sraadhah). The rituatilistic drills (Prayogas) used date back to several centuries, when Brahmins were enjoined to live as a 'closed circuit community', with a lot of do's and don'ts. They neither knew, nor bothered to indulge in anything outside of the prescribed injunctions.
Every one was a Pandit/Purohit of some sort, specialising in Astrology, teaching in the Gurukulas, practising medicine etc. Service of any other kind, such as the army or, trade and commerce was strictly 'no, no'.
Taboos, Do's and Don'ts
Although they lived in rural surroundings, in or near forests, they did not indulge in farming or similar activities.
They lived on what was gifted to them by the other castes, many even taking 'Bhikshas' (this is compulsory for the Brahmachaari).
They would also collect some root vegetables, left over grains in fields cultivated by others, and the wild-growing vegetables. Naturally they used in Sraadhas Kusa grass, and the food was made only using Yam (Chenai), green plantains (Vazhakkai), and Kothavarakkai (cluster beans), Seppan kazhangu, sweet potato (Sakkara valli kizhangu), Vellarikkai, Ginger, Pepper, Lime etc. As for fruits, only bananas, mangoes and Jack fruits were allowed. Also, coconuts and Sugarcane-jaggery (Molasses). Everything else was taboo.
I reckon the Sraadha concept as follows:-
- I owe this body of mine - with which I operate in the world - to my parents, and should be grateful to them for this, as long as I live.
- I show my gratitude to them, by relating to them respectfully, both during their life-time, and as long as I live.
- Our belief is that when they die, they go to the "Pitruloka" (world of the manes) where they are taken care of by the Viswedevas, who are a kind of demi-gods and are their Guardian Angels. Their one day is eqivalent to our one year, hence if we perform Sraadha annually, to them it shows as a daily routine. They become happy and continue to bless us.
- Since, in a Sraadha ceremony I invoke my respected parents, the Rishis prescribed certain credentials for the participating Brahmin. Astrologers, Vaiyas, Husbands of pregnent women, bachelors were all disqualified.
Also, the partipating Brahmin is disqualified from participating in another Sraadha, both the previous day and the next day. The participants and the performer can only eat lunch and not any supper or, dinner.
So heavy is the lunch, and a mantra specifically tells the Brahmins that they should so eat, and silently, that they will not feel hungry for the rest of the day.
- When alive, today's brahmin eats all kinds of vegetables, consumes sugar and many other vegetables like Potatoes, onions, beans of all varieties, cauli-flower, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers of all types, fruits of all varieties, brinjals, drum-sticks etc. While we consume chillies of all varieties including capsicum, and pickles of all varieities, by tradition - for Sraadha, we cannot use these, because these are 'imported' varieties - thanks to Vasco Da Gama and other trading sailors who introduced these to India. For pickles, it is ginger and lime with chutney made of curry-leaves.
- Such rigidities are totally out of context in the modern times, and also, impractical. To those, who insist on sticking to old traditions, I say "good luck and God bless you". To others who face embarassing difficulties in the performance of Sraadhas and carry a sense of guilt, I am trying to offer some consolation and satisfaction.
- Except the Homam, where pindas are offered to the manes, and the Pinda pradhana made on the ground, all other mantras are a dialogue between the performer and the participants in the Sraddha i.e. the Pitru, the Viswedevah and in applicable cases the Pratyaksha Mahavishnu, who is recognised as the Sraadha Samrakshka (the protector during the Sraadha). Everything is eqivalent to what happens when a VIP guest comes home visiting you and you host him a lunch or dinner. Only the mantras are in Sanskrit, which nobody understands.
Masquerading Vaidika Brahmanas
The Great Kalidasa has said:
"PURAANAMITYEVE NA SADHU SARVAM NACHAAPI SARVAM NAVAMITYAVADHYAM", meaning - "Not everything is to be accepted just because it is an old tradition, nor anything new is to be rejected".
I am a votary of this Mahaavakya.
The difficulties faced to-day even in the villages are, the near absence of Brahmins willing to participate in a Sraadha.
Those available are, mostly, the good-for-nothing ones masquarading as Vaidika Brahmanas, and lured only by the receipt of Gifts, food and Dakshina. They cannot utter a single word of Sanskrit. The knowledgeables have opted out for fear of system failure occasioned by the high calorie, cholestrol -rich food. They have seen many colleague dying untimely, or suffering life-long sickness such as high bood sugar, cardiac problems, etc.
Although, I know the mantras fairly well and was doing Sraadha in the conventional way for many years until ten years ago, I got terribly frustrated when three young boys from one family came to participate. Other than sporting the 'Poonal', they had no qualification to be Brahmins. Naturally, I was not at peace with the developments. This opened my eyes to a new situation of hard realities.
My understanding of Sraadha is that I have an occasion, once a year, to show my gratitude for whatever my parents did to me.
I go through a mental transformation that day, and visualise that they are visiting me in order to bless me and my family.
This leads me on to imagine that I can come face to face with them and the Viswedevas, through the participating brahmins.
Since male brahmins are not available, I now invite two 'Sumangalis' in the village, gift them excellent sarees, handsome 'dakshina' and an enriched lunch, including Uppittu, Vadai and Vellapayasam.
All vegetables are used depending on availability, excluding potatoes and onions. No mantra, no havans, no rituals of any kind.
I am happy with this change and at peace with myself. I know that my parents would have gone to Heaven, or Hell, depending upon their own Karmas. I cannot also divert this course by doing anything now. Other than the 'havan' part and the 'Pindapradhanam', most of the mantras are a dialogue between me and the manes who are represented by the participating Brahmins, indicative of courtesies.
Strangely enough, now even women are not willing to partipate, perhaps, due to changing life-styles and a sense of pride.
Personally, I am not in favour of gifting rice and vazhakkai and dakshina or, giving money to an orphanage and forget all about it.
The important thing is a mental feeling of my parents being with me, participating in the food I give and the respect I show to them, for all that they did to me. This is more than a compelling obligation, a state of mind.
It is a different matter if you are also partaking in the food that is seved in the Orphanage.
"SUMANGALI PRARTHANA" is a different matter.
The Manusmriti says:
YATRA NAARYASTHU POOJYANTE RAMANTE THATHRA DEVETAAH
YATRAITAASHU NA POOJYANTE ASLISHTAAH THATHA APHALAAH KRIYAAH
"Where Women are respected and honoured, there all the Gods get pleased.
Where they are not so treated, all efforts become fruitless and wasted".
Based on the above views, even daughters who have no brothers can show their gratitude to their deceased parents and be at peace.
If you have different views, keep it to yourself, since I do not want to enter into a debate and have to defend myself.