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Ancestor Reverence/Worship

Every human being is born with three types of debts to be repaid, namely:
  1. the debt to Nature/God (that can be repaid by worshipping gods),
  2. the debt to sages and saints (that can be repaid by reverence and service to saints, sages and gurus) and
  3. the debt to one’s ancestors.

Everyone will like to pay respects to ancestors.


Pithru rituals are not for pithrus, but for our satisfaction or mental peace. We have to thank them or pay respects to them as we owe our ancestors. So, it is called "Pithru kadan"(The Debt to Departed Ancestors).
All connected rituals looks like a take and give account. Some scriptures assume that Soul has retained personality, experiences, actions and so on. They eat, roam, think, and feel bad & happy, like life on earth. So, they can bless or curse.
Pithrus or spirits are beyond physical world. Heaven, Hell and Pithru loga are abstract concepts like happiness, sadness, fear and suffering. They are not physical worlds or entities. Even soul/spirit can be abstract concepts, not physical objects.

Maathru Devo Bhava; Pithru Devo Bhava; Aachaarya Devo Bhava; Athithi Devo Bhava; Worshipping these four is given highest significance and importance in Hindu Dharma. Among the four, Mathru (Mother) and Pithru (Father) Aachaarya (Guru) have attained greater prominence since they are the people who are responsible for our birth, culture and existence. Shraddha (includes Tarpan) is the ritual performed for the departed souls of ancestors, parents and relatives. It is a way of telling them that they are still an important part of the family and they still reside in our memories.

Ancestors are acknowledged and honored in Indian Subcontinent. When a person dies, the family observes a ten or thirteen-day mourning period. Some monthly rituals for another one year. Each year, on the particular date (as per their calendar, since there are many calendars in use) when the person had died, the family members perform annual ritual. Every month on new moon, many indian sects do Shraddha/Tarpan.

The veneration of ancestors is known in all cultures/religious communities and have evidence of its popularity even during Neolithic period (6000 BCE). There are Confucianism/Shinto shrines in honor of the ancestors. Ancestor reverence was popular in Greek and Roman homes in antiquity. This is not the same as the worship of a deity or deities, but a way to respect, honor and look after ancestors in their afterlives as well as seek their guidance for their living descendants. In this regard, all cultures and religions have similar practices. In some cultures, the veneration of the dead is related to beliefs, that the dead have a continued existence, and may possess the ability to influence the living. The goal of ancestor veneration is to ensure the ancestors' continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living.

Fortnight of the ancestors

Pitru Paksha (पितृ पक्ष or fortnight of the ancestors") is a 16–lunar day period. It begins on the Pratipada (first day of the fortnight) ending with the no moon day known or Mahalaya amavasya or simply Mahalaya. Most years, september equinox falls within this period, i.e. the Sun transitions from the northern to the southern hemisphere. The souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestor reside in Pitru–loka, governed by Yama, the god of death.

Mahaalaya means great destruction. There might have been a great calamity like great floods and they would have started this ritual after that for the departed souls in calamity. Mahalaya marks the end of the fortnight-long Tarpan to the ancestors. This is similar to day of the dead by other cultures like: Gai Jatra of Nepal; Galungan in Bali; Pchum Ben of Cambodia; Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival; Dia de los Muertos of Aztec/Mexico; Ari Muyang of Mah Meri tribe in Malaysia; Chuseok harvest/ancestor festival for Korean people; Obon of Japan; Guy Fawkes Night/Halloween; and All Saints' Day/All Souls' Day. While in essence, all remains same; procedure, customs and rituals may differ from region to region.

Living is all about belonging to some tribe or community, place, culture. Culture, traditions and value systems are what makes you who you are. Ancestors give us following 3 things, which we should pass on:

  1. Racial, Cultural, tribal or Communal Identity.
  2. Belief and value system
  3. DNA/Genes
Third is automatic. First two are gifts from ancestors.

On the wasteful arguments/heated discussions on life after death, Some wise sages have handled after death question very well.
இறப்புக்கு பின்னர் என்ன ?
கண்டவர் விண்டிலர் - விண்டவர் கண்டிலர்.
Dead has not come back to say, what happens after death. (Some believe in returning after temporary death or near death experiences. Still it is not real death, point of no return).

The Japanese Emperor asked the Zen Master, Bosho: "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"
Bosho replied: "How should I know?"
The Emperor continued: "But you are a Master!"
Bosho replied: "Yes, Sir. But I am not dead yet."

"NO ONE KNOWS" is the correct and safe answer.

All believed on death and beyond, are based on theories or educated guessess.

Some notes from scriptures

All civilizations have similar theories and folk tales. Egyptian/mesopotomia folk stories discusses how souls after life, have to travel towards God of death for Judgement and then go to heaven/hell.

In Katha Upanishad, the conversation between Lord Yama and Nachiketa to the questions posed by Nachiketa about the life after death. Lord Yama answers: “All Jeevas originate from the Supreme Reality, like sparks from a fire. They are pure to start with. The Jiva changes due to environment and circumstances, just like pure rain-water is contaminated coming down due to gravity. The Atman, though a passive passenger, gets involved, but still in its essence is pure. It is the contaminants which are carried by it, much as desires and actions contaminate the intellect and ego-enity.”

Garuda Puraana”, deals at a great length on life after death. After death, the soul in its disembodied form hovers about its original and familiar places for ten days. It starts on its journey to the judgement seat of Lord Yama, the God of death.

Different cultures have different routes and time line to reach the God of death. For example Maori of Newzealand believe souls travel through the beach and go to northern most point of the island.

Some wise men who have traveled towards polar regions has described tough journeys. So, based on these travle notes, priests propagated the idea that souls go to world (like polar region), where one day is one year, six months day and six months night.

Ruling and Priest class develop rituals to ensure society is under their control. In a way some social order is maintained. The spiritually potent mantras that are chanted during these rituals are supposed to have the subtle power of providing momentum to the subtle bodies of deceased ancestors so that they can progress to a higher sub-plane of existence.

There are too many conflicting theories. No one knows what exactly happens after death.

Life after death concept and theories

Creation and destruction are the two sides of the same reality. Creation begins with destruction and in creation there is already a seed of the destruction to come. The same is true in case of destruction. If the birth of an individual is creation, his death is destruction. It is through this repeated process of creation and destruction that the individual being evolves gradually in series and stages.

Souls move, think, and feel like human beings. Their one day is equivalent to our one-year time. That is why anniversary (in our terms) is taken as day for Pithru karyas. A soul reincarnates again and again on earth till it becomes perfect and reunites with its Source. During this process the soul enters many bodies, assumes many forms and passes through many births and deaths.

Some thoughts on Rituals

Humans are social beings and they need social activities like ancestor rituals. Rituals are not developed or written by scientists, but community leaders including religious persons, writers and story tellers. It will be 90% business or community driven, with spiritual flavor. Latest methods, branding, fashion etc will be used to attract people and generate revenue.

Like all traditions, over period of time, lot of superstitious practices and local beliefs get included in to the system. Over time, things get misinterpreted, successors understand wrongly and meanings of words change. Since there is no mechanism to correct errors or update with latest findings, these past practices may continue as it is.

Let us keep these controversies aside. These rituals create some meeting opportunities. Some make their living, by conducting these rituals. They also serve as some social event. Let us pay our respects to ancestors, to whom we owe our existence! Let us benefit from good points on these rituals.

Stories are created based on after death theories, hell and heaven. All cultures and traditions have large number of stories, to create fear and peopple to be good and behave as per social norms. Some publications create fear like deceased person will suffer if you do not do these and they will curse you. The most important things is trying to be good and feeding fellow living beings (humans preferably the poor and animals/birds), in the name of rituals. This motivates people to do some charity.

Other traditions around the world

About Dead

Body - Mind - Life or consciousness or spirit or soul.
We know something about Body, little about mind and practically nothing about life or soul.

We can experience life. Death refers to absense of life. Death is similar to darkness, which is merely the absence of light. So both are abstract concepts of inexistence or just an illusion created by the ignorant. So, there is no such thing as death. It is only life.

In some philosophies (like Zen), Life and Death are one, a continuum, and they are not separated and there is no dividing line between them. The divisions are arbitrary and made to enable us to function in the finite world, or 'the world of form'.

1) The Japanese Emperor asked the Zen Master, Bosho: "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"
Bosho replied: "How should I know?"
The Emperor continued: "But you are a Master!"
Bosho replied: "Yes, Sir. But I am not dead yet."
"NO ONE KNOWS" is the correct and safe answer.
If you want to know death, you can only know it by experience. You know life by experiencing it. If you try to understand things which you do not experience like death, you can come out with theories or opinion or belief only, which can neither be proven or rejected. All beliefs or theories on death and beyond, are based on imagination or guessess. Humans can not accept, "Unknown or beyond our Knowledge/ability"

2) On the wasteful arguments/heated discussions on life after death, Some wise sages have handled after death question very well.
இறப்புக்கு பின்னர் என்ன ?
கண்டவர் விண்டிலர் - விண்டவர் கண்டிலர்.
Dead has not come back to say, what happens after death. (Some believe in returning after temporary death or near death experiences. Still it is not real death, point of no return).
Dead do not communicate or speak. But are silent teachers.

3) What to do about death? You are not going to be there. Why bother or think about it.

4) What rituals to do for dead person? What does dead wants?
One should ask the dead, what it wants?
Living just tell you what they want.
Dead does not need or ask for anything.
It has left everything behind.

5) உள்ளிலிருந்து ஆட்டுவது சிவம்
உணராது ஆடுவது சவம்
சவத்தை விட்டது சிவம்
கதையை முடித்தது சிவம்
Siva residing inside, makes one to dance/move.
We (bodies) may dance with out recognizing siva inside.
Once siva leaves, no movement, body left is a corpse
. Thus siva ends one's story.

6) உண்டது கடன்
விட்டது கடன்
(சிவம்) கணக்கு நேர்
What you consumed or ate is debt
Debt paid when dead leaves everything.
Accounting is settled.

7) காயமே இது பொய்யடா! (இது)
காற்றடைத்த பையடா! கிழிந்த பையடா!
கிழிந்த பையே மெய்யடா!
பையைத் தையடா!
Body is false. Just air filled delicate bag which can be torn
But Body was called mei, which also mean Truth or what we experience
Life is repairing/mending the body and taking care of it

8) Many ancient philosophers (especially from east) view life and death as a continuum, believing that consciousness (the spirit) continues after death and may be reborn. Everything is just the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

9) உடல் கரைந்தது. மனம் கலந்தது. உயிர் மறைந்தது

1. Body dissolves into natural elements.
2. Mind (Mental impressions, experience, memory etc) can get mixed with information sink of infinite capacity. Alive in minds of living for a long time.
3. Life disappears (into nowhere?)
After some one is dead, we are not able to erase dead from memory (One can not). Contributions of dead (positive or negative) is still there. Past interactions with them haunts us, and we are transported to different period mentally. Our past community and religious teachings, society beliefs and culture, influence our relations with dead. Living needs rituals and other formalities for this.
Ex: Ghosts (memory and imprints) of second world war is alive after 70 years. 2000 years of Roman and Judea is alive and affecting 30% of world population in form of christianity.

Everything changes with time. Opinions, feelings and understanding all changes. Slowly everything fades, with new experiences/events.

*Imprinting is a rapid learning process, during a sensitive period, usually very early in life.

Are Ghosts mental objects mind see, like in a dream?

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