I refuse to believe that the departed souls, need a walking stick or bed and pillow or even a lamp, towards their journey upward. I laugh at the Vadyar when he says that they cross the ‘Vaidharani’ river, holding the tail of a bull-calf! But still, I buy all the stupid items in his list and gift them to him realizing pretty well that on his way home, he would sell them in a retail shop. And I won’t blame him. He needs money. Who doesn’t? I won’t also blame him when he demands cash payment for the cow to be gifted .How will he accommodate that animal in his flat? Who will wash the cow and remove its dung, however sacred it might be? Who will milk the cow? Why make life complicated when pasteurized milk is made available at the door –front? In the olden days more cows you gift to a Brahmin merrier he was, richer he was. Not now.
What a pity if the departed soul had to depend on the few drops of water and a few sesame seeds we throw on the floor once a month or a couple of rice balls we place on the dry grass spread on the floor once a year! In what way they are then different from other spirits which, according to their religious belief, wander all over the space and return to their burial spot for night rest?
But how do we say that they exist at all, even in another firm? “How to trust death?” asked Omar Khayyam, “who knows that there is nothing but desert on the other side too?”
“Nerkku maru karayilum verum marubhoomi yallenn-
Arkkariyam maranathe vishwasichalo?”
Does my journey in this world, ends with my last breath?If there is a hidden external agent, which entered the body at its formative stage, called soul and in death, if that gets released where does it go? Our scriptures say that It amalgamates with the ultimate Origin or return to the world in a different form. If there is a delay in this process, the needs of the soul have to be taken care of during the transition period and hence our rites and rituals. How long does the departed soul remain in interim?
These questions were asked again and again and will continue to be asked ever, hoping to get a satisfactory answer.
We perform ‘shraddam’ for the manes of the past three generations. It becomes impractical to go beyond that. Magnanimously we give offerings to known and even unknown souls, as we are uncertain who all remain in the transition stage. My Telugu Panthalu extends the list to my uncles, cousins. teachers and many others. The Haridwar Panditji in the Greater Baltimore temple asks me to offer floral tribute(archana) to Bhishmapitamaha, Prahlada and several Rishies also. There was no gloominess in the rituals guided by the Pandits of north, whether in US or Brahmakapal and I enjoy that cheerful ambience. And trust me, they prune their finger nails and wear clean dress! One reason why the younger generation hates our vadyars and temple priests is that their nails and dress are dirty. Most of our temples are unclean and unhygienic. One reason for the deterioration of our religious practices is the attitude, appearance and behavior of those who are expected to maintain and promote our culture and habits. Our mutts and temples, music sabhas andreligious discourses should attract younger generation. Now, they are abode for the retirees.
Despite my scientific background and rational thinking why do I continue to perform ‘shraddam’? Is it because of the fear that the departed souls, will curse me if I fail to provide them the paltry feeds once a while? Certainly not.
Like other things, spiritual or religious thoughts also have limitation. Similarly, science and logic too are blind beyond certain level. There are several grey areas beyond human comprehension. “The Indian mind was extraordinarily analytical and had a passion for putting ideas and concepts into compartments” says Nehru. I do believe that a lot of thinking have gone in formulating various steps in the ceremonies prescribed for wedding, obsequies etc.
The bridegroom, holding the right toe of the bride, helps to place her right leg on a small granite stone kept on the right side of the sacred fire and requests: “ Mount on this stone; be firm like this granite ; defend against attack and criticism but be tolerant to those who oppose”
(“ Aadhistemam asmanam asmeva thvam sthira bhava.
Abhithista brithantatha: sahaswa brithanaayatha:”
Those who lived in combined families will tell you how meaningful these encouraging words are for a girl to be transplanted to an unknown alien soil. The words reflect practical wisdom and pragmatic approach.Similarly the bride-groom’s open declaration in the presence of his whole family addressing the bride is remarkable:
“May you be the queen for your father-in-law; may you be the queen for your mother-in-law may you be the queen for your brothers and sisters- in- law”
“Samrajshree swasurea bhava; samrajshree swasuram bhava.
Nanandhari samrajshreebhava; samrajshree adhithevrishu”
When you go to attend a wedding next time, please explain this to the mother-in-law of the bride. You can’t find a better gift to the couple.
Remember this mantra, while offering ‘haviss’ (ghee-soaked cooked rice) to ‘Agni’, while performing’shraddam’?
“ Yam ne matha pralulobha saratyananu vrada thanme retha:pitha
Vringtha mapuranayo papathathamam”
I am sure you know what it means?
“My mother would have failed in her duties as a pathivratha; Still I want this offering reach my biological father”
How deep the vedic mind has gone in framing the rules ?
Keeping this factor in mind I perform ‘sharddam’ to the extend possible depending on the circumstances. I am not rigid but whatever I do, I do wholeheartedly.
The second and more important reason for me to follow the steps suggested by my forebears is that, I derive immense pleasure and satisfaction in following most of them. When I lift a small quantity of water in my cupped hands and pour it reverently on earth or back into the river from where it was drawn, thinking my parents their parents and so on, I attain a peace and satisfaction unexplainable in words; The few drops of water which I pour is just to express my gratitude to them for gifting me an opportunity to live in this wonderful world. Life certainly is a bliss with all its rocks and caverns. I cannot repay for all their sacrifices but at least when I get an opportunity to say ‘thanks’, I should do it.
But how do you know that ‘they’ have heard it? I know because I have heard it. When a clarion call goes from the cavern of my heart, “Ente Guruvayoorappa!” every micro cell in my body pulsates and it reverberates through the macro cosmos. Similarly, when I welcome the souls of my parents and their parents, ”AAyadappitharah: sowmyagambhherai’, I feel that they are entering my house to accept my offers, from some outer space, which my scientific mind tells me, is not true. Perhaps, my accumulated vasanas, my “preconceived notions,inherited beliefs and traditions which come in the way of dispassionate criticism” as Nehru says or simple delusion, overtakes my rational thinking. I am happy to accept my delusions. But if you get the same satisfaction by placing humbly a flower bouquet before the photograph of your father or mother, fine. Otherwise, better start, “apavithrappavithrova”. You will enjoy doing it.
I tell my children :” When you are under the vice-like grip of problems, stress and strain,go to a Ganesh temple. Don’t enter, if you don’t want to. Stand before the main door and throw forcefully a coconut to strike at the granite near the entrance in such a way that it breaks into pieces. Develop a feeling within that it was not the coconut seed that cracked into pieces,but the Himalayan problems which were crushing you. Just feel. You will see the result instantly. You can drive back home more peacefully.
I don’t know whether they tried or not. But I suggest you do that. It is definitely a better thing to do than shouting at your subordinates in the office. We, the older generation had another pressure-relieving mechanism : Shouting at our wife. You are deprived of that. So, go to a Ganesh temple and creak a coconut- as forcefully as the situation demands.