why do hindus observe shradh for their forbear? – Part 1

Respect and reverence for parents, teachers and elders are an integral part of Indian culture. Our veneration towards them is not limited to only the living but also includes the departed. According to Hindu scriptures, while several factors shape our overall worldly growth and well-being, three play a more significant role. In spiritual parlance, the endowments by the three are known as rins or debts: one, the favours of gods and benedictions of nature is known as deva-rin; two, the contribution and blessings of one’s teachers, gurus and ancient rishis is called rishi-rin; and three, the pitri-rin, the debt one owes to one’s ancestors.

Being grateful to those who favour us is another characteristic of Indian culture. Everything that helps mankind should be revered and preserved. Nature gives light, air, water, food and habitat without our asking and that too free. Such grace and blessing of nature are a debt for mankind.

We pay back this debt by holding regular havans to detoxify and keep the air pollution-free, and also by watering, planting, and protecting plants and trees. Similarly, we repay the rishi-rin by observing the social customs and traditions established by ancient rishis, the great social thinkers of the past, who laid the foundations of a stable and organized society.

We also owe a debt to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. After all, they brought us to this world to continue the lineage; their genes are part of our body system and their mental traits unknowingly influence our thinking. Moreover, the food and care they gave us while we were children helped us to stand on our own. Their contribution in our life is indeed a debt which we must pay back.

Ancient books assert that when anyof our ancestors depart from this world unwedded or childless, or meet an untimely tragic death, their inwardly unfulfilled desires or longings do not allow them to detach from this world. Such a person is not totally liberated from this planet even after death and remains earth-bound. His departed soul fails to reach heaven and continues at a lower astral region called the Pitriloka, which is located below the Chandraloka, a region below heaven, in the form of a pinda or ball-like form. The presiding deity of Pitriloka is Lord Dattatreya, a minor incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

In case the descendants of such an unliberated soul do not offer tarpan on the tithi or day and date of his death during shradh, the period between the full moon and new moon night of the month of ashwina (September-October) his soul may turn hostile towards the family. This may cause regular loss of wealth, frequent deaths in the family, or birth of only female children. This disorder in the family is called pitridosha. To protect oneself from such calamity, pitri-rin has to be dutifully discharged.

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