Shradh: Remembering our Ancestors

How did we find ourselves on this planet? Who was here before we got here? How did the events in their lives shape our own? Who are our ancestors? What happens to them when they pass on? Is ‘death’ the end?

In David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, he writes:

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In Hinduism, the fortnight of Shradh is the time during which one pays homage to one’s ancestors. We have a responsibility to our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents as they brought us into this world. Their genes are a part of our body system and their mental traits influence our thinking.

Our relationship with our ancestors does not end with death. Their physical body may have left this world, but they continue to watch over us from the astral realms of Pitriloka and Chandraloka. 

The emphasis in Western countries is on individualism. It is very difficult for most Western-educated individuals to understand why (or even how) they are responsible for the actions of their ancestors (and vice versa). But from my perspective, our lives are a continuation of a story that started well before we were born, and will continue to exist long after we’re gone. 

In many Asian societies, it is generally accepted that the descendants are responsible for the souls of their ancestors (and vice versa). In Singapore, one often finds burnt offerings to departed souls during the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival – which also lasts a fortnight like the Hindu Shradh. 

It is believed that during the waning moon of the Ashwin Maas (the seventh month of the lunisolar Hindu calendar), the astral bodies of the ancestors leave their abode –  the Pitriloka – to spend a fortnight in the descendants’ homes on earth. From what I presently understand, the bond between the ancestors and descendants is a two-way reciprocal relationship. During the month of Shradh, we remember and honour this bond.

Personally, this has not been an easy concept or topic to wrap my head around. I’ve read the books, I’ve done as much research as I can – but yet, human knowledge about a world that we cannot see (let alone comprehend) is full of its shortcomings. My rational mind struggles to truly understand the meaning behind these rituals that so many people seem to follow without knowing its true significance. 

Perhaps this year I will finally understand the true meaning behind the rituals. 

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