The Spiritual Essence of Shradh

How does one practise shradh? What is the belief behind the practise? As someone who’s studied a fair few world religions, I believe that there’s a ‘spiritual essence’ of a practise; and there are rituals about how to practise it. Unfortunately, many people follow the rituals without actually knowing the purpose behind those rituals.

This year, Shradh runs from 13 Sept to 28 Sept 2019. It is believed that during this time, ancestors visit earth in their subtle form to bless their descendants. The kin offer food, money and other gifts to the ancestors as a sign of respect.

Firstly, shradh is not about mourning, grieving or lamenting over the loss of those who have left this world. That is what the funeral rites are for. We cannot – and should not – remain attached to those who have passed away.

Instead, shradh is when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors (or Pitras). It is when we remember the contribution that their lives have made to ours. Although we humans come into this world empty-handed and leave the same way, there is a lot that we leave behind when we pass on. 

For instance, one’s material possessions (and the status that comes along with it) often gets passed down to one’s descendants. This can unfortunately lead to all kinds of disputes amongst family members. This unbecoming behaviour can sometimes result in pitridosha – an ancestral spirit that has turned hostile towards the family for dishonouring what he or she has left behind.

In addition to wealth, descendants also receive a biological inheritance through the genes of their ancestors. It is out of respect for both this material and biological inheritance that we keep shradh. 

In K.V. Singh’s Hindu Rites and Rituals, he writes:

Our concern and respect for the departed is brought forth through regular tarpan-arpan. Tarpan means offering water to our ancestors… Arpan means preparing dishes that the deceased person relished.

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Doing an act of charity during shradh is highly encouraged. There are many interpretations on how one can go about doing this. To me, it means feeding the needy and less fortunate. 

Performing these acts during shradh honours the contribution that our ancestors have made to our lives. 

The practise of a concept similar to Shradh is found in many other cultures. 

The Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival is familiar to many Singaporeans such as myself. During this time, one often sights a variety of items all over the city. Food offerings, incense, the burning of joss paper and papier-mâché items such as clothes, gold and other goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

Even in Western countries, people leave flowers at the tombs of their loved ones on their death anniversary. 

Just earlier this year, I read the Mahzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s a Jewish prayer book that has lingered in my mind for many months now. The author wrote, “We inherit the spiritual legacy of our ancestors.”

As to what this ‘spiritual legacy’ is, I’m still trying to figure that out. It is not something as clear cut or obvious as inheriting money or genetics. 

If you have any ideas about what that means, I’m all ears. 

Author: Dipa

Founder of Mith Books

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