Pitras (Pitrus) and the significance of Shradhha ceremony
Once, sage Markandeya arrived at Naimisharanya to see sage Gauramukha. Sage Gauramukha was delighted to find such an enlightened soul at his hermitage. After the formalities were over, Gauramukha requested him to shed light on the venerability of ancestors and the significance of shraddha rituals.
Sage Markandeya replied - "Lord Brahma, after having created the sapta rishis instructed them to worship him (Lord Brahma) but they became so arrogant that they started to worship themselves. Lord Brahma felt insulted and so he cursed them of becoming bereft of all the knowledge. In course of time, the sapta rishis had numerous sons. After the death of the sapta rishis, all the sons performed shraddha so that their souls could rest in peace. The sapta rishis were also famously known as 'Vaimanika' because they had manifested from the mind of Brahma."
Sage Gaurmukh was listening to Markandeya's utterances with rapt attention. He asked about the most appropriate time for performing shraddha and also about the number of 'ganas' each of the pitras were supposed to have. Sage Markandeya replied - "Pitras living in the heaven are known as 'somapa pitras' are believed to be the most privileged ones among all the pitras. They enjoy the most delicious beverage – somaras. Their life-span extends for the full period of kalpa and they worship 'marutas'. Sage Maricha belongs to this category of pitras."
Pitras belonging to the category of 'vairaja' are revered even by the marutganas. Sanaka comes under this categoty of pitras. Each of these pitras have seven ganas. Similarly, pitras known as 'bhaswara' have their abode in the world called 'santanaka'. These pitras are revered even by the deities as all of them are 'brahma vadis' (one who has realized Brahma). They remanifest themselves after every hundred yugas. People belonging to any caste can worship the revered 'pitras' with an appropriately modified rituals and obviously with the permission of the brahmin. Some of the prominent pitras are 'Vasu', 'Kashyap', 'Marichi', 'Sanak' etc.
THE APPROPRIATE TIME FOR PERFORMING SHRADDHA
Describing the auspicious time for performing the rituals of shraddha, Markandeya told Gauramukhq - "A person desirous of performing the rituals of 'kamya shraddha' can do so on any of the following days -
a) at the commencement of uttarayana or dakshinayana.
b)at the time when vyatipata yoga takes place.
c) at the time when vishu yoga occurs.
d) during both solar and lunar eclipses.
e) if troubled by the evil influences of a constellation or a planet.
f) if troubled by nightmares.
g)at the time when the Sun changes it's position from one zodiac to another.
The various nakshatras like Anuradha, Vishakha and Shwati are considered to be very auspicious for performing shraddha - especially, if the day happens to be amavasya. Shraddha performed on such a day pacifies the ancestor's soul for eight years. Similarly the combination of amavasya with either 'pushya nakshatra' or 'punarvasu nakshatra' is believed to pacify the ancestor's soul for twelve years. Some other days which are considered to be very auspicious for performing shraddha are - the third day of the bright half of the hindu month Vaishakha, the nineth day of the bright half of the hindu month Kartika, the thirteenth day of the dark half of the hindu month Bhadrapada and amavasya falling in the hindu month of Magha. A man desirous of performing shraddha can do so on any of the above mentioned days. He should take bath in a holy river and offer 'tarpan' (libation) to his ancestors.
Describing the types of brahmin, considered to be elligible to preside over the rituals of shraddha, Markandeya told sage Gauramukha - "The following types of brahmin are eligible to perform shraddha – 'trinachiketa', 'trimadhu', 'trisuparna' and the brahmins who are well versed in all the Vedas. The shraddha rituals can be performed by any of the following relatives of the deceased, apart from his son-maternal nephew, grandson (daughter's son), father-in-law, son-in-law, maternal uncle, etc.
Similarly, the following types of brahmin should never be invited at the shraddha at the shraddha ceremony - a deceitful or a wicked brahmin, a brahmin who is a habitual backbiter or who is accused of theft, a brahmin who has married a shudra woman and a brahmin who earns his livelihood by working as a priest.
HOW TO INVITE BRAHMINS TO SHRADDHA CEREMONY
Invitation should be given to the all the brahmins one day in advance. If univited brahmins arrive to attend the shraddha ceremony they should be treated with due respect. The brahmin who is supposed to perform the rituals should wash the feet of other brahmins to show his respect towards them. He should then help them perform 'achamana' (rinsing of mouth). Finally, the invited brahmins should be fed after the rituals have been completed.
NUMBER OF BRAHMINS
As far as the number of invited brahmins to the shraddha ceremony of the ancestors is concerned, the scriptures have strictly put it to odd numbers – one, three, five, etc. Similarly, the number of invited brahmins for the shraddha of the deities is concerned the number has been put to even number – two, four, etc. But, if the person finds it difficult to invite the above number of brahmins then he can invite only one brahmin for both the types of shraddha. While performing the shraddha of maternal grandfather it is mandatory to perform the shraddha of Vaishyadeva simultaneously. In the shraddha ceremony related with the deities the brahmins should always have their food facing east. On the contrary, in the shraddha ceremony of the ancestors the brahmins should have their food facing north.
TYPES OF SHRADDHA
A person performing the shraddha rituals should have his seat made of 'kusha' grass. After taking his seat, he should invoke the deities and make offerings of 'ardhya' to them. While offering 'ardhya' to the deities water and barley are commonly used alongwith other articles like sandalwood, incense, etc. During the entire course of shraddha rituals 'yagyopavita' (sacred thread) should be worn in an inverse position-across the right shoulder and not across the left shoulder as it is normally worn. While performing the shraddha of ancestors offerings of articles like sesame seeds, water and kusha grass are normally made.
It is customary to scatter sesame seeds near the place where brahmins are having food in the shraddha ceremony. The performer of the shraddha rituals should imagine that the food partaken by them are actually satiating the ancestors. The chanting of 'Rakshodhna mantra' is a must.
THE RITUALS OF PINDA DAANA
One important characteristic of the rituals connected with pinda daana is the offerings made to manes in the form of sesame seeds and water. Another important aspect is that 'pinda' is offered on the 'kusha' grass which are kept facing south-first in the name of one's dead father and then in the name of one's grandfather and other ancestors
The performance of Balivaishva deva rituals mark the end of shraddha ceremony after which the person should sit down along with all the invited guests to have his food. Ancestors become satisfied if shraddha is performed in their names and all the desires of such a man are fulfilled. Three things have great importance in shraddha rituals-black sesame seeds, the auspicious muhurta named 'Kutup' and grandson (daughter's son). Donating silver is considered to be extremely auspicious. A person performing the shraddha rituals should not venture out of his house till the completion of the entire ceremony.
PS: This has been taken from Varaha Purana.
OM NAMO NARAYANAYA