Among the Hindus, the sradda is religious ceremony, often performed annually, in propitiation of there departed ancestors who are technically known as pitrus, the word sraddda, according to sage pulastya, is derived as follows:"sradhaya deyathe yasmath sraddam ithyabhidheeyathee: i.e., that which is performed with great faith.
The faith referred to here is the faith in the Vedas, whose dictates are taken as incontrovertible and which enjoin its performance as a duty. It is interesting to note that sraddha or faith, and medha or intelligence, are actually deified in the Vedas. Among the important items of a sradha are the argya (water libation): Havana (fire-offering), the feeding of Brahmins, pinda dana, vikira, dakshina- offering and tarpana.holy Brahmins are fed in a worshipful manner, after invoking of them the souls of the departed ancestors of three generations identified with vasu, rudra and adithya, on the paternal or maternal side, as the case may be. The pitrus.who live in pitru loka in the form of spirits, are fetched into the sradda venue by the vishvedevas or the universal soul.The darbha or kusa grass and til sesamum are two significant materials used in the performance of sradda.the padmapurana states that the kusa grass and black til sprang from the body of Vishnu.Aswalayana gruhya sutra points out that the essence of waters became darbha, alluding to a Vedic story. Since Vishnu in anathema to evil spirits, the use of til prevents sradda offering from being pilfered by them. Use of kusa, being the essence of all holy waters, makes the whole rite holy. Silver vessels for argya and pinda in sraddaa are highly recommended because, the ancient pitrus milked svadha in a silver vessel and they are highly pleased with the sight, use and gift of such vessels. The sraddha became an important limb of Hindu religious life.
The how of it
Question often asked about the sradda as we perform it today is this; how, by feeding some Brahmins here and now, one expects to feed ones ancestors who are dead long since, and possibly, according to the karma theory, live in other forms and climes.The answer to this question is given in the matsya purana; what we do in our sradda is to invoke the souls of the departed ancestors on the venue of the sradda by viswedevas or or the universal spirit. Thus for practical purposes, the spiritual bodies or souls of our ancestors, identified with vasu, rudra, and adithyas who are the sradda deities, are present, and we worship them. Now, the food the Brahmins eat or the oblations one offers in the sacrificial fire uttering the deportees name and gotra during the sradda is transformed by the mantra and faith into food appropriate for current bodies of the celestial messenger, agni, (the god of fire) or the vasus, rudras, etc, who have access everywhere and gratify the pitrus.if, for instance, the ancestor had been born an angle, the oblation goes to him as nectar; if he be born as cattle, it is taken to him as grass; or if born as human, it goes to him as cereals,Just as a calf finds its own mother from the money cows grazing, so the mantras uttered in the sradda ceremony carry the food to the correct pitrus,The pitrudevathas, after completion of the sradda and gratified by the worship, bless the performer with health, wealth, children and prosperity and prosperity and depart to their own region.Whatever the religious merit or otherwise of sradda.it has this psychological merit, namely, it definitely helps us recall with affection and gratitude the memory of our elders and benefactors, which is an ennobling experience. Secondly, it is a demonstrable fact that faith works miracles. When that is the case with ordinary faith. What shall we say of a faith such as the sradda, which has been a racial memory in the sense that it is the continuous possession of successive generations of Hindus since the Vedic times! It must work greater miracles.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SHRAADH
Hindu mythology is rich in its legacies and traditions. Of the many rites, rituals, festivals and ceremonies, Shraadhs appear to be quite different. Shraadhs constitute a debt of the dead which ought to be repaid assuming the dead ones as being alive and living with us.
During this period called pitru paksha, the lord of death, Yama raja enables all who shed their mortal frames to come back to earth and receive offerings from their descendants. For ages, it has been associated with such offerings being made to the dead christened pretas (spirits) and pitrus(forfathers).
It is believed that one owes three main debts. First its Devarina (debt to the gods), second is Rishi rina (debt to the guru) and the last but, not the least is the Pitra rina (debt to the forefathers). It is ordained that one must pay off these debts with utmost humility and respect.
During the fortnight of the Aashwin month, Hindus offer ablation to their ancestors, While most people observe shraadhs at their places, the more devout of them prefer to perform the rites at the designated holy places but Gaya in Bihar (India) is considered the holiest. A pinda daan is supposed to liberate all souls from the control of Yama and help them attain moksha.
Gaya derives its name from al demon called gayasura. Legend has it that after a severe penance demon Gayasura pleased Vishnu and was granted a boon that whoever would touch him will be allowed a place in heaven. This angered other Gods and they hatched a conspiracy.
One day when the demon sat for worship on the banks of river Phalgu, the Gods not only put a stone over his head to render him immobile but even persuaded Vishnu to put his feet on the stone.
On seeing Vishnu, Gayasura asked for another boon. He stretched his body to four yojans (approximately 32 miles) and requested that the place be named after him.
At Gaya there are as many as 45 sacred Vedic where shraadhs are performed. In ancient times, Gaya was a holy place for offering obseuies for merits of parents and was divided into two distinct areas, dharamanya and dharmaprastha. In dharamanya were contained the Aswatha tree near Phalgu. Buddha Gaya was the place where pinda is offered by the Hindus from all over India, as par of the Shraadh rites. There is also the Sita Kunda where lord Rama, accompanied by Lakshmana and Sita, is believed to have performed the shraadh of his father, Dasrath.
Shraadhs seem to be the outcome of the Karma theory to which all Hindus subscribe to rather fruitfully and maintains relationship till eternity. Like King Mahabali who visits Kerala during the Onam celebrations to prepetuate the ties for ever onwards, so the shraadhs seem to build bridges between the living and the dead.
Gone are the days when shraadhs were observed in a spirit of true indebtedness. The Brahmins were invited, served with rice meal and a hefty dakshina amid puja recitations but now not many even know what shraadh mean to us. Not even the Pandits accept the invitation with pleasure which indeed is unfortunate, because our values are being squandered away.
Little wonder then, that even devouts of other religions pay their respects to their ancestors by remembering them on the birth and death anniversaries and by raising memorials and offering flowers at the graves. Christians, Muslims and Boudhs all observe the ritual. The example of the world famous Taj Mahal at Agra can also be assumed to be something akin to a shraadh.
The Chinese, Japanese and some other Asian partners honour their ancestors in much the same sense of gratitude and remembrance.
While there are lots of people whose descendants remember and honour their ancestors, there may be millions who die n harness. Hindu religion even remembers those who die in wars and other natural calamities, even the unseen and unheard of insects and other creatures and upholds the highest celestial standards.
Funny though it may seem, the shraadh code of conduct provides for observance of a shraadh in ones own life time at Gaya. Should one, therefore, anticipate, a situation that there is no one after him to perform the pinda-dan rite, he could go ahead to have one done for himself for mutual peace and propensity.