being established as a pitr the departed soul
became fit for receiving the benefits of the numerous pitr-yajnas.
The pitr-yajna is a kind of sraddha
wherein one's family ancestors as well as the general
class of pitrs are worshiped. Hindu sastra
prescribes a variety of such ceremonies.
the ekoddista rites these ceremonies
involve the offerings of rice cakes (pinda),
libations of water (tarpana), and oblations
through fire (homa). Three rice cakes, one for
each pitr, were generally employed. Some
of the ceremonies were performed on specific days of
the month and times of the year, namely new moon (amavasya) and
during the dark half of the month of bhadrapada (pitr-paksa).
For this reason they were sometimes called parvana rites. Other
varieties of these ceremonies are called kamya or
sometimes vrddhi-sraddhas because
they may be performed as desired for some specific
have made reference to the offering of libations of water
during the sixteen ekoddista-sraddhas.
This process is called tarpana and along with
the use of fire it is an essential component of the sraddha
process. The word tarpana
is derived from the Sanskrit root trp which
means to please or to gratify. Tarpana is
the act of pleasing (trpyanti pitaro yena).
Specifically, tarpana is the act of pouring
water through the hands with the use of sacred grass called
kusa as a symbolic gesture of recognition, thanking and pleasing three classes
of beings: gods, sages, and fathers. Usually the sraddha-tarpana
is performed in conjunction with other rites. Water mixed
with barley is sometimes poured through the hands as an
offering to the gods. Water mixed with black sesame is poured
through the hands as an offering to the pitrs.
Different parts of the hand are used for pouring water when
worshiping the different classes of beings. According to
Manu, the area in the center of the palm is called the brahma-tirtha,
the area below the little finger is called the prajapati-tirtha,
the region at the tips of the fingers is called the daiva-tirtha,
and the space between the bottom of the thumb and the index
finger is called the pitr-tirtha. See
the diagram. Devas should be gratified using the
daiva-tirtha, rsis using the
prajapati-tirtha, and pitrs
using the pitr-tirtha.
the tarpana ceremony, the sacrificial
thread is worn in different positions around the shoulders
and neck for worshiping the different classes of beings.
A twice born is called upavitin when
the sacred thread rests across the left shoulder, he
is called nivitin when the sacred thread
lies down straight from the neck, and he is called pracinavitin when
the sacred thread rests across the right shoulder.
The devas are to be worshipped in the upavitin position,
the sages and exalted human beings in the nivitin position,
and the pitrs in the pracinavitin position.
different directions correspond to the different classes
of beings. When offering libations of water to the
gods, one turns the face towards the east, when offering
to sages one turns the face towards the north, and
when offering to the fathers one turns the face towards
the south. These differences in thread, hand and face
positions are used simply to distinguish the gods,
the sages and the fathers from each other.
general order in which tarpana is performed
is as follows: First the devas are gratified, then
the rsi, then the divine pitrs.
After that, starting with the most recently deceased, those
fathers who belong to the paternal are worshiped followed
by those on the maternal side.
commentators attempt to explain why water is used during tarpana.
Water is said to be a neutral substance, therefore
it can most easily be converted into the various foods
needed to satisfy the respective pitrs. For
those ancestors who have entered heaven, nectar is
said to be their food. For those ancestors who have
entered into an animal species, grass may be their
food. For those ancestors who had returned to this
earthly realm, rice may be their food. Water, being
a neutral substance, can easily be converted into nectar,
grass or rice, etc.
matter is also explained in another way. When a friend
or relative presents food to a lady who is pregnant
she eats the food and satisfies herself. At the same
time the child within her womb is nourished. The food
is converted into a substance suitable for the child.
Similarly, when tarpana is offered to
the divine fathers, they accept it by first gratifying
themselves and then gratifying the fathers over whom
they preside. Tarpana is perhaps the
most important of the sraddha rites
and can even substitute for the rest of the sraddha process.
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Religions Institute 2003.
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