Satapatha-brahmana, a text
of the Vedic period, speaks about the five debts that
a human being accrues by living in this world. A person
becomes indebted to God, to the gods, to the ancestors,
to living persons of this world and to lesser beings.
It states that these debts can be repaid through sacrifice.
God can be repaid through the sacrifice of studying
and teaching the Vedas. The gods can be repaid by the
sacrifice of offering oblations into the fire. The ancestors
can be repaid through the sacrifice of offering libations
of water (tarpana). Elders of this world
can be repaid through the sacrifice of showing hospitality
to guests, and lesser beings can be repaid by the sacrifice
of offering food to animals and other creatures.
In a similar way, the Manu-samhita, a work of the Grhya period, explains how even
unknowingly a human being causes suffering and thereby
incurs sin while living in this world. Five places
are cited: the kitchen, the grinding stone, the broom,
the mortar and pestle, and the water pot. Like the Satapatha-
says that through sacrifice a human being can atone
for these sins. In other words, Hindu thinkers from
the earliest times recognized that life involved
consuming the resource of this world. Both texts
recognized that a human being had a debt to settle
with the world, and both agreed that it was through
sacrifice that a human could settle this debt and
establish a just relationship with the world. The pitr-yajna was one such attempt.
psychological effect of sacrifice was to enlarge one's
individual existence. By performing the worship of the
ancestors, one established a relationship with the ancestors.
The person no longer lived alone in the universe. The
meaning of the opening prayers used in the tarpana
ceremony is illustrative, "From the highest point
to lowest point, so far as this universe extends, let
all divine sages and patriarchs, all deceased fathers,
on both the father's and mother's side, be worshiped.
Let this humble offering of sesame and water go for
benefit the whole world, from the highest heaven down
to this earth, to benefit the inhabitants of the seven
continents belonging to unlimited families in the past." The rite
of pitr-yajna was therefore, an
attempt to psychologically harmonize the individual
with the larger world outside.
need for psychological expansion and to establish a
just relationship with the universe was also expressed
in how the Brahmana texts interpreted
the pinda offerings used in the pitr-yajnas.The
cakes were not simply food offerings. They represented
the pitrs and ultimately the whole of
existence. The first cake, for the father, was seen
as the image of the earth (bhur) and just
as fire enjoys the earth, so the soul of the father
was said to enjoy the first cake. The second cake, for
the grandfather, was seen as the image of the sky (bhuvar)
and just as the wind enjoys the sky, so the grandfather
was said to enjoy the second cake. The third cake, for
the great grandfather, was seen as the image of the
heavens (svar) and just as the sun enjoys the
heavens, so the great grandfather was said to enjoy
this third cake. In this way, the three pinda
cakes were equated with the whole of creation, bhur,
bhuvar and svar Offering the pinda to the pitrs
was equal to feeding the universe.
Copyright © Sanskrit
Religions Institute 2003.
All rights reserved.
a-brahma stamba-paryantam devarsi
pitarah sarve matr-mata-mahadayah
bhuvanal lokadi-dam astu tilodakam