offering of the puraka rites, which involve
the offering of handful size cakes made with boiled rice,
sesame, honey, milk, sugar and dried fruits, served the
function of step-by-step dissolving the ativahika
body and gradually creating a subtle preta body.
The puraka rites usually last 10 days. The order in which the ativahika body is dissolved and the preta body is created
is as follows: On the first day a cake is offered and the
deceased obtains the head of the preta; on the second
day a second cake is offered and he obtains his ears, eyes
and nose; on the third day a third cake is offered and he
obtains his chest and neck; on the fourth day he obtains
his stomach and abdomen; on the fifth day he obtains legs
and feet; on the sixth day, he obtains his vital organs;
on the seventh day he obtains bones, marrow, veins and arteries;
on the eighth day he obtains nails and hair; on the ninth
day all the remaining limbs and organs along with vitality
are developed. On the tenth day, when the final cake is
offered, the sensations of hunger and thirst associated
with the ativahika body are removed.
The ativahika body is finally dissolved
and the preta bodied is fully developed.
In an emergency situation if the mourning period could
only last one day then all the ten funeral cakes must
be offered on that day. In some communities these rites
are performed on the odd numbered days, but in all cases
a total of ten cakes were to be offered.
The ativahika stage is said to involve great suffering due to heat,
cold and wind. It is said that during this time the departed
soul remains in the sky as wind without any support (akasa-stho
niralambo vayu-bhuto nirvasrayah) The subsequent preta body is said to be less subtle than the ativahika body, but still more subtle than the physical body
and therefore invisible to the eyes of this world.
is a brief description of how the puraka cakes
were offered. After returning from the cremation, the nearest
relatives of the deceased prepare the ground for the puraka
cakes by creating a small altar and marking it with
lines. Then with some stands of sacred grass (kusa)
the performer sweeps the ground while naming the deceased
along with the family gotra, "May this offering
be acceptable to thee." Making a cake with three handfuls
of boiled rice, etc. he next says, "Let this first
puraka cake restore your head. May it be acceptable
to thee." He then puts fragrant flowers, betel leaves
and similar things on the funeral cake and offers a lamp
and a woolen scarf to the deceased while saying, "May
this lamp and woolen cloth be acceptable to thee."
He then places an earthen vessel of water and black sesame
near the puraka cake and says, "May this
vessel of water and sesame be acceptable to thee."
Afterwards the puraka cakes
and other things are thrown into sacred waters. The ceremony
is then concluded by wiping the ground and leaving some
food for crows and other such animals.
For ten successive days the puraka cakes
were to be offered using a varied address each day to restore
the different bodily parts.
There are many lengthy rules
which prescribe who was allowed to perform these puraka rites and the other sraddhas. In fact, the right to perform these sraddhas and the rights to inheritance were often inter-related.
The general hierarchy, going from eldest to youngest within
each group, was as follows: the sons, the grandsons, the
great-grandsons, the sons of a daughter, a wife, the brothers,
the sons of a brother, the father, the mother, the daughters,
the daughter-in-laws, the sisters, the sons of a sister
and finally any family relation. If no family members are
available then the rites may be performed by anyone of
the town or village. In making the decision who will perform the funeral
rites the emotional and mental competency of a family member
was also an important consideration. At any time one family
member could defer his or her rights to the next member.
period of the ten puraka rites was considered
a period of mourning. It was also a time of impurity, which
meant that the family members would not travel to temples
or other holy places. Nor could any sacred ceremonies take
place within the family. Ordinarily this time ended after
the tenth day with the final dissolution of the ativahika
body and the creation of the preta body. The subsequent
preta stage lasted for one year. During this time
sixteen ekoddista-sraddhas were
to be performed to maintain the preta body of the
deceased and elevate the departed soul to the status of
a pitrs. The last of these sraddhas
was called the sapindi-karana at which
time the departed soul finally became a pitr.
The timing of these sixteen sraddhas
is as follows. The first sraddha is
performed on the eleventh day after death. After that twelve
sraddhas are performed in each lunar
month on the naksatra anniversary of the death.
Two further sraddhas are performed
on the six-month anniversary of the death. These are usually
performed on the day before the regular sixth month and
twelfth month naksatra sraddhas.
The final sapindi-karana-sraddha
was performed on the day after the last naksatra
sraddha. In this way a total of 16 ekoddista-sraddhas
brief description of an ekoddista-sraddha
is as follows. A clean area is selected so that the
performer can face the southern direction, the realm of
Yama. The area is washed with cow dung and a seat made of
sacred grass (kusa) is prepared. The performer
wears his sacred thread over the right shoulder (pracinavitin)
and performs a series of rituals and prayers that offer
water, cloth, rice cakes (pinda) and other
articles to the deceased. In his left hand the performer
holds a vessel containing black sesame seeds and water,
and in his right hand a special brush made of sacred grass
(kusa). This was called a kurca.
He pours water through the kurca and names
the deceased person saying (in Sanskrit), "May this
ablution be acceptable to thee." Afterwards he takes
a rice cake (pinda) mixed with clarified butter
and presents it saying, "May this cake be acceptable
to thee." He serves out the food with the following
prayers, "Ancestors, rejoice. Take your respective
shares and become strong." He walks counterclockwise
around the consecrated spot and says, "Ancestors be
glad, take your respective shares and be strong." He
returns to the same seat and again pours water on the ground
over the kurca while reciting, "May this
ablution be acceptable to you." The whole affair concludes
with the feeding of invited brahmanas
in a feeding ceremony call brahmana-bhojanam.
The process of pouring water
and black sesame through kurca is
The food that is mixed into cakes is made of boiled rice
mixed with ghee and sesame seeds. These are called pindas and they are similar to the puraka cakes used in the puraka ceremony.
the final Sraddha
The sapindi-karana-sraddha is
the last of these sixteen sraddhas that are meant to elevate the departed soul to the
rank of a pitr. It
is performed in a similar manner to the previous sraddha with the following additions. The performer sets out
four vessels with water, sesame and fragrance. Three are
for the standard hierarchy of pitrs, the
father, the grandfather and the great grandfather, and
the fourth is for the recently departed soul. The performer
then pours the vessel meant for the recently departed soul
into the vessels of the three standard pitrs. Similarly, four cakes of rice (pindas) are prepared and the cake belonging to the recently
departed soul is broken up and added to the three cakes
belonging to three standard pitrs.
After the performance of this rite the preta being
becomes a pitr and
joins the assemblage of fathers in their abode (pitr-loka).
Releasing the bull (Vrsotsarga)
At some point during these
sixteen ekoddista-sraddhas a rite involving the release of a bull (vrsotsarga) was also performed. Some commentators suggest that
it should be performed on the eleventh day, in other words,
during the first ekoddista-sraddhas, and others say that it should be performed on last
day during the sapindi-karana-sraddhas. The rite is a remnant of the ancient rite of killing
the anustarani animal. If an actual bull was not available then an
image made of earth, rice or grass could serve the purpose.
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Religions Institute 2003.
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