The word “Shraadh” originates from the word “Shraddha”, which is combination of two Sanskrit words “Sat” meaning truth and “Adhar” meaning basis. So it means anything or any act that is performed with all sincerity and faith. It can be explained as, “Shraddhyaa Kriyate Yaa Saa”. Shradh is the ritual in Hinduism in which one pays homage to his deceased parents and ancestors. It can be performed individually on their death anniversary or collectively on the ongoing Pitru Paksha.
Sri Krishna in The Bhagwat Gita in chapter number 2 verse 20 says:-
“na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ’yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire”
“The soul is never born nor dies at any time. Soul has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. Soul is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. Soul is not slain when the body is slain.”
In the same chapter in verse number 22 he further says,
“vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grhnati naro ’parani
tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navani dehi”
“As a human being puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”
A living body is the manifestations of two things. One is the fundamental life ie. the soul and the other is the physical life which is the combination of energies named samana, prana, udhana, apana, and vyana.
Whenever a person dies these energies and his soul don’t exit the body immediately. They take a few hours to a few days to completely exit the body. They roam here and there near the body because they are not yet ready to give up the body. The soul wants to return to the body at any cost because it has a lot of worldly attachments like their family and loved ones and wealth etc. But the souls and the energies cannot go into the body and the body is no longer able to support life.
The soul gets stranded near the body and tries to express in various ways possible. It continues trying to find ways to return to the body. This continues till the body is burnt. Till the body is there, there remains an illusion that it can get back. Cremation closes the chapter. After cremation the soul starts its journey towards rebirth. That is why we burn the body in our Hindu tradition.
The process of rebirth is a complex one. It might take a few days to a few thousand years. During this time the soul is believed to go through an experiential reality. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev had explained this in one of his lectures as-
“The mind is just a bunch of information that has natural tendencies which find expression in a certain way. When someone dies, there is no more discernment, no more intellect. If you put one drop of pleasantness into their mind, this pleasantness will multiply a million fold. If you put one drop of unpleasantness, that unpleasantness will multiply a million fold. It is a little like with children – they go out to play until they are exhausted and cannot go on anymore, because they do not have the necessary discernment as to when it is time to stop.
After death, discernment is completely absent, even more than in a child. Then, whatever quality you put into the mind, it will multiply a million fold. This is what is being referred to as heaven and hell. If you go into a pleasant state of existence, it is called heaven. If you go into an unpleasant state of existence, it is called hell. These are not geographical locations – these are experiential realities that a life which has become disembodied is going through.”
There is the Shraadh ritual to see that you can somehow put a drop of sweetness into such a non-discerning mind so that this sweetness will multiply many fold and they will live comfortably in a kind of self-induced heaven. That is the spiritual idea behind the Shraadh Puja – if they are done properly. The spiritually potent mantras that are chanted during the ritual of Shraadh have the subtle power of providing momentum to the subtle bodies of deceased ancestors therefore they can progress to a higher sub-plane of existence after the ritual is performed.
The Mahabharata says “The son protects his ancestors’ souls from the Hell named ‘Puta’. Therefore Lord Brahma himself has named him as ‘Putra’.” So to enable our ancestors to go to this existential state called heaven and save them from the negative regions of hell a son should perform his duties of the Shraadh.
The practical significance of this ritual is simple to understand. It is a way of showing gratitude to our ancestors. It is a way of repaying our debts to our ancestors and is a way of remembering our ancestors who have sacrificed everything to help us get a better life.
The noted monk and writer Om Swami explained this by taking a sutra from the Nyaya shastra, “The quality of the seed is determined by the quality of the tree and the quality of the tree is determined by how good the quality of the seed is. Your pitra (ancestors) are inside you. You are made of the pitras. You are the seed of their tree. According to yogic viewpoint, when you are offering to the ancestors you are being grateful to them for your existence. The meaning of Shraadh is shradha (trust, faith, acceptance). When you accept yourself with shradha, you are offering it to the pitras.”
Some part of your life should be dedicated to heal yourself. With Shraadh, you are purifying yourself. It is an acknowledgement that even though I am tied to my ego, my thoughts, my vikara and my karma, the truth is my existence is also due to somebody else. There is God but I am also born by the blood of my pitras. So this is done to satiate one’s ancestors and express our unconditional reverence towards them and praying for their peace.