Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sita's Anger


The term ‘Shraaddha’ is a derived from the root word ‘Shraddha’ which means faith, Hence, whatever is offered with faith becomes Shraaddha. However, the term has been widely used in a strictly technical sense as related to after-death rites and subsequent ceremonies. The following are the essential features of Shraaddha:
[a] It is performed by a competent descendant of the dead ancestor with faith
[b] It is done for the benefit of three generations of ancestors namely father, grandfather and great grandfather.
[c] It has to be done at the appropriate time and place as determined by our scriptures and family traditions.
[d] It may be accomplished by giving either cooked food or uncooked articles of food or money or gold to deserving Brahmins.
For centuries, performing Shraaddha for one’s ancestors at Gaya in Patna district of Bihar has been considered extremely auspicious and is considered to bestow infinite results. Probably this belief had its origin in the days of the Ramayana as would be evident from a local legend [Sthala Purana] in Gaya. This is how the story runs:

During their Vanavasa days [staying in the forest], once Sri Rama, Laksmana and Seetha were staying on the banks of the river Phalgu in modern Gaya. It happened to be the Shraaddha Day of King Dasharathha, father of Sri Rama and Lakshmana. With a view to performing the ceremony with the necessary Homa, Tarpana, offer Pindas [Rice balls] etc, Rama instructed Seetha to get ready with the other preliminary arrangements for the ceremony. He and Lakshmana went out into the forest to get the other requirements like banana leaves, gingelly seeds [Til], Samit [dry twig], fruits etc required for the Shraaddha. Seetha bathed in the river, cleansed a spot on the river bank and completed all the other preliminaries including the preparation of the Pindas.
Suddenly she saw a dazzling light descending from the sky. There stood Raja Dasharatha before her very eyes. Seetha had mixed expressions of surprise, fear and joy. She prostrated on the ground and paid her respects to her father-in-law and welcomed him. Dasharatha said “Janaki, the time has come to offer the Pindas. In a few minutes from now the Tithi [specified time to offer the Pinda] will pass off. So, you yourself perform the Shraaddha by offering me what you have”. Struck by surprise, Seetha replied with reverence “O Pujyatma! How can I, a woman, perform the Shraaddha? Lord Rama and Lakhmana have the Dharmic right to perform the ritual and will it not be a sin if I do it?” But Dasharatha replied “Piturkarma has to be done at the right time and at the right moment. As you are Rama’s better-half [Ardhangi] you have every right to perform it. I will be pleased if you do it”. Hesitatingly Seetha asked “How will I convince my husband and brother-in-law that you came and received the Pindas and blessed me. Who will stand as a witness?”
Dasharatha looked around and said ‘Request anything in nature to be a witness “. Seetha looked around. She saw the River Phalgu, the burning fire in which she had cooked, a banyan tree [Vatavriksha] and a cow grazing in the yonder field. She called all of them and pleaded “O River Phalgu! O Agni! O the great Banyan tree! And O Gomatha! You are all witnesses to my performing the Shraaddha to Dasharatha at his request. Please tell this to Rama and Lakshmana when they return here”
As if in positive response, the flowing water of the river made a gurgling noise, the banyan’s branches rustled in the roaring wind, the blazing fire shot into flame and the cow mowed. Seetha interpreted these gestures and sound as their acceptance of standing as witness. Then Seetha offered the Pindas to Dasharatha who was immensely pleased. He blessed Seetha and returned to the Pitruloka. Seetha was happy that she got an opportunity to serve her father-in-law. Simultaneously she had some apprehensions whether Rama would believe if she tells him what had happened.
While Seetha was in this stage of agony and ecstasy, Rama and Lakshmana returned and saw particles of Pinda shattered on the ground and also the disturbed face of Seetha.
Rama was shocked when Seetha narrated the whole incident in detail. While on one hand the brothers were happy that their father had come and blessed Seetha, they still entertained a lingering doubt whether Seetha had an apparition after all. As they were not totally convinced they told Seetha that they would perform the Shraaddha again. Seetha was hurt. She said that she had enough witnesses to prove her right. She immediately called all the four witnesses—the River Phalgu, Agni Deva, Banyan Tree and Gomaatha—and requested to confirm that what she had told Rama was true. Unfortunately for Seetha, all the four witnesses remained silent since they thought that if they told the truth they would incur Rama’s wrath by disproving his conviction. This made Rama believe that Seetha was just narrating an illusion. When Rama and Lakshmana started to do the Shraaddha again, Seetha was in tears. At that moment Dasharatha appeared again and told Rama what had happened. Rama and Lakshmana then sought the pardon of Seetha and having accomplished his mission, Dasharatha returned to the Pitruloka
Seetha, badly let down by the four witnesses, burst out into a rage and cursed the mute witnesses. She said “O River Phalgu! You will become Antarvahini [flowing only beneath the surface of earth]. On the surface you will be dry without water. O Agni! Instead of being the Mukhaswaroopi [face] of the Gods you will only be a destroyer of all things [Sarvabhakshaka] and a messenger of the Gods. O the Great Banyan tree! You, who refused to speak out the truth, you will be a permanent witness to people who perform Shraaddha here. O Gomaatha! You will hereafter be worshipped only at the rear.”
The significance of this incident is still remembered in Gaya which is said to be the place where this event occurred. Even today Gaya has been considered as the most sacred place for performing Shraaddha karmas, as it was here that Rama and Laksmana performed their father’s ceremony. As per the present procedure of performing Shraaddhas in Gaya, it consists of three stages:
1. The doer of the Karma has to first take bath in the river Phalgu, offer Tarpana and one Pinda to the river.[ As the river flows underground in keeping with Seetha’s curse, pilgrims dig the sand and take out the underground water for bathing and other ceremonies.
2. The doer should offer one Pinda at the feet of Lord Vishnu [Vishnupada] in the nearby temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
3. Later he must offer one Pinda at the roots of the Banyan Tree which marks the completion of the ceremony.


Created: Friday, May 25, 2007 10:28 PM


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