Feb 9, 2011

The journey of the soul (per Hinduism, per my understanding)

*** Thanks to my father and my siblings who keep enlightening me on subjects like these ***

I read a blog post and that had prompted me to write on this topic.

My mother passed away almost 2 years ago. The religious rites performed for the 13 days post her death brought in lots of discussions on the journey of a soul as per our religion.  There was a quick lecture on Garudapuranam highlights as well on the 13th day.   This is what I gathered -

When a soul leaves a human body(death in other words) it goes to the kingdom of Yama(the God of Dharma) to get a verification done (remember we heard stories of people reviving after being dead).  Once the verification is done, it gets back to the place where it was living and sobs as its dear-ones mourn over the death of the so-and-so person and it also feels bad to shed its body and to leave them. (elders say that this is the reason the cremation has to be done ASAP).  The religious rites are performed from the second day through the twelfth day and the 13th day being SUBHAM i.e. to count only the good things and move on with normal life.

Different people follow different cultural adaptations with respect to performing these last rites.  I am only giving what was being observed in my community.  On the 13th day, the soul leaves to Pithru loka (the world of ancestors) and it goes through various stages depending on its good/bad traits; Hindus call this as punyam/pavam. The family left behind observes monthly shrardha (shradhdha means sincerity, shrardha is the offering of pinda (a special meal) to the departed soul offered with utmost sincerity) apart from performing the same on the 27th day and 45th day (called oona-masika - I dont know the meaning though) The shrardha pinda is offered to Crows which are believed to be the form of pithrus or ancestors.  After the completion of 5th monthly shrardha and before the 6th monthly shrardha a cow with a calf is offered to somebody(generally to temples) and this is called Gho (cow) Dhana (offering).  My father explained to me that the soul on its journey in the pithru loka has to cross a river and this crossing is hindered by many factors.  The Gho Dhana process helps the soul get through this stage with ease.  Then continues the remaining monthly shrardhas and Aapdheeka, the first year's shrardha (on the day of the death in terms of lunar calendar) is performed.  Only after this the soul goes through the swargha/naraka (paradise/hell) phase and is either ready for rebirth or salvation or mukthi (easy to write here :-) ) For a soul to attain salvation it has to have a nil balance of both papa/punya (bad/good).  As long as there is a balance on one of these, rebirth is certain to undergo the repercussions of the good/bad.  The family performs annual shrardha as a routine.

Why does the family have to keep performing the shrardha and offer the pinda (to three previous generations) every year? And how does its effect reach the soul?  My gut feeling is that performing the shrardha is a form of thanksgiving.  The answer to the second question is through the pithru devathas who act as agents.  Sometimes we feel very happy for no particular cause - it may be because of the shrardha performed for our soul by someone (in the lineage of a previous birth).  Also, offering the pinda is only for the previous three generations; if A is performing shrardha for his dad, he also offers the pinda to A's grandfather and great grandfather (if both are dead).  When A dies, A's son will perform the shrardha and the offering will be made to A, A's father and A's grandfather.  May be by this time, A's great grandfather would have taken another birth or attained salvation.

Some people believe that the soul retains its memory when it is in the mother's womb but the memory is flushed out when it is born. While on the earth, the soul does not retain the memories of its kith and kin from one birth to another.  What a gift?  Else Karunanidhi will have to have the entire assembly seats for his bloodline and there will be perunidhi, sirunidhi and all sorts of nidhi's ruling the kollywood of course with English names for their production companies. 

The belief per Hinduism is that when a soul is relieved of the body before the stipulated time(age) it wanders without the body until the remaining time is elapsed. For some reason I do not believe in the existence of ghosts.  I too do not know why some people were able to recollect the memories from previous births (as reported by newspapers) - this may be because God wants us to develop a belief in all these!!!


  1. check it out .. interesting .. i mean the content of this link below ;)


  2. Krishna - Thanks. Will try to do.
    Major Sir - That was very well written. Thanks for the link.

  3. The river the soul has to cross is called 'Vaitharani Nadhi'.Its believed that when Gho Dhana is made in dedication to the soul which is waiting to cross the vaitharani, the Gho's (Cow's) tail acts as a rope holding which the soul will cross the river and proceed further. That is why its emphasized that, even if one could not afford to donate a real cow, at least an idol of a cow has to be donated.

  4. Sandhya - Thanks for the info.

  5. oona - in Sanskrit means falling short. Since the the ritual is performed on 27/28th day - 2/3 days short of a month, its called Oona masyam/masikam.

    BTW SH, keep writing...

  6. Dear Sir

    Shrardha as per Apathamba with parvana vidhana is followed by all of us costing us a big sum which poor family could not afford.
    Neither Bagavatgita nor Vedas has a recommendation to make the brahmins to sit in place of pithrus and receive Dakshina.

    Atma will not have Hunger or Anger when it is releived from the body according to Gita and do not require any assistance from any body to reach swarga or naraka espacially with the help of money and purohits.

    Atma will enter in to another body or take rebirth according to its karma. Atma of my own father when it comes out the body do not have any attachment towards me. Atma is free of any relationship.

    Tarpan is only for our satisfaction of expressing gratitude to our ancestors, this need not have any brahmins or expenditure.
    to my opinion after making so much of research , We can do Tarpan on the annual death day and feed poor to satisfy ourselves.

    1. i fully agree with krishna. this is all ridiculous and unreasonable procedure. many middle class people suffer from this mind less expenditure which comes to close to minimum 3 lakhs (from death, monthly rituals, annual ritual. this is forced upon the middle class by their relatives. i request some scholars initiate discussion on this. thanx krishna for the useful comment.

    2. Hello Anonymous,

      Please read Garuda Purana for a better understanding of why Shradhdha has to be performed.

      Firstly, who is the authority to decide whether Shradhdha has to be performed or not? It is those who possess a "Sookshma Drishti" or "Subtle vision" who can see the after life. The Rishis, in other words. Whether we believe them or not is a different matter, but we cannot simply decide that this is sense or nonsense on our own and we have to go by what the Rishis have said.

      The Rishis have said very clearly in the Dharma Sutras that Shradhdhas have to be performed (whether Apastambha or Bodhayana or Ashwalayana or Gautama, all the Sutras praise the Shradhdhas).

      It is an extremely naive and ridiculous claim that Vedas don't prescribe Shradhdhas. Vedas contain heavy section of Mantras for Shradhdhas that are done through "Brahmana Mukha". Bhagavad Geetha is a philosophy (Darshana) that provides guidance about nature of life and does not go into the details of rituals. Let alone the Shardhdhas, does Bhagavad Geetha say how to perform marriages? how to perform Upanayana? How to celebrate festivals? For a complete reference of Hindu way of life, you should refer to the Vedic family of literature consisting of 4 Vedas, 4 Upa vedas and 6 Vedangas. They are a complete reference. Otherwise, the summary of these is contained in Mahabharatha of which Bhagavad Gita is a part. Mahabharatha contains ample references to Shardhdha.

      The properties that you are attaching to the Atma (no hunger, no anger, free from attachment) etc. apply to a Mukthathma, an Atma that has become free from all the bodies, including physical and subtle bodies.
      However, unless a person has done Tapasya and acquired Brahma Jnana, he or she doesn't become a Muktatma and after death, he continues to live in the subtle body (Sookshma Deha) which goes through hunger, hunger thirst etc. and is not free from bondage. The person lives in the Subtle body till he takes the next birth after which he will continue to possess both the subtle body and the physical body. This phenomenon is clearly explained in Bhagavad Gita also.

      Now, a Jeeva who is in the subtle body experiences all the above said things like hunger, thirst etc. and has to travel to another Loka and it is to ensure comfort during this period that Shradhdhas are mainly performed.

      Now, coming to affordability, just like health care, Shradhdhas have been prescribed based on nature's principles (subtle nature in this case) independent of personal finances. If a person is poor and cannot afford health care, you cannot change the rules of health care. A person who cannot afford health care suffers from ill health. However, in some cases you can customise the health care methods or packages according to one's affordability even though the degree of effectiveness or benefits may vary. Similarly the Rishis have classified all the rituals into 'Uttama kalpa', 'Madhyama kalpa', 'Adhama kalpa' and 'Apat Dharma' meaning' best case, average case, worst case and emergency case. If a person cannot perform all of the first three cases, then he can resort to emergency case.

      For an exteremely poor person who cannot afford anything in the Shradhdha karma, Dharma Shasthras say that he has to go to a specific tree (Forgotten if it is pupil tree or Banyan tree), hug the tree and then loudly say " Hey Devatas, I cannot afford to perform any Shradhdhas; but I don't want my ancestors to suffer because of that. Please take care of them yourselves". This is the Emergency Kalpa for the poorest. For others there are other affordable ways such as Ama Shradhdha, Sankalpa Shradhdha and Parvana Shradhdha. For those who can afford, they have to perform a complete Parvana Shardhdha.

  7. Awesome and wonderful explanation sir!!! Hats off !! Thanks mr nagaraja!!

  8. Hi Mr. Nagaraja. Lovely explanation. Both Ramayana and Mahabharatha explicitly talk about Karma and Shradham. So it would be very naïve to say that don't do it, since there is no clear statement anywhere that tells us not to do shradham. Adi Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya tried to resurrect Karma, during the days when Jainism and Budhism were forcing the "No need for Karma" statement.

  9. wonderful write up. The answers are very informative especially the one by Mr.Nagaraja. Keep writing.. May God Bless you all.