What is ‘Pirtru Dosha’? If one does not perform Pitru Karmas to his ancestors, how can it be compensated? How are such sins atoned?

If one fails to remember and honor properly the ancestors of his family, he is subjected to sins. This is ‘Pitru Dosha’. In the current age, it is difficult to perform Pitru Karmas as prescribed in the Shastras. The easiest compensation and atonement to such accrued sins is the Chanting of Maha Mantra for two hours on their death anniversary and feeding the poor.

My mother plans to undertake a trip to Kasi. What is the prescribed procedure?

A pilgrimage to Kasi involves visiting ‘Sethu’ initially. This include visiting the temples -- Deva pattinam (Navabashanam), Uchikku Ugandha Vinayagar, Thirupullani (Dharba Sayanam), Rameswaram, Dhanushkodi and Gandamadana Parvatham. In Rameswaram, the darshan of 'Sethu Madhava Swami' has to be had.

One has to carry sand from here and travel to Allahabad and take a holy dip in the ‘Triveni Sangamam’ and put the sand there. Here one has to have the darshan of Lord 'Veni Mahdava'. This should be succeeded by visiting the Viswanatha temple in Kasi for a holy dip there and darshan of the Lord there. Lord Bindu Madhava's darshan has to be had here.

[Sethu Madhava, Veni Madhava and Bindu Madhava are three important Vishnu deities]

After performing the rites and rituals there, one should go to Gaya to offer ‘Pinda’ (Pinda Pradhanam) and have the darshan of Vishnu Padham. Water from the holy Ganges (Ganga Thirtham) should be collected and brought back.

Then one should go to Rameswaram again and perform abhishekam to Ramanatha Swami.

After the pilgrimage, ‘Ganga Puja’ should be done at home.

These are the procedures involved in Kasi Yatra.

When every soul is independent and governed by its own Karma takes rebirth accordingly, what is the need for performing pithru karma for the parents who are only instruments for our birth ?

Every action, from the minutest to the largest, happens according to the will and wish of Bhagavan Sri Krishna.

Still, even in our day-to-day life, as we travel in a bus, when someone offers us a seat, we immediately thank them.

Thus, for all the incidents in our life - mundane to major, we thank others to show our gratitude. The same holds good for our parents too.

It is believed that the ‘pithru’s enter the body of the Brahmanas and accept the offerings such as food, water etc. Why do pithrus require food for survival? After all they do not have a stomach and they are the form of the ‘Atman’. What is then the purpose of offering food and water?

Your understanding of the concept is incorrect. In normal cases, pithrus are not the form of the Atman. Death is only for the physical body. There is this austral body (‘sookshma sarira’) which leaves the physical body and enters the different lokas based on the merits and sins. This austral body is what we refer to, when we talk about the ‘Pithrus’. This body possesses a mind. Hence it does experience thirst and hunger, and happiness and sorrow as well.

Only in the case of a Jivan Mukta, they become one with the Atman (‘Atma swaroopa’).

Is pitru tarpanam to be done on every Amaavasya? Some say if you do pitru tarpanam at Gaya kshetra, then you need not do it for life. Kindly enlighten.

Even if done at Gaya, one must do it regularly.

I understand that when a person dies, he will be reborn depending on his merits. Do ceremonies like ‘Shrarddha’ or ‘Tarpanam’ go to him?

It is true that the soul takes rebirth based on the karma. However, it resides in the Pitru Loka before taking rebirth. As long as it is in one of the different Lokas, these ceremonies will benefit it.

Once the soul takes rebirth, these ceremonies will not benefit it.

These ceremonies will help the soul only to some extent. It cannot help the soul attain liberation.

What is Sandhya Vandanam?

Sandhya Vandanam is the regular ritual that one performs three times a day – once each in the morning before sunrise, at mid noon and in the evening before sunset. It is a ‘prayaschitta’ (atonement) as prescribed in the Vedas and includes offerings for the Devas (‘tarpanam’).

What will help to the future generation of a family if the present generation does not perform Karma for the dead? Will the chanting of Maha Mantra help the situation?

Yes. Undoubtedly, Maha Mantra is an ideal substitute for the Karma that is done. In fact, it is much more powerful!

In my custom, every year, we perform offerings to our ancestors by dropping them into ‘Agni’ (fire). Will it really reach our ancestors?

Yes it will reach them, provided it is done properly.

Brahmins cremate the dead while other communities and religions burry it. Which is right? Would not the soul suffer the heat if it is cremated?

In earlier days, the Brahmin considered Fire (‘Agni’) as the supreme God and worshipped fire as their everyday routine. During their lifetime, they give all their offerings to the Fire God and consider their body as the gift of the Devas. Hence in the context of offering it back to the Devas, they cremate it. Others do not worship God, and hence don’t cremate it.

As soon as the body ceases to live, the ‘Atma’ leaves the body. Even while the Atma resides in the body, it is not affected by dualities like heat, coldness, joy, sorrow, praise, insult etc. It transcends all of these.

Why is it that each time I perform some Maha Pooja, Homa or such other religious observances, I have always immediately experienced something unpleasant and never been rewarded with anything which I desired. In fact I have lost my job and my peace of mind after such religious observances, while things were good before performing such poojas.

Taking the right medicine for a disease will never make one sick, will it? When we perform divine activities ills befall us, it only means that we don’t have the capacity to judge what is right and what is wrong. To our limited mind and perception, something might seem as bad, as we tend to look in the short term. The Lord knows what is good in the longer term. So He will always do only good to us. All we have to do is just have complete faith in the fact that He will always do only good to us.

In our family we have a mentally challenged person. He is more than 50 years old. His family members have not performed Upanayana samskaara for him. Is it necessary to do the same?

Even if a person is mentally retarded, Upanayana samskaram has to be done. This is not done in the usual procedure. The ‘Sutrakara Rishis’ have prescribed special procedures in our Shastras which should be adapted in performing the Samskara for such a person.

Why do we perform ‘Amavasya Tharpanam’, ‘Mahalaya Paksham Thithi’ and ‘Divasam’ every year? What is a purpose of doing all these?

We perform them as a thanksgiving to our ancestors. It is also termed as 'RuNam' or debt we owe them. When done properly with purity, this 'feeds' the pitrus in whatever state they are in.

When we chant Mahamantra during these days with faith and as a prayer for ancestors, it can even liberate the ancestors in question!

During a few Amavasya days, my husband is not able to perform ‘Tharpana’ owing to fever or some other reason. What can be done in such cases?

By all possible means, one should try to perform ‘Tarpana’. If your husband is unable to perform ‘Tarpana’ during extreme circumstances, you can offer ‘Agathu keerai’ (a special type of greens) to the cows.

Why at all should one not go to a temple and perform pujas for a year of a relative’s demise?

Pitru Karya (rituals for the dead) are done monthly upto a year of the passing away of a relative. Strictly speaking, ‘nithya Srardham’ (ritual to be performed every day) has to be done during the year.

‘Pitru Karya’ and ‘Deiva Karya’ (divine activities) do not go together. That is the reason it has been prescribed so.

Is there any specific reasons for Tarpanam (rituals for the Pitrus) being performed during Amavasya /Poornima days?

The gravitational force that the earth exerts is high on these days and hence it is believed that the Pitru Loka is closer on these days. That is why special rites for the Pitrus are performed on these days.

If a person does not have any children, who will perform his last rites? If someone related to him does the last rites, will his soul get liberated? Who will, for him, do the monthly and yearly rituals?

If one does not have a male child but has a female child, then getting the holy grass (‘dharbai’) from the daughter, some one else can do his last rites. His son-in-law or his brother’s son can do the last rites, as also someone whom the person might have adopted during his lifetime, or someone that the deceased considered ‘abhimana putra’.

The person who does the last rites also should perform all the subsequent rituals.

However, anyone can perform his last rites by chanting the name of Govinda thrice (this is called ‘Govinda Kolli’). If this is done, there is no necessity to perform any subsequent rites or rituals.

My current work needs me to leave for the work before sunrise. Can Amavasya Tarpan be performed before sunrise?

No Amavasya Tarpanam cannot be performed before sunrise. So the only alternative is to chant the Mahamantra and pray for your parents. That is enough.

In the event of a death in the family, going to the temple is prohibited. Why?

Generally, temples are prohibited for only 13 days, after which you can visit other temples, except for Maha Kshetras.

Generally we offer cooked food for the Lord, while ‘Pitrus’ (manes) prefer only half-boiled food. Melodious music pleases the Lord while the dead are happy with the sound of wailing. We do not wear wet clothes while we pray to the Lord while the Pitrus should be propitiated wearing wet clothes. God takes only little of what is offered to Him while the Pitrus consume a lot. God likes flowers and ‘kolam’ (Rangoli) and the dead hate these. God likes celebrations while the Pitrus don’t.

Generally after a death in the family we don’t do that which is not liked by the dead. Hence we avoid going to temples.

We perform Shrardhas and Tarpanam for the deceased. How do we know that they are not suffering? How do we know how they are reborn?

If at all the soul of the deceased undergoes sufferings, it is indicated in the dreams of their relatives.

In general, one who has performed advanced spiritual Sadhana discerns what was the earlier ‘janma’ of a soul, what form the soul takes and so on. It is not discernable to the common man..

Once when Swami Vivekananda visited Chennai, he was haunted by a host of spirits (astral bodies of the dead). They came to him and cried, requesting him to deliver them from their sufferings. Swamiji went to Marina beach and took some sand in his hand and offered it into the ocean praying for liberation of these spirits, by virtue of his meditative powers..

It is said in the Shastras that the offerings that one gives during Tarpanam (like water and sesame) reach our ancestors in the form that they can consume – for eg., grass, if they were born as a cow, blood if they were born as demons and so on.

While performing rituals, pujas etc. we are unable to repeat the Mantras which the pundits say. We are aware that we are making lot of mistakes. When we are unable to repeat it correctly, can we simply we say "Krishna", "Krishna", instead of saying the mantras wrongly? How to get over this genuine difficulty?

You are right. That is the very reason why we are advocating that the Mahamantra is alone enough in the place of all pujas and rituals.

Gayatri Mantra is also recited when offering Nyvedyam to God. Is it contain the same meaning? Is not Gayatri supposed to be chanted by men after Upanayanam alone? What is meant by ‘Pranaya Swaha, Apanaya Swaha ..’ etc.?

In earlier days, it was a belief that Vaideeka Pooja (Pooja according to the prescribed Holy Texts) should be performed only after Upanayanam. Hence, Gayatri Mantra is used in this.

The five aspects are the Pancha Praanas – Praana, Apaana, Vyaana, Udhaana and Samaana, and the last offering is to the infinite Brahman.

Sri Swamiji has, in his works, mentioned that the articles for performing rites and rituals are no more pure. I am living in a foreign country for the past 25 years. Do the rituals performed in a foreign country have any benefit?

Even in India, the rites and rituals are losing its significance as it is next to impossible to strictly adhere to the rules as prescribed by our scriptures in performing them. The requisite materials are no more available nor the householder who performs these rites has any caliber to do them. No one can be blamed for this, as it is the situation that warrants so many compromises to be made.

My father passed away a few years ago; since then every year I have been doing shradh; How long this should be continued? How far do my offerings benefit my father? I understand he will take rebirth. Will my offerings go waste once he takes birth?

You are supposed to perform Srardha for your deceased father throughout your lifetime. There are perfect arrangements in the nature for your offerings to reach the ancestors.

If you do the rites and rituals properly, it will help him to a certain extent. A mantra in the Srardha itself says, 'if the dead soul has taken another form, let my offerings be transformed and reach the soul in a form that can be consumed by the form (like grass for the cow or horse-gram for the horse etc.)'

It is said that we do not have any choice of choosing our family/parents and it is all determined by our previous vasanas. If this is the case then why do our elders say that if parents do not do their nithya karma, it will affect their children? It is not the children's fault that their parents are not doing their karma. Please advise.

Every jiva is born into a particular family/situation only on the basis of their karma. If a jiva is very sattvic, he is born to parents who are sattvic. if a jiva is carrying a lot of sins and has to experience them, then his birth occurs in a situation where he has to suffer. The former is born to the latter as a child and they both experience their karma. If a jiva has acquired to sins in this life, that has to result in a birth with some disease. There is this other jiva who has to experience his karma load by taking care of such a person with such a disease, then their vasanas/karma bring these two together.

A son would naturally inherit his father's wealth and property, he would like to have everything that is good from his parents. wouldn't he? when that is the case, logically, the sins are also passed down generations.