Of all the festivals and rituals of the Hindus, ‘shradhs’ (now on) are a class apart and manifest a unique offering gesture to the ancestors. It is believed that one owes three main debts: ‘Deva rina’ (debt of forefathers), Rishi rina (debt of guru) and Pitra rina (debt of parents). One must pay off these debts with utmost respect.
Krishna says “patram pushpam phalam yo mein bhaktaya pragachhati tadyan bhakatihuhrim charami prayatataman’(just as I accept the offerings made to me, so do the ancestors accept them with the pleasure and bless the grateful descendants.)
While mostly people observe ‘shradhs’ at their own places, the more devout of them perform the rites at designated holy places. Gaya in Bihar is considered the holiest. A ‘pinda daan’ (a part of the ceremony) is supposed to liberate souls from the control of Yama and help them attain salvation.
Gaya derives its name from a demon called ‘Gayasura’. Legend has it that after a severe penance, Gayasura pleased Vishnu and was granted a boon that whoever will touch him will be allowed a place in heaven. This angered other gods and they hatched a conspiracy. One day when the demon sat for the worship on the banks of river Phalgu after a bath, the gods not only put a big stone over his head to render him immobile but even persuaded Lord Vishnu to put his feet on the stone.
On seeing Vishnu on the side of the gods, Gayasura asked for another boon. He stretched his body to four ‘yojans’ (approximately 32 miles) and requested that the place may be named after him.
‘Shradhs’ seem to be the outcome of the ‘karma’ theory to which all Hindus subscribe to rather fruitfully and maintains relationship till eternity. Like King Mahabali who visits Kerala during Onam celebrations to perpetuate ties for ever onwards, so the ‘shradhs’ seem to build bridges between the ‘living and the dead’.