Worship of ancestors
While taking the journey with Hinduism through History, it was seen that one of the most rudimentary – yet profound – ways of worship is by venerating the dead. That, we saw, was because the dead had the knowledge and experience of death itself. While viewing the similarities in the world-wide veneration of the dead, it is pertinent that we see that even the belief and tradition systems have been the same all around the world. This indicates that either man migrated after the creation of the philosophy or that a philosophy was accepted and spread all over the world from its powerful source some place. Speculatively, it seems likely that in the distant past, it was the former that could have happened.
The Rig Veda specifies that it is of paramount importance to venerate the dead.
Dhanur hastaad aadadaano mrutasyaasme kshatraaya carcase balaaya
Atraiva tvam ih vayam suveeraa vishvaa sprdho abhimaateer jayema (RV 10.18.9)
Taking his bow from the hand of the dead man, for the sake of our vigour, energy and strength, (I say) you are there; may we (who are) here, blessed with male offspring, overcome all the enemies who assail us.
With this rka, a stone is set up to separate the dead and the living.
The Thirukkural talks about the stone that is set up to honour the dead:
Ennaimun nillanmin thevvir palarennai
Munnindru kalnin palar (Thirukkural 771)
Stand not before my chief, O foes!
Many who stood, in stones repose.
A stone is placed in the house of a deceased person for ten days since the time of demise, according to Silappadhikaram:
Saachchadangil irandhaarporuttu Patthunaalaikku naattappadunkal
The death ritual will include placing a stone for the person deceased for ten days from the time of death.
In villages of Tamilnadu, one often comes across the ‘Veerakkal’ (Hero Stone) which is a memorial stone to honour an important person (a hero) who is dead.
Stones used to honour the dead was either large Menhirs, cairns, statues or small stones depending on the importance of the deceased and the tradition followed in the place. Menhirs found all over Europe, Africa, South America and Asia are all to venerate the dead. The famous Stonehenge of Brittany served as a complex to bury the dead.
Dolmens that have played a singnificant part in the evolution of temple architecture have been found nearly all over the Europe and Asia. South Korea has close to 40% of all dolmens found in the world. The largest archipelago, Indonesia, has many menhirs and dolmens concentrated in several islands, Sumatra being of great prominence. Menhirs in Sumatra were consecrated until the early part of the twentieth century.
The archeological findings at Sembiyankandiyur in Tamil Nadu include urns with human bones. This is consistent with the Pitru-medha described in Asvalayana Grhya Sutra which includes post-cremation burial. The bones that remain after the cremation are collected in an urn and buried securely.
The fascination with death is even more powerful than fascination with life. Remaining practically unknown and unknowable, it is the beginning stages to fathoming everything else that is not known until one categorises all the unknowns and unknowables under the title, ‘godhead’. This is why we honour the dead – because it is the initiating step to think about the magnificence of the Universe in which we define our little universes and the roles to play therein.
More posts by this author:
- HINDUISM THROUGH HISTORY – III
- Hinduism through History (Part -2)
- Hinduism through History (Part -2B)
- Hinduism through History
- Kavadi Bells – 2