I have dealt with pancha mahA yajnAs here I am addressing the question on funeral rites in that background.
Evolution of manuSya
The Universe is a ‘Yajna’ a sacrifice performed by Atma, sacrificing a Purusha. In this yajna, manuSya has evolved.
Purusha suktam says all this Universe including the planets and beings came from the Purusha. Purusha is spacetime filled with huge energy, which was just constrained to be 10 angulas. Only 1/4th of that energy is manifest in this Universe. 3/4th is Hidden.
From this purusha, rudras, adityas and Vasus came. Rudras are force-fields in which energy manifests and creates fundamental particles like quarks and leptons. Adityas are binding energies that bind fundamental particles and form basic units of matter like nucleus and atom. Vasus are atomic elements, molecules that exist in eight different states.
From the Vasus pitrs evolve. Pitrs are complex forms and structures of matter with dark matter in them. Pitrs are non-biological forms of matter. Bhutas evolved from Pitrs. Bhutas are biological structures like nucleic acids that can sustain and evolve life. manuSya evolved from these biological structures, the bhutas.
From manuSya to pretha, bhuta
When a manuSya dies, the return journey happens in the same way back. manuSya after losing life and becoming a pretha, Bhuta, Pitr, Vasu, rudra and Aditya.
When a manuSya dies, the body is called a ‘Pretha’. The ‘Pretha’ is a body that cannot function together. But it still has desires. “Preyas” means desire. ‘Pretha’ is a body that carry desires. Pretha is the start of this return journey. A pretha is one in which some biological cells continue to function, though the person has died.
Yes, science says a dead body has desires in the sense that some part of body pulls along even after ‘death’. The last one to give up are the ‘skin’ which live upto 12 hours. So doctors graft skin within 12 hours of a person’s death. Starting from nerve cells that die within few minutes of oxygen supply being cut to them after death, to organs that can survive in another body if taken within few hours, a pretha starts its journey back to where it came from.
After all the ‘biological cells’ die, the pretha becomes a Bhuta. A bhuta is simply biological structures like nucleic acids that can carry life, but do not have life. When all the desires of the body are given up, when everything in the body stops functioning and the body becomes the food of other beings, it becomes a bhuta, a soup of biological structures.
Assuming the body is not burnt or buried or embalmed, but left in open air, a human body becomes a bhuta within a day.
Then the biological cells decompose into other non-biological forms of matter. When left in open air, they are eaten by variety of life forms and become their food. Biological cells decompose or digest into other physical/chemical substances of matter. They become pitrs.
Pitrs are non-biological physical/chemical structures of matter. They are matter with dark matter in them. The bhuta body becomes a Pitr, just a mass of chemicals with no biological structures anymore, in approx 10 days time, when left in open air and given as food to other life forms. All the tissues in the body are gone within that. Only the skeleton remains.
The skeletons may take from one year to several decades to decompose, depending on how humid the environment is and other factors.
Donating the physical body to nature
In ancient tribes, when a person dies, the body is ‘donated’ to nature. For eg. Jarawahs in Andaman leave the dead and go away to a different part of forest allowing the body to become the food of other beings. Parsis (zorastrians) even today leave the body for certain birds to prey on.
That’s the right way. The right way is to donate the body back to where it came from and make it food of other beings. Like a person had the right to subsist on other life forms, other life forms have the right to subsist on the dead body of the person. That’s the Yajna/sacrifice in which the Universe evolves.
Burning or burying the body
But in a civilized environment where resources are limited, the bodies are either burnt or buried. In case the body is burnt, body does not become food of other beings. Their right is denied. In case a body is buried in a casket the decomposition of the body is delayed heavily due to the environment in the casket and it becomes a very slow process.
When we burn the body, the body becomes ash. Ash is a non-biological physical substance. It has become Pitr form immediately. But it throws up two challenges
The ashes might have acquired the Pitr form. But if they are not mixed with other pitr forms of matter, they cannot evolve to their next steps of Vasus, rudras and adityas, which happens when a body decomposes/digests into other beings.
We deny the right of other beings to subsist on the dead body of the person.
To compensate for it we do two things
Asthi Visarjan in which we spread the asthi (ash) over rivers, land, water bodies etc so that pitr gets mixed up with other pitrs, other forms of matter.
To compensate for denying the food to other beings, we do piNDA daan.
Asthi Visarjan on 3rd day
When a person dies, we burn the body. Only ash remains. Ash is simply a physical, chemical complex matter form with mass. It is the Pitr by definition. Now-a-days we have electric crematorium which gives ‘ash’ in few hours.
In those days it took 3 days to burn the body completely, to ‘ash’ it. Hence after 3 days, the asthi is sprinked/spread/dissolved in flowing river, water bodies, fields etc.
This ensures the pitr is mixed with other pitr forms of matter and they are able to evolve to Vasus, rudras and Adityas.
A ‘piNDa’ is a mass of substance that cannot carry life like Pitr. We make a piNDa out of cooked rice. A cooked rice cannot grow. Hence it is a piNDa that cannot carry life, but support life, much like Pitrs.
Pitrs are physical/chemical substances or matter forms, but they have dark matter (nArAyaNA) in them. To symbolize the dark matter, we offer black sesame seeds to this piNDA. Any matter or physical substance cannot exist without dark matter inside it. Dark matter is nArAyana or Vishnu as I explained the blog on pancha mahA yajnas.
Now this piNDa, the cooked rice ball with black sesame seeds becomes our Pitr.
To compensate for not giving the body as food to other beings, we create the Pitr in piNDa and leave out in fields, water, open air etc for other beings to feed on.
The 10 day rites
When donated to nature, in ten days, the body of deceased person becomes Pitr, a simple soup of non-biological matter form or substances of matter, as other beings feed on the human body.
Hence we feed with piNDA for 10 days, as we have denied food of other beings for 10 days. It takes approximately 10 days for the body to get completely decomposed/digested into others.
If one carefully observes the 10 day rites that follow the death of a person, they will say the piNDa forms the Pitr. They will say the head is formed the first day, neck second day, third day heart, fourth day back, fifth day navel, sixth day waist, seventh day generative organs, eighth day thighs and ninth day legs and tenth day body is complete.
It is because when body decomposes or digests into Pitr, the matter, first to start decomposing is brain and last to do is uterus, prostrate etc. The analogy that piNDA becomes the pitr in 10 days arises because of that.
That is the significance of dasasthu or tenth day rite, which symbolizes the deceased person becoming a Pitr completely.
From Pitr to Vasu, Rudras and Adityas
The tenth day rites are to symbolize that the deceased person has become a Pitr, complex chemical/physical substances of matter.
The physical/chemical substances, the pitr, that form from the body get propagated. If we burn the body, we scatter the ash. If the body decomposes, other beings that feed on the body propagate or scatter those substances.
Now these substances become part of other matter forms.
For eg, take an element formed in the person, out of nourishment done by the person consciously. After death and decomposition, it moves out as pitr in the form of complex substances and get ingested into other living and non-living bodies. That element may become an important part of a stone or a plant or a fish or even a human being and propel their evolution in a very significant way.
Once they are in Pitr loka, the world of physical/chemical matter, they can evolve to Vasus, Rurdras and Adityas. Vasus (elements and states of matter), Rudras (particles of force-fields) and Adityas (energies that bind matter creating new matter forms) propel the evolution of matter and beings. Those in pitr loka can become Vasus, Rudras and Adityas and propel the evolution of matter and being.
The eleventh day and twelfth day rites symbolize this.
Eleventh and Twelfth day rites
By tenth day the deceased person is our Pitr. The person who offers piNDa as compensation, now does a punyavacanam on eleventh day.
The punyavacanam is done whenever there is a new start. The new start here is for two reasons. One is for the Pitr in the journey towards the world of Vasus, Rudras and Adityas and propelling the evolution of other bodies. Another is for karta (who offers the piNDa) in starting a new life without the deceased person.
Then on twelfth day Sapindikarana is done. The piNDa of the deceased person is divided into 3 parts. piNDas denoting the Vasus, Rudras and Adityas are kept. The 3 piNDas are mixed with piNDas for Rudras, vasus and Adityas indicating the process of becoming Vasus, rudras and adityas has started (or atleast is desired).
There is a belief that on 11th and 12th day, the Pitrs (having acquired the complete form through piNDas offered for 10 days) come back to their house and eat happily or ferociously.
This belief (in my view) comes from the fact that on 11th and 12th day involve feeding lot more procedures according to the grhya sutras, feeding of lot more people and more important ‘dAna’ to brAhamans. Thus pitrs eat a lot more ferociously on the 11th and 12th day.
With 12th day sapindikarana, the deceased person is a Pitr (which ofcourse is true if the human body is left to decompose and eaten up by other beings as their food). The person is firmly in the pitr loka and can become Vasus, Rudras and Adityas.
From Vasus to Adityas to beyond
Once complex forms of physical/chemical matter that originated in a human body may travel to other matter bodies, become important part of them, propelling their evolution, in the forms they originated in human body. In a way, they are said to be born again as part of another being.
Sometimes these physical/chemical matter may breakdown into individual elements. Then it is said to become Vasus. Sometimes even these elements may break up as part of chemical reactions and their nucleus and electrons disintegrate. In that case they are said to go back to primitive particles of matter arising in force-fields called Rudras. These primitive particles may also totally get annihilated and become energy. This energy is Aditya.
asru-mukh and nAndi-mukh Pitrs
This has lead to the belief that previous three generations of ancestors (who could be part of Vasus, Rudras and Adityas) are asrumukh pitrs (tear shedding pitrs dearer to us), as the physical matter originated in them still is part of something else.
Once the matter that is part of pitr (physical/chemical matter that originated in our ancestor bodies) become energy or Aditya, they can manifest again in some other force-fields as new forms of primitive particles, new elements, new compounds and complex substances. Hence beyond three generations the ancestors are called nandi-mukh pitrs, which means happy ones. The matter that originated in them no longer exists.
But the desire for those who don’t want to be born again is to be part of the purusha, the energy, that does not manifest again.
A person grows his/her body fondly, seeking nutrition and feeding it with the best that can be got. After death only two things remain of that person. The biological body and the person’s deeds which survive as an impact on the family, neighbours and the overall society.
The thirteen days procedures post the death of a person symbolically trace the devolution of biological body into other forms. We also talk of the person’s deeds on thirteenth day.
This is done on thirteenth day. Since it is an auspicious event, Punyavacanam, udagashanti, navagraha homa are all done. Then the person’s deeds are shared, discussed and highlighted, so that we all learn from it.
The grhya sutras prescribed detailed procedures for all the thirteen days and in every month of the following year as well as every year. I am not detailing them all here.
The most significant of it are piNDA daan and tarpaNam. piNDA daan is simply a feed to other beings, to compensate for burning the dead. It also manifests as feeding the brahmans, who in those days did not have other means to sustain, as their only job was to recite Vedas and pass them onto progeny, which was believed to be for the welfare of the society.
Essentially dAna is prescribed to be given to those who live dependent on the society or for the sake of welfare of society. Garuda purAna specifically prohibits dAna to flaunt wealth of giver. It also prohibits receiving dAna and becoming wealthy by that dAna.
If we leave a human body as a feed to other beings or decompose it, it becomes liquid, in the end. Yes except for the skeletons, the other body parts return to where life originated. Liquid or water.
Water offered to ancestors is called ‘udaka’. In tarpaNam udaka with black sesame seeds is offered to compensate for burning the body and denying that water to other beings. Water is matter. Black sesame seeds is dark matter (nArAyaNa). Matter with dark matter is the one that evolves our bodies. Hence water with black sesame seeds symbolizes the water that originated our bodies, the udaka.
udac means northward or above. Our Universe and our life are the inverted banyan tree whose roots are from that Atman and have spread down to us manuSya (living beings). When we trace that back, which means going up/north, we will find that upward/north of all living beings is water. Water is our Pitr. North is the place of our ancestors. That is udaka, the water, from which life originated.
zraddha – Faith
Now all of these above come from faith, zraddha, that feeding the beings by the dead body or through piNDa and udaka are sacrifices that we need to do, to sustain and evolve life in this planet earth.
Our life has evolved into so many un-sustainable ways. The effect of not doing the zrAddha is not measurable or perceptible. But we do it in the faith that it helps. That is zraddha.
This is my understanding of the funeral rites. If someone feels offended for it, my apologies to them. This is not an attempt to blindly put some science into zrAddha. This is the part of my understanding from the work that I have been doing for decades now on understanding our scriptures and procedures. These kind of understandings do evolve.
More posts by this author:
- Ashtalakshmi Stotram and Science
- The pancha mahA yajnA..
- Top-level Summary of Hari,iSa,Asvins
- Brhadharanyaka Upanishad -Sloka 1.4.16 and 17
- Brhadharanyaka Upanishad – Sloka 1.4.15 and 16