India Travel Stories- Fortnight of the Dead
Today marks the end of the Fortnight of the Dead in India. If you are travelling to India right now, you will probably see several Indians, Hindus particularly, paying obeisance to their long dead ancestors. This is an age old custom in India and has several interesting facets .
This fortnight plugs the gap between the monsoon or the rainy season and the festive season. So, after a fortnight of solemnities, we are back to our happy selves.
This period is also known as Shraadh Paksh in Hindi or Sanskrit. The word Shraddh means “devotion” or “respect”. The word Paksh means ” fortnight”. So, this period of fortnight is meant for paying respect to our ancestors who are no more with us.
We believe that our ancestors have made us what we are today. Their values have shaped us into being better human beings. We owe our existence and identity to them.
There is another angle to this period of paying obeisance to them. Us Hindus believe that after death, our souls are held up in suspended animation. The souls keep wandering from one body to another , after death, for countless number of years. There is always a constant yearning for salvation or mukti from the cycle of birth and death. Mukti is also known as Nirvana in Buddhist thought.
In the Indian philosophy, the aim of every individual should be to attain salvation.
So, in this fortnight, we pray to the almighty to liberate the souls of our ancestors and give them salvation.
It is thought by many Hindus that the souls of some of our ancestors live in the bodies of crows, dogs and other animals. By feeding these life forms, we are essentially respecting our long dead ancestors.
Going to Gaya
My blog on Shraadh Paksh would be incomplete if I did not tell you about the town of Gaya.This is an ancient town in the Indian state of Bihar and is famously associated with the preachings of Gautam Buddha.
A lot of Indians visit this town during this fortnight to pay their obeisance to their ancestors. The local population benefits from such trips because it helps the local economy. Hotels have come up there and there is a good number of people in Gaya who specialise in taking you through the various rituals.