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What is Shraadh?

Shraadh is the Indian word for the rituals conducted after the death of an individual. In general, this is performed by the son of the person who has passed away or the next of kin male. Shraadh usually involves performing certain rites in the memory of the dead person and giving food to Brahmins.

Another concept that has been in place since a long time is performing your own shraadh before your death. This is usually done by older adults who do not want to inconvenience their sons (or male relatives) to perform this yearly ritual. However, this topic is usually hushed up because talking about death in India is considered inauspicious. Conducting your own death rites is seen as blasphemy.

Even with such taboos, many older adults prefer to do this. The idea behind such rites is that the soul of the person after death will attain moksha or liberation from the birth-death cycle. At the very least, the soul will be transferred into a higher creature’s body rather than a lower one. This is based on the Bhagavad Gita’s message that says that the soul is not destroyed nor can be created. It is simply transferred from body to body. As the physical body grows old and becomes worn out, the soul leaves it and is reinstated in a newer and stronger body.

The Need for Performing Self-Shraadh

Traditionally, the eldest son or the closest male relative of the deceased is expected to perform the shraadh. For performing the last rites, the person has to repeatedly purify his body by frequent baths and should shave his hair, moustache, and beard. He is also expected to clear his mind by indulging in meditation for the first 10 days after the death has occurred.

However, in recent times, children have usually moved on to foreign countries for better career opportunities and it becomes very difficult for them to do such rituals. Many times, they do not even get leave to visit India after their parent has passed away. Many younger adults also do not believe in/do not get the time to perform these rituals.

As parents of such children, it can be very worrying if you do not know whether your children will carry out their duties or not. In such cases, many parents prefer self-shraadh. Many older adults who have only daughters and no close male relatives, or childless couples and bachelors also prefer this method of self-liberation after death.

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What You Need to Know about Self-Shraadh

  1. There are no provisions for self-shraadh in ancient texts – Ancient texts like Manu Smriti have clearly mentioned that one should not perform these rituals for oneself. Only the sons or close male relatives are supposed to do them. However, with passing time, joint families with lots of male members have become nuclear families with a single male member. Older adults who live alone are often worried that their children will not perform their last rites, especially if the children have settled abroad. In such cases, the seniors prefer to do it for themselves and save the trouble for their children.
  2. There are specific places where you can perform them – Gaya and Kashi are well-known places for conducting last rites and rituals. As these rites are performed only by the Brahmin section of the society, you can find many Brahmins there willing to perform these rites for you.
  3. It is a five-day ritual – Jivachchraadha (last rites while alive) lasts over a period of 5 days each of which holds a different importance. It is necessary for a person performing his own last rites for his whole life to complete this task with utmost dedication and belief.
  4. You are freed for all bonds – A person who has completed their own last rites is free from the stress and tension of who will conduct their last rites after their death. As such, they can live carefree lives henceforth. After your death, if your son or male relative performs your shraadh, both the performer and your soul are spiritually benefitted. However, if no one does it, it doesn’t matter.

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Performing self-shraadh takes a lot of will power and strength. However, once you perform it, you feel relieved and free. Indians usually do not talk about this as they consider this morbid. Even if you express a desire for self-shraadh for yourself, you are likely to meet lots of opposition. However, in today’s times, when children are moving away for their careers and having less time on their hands, conducting your own shraadh can benefit both you and your children in many ways.

What are your views on this article? Would you be willing to undertake your own shraadh rites? Do comment below and let us know about your opinions.

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