Shastrahata Mahalayam

Shastrahata Mahalaya Shraddha

Prepared by
P. R. Kannan, M.Tech.
(Jagadguru Seva Ratnam, Upanyasa Tilakam)

Mahalaya Paksha is the dark fortnight, fifth fortnight from Ashadha Full Moon Day, when Sun is in Kanya Rashi. It occurs in Bhadrapada month. Dharmashastra says that during Mahalaya Paksha, all the ancestors in Pitruloka take Yama Dharmaraja’s permission, visit earth with the expectation of receiving the Shraddha offerings (Pitru Puja) from their descendants, accept the Shraddha with great satisfaction and bless them with long life, good health, unbroken line of progeny and all good things of life here and hereafter.

आषाढ्याः पञ्चमे पक्षे कन्यासंस्थे दिवाकरे ।
यो वै श्राद्धं नरः कुर्यात् एकस्मिन्नपि वासरे । तस्य संवत्सरं यावत् तृप्तास्स्युः पितरो ध्रुवम् ॥
During Mahalaya Paksha, it is recommended that one should perform Shraddha every day for 16 days from Prathipada to the following Shukla Paksha Pratipada. If it is not possible, even if one were to perform on at least one day, his ancestors certainly remain satisfied for a whole year. Unlike the annual Pitru Puja performed on the tithi of demise of parents, the special feature of Mahalaya Shraddha is that in addition to Puja of immediate ancestors on the paternal and maternal sides, special offerings are made to other relatives from both sides and, interestingly, also to gurus, dear friends et al, who come under the category of Karunika Pitrus (compassionate ancestors).

It is noteworthy that the scriptures mercifully assign the fourteenth day (Chaturdashi tithi) in this Mahalaya Paksha to the exclusive Puja of those deceased family members who were killed by some weapon or who died in an accident or in unnatural ways. This day is known as Shastrahata Mahalaya and also as Ghat Chaturdashi or Ghayala Chaturdashi.
युवानः पितरो यस्य मृताः शस्त्रेण वै हताः । तेन कार्यं चतुर्दश्यां तेषां वृद्धिमभीप्सता ॥
This Puja helps them in their sojourns in the realms where they reside.  

Dharma Shastra lays down that even if such ancestors had been duly united with the family tree through rituals of Sapindikaranam, Ekoddishta Shraddha should be performed for them on this Chaturdashi day. In the annual Pitru Puja on the day of demise of the forefathers, offerings are made to Pitrus of three generations, viz. father, grandfather and greatgrandfather. But in this case of Shastrahata Mahalaya Shraddha, offerings are made to only one Pitru, who was killed by a weapon; whether he happens to be any one of the three forefathers, or even a distant relative or friend. This is the extent of our care and respect for those who might have died under unforeseen and difficult circumstances. This is even more remarkable in the case of those who laid down their lives in the cause of our motherland, specially in warfare with the enemy of the nation.

It is no doubt accepted in our scriptures that one who sacrifices himself on the battlefield in a direct engagement with the enemy attains Vira Swarga. Garuda Purana says:
यः क्षत्रियो बाहुबलेन संयुगे ललाटदेशाद्रुधिरं मुखे पपौ ।
तत्सोमपानं हि कृतं महामखे जीवन्मृतः सोऽपि हि याति मुक्तिम् ॥
“The kshatriya, who fights on the battlefield and drinks his own blood oozing from his forehead, has virtually drunk Soma juice in the Somayaga and attains Liberation.” But there will be cases of casualties not directly occuring in warfare, and again, cases where the final rites and the following year-long rituals could not be performed properly for various reasons like delay in availability of body, identity and communication problems etc. In every case where the deceased was hit by a weapon or died in unnatural circumstances, the Shastrahata Mahalaya Shraddha provides the succour he badly needs. This thus provides an enduring and rare opportunity for us to do our bit to express our gratitude towards our ancestors including friends who had to give up their lives for the sake of keeping the nation secure.

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