Pitr Paksha~Shradh~श्राद्ध पर्व - Shradh and Funeral Rites
Funeral rites and Shradh are distinctly different from each other. Funeral rites or antyeshthi are considered inauspicious or amangal while Shradh are auspicious or mangal.
To understand this concept it should be clear that when a person dies, his gross body or sthula sharira is burnt. This is antyaishthi or the last sacrifice offered in fire, but the soul cannot quit the earthly body without a vehicle of some kind. The deceased being lodged in a subtle body or linga - sharira, the size of a thumb, hovers around the cremation ground.
He is now a preta, the departed spirit of a dead person, particularly before the funeral rites are performed. No longer equipped with a physical body capable of enjoying or suffering, he is in a miserable plight.
While in this condition he is stated to be an impure being and all relations who participate in his funeral rites are considered impure until the first Shradh is performed. Further more, if a person dies away from his relations who alone can perform the funeral rites but are unable to do so, he becomes a ‘pishacha’, a fiend or demon, desirous of taking revenge for its misery by evil acts.
The objective of the funeral rites carried out for twelve days after death, is not merely to give peace by libations of consecrated water to the troubled spirit but to bestow the preta with a transitional body. A body composed of gross particles, capable of enjoying or suffering, though not in the same way as the earthly body. In this manner gati can be attained or the preta progresses onwards with the soul transmigrating into a different body.
The ‘Bhagavad Gita’, an intrinsic part of the Mahabharata, reveals that on the eve of death, the individual soul contracts all its energies centering them in the subtle body. The individual soul lodged in the linga-sharira enjoying its needs from one birth to another, can only be perceived by Yogis by their mystical perception.
According to Hindu religion, life doesn't end with death which is just another link in the ongoing process of life. It is hoped that the next life of the departed soul will be better than the last one. The rituals performed for this purpose are Shradh Karma, and are conducted on the thirteenth day after the death of a person, signifying the end of the morning period. The house in which the death had occurred is cleaned and purified. Some people even get a fresh coat of paint for the house. The pinda daan made on that day is not only for the deceased but also for three preceding generations of the departed.
After the pinda daan (cake or ball of meal, flour or rice offered to spirits of ancestors by nearest surviving relatives), Lord Vishnu is worshipped. Once the process is over a havan is performed. To appease the soul, bedding, jewelry and food are donated in charity. Thirteen brahmans are invited and fed along with 13 lotas (pots), 13 janeus (holy thread), 13 aasans (mats) and 13 Gitas being donated to them, in the hope that the departed soul is not left wanting for anything.
The day of the cremation is supposed to be observed as the Punya Tithi (anniversary of a death). On this date, a havan is performed and Gita path is done along with Brahmans being fed. After the death and till the first yearly Shradh, all necessary rituals are carried out in the house where the death took place. After barsi or the first yearly Shradh, all children can perform shradhs in their respective houses.