Short summary : Did you know that you can do something to help your departed ancestors in the afterlife ? This article explains why crows pecking at the ritualistic food offering made to departed ancestors during the Shraddha ritual can denote that they are being helped.
Table of Contents
- 1. The importance of spiritually helping our departed ancestors especially during Pitrupaksha (the fortnight for departed ancestral spirits)
- 2. Things you can do to help your departed ancestors
- 3. The crow feeding from the ritualistic food offering made during the Shraddha ritual – a way to know that our departed ancestors have been helped
- 3.1 What is the significance of the ritual of offering vegetarian food during the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.2 How to prepare the pinda (rice balls) for the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.3 How to prepare a vegetarian meal (Naivedya) for the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.4 How to prepare the offering of water (Tarpan) for the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.5 What is the Spiritual science as to how our departed ancestors spiritually benefit from the offering ?
- 3.6 What is the spiritual significance of feeding a crow during the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.7 What does it mean if crows do not peck at the food offered after the Shraddha ritual ?
- 3.8 How long does the effect of the food offered to the departed ancestors last ?
- 3.9 What to do if there are no crows in your area ?
- 3.10 If the food (Naivedya for the crow) is not eaten, then what should one do ?
- 3.11 Suppose I can’t do the Shraddha ritual with the help of priests and the appropriate mantras, then what should I do ?
- 4. Conclusion
1. The importance of spiritually helping our departed ancestors especially during Pitrupaksha (the fortnight for departed ancestral spirits)
Not many people know that they can actually intervene and help their departed ancestors in the afterlife.
This is especially so during the fortnight for departed ancestors (popularly known as Pitrupaksha). It is a period that falls in the Autumn of the Northern Hemisphere and is a time when our departed ancestors come closest to the Earth or the physical plane of existence. The onus of helping our departed ancestors lies squarely on us descendants.
It is said that the period between death and the next birth for the subtle body of a departed ancestor is like that of an unborn child in the womb. Just as care is taken to ensure the healthy growth of the foetus in the womb, care of the departed ancestors needs to be taken through various spiritual rites such as the Shraddha ritual.
Some of you may wonder – ‘Why would my departed ancestors need help in the afterlife ?’
Actually, the vast majority of our departed ancestors do need help in the afterlife.
In the current era, most departed ancestors have many desires when they die, and they lack spiritual energy. This is primarily due to a lack of proper spiritual practice or regular spiritual practice when they were living. Wealth, fame, educational qualifications, etc. have no value in the afterlife. The only things of value in the afterlife is the spiritual energy of a subtle body which is directly related to its spiritual level, and the actions (karma) of the person while on Earth. Most of our departed ancestors are at a low spiritual level. As a result, their subtle bodies do not have the requisite spiritual strength to reach their final destination, which is usually the Nether region (Bhuvarlok) after breaking out of the Earth plane of existence and moving through the Region of the Dead (Martyaloka).
In this journey, they usually experience a lot of distress due to their own worldly desires and are prone to attacks by negative energies. They require spiritual help from us descendants to provide them with the requisite momentum in their onward journeys in the afterlife.
2. Things you can do to help your departed ancestors
There are 2 things that you can do to help your departed ancestors in the afterlife
- Chant the Name of Shri Gurudev Datta : This is a spiritual protection chant that serves two purposes. It provides us (descendants) with spiritual protection from problems caused by our departed ancestors and it also provides our departed ancestors with the spiritual energy to give them momentum in the afterlife.
- Performing the Shraddha ritual : It is also recommended that one performs the ritual of Shraddha. These are specific rites done to reduce the worldly desires of departed ancestors and provide them with spiritual energy for their journeys in the afterlife. For more details please refer to our article on Shraddha.
It is important to note that during Pitrupaksha (Fortnight for departed ancestral spirits), chanting of ‘Shri Gurudev Datta’ has 50% spiritual benefit. The other 50% spiritual benefit comes from conducting the ‘Shraddha ritual’.
3. The crow feeding from the ritualistic food offering made during the Shraddha ritual – a way to know that our departed ancestors have been helped
One may wonder if these rituals are helping our departed ancestors in the afterlife. The only way of truly knowing this is if one has the sixth sense ability to see what is happening in the subtle. However, there are some physical indicators that our departed ancestors have been helped.
In the Shraddha ritual, 3 things are done –
- Ritualistic offering of vegetarian food (Naivedya),
- Ritualistic offering of rice balls (Pinda-dan) and,
- Ritualistic offering of water (Tarpan).
However, after the Shraddha ritual is over, the Naivedya is placed outside on the ground to feed the crows. If crows come and peck at the food, it is an indication that the departed ancestors have been helped.
If you are thinking that this is extraordinary – yes, it is, but let us explain the spiritual science behind this event and why such an event takes place. For centuries, this tradition has been followed predominantly in India and those who have subtle vision actually see the departed ancestors receiving the spiritual benefit.
3.1 What is the significance of the ritual of offering vegetarian food during the Shraddha ritual ?
The rituals of offering Naivedya, Pinda-dan and Tarpan to one’s departed ancestors are an important part of the Shraddha ritual. The purpose of these rituals is to provide spiritual energy to our departed ancestors and also to reduce their desires. This is done by offering food and water that are spiritually charged with specific mantras. The efficacy of these rituals are influenced by a number of factors related to the presiding priest, the main descendant performing the ritual, the place where it is conducted, and the karma (destiny) and spiritual level of the departed ancestors whom it is intended for. These factors include the following :
- The spiritual level and spiritual emotion of all the participants in the ritual : Bhav (spiritual emotion) is the replacement of the ‘I’ in one’s life by the awareness of the existence of God or the Guru with equal intensity. It means having the constant awareness of God. The greater the spiritual level of the presiding priest and the main descendent the more the spiritual benefit. Any ritual becomes more effective when done with spiritual emotion. The spiritual level and the spiritual emotion also affect the resolve which the main descendant makes during the ritual. This resolve is made so as to direct the spiritual energy generated through the rituals to the departed ancestors.
- The correctness of how the ritual is being performed as per the Scriptures : Just as there are principles and exact methodologies in material sciences, there is also an exact spiritual science and methodology in conducting such rituals.
- The spiritual purity of the place : If the place is spiritually impure, then the efficacy of the ritual reduces and the spiritual benefit derived is less.
- Attacks by negative energies : Very often, negative energies take advantage of the excessive materialistic desires of our departed ancestors to control them. Due to the lack of spiritual energy of the departed ancestors, they are unable to defend themselves. Such negative energies can obstruct the Shraddha ritual so that the departed ancestors do not receive the spiritual benefit from the ritual. This is because the negative energies do not want to lose their control over them.
3.2 How to prepare the pinda (rice balls) for the Shraddha ritual ?
The following are the steps to prepare the pinda (rice balls) for the Shraddha ritual.
- Prepare boiled or steamed rice. It can be any type of white rice. Brown rice should not be used.
- Mix curd, ghee (clarified butter from the milk of an Indian cow), honey and black sesame seeds in small proportions with the boiled rice and make lemon sized pinda (rice balls) using the mixture. The pinda (rice balls) should be fairly solid and well bound together.
- If one is preparing a special meal for the Shraddha ritual, it needs to be compulsorily a pure vegetarian meal. A very small proportion of each of these dishes can be taken and mixed with the rice mixture that is being prepared prior to making them into pinda (rice balls).
- Ideally these pindas or rice balls should be placed on darbha. Darbha (Botanical name : Desmotachya bipinnata) is a type of long dry grass (which is spiritually pure) and is used in rites and rituals such as Shraddha for the subtle bodies of the departed ancestors). The darbha should be placed in a North-South direction. If you don’t have darbha you can place it on a banana leaf. If that is also not available, then the pinda (rice balls) can be kept on a clean white paper.
3.3 How to prepare a vegetarian meal (Naivedya) for the Shraddha ritual ?
A simple pure vegetarian meal can be prepared as a symbolic offering to departed ancestors. For example in India the meal consists of – rice, vegetable curry, pooris (a type of fried Indian bread), curd (yogurt), daal (Indian pulses), pickle and sweet dish.
3.4 How to prepare the offering of water (Tarpan) for the Shraddha ritual ?
For the ritualistic offering of water to departed ancestors, water mixed with black sesame seeds should be offered. Read our article on Shraddha to learn more.
3.5 What is the Spiritual science as to how our departed ancestors spiritually benefit from the offering ?
The problem : Most departed ancestors, due to a lack of spiritual practice, are at a low spiritual level and have many unfulfilled worldly desires and attachments. These unfulfilled desires and attachments along with low spiritual energy make their subtle bodies very heavy and unable to leave the Earth plane of existence in their onward journeys towards other subtle regions such as the Nether region. Due to their worldly desires and attachments, they are also prone to attacks by negative energies who enslave them to make use of their descendants to fulfil their (the negative energies) own evil purposes such as using the descendant’s bodies for experiencing various addictions, sex, harming others, spreading spiritual impurity (Raja-Tama), etc.
The solution : Naivedya, Pinda-dan and Tarpan are rituals that are designed to overcome this spiritual problem and help the departed ancestors to reduce their desires along with providing them with the spiritual energy to proceed in their onward journeys. The rituals also provide protection against the attacks of negative energies.
The spiritual science behind the solution :
The presiding Deity for departed ancestors is the Deity of Death known as Yamdev. Performing Shraddha means invoking the energy of the Yama waves (energy of the Deity of Death) in the Universe (Brahmanda) to impart momentum to the subtle bodies of the departed ancestors. This is facilitated by chanting the Name of Deity Dattatreya which is – II Shri Gurudev Datta II.
The energy generated from the Shri Gurudev Datta chant along with prayers to Deity Dattatreya, helps to extract the Yama waves in the Universe associated with the subtle body of the departed ancestors and attracts them into the orbit of the Earth to get the spiritual benefit from the Shraddha ritual. Accordingly, many subtle bodies of departed ancestors who are trapped in the Region of the Dead (Martyaloka) are able to enter the Earth’s orbit. Due to this, they are able to gain the benefit of the Shraddha ritual on Earth being conducted by their descendants on Earth, which provides them with the Yama waves for momentum in their onward journey.
When these active Yama waves are invoked in the Shraddha ritual, the atmosphere around the subtle bodies of the departed ancestors gets activated. Then, on the strength of these Yama waves, the subtle body is propelled to the next stage in its journey in the afterlife. This is known as the subtle body of the departed ancestor attaining Sadgati (which is momentum in its journey towards God). Practically for the subtle body of a departed ancestor, it could mean one or more of the following :
- Reduction in desires, therefore making it lighter for its onward journey
- Reduction in spiritual distress
- Reduction in the karmic give-and-take account it has with its descendants
- Spiritual energy to proceed to a better plane of existence
During the Shraddha ritual, Naivedya, Pinda (rice balls) are offered along with Tarpan (water) and the departed ancestors are invoked through mantras and prayers. (Please note that Naivedya is offered to the presiding Deities of the Shraddha ritual and due to their blessings our departed ancestors get the spiritual benefit.). The departed ancestors who are being invoked and who need help are Raja-Tama predominant, which means they emit spiritually impure vibrations. This is largely due to the fact that they are of a lower spiritual level and have many worldly desires. As a result, when they arrive at the venue of Shraddha where the offerings are being made, the whole environment gets charged with Raja-Tama vibrations or spiritually distressing vibrations. Consequently, the Naivedya, Pinda (rice balls) and Tarpan also get charged with Raja-Tama vibrations.
Now, some may wonder how mere food and water offerings help to reduce the various desires that one’s departed ancestors can have. The reason is that though this is just simple food and water, they are charged with the energy of mantras, chanting of Shri Gurudev Datta and the spiritual emotion of the descendant conducting the Shraddha ritual. The Naivedya offered during Shraddha is consumed by subtle bodies in the form of the Absolute Air Principle, and thus, they are satisfied. Additionally, the specific composition of materials, for example rice, black sesame seeds etc., facilitates the attraction of departed ancestors and the transfer of spiritual energy to them. Each rice ball (in the Pinda) offered during Mahalaya Shraddha performed during Pitrupaksha is meant to specifically help a certain departed ancestor from the family lineage (as stated in the Scriptures). It is for this reason that there are a specific number of rice balls offered in the ritual of Pinda-dan.
What is the significance of the black sesame seeds in the Pinda (rice balls) ?
Black sesame seeds emit Raja-Tama (spiritually impure) predominant waves. The mantras recited during the Shraddha awaken the Raja-Tama (spiritually impure) predominant energy in the black sesame seeds and it helps to attract the Raja-Tama predominant departed ancestral subtle bodies into the Earth’s orbit. This process makes it easy for subtle bodies to arrive at the venue of the Shraddha by riding on the Raja-Tama (spiritually impure) predominant waves emitted by the black sesame seeds. Crows also get attracted to these Raja-Tama (spiritually impure) waves. As a result, the crow is also attracted to these waves that are in the food offering. Due to the waves emitting from the black sesame seeds, the desire predominant sheath around the subtle body of the departed ancestors is activated, and it becomes content after eating its share in Shraddha.
So, how does the crow fit in this scene ?
The crow is a special bird in relation to the aspect of death and the subtle bodies of departed ancestors. This is because of a few reasons :
- Yama vibrations are present in the departed ancestors and the same Yama vibrations are innately present in the crow.
- The crow is also Raja-Tama predominant just like the departed ancestors who need help. The black colour of the crow is indicative of its Raja-Tama nature.
- The crow has the subtle ability to see/sense departed ancestral subtle bodies.
- Due to their matching vibrations, a departed ancestor can enter a crow and use its body to physically partake of the food and water, thus gaining spiritual energy from it.
- Additionally, as one’s physical body does not exist after death, hence, the proportion of the Absolute Earth Principle in the sheath around the subtle body reduces and that of the Absolute Water Principle increases. Thus, the sheath enveloping the subtle body of the departed ancestors has a high proportion of subtle humidity. The subtle sheath around a crow also has a predominance of the Absolute Water Principle, which therefore makes it easier for the (Water Principle predominant) subtle body to enter the body of a crow.
3.6 What is the spiritual significance of feeding a crow during the Shraddha ritual ?
This section explains the mechanism of how a departed ancestor gains the spiritual benefit of the food offering through the medium of the crow.
During the Pitrupaksha (Fortnight for departed ancestral spirits and the Shraddha ritual), crows become more active. Often, they can be heard cawing to a greater extent and congregate in larger numbers. When the Shraddha ritual is performed, departed ancestors are invoked, they arrive at the venue and the Naivedya and Pinda get charged with Yama waves and Raja-Tama vibrations. The crow gets attracted to these Yama waves and Raja-Tama vibrations and comes to the area as it has similar vibrations. After the ritual of Shraddha, the Naivedya (food) that is offered to the departed ancestors through the Deities and the Pinda (Rice balls) are immersed in flowing water. However, there is a separate Naivedya that is kept aside just for the crows. After the Shraddha ritual is completed, it is kept outside the house for the crows to partake of.
At this point there are 2 scenarios that can occur for the crow pecking :
- One is when the departed ancestors do not have much spiritual energy, so they need to enter the body of the crow to partake of the offering.
- The other is when the departed ancestors have some spiritual energy, so they are able to directly take the spiritual benefit of the food through subtle means. They do not need the medium of the crow as they are able to directly absorb the necessary spiritual energy.
The speed of the crow coming towards the Naivedya resembles the momentum of the subtle-body entering the orbit of Earth’s environment as per an invocation made during the Shraddha ritual. The crow pecking at the Naivedya indicates that the subtle body of the departed ancestor is satisfied at both levels – at the physical level by eating the food in the Naivedya through the medium of the crow and at the subtle level by imbibing subtle gases emitting from the food. This provides the energy to subtle bodies of the departed ancestors to carry on in their further journeys in the afterlife. Thus, the crow during the Shraddha ritual is a medium between the subtle bodies of the departed ancestors with unfulfilled desires and the human beings (descendants).
3.7 What does it mean if crows do not peck at the food offered after the Shraddha ritual ?
Sometimes when performing the ritual of offering Naivedya to the crows, they do not peck at the offering. There are a few scenarios why this can happen, and we have given them below.
- If the departed ancestor is unhappy with the descendants because the descendant did not act as per its wish or for some other reason, then the subtle body of the departed ancestor which is invoked emits destroyer waves which frightens away the crows. In such a case, even if the crows are hovering around, they will not come and peck at the food offering.
- Negative energies can also obstruct the subtle bodies of the departed ancestors whom they have enslaved from taking the spiritual benefit of the ritual through the medium of the crow.
- Sometimes, due to having an intense amount of unfulfilled desires and attachments, the departed ancestors resist any help to leave the Earth plane. Unfortunately, the wants of these departed ancestors are like a bottomless pit and are never quenched/satisfied. Hence, they are always unhappy. The subtle body of such departed ancestors keep hovering around the Naivedya offered. They do not take the spiritual benefit from the Naivedya. Since they do not leave, the crow, having subtle vision, sees them hovering and does not come to peck at the Naivedya.
- When the Naivedya is offered, various subtle bodies can come along with the departed ancestors. These subtle bodies can include well-wishers and enemies of the family who are in the afterlife. If there are more subtle bodies who are enemies, then they do not allow the crow to come and peck at the Naivedya as they do not want the departed ancestors to get spiritual benefit.
- If many of the departed ancestors are seekers who have done regular spiritual practice and are of a higher spiritual level, then they do not need to depend on the crow. They are able to get the spiritual benefit of the food offering directly through subtle means. Also, such departed ancestral subtle bodies are assisted by Deities, positive energies and God. Due to the positive spiritual energy created around that area, crows who are Raja-Tama predominant (spiritually impure) keep away.
3.8 How long does the effect of the food offered to the departed ancestors last ?
The effect of the food offered during the fortnight for departed ancestral spirits lasts for a year. Hence, it is recommended that one performs Mahalaya Shraddha for their departed ancestors every year. There are many types of Shraddhas. However, Mahalaya Shraddha is a type of Shraddha offered during the period of Pitrupaksha (Fortnight for departed ancestral spirits) every year.
3.9 What to do if there are no crows in your area ?
Sometimes people may live in a country where the climate is extreme and there are no crows around such as in a desert, or an area that is extremely cold. In this case, one can do the Shraddha ritual and the offering of food and pray that the departed ancestors are able to gain the spiritual benefit through subtle means. Here, the spiritual emotion of the descendant making the food offering is important.
3.10 If the food (Naivedya for the crow) is not eaten, then what should one do ?
The ideal time for offering the Naivedya is in the afternoon. After the Naivedya is offered to the crow and if it has been left untouched, one should wait till sunset and then dispose of it in the following ways :
- Release it in flowing water.
- If that is not possible, bury it in the ground or garden next to a Tulsi (Holy Basil) plant if possible.
- If no such option is available, then make a prayer of gratitude and put it in a clean bag and put it in the dustbin.
3.11 Suppose I can’t do the Shraddha ritual with the help of priests and the appropriate mantras, then what should I do ?
For some of us who read this article, we may not have access to priests who can perform the Shraddha ritual. In such a case we have provided some easy steps in our main Shraddha article. Please remember that one’s spiritual emotion is a key ingredient in ensuring that one’s departed ancestors are helped through whatever we can do as part of the Shraddha ritual. Also, the Shri Gurudev Datta chant helps our departed ancestors tremendously. So, please do not get disheartened if you are not able to get a priest for the elaborate Shraddha ritual.
Nevertheless, please do perform Shraddha as per your capacity as this is one of the main ways to help your departed ancestors in the afterlife. Shraddha is a ritual which is beyond any culture and has a spiritual science behind it. On the other hand, common practices such as putting flowers on an ancestor’s memorial (grave) or a garland around his picture gives no spiritual benefit and in fact, is detrimental for his onward journey in the afterlife. Pitrupaksha comes once a year. Please take advantage of it for the spiritual benefit of your departed ancestors and for yourself. At the very least do Shri Gurudev Datta chanting during the entire Pitrupaksha period as much as possible.
Shraddha is an important ritual not only for our departed ancestors but also for us descendants as it protects us from problems caused by departed ancestors. Performing Shraddha weakens the subtle covering of the desire sheath around the subtle body of the departed ancestors. On the strength of the energy of mantras, the ritual makes the subtle bodies of departed ancestors light and provides them with momentum in the afterlife. The crows pecking at the Naivedya are tangible evidence to the fact that our departed ancestors have been benefitted and that we have contributed to their well-being in the afterlife. A crow coming to peck at the Naivedya is the closest we would tangibly get to a departed ancestor in the afterlife. Any crow coming to peck at the Naivedya could well represent one of our dear departed ancestors and we get satisfaction in the knowledge that they are being helped. We pay gratitude to the Sages of ancient times for giving us this knowledge and method to help our departed ancestors.