Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The origins of tarpaNam.

(This is the last post in the series on issues related to oblations to departed souls.

After this, ‘No Aryan – Dravidian divide –It was one Aryavartha’ series will be resumed – based on the issues so far discussed on pithrus. This will be followed by textual evidence from Tamil texts to establish how the Tamils were not Dravidians and that Dravida was something else.)

The related posts on TarpaNam to be read before this post:-

On darbha grass:-



On water oblations:-




On pithru loka:-



Pithru yajna :-


Rationale of tarpaNam:-



Do oblations reach the departed one?


The Gods and Pithrus:-





Importance of sesame seeds (thil or eLLu) in TarpaNAm.

Thilam or sesame seed (eLLu) is often quoted in Upanishads,

mostly in the context of how oil is concealed / contained

in such a small material.

In tarpaNam, it is this material which is offered –

that is why Thila tarpaNam – ‘offer of Thilam to him / that ’.

Why Thilam and not any other thing?

It is because it is the one material, having a perfect combination of

all the 3, namely, bhuh, bhuvah and svah.

There is agni in it. (This is bhu) (refer earlier posts for more information)

If one eats more of sesame seeds (eLLu - urundai),

it is said to cause heat in the body.

There is oil in it (a fluid content). (This is bhuvah)

And there is earth in it. (This is svah)

The black colour stands for earthen element –

recall the Chandogya verses,

that whatever is black in colour, the wise people know it

as the form of earth, because the name stays in colour. (1)

When one does tarpaNam, the 3 levels of speech, mind and prana (2)

which were once known by a name (of father) is invited.

The forces carrying the sa-pinda constituents of departed ones

are drawn by the darbha, which is bent in specific shape

and kept in a specific way.

Some may think that it is ridiculous to say that darbha attracts

or conducts certain forces.

It must be recalled that Rama infused brahmasthra

in a blade of darbha grass that chased after Kaakaasur.

In experiments it has been found out that

darbha grass inhibits x-rays.

A lot more research is needed to be done to show the supreme properties of darbha grass.

Perhaps such a research will be helpful for military purposes,

given the way its efficacy has been made known as brahmasthra

in Ramayana.

The properties of darbha for inhibiting radiation and

conducting certain other forces as well must be researched well.

But it is not an exaggeration to say that

darbha grass occupies a very important place

in any kind of mantra-prayog, including those

used during tapanam ceremony.

The three-some pithrus thus conducted by darbha

are given seat by means of Thil (eLLu)

on darbhai aasanam (seat made of darbha grass).

The three-some are thus seated there by thil / eLLu,

in the form of eLLu, because thilam denotes all the 3.

The three pithrus are offered thil / eLLu so that

what was gained from the pancha bhoothas through them

are given back to the pancha bhoothas!

This is similar to Brahma yajna explained in Gita.

Brahma yajna is done In Him, by Him, for Him and of Him.

Therefore the Lord who receives it all is Brahman Himself.

He is the pithru.

He is the pithru yajna, as how He is Pancha yajna.

He himself is the pramana for this.

It was He who also chose eLLu for tarpaNam

and there is no substitute for thil / eLLu as containing the 3 levels.

And again it was He who did the first tarpaNam.

The first tarpaNam was done to whom?

It was done to Himself by Himself.

This is explained in Varaha purana and re-told in Mahabharatha.

How the first tarpaNam was done?

In the beginning of this kalpa, when the earth was submerged in water,

the Lord reached the earth that was inside the watery cave.

Since he reached and held (avindham) the Go (Bhoomi),

He came to be known as Govindan.

When Govindan held it out of the water, He was Varaha.

When Varaha had established the earth above the water,

it was almost noon and it was time for afternoon libations.

As Varaha was hurrying to do,

He had three balls of earth stuck to his teeth, which He shook off.

Since it was His own creation,

He didn’t want it to be thrown out.

Before the three balls could fall down, He hurriedly spread darbhai

and placed them on darbhaasanam.

He considered these three balls (pindam or gathered mass) as Himself

and offered libations to them by Thilam which is formed of heat (agni)

and which has oil inside it.

He just sprinkled the thilam with water.

(The water as carrier and transporter.)

This is the first tarpaNam done by the Lord

after the earth was lifted out of waters.

Varaha who did this, came to be known as Vrishaakapi

then declared the Dharma as to what must be done and sustained.

( How the many names and forms of the same God comes into being

can be understood from this narration.

It is the same God and the One God.

When the function or activity of that god changes,

He will be known by a specific name indicative of that function.

In the narration so far, we found Govinda –

Govinda means he who removes darkness from the cave of heart.

Vrishaakapi means he who declares dharma.

This is how the many gods must be understood

and their functions known, so that prayers with specific goals

can be directed to specific gods for fruition.)

Vrishaakapi declared that as one who has created this world,

He has also created the pithrus.

The 3 balls of earth called pindam reached the direction of the South

when He shook them off.

Vrishaakapi declared –

‘Let them be the pithrus who have no body.

Let the three-some be father, grand father and great grand father.

I am the one to be known through them.

I am the one worshipped through them.

I am the father of this world,

am the grand father and I am the great grand father.’

This incident was narrated to sage Narada by Nara-Narayana

who made this declaration .

Whomever worships the pithrus are indeed worshipping the Lord Vishnu,

who abides in all and who is all these things.

(MB, Shanti parva, chapter 355).

This is also stated by Krishna in Bhagawad Gita.

While outlining His vibhUthis to Arjuna,. Krishna describes Himself.

He is Agni among the Vasus. (“vasUnam pAvakah”- 10-23)

The meaning is obvious.

Agni is the receiver at the first level in any homa.

In tarpaNAm too, the first formed Agni receives the first offering.

The very basic 5 senses of the parents

who give us the sense organs first, are offered first.

Agni carries the offerings to the destination

He (Krishna in Gita) is Shankara among the Rudras.

(“RudrANAm shankarah” – 10-23).

Shankara means one who bestows Auspiciousness.

The water is an Auspicious Element.

The oil inside the eLLu is auspicious.

That is why the lamps (Thiru viLakku) are lit with the oil of thil / eLLu.

(Again Brihadaranyaka assigns the highest place to milk

as the Bhuvh vasthu.

The father says in the ear of the new-born child,

“speech, speech”, the bhuh.

Then he hands the child over to the mother to feed milk to the child.

The milk is considered as bhuvh, as it provides the vital resources for the

growth of mind and body, for the development of proper functioning

of the internal system – at the fluid level.

It is on this milk, that the Lord is floating.

When offerings are made to bhuvah,

He at the milky ocean receives it as the grandfather.

Thinking of this, we get new insights into specific offerings mentioned

in texts during specific occasions or festivals to specific deities.

If we observe the nature of substances offered,

we can say to what level they are being offered and why.

Because basically, all deities come under the 3 levels of

Bhu (agni tattwa)

Bhuvah ( water and vaayu tattwa)

And svah (akasha and prithvi tattwa)

according to taittriya Upanishad.

By knowing the offerings mentioned by scriptures,

we can know to which tattwa a specific deity belongs to.)

Coming to the third level, He is Vishnu among the Adityas.

(“AdhityAnam Vishnuh” –10-21).

Vishnu is one who has pervaded everything.

The subtle element of Prana, the svah element

of the three pervades everywhere.

That is why we find the connection to the mental faculties

(as explained in the previous posts)

which are subtle and can move fast (in thought).

Any japa done is done well, only when done by heart, mentally.

Vishnu takes over the mind then.

The all pervading one is Akasha.

That which is inside any seed is Akaasha.

This understood by the example of Ghataakasha versus Mahakaasha

What is inside the pot is same as what is outside the pot.

What is inside the pot is akasha (ghataakasha) – denotes Brahman

and what is outside also is akasha (mahaakasha) – again denotes Brahman.

This is same as what is inside a seed

which is same as which is there everywhere outside the seed.

as revealed by sage Aruni to his son Shwetha ketu

(Akasha or Atman inside the seed of the banyan tree). (3)

The PraNa inside our body is Ghatakaasha,

Akaasha enshrined inside our body, also known as the Small Akaasha

(details can be read in Brahma sutra bhashyam).

The same Akashaa inside the thil / eLLu is the fitting offering

for the Aditya level Vishnu.

Again at another level, this can be re-interpreted as thil / eLLu

representing Bhuh, the agni, the water mixed with it, is Bhuvah

and the shraddha (faith) with which one is expected do

the tarpaNam is Svah.

Each of this reaches the respective deities such as Vasu, Rudra and Aditya.

Here again we are coming to the crucial part of

what exactly happens in tarpaNam.

Verse 3-1-7 of Brahma sutras talk about the departed soul becoming

‘food’ for the deities like Soma.

Who is Soma?

Soma is the food for gods.

Scriptures say that the gods eat Soma, the pithus!

Knowing by the way that pithrus are propitiated

by means the bhuh, bhuvah and svah,

it is clear that what is denoted as ‘food for Gods’ such as Soma

is indeed what is offered to pancha bhoothas.

The verses of Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka

denoting the soul becoming ‘soma’ - the food for gods

should be seen only in a secondary sense and not in literal sense. (4)

Then who is this Soma?

Soma stands for Moon.

By the 3+1 existence of vyahruthi as told in Taittriya Upanishad,

Bhu + bhuvah + svah are Lorded by Chandra who is also known as Soma.

Soma contains in itself these three.

These three are the pancha bhoothas that are in sa-pinda form.

By Chandogya verse we know that Moon is Agni

as it is red in colour.

Wherever it is mentioned in texts that Soma eats the souls,

we must know that it is about the aspect of Agni,

being eaten by Agni itself.

Similarly what is represented as water and earthen constituent of sapinda

are of Soma of these 3-constituents.

When it is said that Gods eat the Soma in the pithru loka,

it must be understood that the Gods as

represented by agni, water and prithvi,

eat agni, water and prithvi of sapinda!

This means the offerings go the respective levels of panchabhootha

and the repayment is thus done.

The pindam offered in shraddha also has this rationale.

Pindam means a gathered mass of materials,

having no specific shape or soul.

Even in daily offering of rice balls to crows

as part of every day pithru yajna,

the balls of rice are to be mixed with gingily oil (nalleNNai)

and thil / eLLu.

(thil / Ellu for agni (bhuh), thil-oil for bhuvah and

rice for svah the earthen element or food. )

Again pithru kaaryam is known as pindodhagam

(pinda + udhagam = earthen material + water),

it must be understood that the 3-some of pancha-bhoothas are offered.

The agni in this pindogam is that the rice balls must be hot when offered.

The pithrus are known as “Ushmapaa” (“ushmapaa cha” BG 11-22)

Manu smruthi defines pithrus as “Ushmapaa” –

those who eat hot food. (Manu-3-237).

This means that the pinda that is offered

must be hot

and the time of offering must be mid-day when it is hot.

This condition fulfils the agni tattwa of sa-pinda that is offered.

This offering reaches the three-some Mithra – Varuna – Aryama

who always travel in the sky along with Bhaga, the Sun.

We must understand that it is the pancha bhootha related material

that is being satisfied, and not exactly the soul.

Because the soul is obviously untainted.

But we do call them by name, because it is to the 3-some elements connected to that name we are offering.

That 3-some elements is attached to them in their stay in pithru lokam. The offerings through the 3 devathas reach them there.

That is why, tasmai arpaNam – arpaNam to that.

The soul might have taken another birth,

particularly the grand fathers or great grand fathers.

They will now be known by another name.

But what they gathered in their previous name,

in their previous birth is still with them.

Therefore when tarpaNam is done,

the repayment happens to them in their new births too, making them

acquire newer strengths,

as the debt is repaid to their elements of previous births.

In receiving fresh vitalities, they are pleased.

The soul is pleased.

That comes as blessings to the one who has offered.

Perhaps the sudden upsurge in vitality and mental faculties

that some people attain for no obvious reasons

might be to do with tarpaNam received from their descendants

in their previous births.

This brings to my mind the utter helplessness

that Bheeshma faced at the crucial time in his life,

which must have been related to his vow of celibacy.

(The very strong case for entering grahasthasrama is advocated

in Adhi parva, MB, by showing

how the pithrus cling to the creepers in an abandoned well

thereby making a sage give up his brahmacharya vratham

and enter into matrimony.)

Bheeshma didn’t enter into matrimony ,

but must have certainly done pithru tarpaNam with all shraddha.

But what happened at a crucial juncture in the war field?

When he was being hit by Arjuna’s arrows from all sides

there were some beings who were moved by his plight.

(This part of MB is beautiful and moving in lyrics.

Bheeshma roars, bearing the pain but is helpless,

‘this is not from Sikandi, I know this is from Arjuna’

The repetition of this sentence after describing each hit he has received

is demonstrative of the poet’s exemplary control

over expression of emotions.

A similar poetic beauty is witnessed in Ramayana in Sundhara khandam

when Hanuman laments repeatedly

‘na hi paschyami VaidhEhIm’, bringing tears to our eyes.)

They were the Vasus!

The first level deity denoting fathers.

Bheeshma heard them tell that the time had come for him

to lay down his life.

Hearing them, Bheeshma stopped to return the fight.

He just bore the arrows and was about to drop.

But Dhakshinayaan was in progress and

it was not the right time for leaving his mortal coils.

The Vasus failed to caution this or failed to take of note this

when they told him about his anthima kaalam that was nearing.

But by then, some activity started happening at another place.

His mother Ganga, again from Vasu level but from an exalted Deva level

sent some sages in the guise of swans to convey him

to stop leaving the body,

as the period was Dhakshinayana.

And he obliged.

Here the question comes why such a mis-leading guidance was

given by the Vasus?

The one reason I can think of is that though he would have propitiated

the grand father and great grand fathers,

their power to guide him or help him was restricted.

The guidance came from Vasus, who represent only the physical aspects.

The Vasu can not guide one on vital and mental aspects

and the prospect of shedding mortal coils are about all the three levels

In the absence of further progeny in the line of Bheeshma,

his pithrus must have been languishing

and therefore were not in a position to guide him properly.

So brahmacharyam is not to be a permanent one in a person’s life.

Begetting children is again a strong wish in one’s life

and the reason is this.

For sanyasins, the rules are different as

they offer libations to themselves.

However their obligation to pithrus continues as has been best

demonstrated in Adhi shankara’s life

(Adhishankara coming back to do final rites for his mother)

This brings us to the next question,

whether men alone are powered to do pithru tarpaNam.

I will take up this issue in the series on ‘One Arya vartha’ soon.

The next question now is who then is the Lord of the three,

Vasu, Rudra and Adithya?

Obviously it is Lord Himself, but precisely it has to be VrishAkapi.

Going by the story of how pithru kaaryam originated,

it is deduced that VrishAkapi, as Varaha ‘steadfast in Dharma’,

is the Lord.

The allusion to Dharma gives a further clue that this pithru kaaryam

must be sustained or else the impartial nature of Dharma devatha (yama)

will give fitting results to the doer (here, non-doer).

He, as Yama (BG) will have to be impartial to people

so that the equilibrium of the 3-some forces of Nature is maintained.

Lets recall the verse from Rig veda

8. Our ancient Fathers who deserve the Soma, who came, most noble, to our Soma banquet,-
With these let Yama, yearning with the yearning, rejoicing eat our offerings at his pleasure.

The reference to Yama here, yearning and rejoicing - denote how the debt-repayment is meticulously calculated and when paid well, it is joy for yama.

It is Yama’s pleasure that the Nature’s forces are well balanced,

that people do their karma well, without fail.

Let us read the hymn on pithrus again in the light of

what we have discussed so far.

HYMN XV. Pithrus (Fathers)

1. MAY they ascend, the lowest, highest, midmost, the Fathers who deserve a share of Soma-
May they who have attained the life of spirits, gentle and righteous, aid us when we call them.

2 Now let us pay this homage to the Fathers, to those who passed of old and those who followed,
Those who have rested in the earthly region, and those who dwell among the Mighty Races.

3 1 have attained the gracious-minded Fathers, I have gained son and progeny from Visnu.
They who enjoy pressed juices with oblation seated on sacred grass, come oftenest hither.

4 Fathers who sit on sacred grass, come, help us: these offerings have we made for you; accept them.
So come to us with most auspicious favour, and give us health and strength without a trouble.

5 May they, the Fathers, worthy of the Soma, invited to their favourite oblations.
Laid on the sacred grass, come nigh and listen: may they be gracious unto us and bless us.

6 Bowing your bended knees and seated southward, accept this sacrifice of ours with favour.
Punish us not for any sin, O Fathers, which we through human frailty have committed.

7 Lapped in the bosom of the purple Mornings, give riches to the man who brings oblations.
Grant to your sons a portion of that treasure, and, present, give them energy, ye Fathers.

8 Our ancient Fathers who deserve the Soma, who came, most noble, to our Soma banquet,-
With these let Yama, yearning with the yearning, rejoicing eat our offerings at his pleasure.

9 Come to us, Agni, with the gracioug Fathers who dwell in glowing light, the very Kavyas,
Who thirsted mid the Gods, who hasten hither, oblation winners, theme of singers' praises.

10 Come, Agni, come with countless ancient Fathers, dwellers in light, primeval, God-adorers,
Eaters and drinkers of oblations, truthful, who travel with the Deities and Indra.

11 Fathers whom Agni's flames have tasted, come ye nigh: ye kindly leaders, take ye each your proper place.
Eat sacrificial food presented on the grass: grant riches with a multitude of hero sons.

12 Thou, Agni Jatavedas, when entreated, didst bear the offerings which thou madest fragrant,
And give them to the Fathers who did cat them with Svadha. Eat, thou God, the gifts we bring thee.

13 Thou, Jatavedas, knowest well the number of Fathers who are here and who are absent,
Of Fathers whom we know and whom we know not: accept the sacrifice wellprepared with portions.

14 They who, consumed by fire or not cremated, joy in their offering in the midst of heaven,-

Grant them, O Sovran Lord, the world of spirits and their own body, as thy pleasure wills it.

Reference :-

(1) Chandogya Upanishad part -6

Chapter IV — The Threefold Development further explained


"The red colour of gross fire is the colour of the original fire; the white colour of gross fire is the colour of the original water; the black colour of gross fire is the colour of the original earth. Thus vanishes from fire what is commonly called fire, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours (forms) alone are true.


"The red colour of the sun is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the sun what is commonly called the sun, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.


"The red colour of the moon is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the moon what is commonly called the moon, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.


"The red colour of lightning is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from lightning what is commonly called lighting, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.


"It was just through this knowledge that the great householders and great Vedic scholars of olden times declared: ‘No one can now mention to us anything which we have not heard, thought of, or known.’ They knew all from these three forms.


"Whatever, appeared red they knew to be the colour of fire; whatever appeared white they knew to be the colour of water; whatever appeared black they knew to be the colour of earth.
"Whatever appeared to be unknown they knew to be the combination of these three deities (i.e. colours). Now learn from me, my dear, how these three deities, when they reach man, become each of them tripartite.

(2) Chandogya upanishad

VI-vi-1: ‘Dear boy, of the curd that is being churned that which is the subtlest part rises upwards and that becomes butter.

VI-vi-2: ‘So also, dear boy, of the food that is eaten that which is the subtlest part rises upwards and that becomes the mind.

VI-vi-3: ‘Dear boy, of the water that is drunk that which is the subtlest part rises upwards and that becomes Prana.

VI-vi-4: ‘Dear boy, of the fire that is eaten that which is the subtlest part rises upwards and that becomes speech.

VI-vi-5: ‘Hence, dear boy, mind is made up of food, Prana is made up of water, and speech is made up of fire’

(3) Chandogya Upanishad


‘Bring a fruit from this Banyan tree’.

‘Here it is, revered sir’.

‘Break it.’

‘It is broken, revered sir’.

‘What do you see in this ?’

‘These seeds, small like particles, revered sir’.

‘Break one of these, my child’.

‘It is broken, revered sir’.

‘What do you see in it ?’

‘Nothing, revered sir’.


The father said to him,

‘Dear boy, this subtle essence which you do not

perceive, growing from this subtle essence the large Banyan tree thus stands.

Have faith, dear boy.’


‘That Being which is this subtle essence (cause),

even That all this world has for its self. That is the true.

That is the Atman.

That thou art, O Svetaketu.’

(4) “This is King Soma. This is the food of Gods. This the Gods eat”

(Chandogya Upanishad 5-10-4)


Ram said...

Jayasree madam,

Question on pithru dosam:

1. On what basis do we determine if there is a pithru dosam? is it based on one's horoscope again on a case to case basis?

2. One more thing that is a general advice to people who seem to be having pithru dosam to give out the shradham in Rameswaram (especially the first one) How true is this statement?

Thanks & Regards

Jayasree Saranathan said...

Pithru dosham is known from the horoscope.
The propitiation varies based on the dosham in the horoscope.
Generally offer of tarpan on new moon days is good (for people whose father is no more). Tarpan at any river -bank or seas like that of Rameshwaram is good.
Again, a dip at any holy theerth (rivers or oceans) removes many ill-effects.

Conceptual Persistence said...

Madam will Darbhai grow on water ? I am interested in its botanical angles. Thanks Aswin.

Jayasree Saranathan said...

Mr Aswin.

It grows in marshy lands.Information is available on internet about this, its botanical name etc.

I will write from Hindu sources.

The area of Ram Sethu, now known as 'Thiru-p-pullaNi' was known as 'DarbharaNya Kshethram' in Rama's times. Darbharanya means 'forest of darbha'. In Tamil they call it 'pul' and the village deity of this place is known as 'PullaaNi amman'. The name PullaaNi is perhaps derived from the nature of Darbha - pul+ aaNi = 'the grass that pricks like a nail'.

It is said that when Rama visited this place, the whole area was filled with darbha grass.

Today you will find some grass growing inside the sea water at Sethu. I don't know whether it is darbha or some other one, but it fits into the description of darbha in size, height and shape . Since these grasses are totally inside the water, the leaves are soggy and difficult identify for a layperson like me. Botanists may be able to identify.

The grass -growth is not seen on the banks or in the adjoining areas. Habitation might have dislodged them. But locals do say that the area was once full of such grass.

The grass in water is unique here only and not found in the sea near Rameshwaram temple or Dhanush koti.

Darbha is also known as Kusha.
The present day Africa was known as 'Kushasdweepa' in olden days.
It was full of Kusha or darbha grass. It will be an useful exercise if research happens on whether Darbha grows in Africa now or in the past.