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Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in his Anubhashya, quotes from the Vishnu-smriti in reference to the shraddha-patra.
brahmanapasada hy ete kathitah pankti-dushakah
etan vivarjayed yatnat shraddha-karmani panditah
According to this verse, if one is born in a brahmana family but does not behave according to brahminical standards, he should not be offered the shraddha-patra, which is prasadam offered to the forefathers. Advaita Acarya offered the shraddha-patra to Haridasa Thakura, not to a brahmana who had been born in a brahmana family. Although Haridasa Thakura was born in the family of meat-eaters, because he was an advanced devotee he was shown more respect than a first-class brahmana.
shocya-deshe, shocya-kule apana-samana
janmaiya vaishnave, sabare kare trana
The Lord had His devotees, who are equal to Him, appear at impious places and in impious families in order to deliver everyone.
The term shocya-kule is explained as follows: Pious people are not affected by low-birth, because they are born in pure brahmana families. Kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, and antyajas are progressively more impious. Fruitive workers are born in impious families due to their sinful activities, but Vaishnavas, who are engaged in the service of Lord Vishnu, are as good as Vishnu. They are able to purify all sorts of impious countries and families. In the shastras it is also stated:
kulam pavitram janani kritartha
vasundhara va vasatish ca dhanya
nrityanti svarge pitaro 'pi tesham
yesham kule vaishnava-namadheyam
"In whatever family a Vaishnava appears, his family, mother, birthplace, and residence become purified and his forefathers dance in the heavens."
If one does not decorate his body with tilaka he will incur sin. It is stated by Narada Muni in Padma Purana: "If one performs sacrifice, gives in charity, undergoes austerity, studies the Vedas, or offers oblations to the forefathers without putting on tilaka, then all these activities will be useless. If a person does not decorate his body with tilaka he is not to be seen, because his body is as impure as a crematorium."
Shri Gopala Bhatöa Gosvami, the author of Vaishnava smritis, has written in his Sat-kriya-sara-dipika: "Vaishnavas should not perform this ceremony out of fear of committing offenses against the holy names. In order to satisfy one's forefathers one should remember Lord Vishnu, worship the spiritual master, and give cloth and foodstuffs in charity to the Vaishnavas and brahmanas according to one's ability. In this way one's forefathers will be satisfied."
Regarding the ??karma-kanda performance of shraddha at Gaya, in the Vishnu Purana (2.16.4) Aurva spoke to Sagara Maharaja the following words:
gayam upetya yah shraddham karoti prithivi pate
saphalam tasya taj janma jayate pitri tushöidam
"O King, a person who goes to Gaya and offers oblations makes his life successful by satisfying his forefathers."
aji mora pitri-kula haila uddhara
aji se vasati dhanya haila amara
"Today my forefathers have been delivered. Today my home is truly blessed.
trih-saptabhih pita putah
pitribhih saha te ’nagha
yat sadho ’sya kule jato
bhavan vai kula-pavanah
shri-bhagavan uvaca—the Supreme Personality of Godhead said; trih-saptabhih—seven multiplied by three (that is to say, twenty-one); pita—father; putah—purified; pitribhih—with your forefathers; saha—all together; te—your; anagha—O most sinless personality (Prahlada Maharaja); yat—because; sadho—O great saintly person; asya—of this person; kule—in the dynasty; jatah—took birth; bhavan—you; vai—indeed; kula-pavanah—the purifier of the whole dynasty.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Prahlada, O most pure, O great saintly person, your father has been purified, along with twenty-one forefathers in your family. Because you were born in this family, the entire dynasty has been purified.
atra yatra ca mad-bhaktah
te puyante ’pi kikaöah
yatra yatra—wherever and whenever; ca—also; mat-bhaktah—My devotees; prashantah—extremely peaceful; sama-darshinah—equipoised; sadhavah—decorated with all good qualities; samudacarah—equally magnanimous; te—all of them; puyante—are purified; api—even; kikaöah—a degraded country or the inhabitants of such a place.
Whenever and wherever there are peaceful, equipoised devotees who are well behaved and decorated with all good qualities, that place and the dynasties there, even if condemned, are purified.
kirtana kratu kula-sangyadipavanatvam
mahapataka yukto ’pi kirtayanisham harim
sudhantah karuno bhutva jayate pankti pavanah
govindeti muda yuktah kirtayed yas tva ananyadhih
pavanena ca dhyanena teneyam prthvi dhrta
tumi khaile haya koöi-brahmana-bhojana”
eta bali, shraddha-patra karaila bhojana
“Feeding you is equal to feeding ten million brahmanas,” Advaita Acarya said. “Therefore, accept this shraddha-patra.” Thus Advaita Acarya made him eat.
Shraddha is prasadam offered to the forefathers at a certain date of the year or month. The shraddha-patra, or plate offered to the forefathers, is then offered to the best of the brahmanas in society. Instead of offering the shraddha-patra to any other brahmana, Advaita Acarya offered it to Haridasa Thakura, considering him greater than any of the foremost brahmanas. This act by Shri Advaita Acarya proves that Haridasa Thakura was always situated in a transcendental position and was therefore always greater than even the most exalted brahmana, for he was situated above the mode of goodness of the material world. Referring to the Bhakti-sandarbha, text 177, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura quotes the following statements from the Garuda Purana in this connection:
brahmananam sahasrebhyah satra-yaji vishishyate
sarva-vedanta-vit-koöya vishnu-bhakto vishishyate
vaishnavanam sahasrebhya ekanty eko vishishyate
“A brahmana qualified to offer sacrifices is better than an ordinary brahmana, and better than such a brahmana is one who has studied all the Vedic scriptures. Among many such brahmanas, one who is a devotee of Lord Vishnu is the best, and among many such Vaishnavas, one who fully engages in the service of the Lord is the best.”
One should not make very elaborate arrangements to perform the shraddha ceremony of offering oblations to one’s forefathers. The best process for the shraddha ceremony is to distribute bhagavata-prasada (remnants of food that has first been offered to Krishna) to all of one’s forefathers and relatives. This makes a first-class shraddha ceremony. In the shraddha ceremony there is no need to offer meat or eat meat. Unnecessary killing of animals must be avoided. Those who are in the lower grades of society prefer to perform sacrifices by killing animals, but one who is advanced in knowledge must avoid such unnecessary violence.
kavyany anantyam icchata
daive ca tad-abhave syad
jnana-nishöhaya—to the impersonalist or the transcendentalist desiring to merge into the Supreme; deyani—to be given in charity; kavyani—ingredients offered to the forefathers as oblations; anantyam—liberation from material bondage; icchata—by a person desiring; daive—the ingredients to be offered to the demigods; ca—also; tat-abhave—in the absence of such advanced transcendentalists; syat—it should be done; itarebhyah—to others (namely, those addicted to fruitive activities); yatha-arhatah—comparatively or with discrimination.
A person desiring liberation for his forefathers or himself should give charity to a brahmana who adheres to impersonal monism [jnana-nishöha]. In the absence of such an advanced brahmana, charity may be given to a brahmana addicted to fruitive activities [karma-kanda].
samyag bhavanti naitani
desha—place; kala—time; ucita—proper; shraddha—respect; dravya—ingredients; patra—a suitable person; arhanani—paraphernalia for worship; ca—and; samyak—proper; bhavanti—are; na—not; etani—all these; vistarat—due to expansion; sva-jana-arpanat—or due to inviting relatives.
If one arranges to feed many brahmanas or relatives during the shraddha ceremony, there will be discrepancies in the time, place, respectability and ingredients, the person to be worshiped, and the method of offering worship.
Narada Muni has prohibited unnecessarily gorgeous arrangements to feed relatives or brahmanas during the shraddha ceremony. Those who are materially opulent spend lavishly during this ceremony. Indians spend especially lavishly on three occasions—at the birth of a child, at marriage and while observing the shraddha ceremony—but the shastras prohibit the excessive expenditures involved in inviting many brahmanas and relatives, especially during the shraddha ceremony.
atmane sva-janaya ca
annam samvibhajan pashyet
sarvam tat purushatmakam
deva—unto the demigods; rishi—saintly persons; pitri—forefathers; bhutebhyah—the living entities in general; atmane—relatives; sva-janaya—family members and friends; ca—and; annam—foodstuff (prasada); samvibhajan—offering; pashyet—one should see; sarvam—all; tat—them; purusha-atmakam—related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
One should offer prasada to the demigods, the saintly persons, one’s forefathers, the people in general, one’s family members, one’s relatives and one’s friends, seeing them all as devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
As mentioned above, it is recommended that everyone distribute prasada, considering every living being a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. Even in feeding the poor, one should distribute prasada. In Kali-yuga there is a scarcity of food almost every year, and thus philanthropists spend lavishly to feed the poor. For this they invent the term daridra-narayana-seva. This is prohibited. One should distribute sumptuous prasada, considering everyone a part of the Supreme Lord, but one should not juggle words to make a poor man Narayana. Everyone is related to the Supreme Lord, but one should not mistakenly think that because one is related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he has become the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana. Such a Mayavada philosophy is extremely dangerous, especially for a devotee. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has therefore strictly forbidden us to associate with Mayavadi philosophers. Mayavadi-bhashya shunile haya sarva-nasha: if one associates with the Mayavada philosophy, his devotional life is doomed.
na dadyad amisham shraddhe
na cadyad dharma-tattvavit
muny-annaih syat para pritir
yatha na pashu-himsaya
na—never; dadyat—should offer; amisham—meat, fish, eggs and so on; shraddhe—in the performance of the shraddha ceremony; na—nor; ca—also; adyat—one should eat personally; dharma-tattva-vit—one who is actually learned in regard to religious activities; muni-annaih—by preparations made with ghee for saintly persons; syat—should be; para—first-class; pritih—satisfaction; yatha—for the forefathers and the Supreme Personality of Godhead; na—not; pashu-himsaya—by killing animals unnecessarily.
A person fully aware of religious principles should never offer anything like meat, eggs or fish in the shraddha ceremony, and even if one is a kshatriya, he himself should not eat such things. When suitable food prepared with ghee is offered to saintly persons, the function is pleasing to the forefathers and the Supreme Lord, who are never pleased when animals are killed in the name of sacrifice.
daive pitrye ’tha manushe
tat tesham sukritam viduh 8.23.31
Whenever the activities of Vamanadeva are described in the course of a ritualistic ceremony, whether the ceremony be performed to please the demigods, to please one’s forefathers in Pitriloka, or to celebrate a social event like a marriage, that ceremony should be understood to be extremely auspicious.
There are three kinds of ceremonies—specifically, ceremonies to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead or the demigods, those performed for social celebrations like marriages and birthdays, and those meant to please the forefathers, like the shraddha ceremony. In all these ceremonies, large amounts of money are spent for various activities, but here it is suggested that if along with this there is recitation of the wonderful activities of Vamanadeva, certainly the ceremony will be carried out successfully and will be free of all discrepancies.