The Story Behind Mahalaya Amavasya

The Story Behind Mahalaya Amavasya

Today is Mahalaya Amavasya. What does a day dedicated to honoring those who have passed, have to do with the Mahabharata?

Once upon a time, there was an extraordinary warrior named Karna. He was the older half-brother of the Pandavas -- the very guys he was fighting against. But because he was born "spiritually" out of wedlock, he was put up for adoption, and didn't learn about his birth mother, Kunti, until he was on the path to kill one of her (other) sons, Arjuna.

These details aren't relevant to the story -- just giving you added context.

This story isn't about his life though. 
It's about his "life" after death.

When Karna died and went to heaven, he was offered gold and jewels to eat as food. While he had donated a ton of wealth during his lifetime, he had failed to offer any food to those in need. To make amends, Lord Yama (the God of death) allowed Karna to return to earth for 15 days so that he could perform Shraadh and donate food and water to the poor, in his ancestors' memory.

If we fail to acknowledge them, they leave feeling dejected that we did nothing for them. Whereas if we perform the appropriate rituals and rites, they attain peace and in turn, give us and our lineage their blessings.

This 15 day period is known as Pitru Paksha, during which time the souls of our ancestors are thought to be closest to the earth, roaming around.

Rituals and theology aside, Mahalaya Amavasya is meant to remind us of all the things we've taken for granted.  Without our forefathers, we literally would not exist. Nor would we be where we are today without their contributions (i.e.: we wouldn't have cars without a horse carriage). So while on the surface, we perform these rituals to pay homage to those who have passed, it's actually an expression of gratitude for all those generations who lived before us.

I didn't mean to skip the last two weeks of #TheologyThursday but I've been trying to figure out how to prioritize things as I step into my new role, working on Modi Toys full time. But yesterday, both my MIL and mom casually made a reference to Mahalaya Amavasya and Shraadh, and it reminded me why I started this series in the first place: to uncover "the why" behind our traditions and rituals.