Today is Mahalaya.
This day is considered as one of the most auspicious day in Hindu calender. The day marks the end of 'pitri paksh' and beginning of 'devi paksh'. On this day, people pray for the departed soul of their parents. This ritual is predominant in eastern part of India, precisely in Bengal and Orissa. This ritual is popularly known as "Tarpan".
Across the Hindu religion it is believed that after death, the soul incarnates into a new form and embodies as animal, bird, reptile, human or any other form depending on the Karmas (deeds) in one’s past life. Thus, as one’s ancestors would have attained a new form after death, many people believe that why is Pitr-Puja necessary. It is obligatory in Hindu tradition.
As according to Bhagwad Gita : "Just as one removes old clothes and puts on new ones, so does the Jivatma abandon an old body and obtain a new one"
Thus, it is only the house and body that the soul changes, but whatever we as children are indebted to our ancestors should be repaid, because the soul never dies. The pitr-puja performed by the sons and grandchildren in memory of their ancestors, is preceded with the thought that: "O Pitrs in whichever form you may be, wherever you may be, we wish to remember and pray for your peace and welfare".
I lost my dad, two years ago. The first year, somehow I didn't feel like doing 'Tarpan', I don't know why, but I skipped the ritual. I guess, it took time for me to believe that he is no more with me. I mentally refused to do anything that would kill my faith, that he is dead. I was behaving like a child. I guess, every child is a child when it comes to their own parents. I remember, as a kid, my Baba would obediently follow all the rituals and pray for my grandfather's soul. As kids, we used to hardly understand the significance of this day. For us, it used to be Durga Puja countdown. We would think of holidays, puja shopping, pandal hopping and eating out at various food joints. The importance of puja or tarpan donned on me, much later.
As a kid, I would see my Baba getting ready before sunrise on the day of Mahalaya. He would drape a white dhoti, wear a white kurta and a new "poite" (sacred thread). He would take a holy dip, in the ghats of Ganges and then pray for his father and grandfather's soul. While coming back, he would bring piping hot samosas (shingaras) kachoris, alu rasa, sandesh for everyone at home. That day, we would have traditional breakfast.
The morning would start early on the day of Mahalaya. Baba would wake up around 4 am, and wake me and my brother from deep sleep. He would switch on the radio, while my Ma would be fast asleep. She would hear the radio from her bed, half-asleep. We would hear the immortal voice of BirendraKrishna Bhadro, reciting Sri Sri Chandi. Frankly speaking, the thought of it gives me goosebumps even today. His recitation would create an ambiance which would filter all sorts of negativity around us. The air would get purified with his crystal clear voice. We would stare at the radio and imagine the visuals of Goddess Durga fighting the demons and killing Mahisasura with Trishul (Pointed Weapon). Those were my early childhood days.
Few years later when we had a television set (black and white, of course), and Doordarshan started showing 'Mahisasurmardini' on the day of Mahalaya. The show would start immediately after the radio transmission of BirendraKrishna Bhadro's show. Baba would switch the TV on, and meanwhile we had to brush our teeth, take a shower and get ready for the puja. This used to be our regular ritual on the day of Mahalaya.
Baba practiced this ritual till his last year. He stopped visiting Ganges, after his first heart attack. Doctor's advised him to be careful. The cold river water was not advisable for a heart patient. But he would still pray for his forefathers on the day of Mahalaya. He would take an early morning bath, and execute the entire procedure in our puja room. I have seen such discipline in him, which I don't have. I don't think, I will ever be able to match up to his dedication and honesty.
Baba is no more. I am staying in Mumbai, with my wife. It's going to be a decade, since I have moved out from Kolkata. Now I am working in a film production company. We don't have holidays on Mahalaya and Durga Puja. In fact, very few people in this state observe this day as "father's day". Living in this city, has rubbed some influence in me, too. But somehow, this year, I felt that I must pray for my father's soul. I don't know why, I had his urge from within.
It was a sheer coincidence that a dear friend of mine, mentioned that I should pray for my father. She mentioned that, on this day, the soul returns to bless their sons and daughters. I argued with her, saying that does this really matter? Well, I guess it matters.
I don't know the procedure of 'tarpan' but I did what my heart said. I offered him sweets, til, flowers and diya. I prayed for him, I prayed for his soul and peace. While praying for him, I was remembering those lovely memories from childhood. I had a lump in my throat. Eyes moist, I thought about him, with my eyes shut. I realized that he is no more with me, physically. I realized that, I have replaced him, it's my turn to pay tribute to my forefathers. I remembered, how smartly he taught me with his own deeds. How he wanted me to follow, the tradition of 'tarpan'. He never forced anything on me, still with his own discipline, he. managed to teach all of us, a lesson.
I know, he is around. I know, he is seeing me from the clouds. I know, he is happy, wherever he is.
But the vacuum that is created by his absence, shall remain empty. We realize the worth of a person when he is not around. Such is life, and such is love for our parents.
Love you Baba. Bhalo theko.