Mahalaya Amavasya: Significance of the rituals for the dead

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Death / Indian Culture


Our ancestors are significant in our lives even after they are dead. But, if you don't keep them at a distance, they can enslave your life. Rituals performed on Mahalaya Amavasya create this distance. If the dead are not attended to properly, the most vulnerable are adolescent girls, and pregnant women.


Duration: 11 min


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6 min read

Mahalaya Amavasya: Significance of the rituals for the dead

The following is an unedited transcript of Sadhguru's video. For better readability, breaks and highlights have been added by the editors.

Well… it is Mahalaya Amavasya in the next few days. This is the time of the year where – close to the autumnal equinox, this is the time of the year when the earth is most feminine, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. The feminine quality of the planet is more enhanced. So, feminine being dominant, Mahalaya Amavasya is also seen as a time when our respects, regards and obeisance be paid to our ancestors.

What is the significance of ancestors? They’re dead, why should we bother about them? Well, the problem is, who you are right now, in today’s world, you constantly being on Google, maybe you think you were delivered by the Google lady. The people that we refer to as your ancestors, they may not necessarily be wandering around, hanging on to the trees, but they’re living within you. How much of ancestry stays alive within you, on one level, it enriches your life, on another level, it enslaves your life.

We are who we are only because of our forefathers. What they learnt, what they knew, their skills, their technologies, their sense of life, we have imbibed all of it, knowingly or unknowingly, every one of us. At the same time, if you let them live too strong within you, you won’t have a life of your own. Do not underestimate the dead, they will try to live through you. This is why so much care was taken, not in any one culture, across cultures everywhere in the world, certain things were done when people died, so that they don’t try to live through you too strongly.

Because, if they live through you too strongly, your life is wasted. That is, you will not be a fresh life. You will be sort of a carbon copy of an old life – the very way you sit and stand. You may not understand this in the beginning of your life. When you’re eighteen-twenty you thought, you’re definitely not going to be like your father or your mother, that’s the last thing you want to be. You know, I’m talking about the free spirits. But by the time you’re forty-five, you sit like them, you stand like them, you talk like them, you know? Unknowingly, even your body moves like them.

So every culture always took care to distance themselves from the dead in so many different ways. In India, we developed elaborate methodologies, chose times when we can do maximum in this direction, so that year-on-year we create more and more distance. So, this is a time of the year, which was called, which is referred to as the Pitru Paksha – that means, this is the time to attend to your ancestors. You may know them, you may not know them. Up to twelve generations of people are usually attended to, so that they don’t try to live through you. You distance yourself genetically from them, so that this life operates and organizes itself as a fresh life, as a new possibility, that it doesn’t become a repetition of the past.

So, this… we are, right now at this time, on the Mahalaya Amavasya, in the Yoga Center, I think… anywhere between 20,000 to 25,000 people will do the necessary processes to distance themselves from their ancestors – they may be dead long time ago. How we handle the dead has substantial relevance to one’s life. I’ve said this before, which now going into research more in some places, because what you observe with life is no more research. You have to observe the lab rats, whether their ancestral behavior has influence on them. Only if it’s true for rats, it’s true for you. Rat race, you know!

Well, even among them it’s been noticed that – one experiment, I think this happened in the Emory University, if I’m right, or I could be off in terms of university, some premier American University for sure. They made this small experiment where a bunch of rats were given nice cherry blossom smelling cheese. They lapped it up one day. Next day when they came to eat, when they bit into the cheese, they got an electric shock. You know, humans!. And again and again, a few days they did this, that whenever they bit into this cherry blossom smelling cheese, they got a shock.

Seven generations of rats would not go anywhere near cherry blossom smell. They learned their lesson, I’m saying. And these generations did not live together, in case they’re running a school. They were separated. So wherever they were, for seven generations, their learning remained. It’s only in the eighth generation, it started dissipating. So it is true with rats, it must be true with you. I mean, I’m going by the data. But we know always it’s true with you, both positives and negatives are true with you. Both positives and negatives, if it become very strong influence upon your life, they turn into a negative process. It may be positive – but, if it becomes a very strong influence, then it becomes negative because whatever your seven generation – I’m only going seven, okay? Mahalaya Amavasya we’re going to twelve […].

So, generations of people that we have lost, probably we do not know them, we don’t know their names, we have not even seen their pictures, but they’re living through us. So, whatever learnings they had, seven or twelve generations ago, if it plays out too strongly, you will become irrelevant to today’s life. So, you have a fear of cherry blossom, may not mean anything today, but it continues within you. So, this complex web of information, which we are today calling as genetic information, karmic information, pranic information, various kinds of things which have built up as a network of information, which is functioning in our lives in so many different ways.

Some of it has been accessed and researched by scientific, modern research. Many, they know it is heading in that direction, but you know, you need funding to come out with results. So it is being postponed. But, we know this has influence. Especially societies which don’t handle their dead properly, in those societies, the most vulnerable population will be adolescents. From zero to eight years of age, children generally have a kind of a protection, an immunity from their ancestors. They be their own thing. But, between eight and eighteen, the influence of unattended ancestral – for lack of words, I’m using – their spirit, or their memory, plays havoc with adolescents.

A society where adolescents suffer most… – that society you must know, has not attended to its dead properly

So a society where adolescents suffer most, it’s the best part of your life in many ways, but they suffer most – that society you must know, has not attended to its dead properly. So this is the time of the year where, even if we have not done something in the past, everybody makes an attempt to deal with the ancestral dead, so that their influence is limited in our lives. We appreciate who they were, we appreciate their contributions. We have this kind of body, this kind of brain, this kind of learning, this kind of whatever – in all that they have a role, we appreciate that. At the same time, we want them to stand little away from us, so that we can live our own lives. This is important, otherwise their influence will be very, very strong. Adolescents and post-pregnancy women are most vulnerable for these forces. It is very important if there are such people in your homes, you must attend to this. So Mahalaya Amavasya is that day…


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