ancestor worship
   Worship of the ancestors (pitris) is a tradition in India dating to Vedic times (c. 1500 B.C.E.) Tradi-tionally, a man is expected to offer libations of oil and water to his deceased father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The anniversary of the deaths of one’s mother and father must also be celebrated with formalities, including the offering of balls of rice to the ancestors. (Ancestors are presumed to be in heaven but must be fed by their progeny.) Funeral rituals always include a worship of ances-tors with offerings of rice balls. Among five sac-rificial rites that are enjoined daily for BRAHMINS, worshippers must “sacrifice to the ancestors” by ritually pouring out a glass of water to them.
   There is an inherent paradox in this practice. The very ancient Vedic rites assume that the departed have gone to a heavenly realm. How-ever, such notions have long been superseded by the orthodox Hindu understanding that most departed souls will be reincarnated in a new form in this realm.
   Further reading: Abbe J. A. Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Translated by Henry K. Beau-champ. 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959); Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); Dakshina Ranjan Shastri, Origin and Development of Rituals of Ancestor Worship in India (Calcutta: Bookland, 1963).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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