Unwritten Laws of Ancestors

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Ramana and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get different views of the prism, colours of the same topic.

Last week and today’s topics have been chosen by Delirious and Gaelikka.

Having missed last week’s posting, I decided to combine the topic with this week’s one and write about many unwritten laws that our ancestors began to practice and created a family/clan/social pattern of behaviour.

The first question a youngster asks when forbidden to do something as it was against family traditions is, “Where is this law written down?” Laws are rules that has evolved with social changes in attitudes, behaviour and environment. If you take our ancestors, holding a gun used to be necessary especially if you had a farm or lived in rural areas. Once guns began to be used indiscriminately to take revenge, get rid of people who were against your own beliefs and credos, then regulation had to be brought in about owning a gun. Today, the rule exists that a license is needed to hold a gun, but the proliferation of unauthorised guns in the hands of terrorists, gangsters and criminals belies this regulation.

The law of bigamy has also changed the way we look at multiple marriages, most often practised by men with a wife in every port! While our ancestors said, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” today corporal punishment, smacking/spanking a child to discipline him/her can send you to jail and leave your kid in the care of foster parents! A teacher cannot even shout at a naughty, disruptive kid for fear of being punished him’ herself.

Unwritten laws of society evolved as manners and socially acceptable behaviour. Recently in the British media there was a hue and cry about a future MIL who ticked off her DIL-to-be about her lack of social and family values and appropriate behaviour. The email went viral. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jun/30/mother-in-law-email-viral

So where are these rules written down—not carved in stone surely. The laws of etiquette and social behaviour were handed down and only in the late 18th/19th CE was it actually recorded by social hostesses who wanted young debs to know all about ‘good behaviour’. Is it still valid? I don’t know.

In Hindu way of life, ancestors are an important part of our daily life. One of the tenets that we believe in is that the fruits of the goodness of an individual will be inherited by generations to come.

Modern life and thought have changed perceptions about rituals and rites in Hindu society. The long-drawn thirteen or sixteen day ceremonies after a death of a person, performed by the son and the family, is now being dispensed with for many reasons—lack of time, stamina, infrastructure, diminishing population of professionally trained priests and as some would say the resulting unprofessional attitude of the group. The belief in doing karya (rites of passage) immediately after a death; tarpanam or oblations on every Amavasya; and the shraadh (death anniversary rites) that is performed every year on the death anniversary have now become rituals only performed by a small section of society.  

However, the beauty of Hinduism is that it gives people who do not perform rites and rituals regularly or in detail to make-up for lapses. Pitr Paksha (The time of the ancestors) or Mahalay is the time that is prescribed to remember and honour ancestors and occurs during the Dakshinayana (the journey of the sun southwards) period in dark fortnight, Krishna Paksh, that falls in the Hindu calendar months of Bhadrapad and Aswini (September-October).

The Shraadh rituals performed during Pitr Paksha are not funeral ceremonies. They are called Pitr -Yajna or worship of the ancestral deities. The scriptures say that there are three kinds of rini or duties that every person has to perform.

  • The first is Devaruni when the Almighty is thanked through prayers for our existence and the infrastructure that has been created to sustain the human race.
  • Secondly, Rishiruni is performed through the yagnas, pujas, japas and study of the scriptures and puranas created by the research, observation, practices and compositions of the amazing group of Rishis who were endowed with tremendous intellect and dedicated penance.
  • Pitr-rini is the third duty towards ancestors who are the reason for our existence today and who have given us the good life through their meritorious deeds and thoughts.
  • Some include a fourth, matrurini or the debt owed to a mother who carried, fed and nourished you for nine months with her body, mind and soul. 

Food is another important part of what we have inherited from our ancestors. They created a cuisine that was based on the land in which they lived and the produce that was available, the life they led and the resources that they used. Laws were prescribed (unwritten mostly) about what should be eaten in different seasons. In fact the Hindu shastras also prescribe rules to be observed before, during and after eating food. There are specifications as to what kinds of food should be eaten, in whose company it should be eaten or avoided and what vessels should be used to eat.

Alas, most of these rules are impracticable, discarded and even forgotten in modern times.

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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5 Responses to Unwritten Laws of Ancestors

  1. Delirious says:

    I love that one of your scriptural rules is to take care of your mother. That is truly inspired!


  2. Grannymar says:

    We in the West have almost forgotten how to eat and cook seasonally, and I wonder if it is not in fact the cause of so many of our ailments.


  3. Rummuser says:

    Our ancestors had the time to indulge in such time consuming activities because they lived essentially in agrarian societies. Our Vedas have provided for escape routes for those out of the agrarian societies too!


  4. blackwatertown says:

    Don’t mess with the son of the beggar, lest the son of the beggar messes with you. – That’s one from an uncle of mine. It’s an Irish phrase – I can say, but not write, the translation.
    It means, in a nutshell, be careful dicing with someone who has nothing to lose.


  5. blackwatertown says:

    PS – I’ve added a link to you from my blog.
    PPS – Looking forward to seeing Nitila’s photo.


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