Offerings to the dead
The worship and tribute to the dead especially our loved ones is a patriotic act that runs across all cultures and tradition through out the world. Durban is home to various cultures with their own unique ways of paying tribute to the dead, the souls that have passed on. However, different the acts might be, the philosophy is built along the same belief lines. One of these rituals is referred to as the ‘dead peoples prayer’ and during this period the Hindus in Durban partakes in this prayer. The Tamil speaking Hindus refer to this time as Malaya Paksha and the Hindi speaking refers to this time as Pitr Paksha. The period is normally 15 days and starts depending on the phases of the moon.
It is a time believed to be when departed souls are released to earth, this time is regarded to as a dark time, and it is inauspicious. At this time it is advised not to go through any transactions, or even get married as the spirits might be roaming around and will influence any actions and luck that is due to that family. The legend dates back in time with the holy Hindu book, The Mahabharata. A well known donator, donated gold and jewels to people around him and not food. On his death, he was refused food by the god of death, and he was asked to come back to earth and feed the poor in order to redeem himself. At this time every year the souls are released back to earth and members of their family are urged to treat them as guests. There is also a belief that the ancestors’ soul achieves a state of unrest, due to the negative actions of their family members and a result there is a bad luck orientated towards that member at this time due to negative energy. The prayer is essential at this period as any discontentment of the soul of the dead is appeased.
During this periods, Hindus observe a fast and partake in daily offerings of food and water to the souls. Some people choose one day to prepare the favourite food of the loved ones and offer them during the dead peoples prayer. Some has even noted there was a reduction in the quantity of water or tea that they offered. The food they offer is generally made up of curries of vegetables, fresh fruit and water. Sometimes people offer the favourite foods of the person they lost, for example, a specific biscuit they enjoyed on earth. The food is placed on a banana leaf as it is believed that the leaf adds flavour to the food.
The food is first offered to deities and then becomes holy, which is offered to the dead, a picture of the dead person is placed at the prayer sight which is normally inside the household of family members and must always be placed facing the east as the sun rises in this direction. The prayer is normally done before 12 am like any other prayer due to the notion that 12 is a bad omen. The food is then fed to guests and distributed to the public, some people choose to do an act of charity, perhaps feed an old age home. It is also noted that food is fed to some animals such as dogs, cows and birds as these animals are believed to be a reincarnation of some human form in previous births.
Written by: Yoveshine Pillay