September 17 will mark the beginning of Pitru paksha – the fortnight of austerity when Hindus perform the last rites of their deceased ancestors to ensure their souls achieve closure from this world.
The custom is traditionally performed at the banks of the holy Ganges river, but for those Hindus who can’t make the pilgrimage, a new option has made itself available.
Some pundits (or Hindu priests) are now offering online services for the pind-daan or last rites ceremony.
The Times of India have reported “priests in major spiritual centres [such as Allahabad or Varanasi] are using social media to compile a list of devotees who are seeking guidance to perform virtual pind-daan” ceremonies.
“Those unable to be present have sent their ancestors details via Whatsapp, social networking sites, to the priests who will perform the rituals on their behalf,” they report.
In addition, the past few years have seen many online pundit services popping up. Sites like Pitra Moksha, Asthi Visarjan, and Pitradev offer Hindus who live far from the Ganges the chance to nominate a professional to perform the ritual on their behalf.
SBS spoke to Sydney-based Hindu priest, Pundit Rishikesh Bhattar about the new trend. He says he would not recommend using the online service, since the ritual is a very personal one. He also says performing pind-daan by proxy would be ineffective unless under “exceptional circumstances”.
“No one should be doing it on behalf of you. You need to do the ceremony yourself,” he says.
The pind-daan or pinda pradhanam in Sanskrit is performed by male descendants of a family. They perform the post-death ritual on behalf of their father, their grandfather, and great-grandfather.
The ritual is to ensure their ancestors' souls move on from this life, so they can either reincarnate or ascend to nirvana.
But what if you have no male descendants?
“If you have no sons, a cousin brother performs the ritual for you, or an uncle, or a grandson. The priest can do it for you only in exceptional circumstances. Even then, it should be someone you know or ask personally,” says Pundit Bhattar.
“If it comes to it, even a friend could do it for you, if you asked them. But traditionally it should be done by you.”
He also highlights there is no prescriptive rule stating the ritual be performed at the Ganges; it’s only a “recommendation”.
“The recommendation is that the pinda pradhanam is performed at the banks of the Ganges at least once in your lifetime. It’s recommended but not compulsory,” says Pundit Bhattar.
This could be an option for Hindus who believe they'll never have the chance to travel to the Ganges in their lifetime, but Pundit Bhattar says it's more important to perform the ritual yourself than to perform it at the banks of the Ganges.
“Where ever you perform the ritual, it is all equal,” he says.