The two week period between the full moon in September and the next new moon (October 9) are observed as Mahalaya (the great wave or rhythm) – the fortnight which honors the gifts of our ancestors and our ancestry at large. I was scarcely aware of my ancestors until my father passed away and I spent some time traveling to the Ganges for the visarjan – the final letting-go of the physical remains.
The current family priest, whose generation was the holder of our family records, unrolled the biggest handwritten book I had ever seen, full of double-sized legal sheets of paper with names of our antecedents – records that must have gone back tens of generations. It was a humbling awareness, to realize that my name would become a part of that record some day.
Beyond our physical ancestry, whose records are often susceptible to be lost to our awareness, there is our spiritual ancestry. Like the DNA that is given to us, the record of our spiritual ancestry is less susceptible to be lost over time. In Indian culture, spiritual inheritance comes in two forms – smriti (oral word) and shruti (written word). Both forms have their significance, but the former is less susceptible to being lost (or destroyed) as it is preserved in the heart’s and minds of families of the preservers.
In honoring our spiritual ancestry, the first step is to remember that we actually do have one. The books, the music, the art, the festivals, the traditions, are all the physical manifestations of our spiritual ancestry. But, it goes beyond that. The greater manifestation is the pull towards self-realization through spiritual practice. Whether it be through the path of selfless, loving action, through deep inner contemplation (yoga), through deep devotion evolving through purity, or through seeking of knowledge – all the paths eventually honor our spiritual ancestry when we walk them with a spirit of open-heartedness and joy.
On the final day of the fortnight of Mahalaya, the day before the new moon, a simple offering of water (tarpan) is made to honor all our ancestors. In making an offering of water, we honor life itself. We honor our spiritual ancestry by re-aligning our heartbeat with the great rhythm – the very rhythm that we feel in the silence and the stillness of sitting on the great ocean-shore of love.
What is your spiritual ancestry? Are you aware of it? How does it influence your daily life, and the lives of those who connect with you? Share with us in our weekly twitter chat, Sunday Oct 8 at 9amET / 630pm India in #SpiritChat. Namaste.