I had a eureka moment on Sunday the 11th of October on the eve of this year’s Mahalaya, as I suddenly realised that the word Tarpan came from the same root as the word Tripti which means satisfaction and fulfillment.
Of course, it all makes immense sense as the act of Tarpan is one of offering water and food to one’s ancestors. All Hindu males and especially the first born rush to the Ganga on Mahalaya, to stand in its forgiving waters and make offerings. It is the fifteenth day of Pitripaksha or the ancestors fortnight and the most auspicious day for Tarpan. Strict rules govern how deep the man must stand, what he will offer and even the finger he wiĺl use to touch the water that he offers to his ancestors. It does not matter if one is a newbie for Hinduism is a relaxed religion in the hands of most and the priest is on hand to guide.
It wasn’t always a custom to use the fortnight preceding the new moon to offer food and water to hungry ancestors. This started after Karna died and went to heaven. Every time he felt hungry he was given gold and precious stones. When he finally asked, he was told it was because he had not made the appropriate offerings during his lifetime. Now that is typically Hindu, to make every action have consequence, that is karma. Of course, the writers of the epics also conveniently forgot that he was an orphan who was abandoned at birth and killed soon after discovering who his family was. But that is another story! Karna was getting hungry by now and asked how he could correct the matter of the famished ancestors. He was allowed to go back to his mortal life and spend a fortnight making those offerings, of fruit and sweets and black and white sesame seeds. That fortnight ends on Mahalaya Amavashya or the new moon. Ever since then, Pitri Paksha or the Ancestors fortnight has been a time to appease the ancestors and ask for their blessings.
Mahalaya also marks the start of Devi Paksha or the fortnight of the goddess. I have been listening to the traditional Mahalaya on the computer each year ever since I found it on Youtube. There is little that makes it feel like the Pujas like Biren Bhadra’s voice intoning the Chandi stotras.
Ma eshe gelen!
Even at this distance from Bengal, I cannot help but feel rather satisfied or ‘tripto’!
Illustration: Romesh Chunder Dutt’s translation of the Mahabharata, 1899.
Dutt was a Bengali ICS, educated by David Hare and then at Presidency College. He ran away to England to sit the Civil Examination.