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As I asked in this question the story of Karna from Mahabharat is given in many portals for the origin of the ShrAdh ritual but as is apparent from the discussions on it this seems unlikely since the Manu Smriti which is the rule book for the older Satyug already mentions ShrAdh.

So my question is - What is the story of the origin of the ShrAdh ritual?

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The same question has been asked by Yudhishthira to Bhishma in Mahabharata, Anushashana Parva, SECTION XCI.

"Yudhishthira said, 'By whom was the Sraddha first conceived and at what time? What also is its essence? During the time when the world was peopled by only the descendants of Bhrigu and Angiras; who was the muni that established the Sraddha? What acts should not be done at Sraddha? What are those Sraddhas in which fruits and roots are to be offered? What species' also of paddy should be avoided in Sraddhas? Do thou tell me all this, O grandsire!'

Then, Bhishma told him that, there was a Rishi Atri, who had a son Dattatreya who had a son Nimi whose son was Shrimata. Shrimata died before his father. So Nimi performed purificatory rites and invited seven Brahmana and offered them foods and by mistake he offered food to his dead son. But after that Nimi filled with regret because no one has ever performed this kind of rite. He remembered Sage Atri, so Sage Atri came there and told him that what he has done is right.

"Bhishma said, 'Listen to me, O ruler of men, as I tell thee how the Sraddha was introduced, the time of such introduction, the essences of the rite, and the Muni who conceived it. From the Self-born Brahman sprang Atri, O thou of Kuru's race. In Atri's race was born a Muni of the name of Dattatreya. Dattatreya got a son of the name of Nimi possessed of wealth of asceticism. Nimi got a son named Srimat who was endued with great beauty of person. Upon the expiration of a full thousand years, Srimat, having undergone the severest austerities, succumbed to the influence of Time and departed from this world. His sire Nimi, having performed the Purificatory rites according to the ritual laid down in the ordinance, became filled with great grief, thinking continually of the loss of his son. Thinking of that cause of sorrow the high-souled Nimi collected together various agreeable objects (of food and drink) on the fourteenth day of the moon. The next morning he rose from bed. Pained his heart was with grief, as he rose from sleep that day--he succeeded in withdrawing it from the one object upon which it had been working. His understanding succeeded in busying itself with other matters. With concentrated attention he then conceived the idea of a Sraddha. All those articles of his own food, consisting of fruits and roots, and all those kinds of staple grains that were agreeable to him, were carefully thought of by that sage possessed of wealth of penances. On the day of the New moon he invited a number of adorable Brahmanas (to his asylum). Possessed of great wisdom, Nimi caused them to be seated on seats (of Kusa grass) and honoured them by going around their persons. Approaching seven such Brahmanas whom he had brought to his abode together, the puissant Nimi gave unto them food consisting of Syamaka rice, unmixed with salt. Towards the feet of those Brahmanas engaged in eating the food that was served unto them a number of Kusa blades was spread out on the seats they occupied, with the top ends of the blades directed towards the south. With a pure body and mind and with concentrated attention, Nimi, having placed those blades of sacred grass in the way indicated, offered cakes of rice unto his dead son, uttering his name and family. Having done this, that foremost of Munis became filled with regret at the idea of having achieved an act that had not (to his knowledge) been laid down in any of the scriptures. Indeed, filled with regret he began to think of what he had done. 'Never done before by the Munis, alas, what have I done! How shall I (for having done an act that has not been ordained) avoid being cursed by the Brahmanas (as an introducer of strange rites)?' He then thought of the original progenitor of his race. As soon as he was thought of, Atri endued with wealth of penances came there. Beholding him exceedingly afflicted with grief on account of the death of his son, the immortal Atri comforted him with agreeable counsels. He said unto him, 'O Mini, this rite that thou hast conceived, is a sacrifice in honour of the Pitris. Let no fear be thine, O thou that art possessed of the wealth of asceticism! The Grandsire Brahman himself, in days of old, laid it down! This rite that thou hast conceived has been ordained by the Self-born himself. Who else than the Self-born could ordain this ritual in Sraddhas? I shall presently tell thee, O son, the excellent ordinance laid down in respect of Sraddhas. Ordained by the Self-born himself, O son, do thou follow it.

So, according to Mahabharata, Nimi was the first to perform the Shraaddha ritual.

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    Thanks so much for clarifying this issue! BTW does this mean Dattatreya was married? I always used to think he was a Brahmachari! – Dr. Vineet Aggarwal Sep 11 '17 at 7:11
  • @Dr.VineetAggarwal The above paragraph implies that Lord Dattatreya was married. I also have not much idea about his marriage. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Sep 11 '17 at 7:20
  • Asking for curiosity, People don't used to do Sharaada earlier. But now does. So if one don't perform this ritual then He will get sin of it? I mean he will get punish for not performing this ritual? Is not performing it, is considered as sin since it later become popular, not from begining. – Rishabh Sep 11 '17 at 9:51
  • @Rishabh This ritual was laid down by Lord Brahma himself. So, I don't think it is sinful. Please read the last paragraph in bold. – Triyugi Narayan Mani Sep 11 '17 at 9:56
  • I think you misunderstood my question may be. What I am asking is, If one don't perform shraad for their pitra then it will be considered as sin or not. I mean, Is shraad becomes compulsory for everyone in today's time or it's optional? – Rishabh Sep 11 '17 at 10:06
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I am answering this primarily because I am unable to accept what is written in the accepted answer.

  1. The mantras used in the srAddha are mostly vedic.

  2. Tha Taittiriya Upanishad 1.11 says

deva-pitri-karyabhAm na pramaditavyam, meaning always remember to do your duties to the gods and the ancestors. SrAddha and tarpana are definitely pitri-karyas. According to sanskritdictionary.com 'pitri-srAddha' and 'pitri-kArya' both mean worship of the 'pitri'-s.

3.According to the Rig hymn XIV, Yama first created the pitri-loka:

HONOUR the King with thine oblations, Yama, Vivasvān's Son, who gathers men together, Who travelled to the lofty heights above us, who searches out and shows the path to many. 2 Yama first found for us a place to dwell in: this pasture never can be taken from Us. Men born on earth tread their own paths that lead them whither our ancient Fathers have departed.

  1. As mentioned in the question,Manu-smriti mentions srAddha.Manu is believed to be the father of all men.If it is in His writing, how could a Muni born later start srAddha? Smiritis are higher in authority than the Itihasa-puranas by the way.

So it seems to me that tracing the origin of srAddha is impossible.

I will be happy to get corrected by authentic sources.

UPDATE

According to the Vayu-Purana, Gayasuara was born in the Sveata kalpa, which is the first of the thirty kalpas. Gayasur is related to pindadAna and srAddha. So quite definitely the system of SrAddha was there from the very first kalpa.

इत्युक्तवा सोऽपतद्भूमौ श्वेतकल्पे गयासुरः। ब्रह्मा संभृतसंभारो मानसानृत्विजोऽसृजत्।।३२।।

Having said so, the demon Gaya, collapsed on the ground during the Svetakalpa. He adhered to the south-western quarter on the Kolāhala mountain.

In our culture, if disciple asks his Guru : When I was born and the Guru replies : You were never born, that answer is accepted. The disciple does not refuse to accept the answer saying that 'this does not answer my question!'

  • The question is asking origin of sharaddha ritual and not pitrus or pitruloka. Origin of Shraddha ritual is not the same as Pitru devatas's origin. This question is mainly about practice and not the devatas or loka. If you have problem accepting an answer, you may comment on it clarifying the same. Writing answer is not the correct way. I find many things written in some answers hard to accept. But writing answers is not the right way. I leave a comment how it can be corrected. This fits as a comment rather than an answer. – Sarvabhouma Mar 22 at 5:43
  • Site has a different way of answering a question. You haven't shown a source that pitru karyam is shraddha ritual only (with pinda daana) and not others.Question asks for that specific shraddha ritual. Please remember there are no gurus or disciples here, only users. Puranas and Itihasas do have stories and legends which give reason of practices, human beings etc., E.g Prithu started agriculture & civilization. You can't just refute it by showing a mention of farmers & plough in Veda and saying agriculture is eternal. Show that pitru karyam is shraddha. You gave about pitru loka. – Sarvabhouma Mar 22 at 9:01
  • @Sarvabhouma Its you who should show me from authentic sources that SrAddha means ritual with pinda dAna. Please do not comment on my answers without getting confirmation from proper sources as I dont have nuch time to waste. Thanks for your advice. – commonman Mar 22 at 9:51
  • Sanskritdictionary.com is the authentic source I should learn what is shraddha and pitru karya? A dictionary gives many meanings. But we have to interpret them based on the context. I am only asking that the pitru karya referred to in the answer is shraddha only. Because there are other ways of worshipping manes through oblations with water, through sacrifices etc., This question is shraddha ritual. The sanskrit verses and mantras you posted do not have mention of word Shraddha but they mention Pitrukarya. I am good. I am asking clarification and showing mistake which you take it otherwise. – Sarvabhouma Mar 22 at 10:09

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