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Asaucam: (Contamination period)

Following a birth or death there is a period of contamination for the relatives of the person born or deceased, the length of which depends upon the closeness of the relation, caste and age of the decesased. Wtih the decease or birth of a close relative a brahmana has ten days of asauca, a kshatriya twelve days, a vaishya fifteen days and a sudra thirty days. If the relation is distant the brahmana will have three days asaucam.

If a child of brahmana dies within ten days of birth, impurity is observed for ten days after the birth by the father and mother only. If the child dies within two years, asauca is one day.

If the child dies before six years and three months, the asauca is three days for close relatives.

During the period of contamination one should not study scripture, or perform homa, Deity worship, tarpana, entertain guests etc. If one is performing Deity worship one may perform, worship by manasa puja. However if one has made a vow to perform worship of the Lord for his whole life, he should not break this vow, but should continue the puja (but if some arrangement can be made that is nice).

Those performing sacrifice, students and realized souls, or one who has performed funeral rites for a sannyasi does not obeserve asauca.

"One should not enter the temple in a contaminated state. (According to Vedic scripture, if someone dies in the family the whole family becomes contaminated for some time, according to its status. For example, if the family is brahmana their contamination period is twelve days, for kshatriyas and vaishyas it is fifteen days, and for shudras thirty days.)(Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabupada. Nectar of Devotion, page 69. - Offences to be avoided.)

"As far as these rules are concerned let me first say that in matters of asauca (contamination/ritual pollution) Vaisnavas in general follow the same rules as all other followers of the Vedic Dharma Shastras. However in ISKCON Srila Prabhupada definitely introduced some new and novel approaches to some of these problems. I was in Fiji for some time and Vasudeva Prabhu and his wives (he has two, they are sisters) all of Indian (Gujarati actually) descent had some interesting things that they did and told me about. Vasudeva asked Prabhupada how long should he stay away from the temple after a relative of his died. If you look at NOD you will see that different numbers of days are given for different varnas. Vasudeva said that he was expected to stay way for ten days. Srila Prabhupada told him that ONE day was enough. One wonders if he would have even said this had Vasudeva not been of Indian descent. In general Srila Prabhupada relied on the purity of the Krsna's Holy Name in these circumstances. In time of need even allowing women to perform deity worship or cook during their rtus. (Not that I am encouraging this.) As the only male pujari in Fiji at the time I had sometimes to dress all the deities myself when all the ladies went sick at the same time. And Indian women will take a week or ten days sometimes before they return to the temple. You don't even see them, neither do they touch their japa malas, but chant on their hands (fingers). In South India the (Brahmin) ladies cannot even enter the house, but must sleep on a mat on the front porch or in a special room on the roof or in the back yard. Food is brought to them. All of this was NOT Srila Prabhupada's mood. (Although one could argue that this is part of Varnashram and therefore eventually might be something he wanted to introduce.)

Let us not have a double standard where these things are concerned. When I was in Europe, based on reading and discussing Srila Prabhupada's instructions we adopted a standard of 3 days off for lady pujaris during their rtus. After the 3 days they were allowed to return to their service. Whether or not the rtu has actually finished. (By the way ladies should take full bath before returning to pujari duties, including washing the hair. On normal days brushing is enough for cleaning the hair. See Bhagavatam story of Devahuti and Kardama). So let us adopt a standard of cleanliness for all men and women doing deity seva. And also let us NOT discriminate against women in the matter of entering the temple room. Afterall we invite non-vaisnavas to come there in order to preach to them, so why not allow our Vaisnavis. At the same time I would respect any lady who wishes to observe the ancient traditional systems of ritual impurity and asauca.(And I would also have equal respect for those who choose not to.) It is their right to choose the way in which they observe these things, while being careful to avoid as far as possible Deity seva aparadhas."(Gaura Keshava das. 1998. COM1415668.)

Srila Prabhupad also mentions that aspiring Vaishnavis unlike brahminis, or what to speak of ordinary women can touch the Deity of the Lord, or cook when they are in their menses, but better that they don't.

Sraddha Kriya

To ensure that the soul does not remain in a subtle body hovering on this earth planet, but will attain a comfortable body for enjoyment on pitr loka, offerings are made to the departed person and the pitrs. During the asauca period daily offerings of sesame and water, and pinda (rice mixed with sesame, ghee and honey) are given to the departed person. On the eleventh day (for a close relative of a brahmana) the house is purified, eleven brahmanas are fed and offerings are made to the deceased. Beginning on that day, for the first year, monthly sraddha ceremonies should be held. As well, in the sixth and twelfth month additional sraddhas should be conducted. Then every year, on the tithi of the decease, annual sraddhas should be conducted.

According to Vaisnava scripture, the sraddha rites may be performed, but the priest performing the rites should be Vaisnavas and the offerings to the pitrs should be Visnu prasada.

The inhabitants of Pitrloka are generally men of the karma kandiya or fruitive activities category, who have been transferred there because of their pious activities. They can stay there as long as their descendants offer them Visnu prasada.

SB 5.2.2 purport

The sraddha ceremony of oblations to the forefathers should not be performed on ekadasi tithi. When the tithi of the death anniversary falls on the ekadasi day, the sraddha ceremony should be held not on ekadasi but on the next day.

SB7.14.23 purport

Menses:

"While Govinda dasi was Srila Prabhupada's personal secretary in 1968, His Divine Grace endeavored to convince her that it would be best to refrain from temple activities during the first three days of her menses, not just Deity worship. Govinda dasi became very upset. Srila Prabhupada seeing the degree of her disturbance said, 'Never mind.'

Today she follows the rule that Srila Prabhupada wanted her to follow then.

She says, she just couldn't follow at that time, now she can.

Your Servant, Kusha devi dasi" [Text 1484553 from COM]

"According to smarta viddhi, a women in her period cannot touch the Deity. However, according to Goswami viddhi, she can, but better she doesn't"

According to the smarta vidhi, women cannot touch deity during menstrual period but the goswami viddhi allows. But it is better not to do it. One thing is that the seva can never be stopped for any reason. This also for the cooking. (A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Letter to Amsu. Vrindavan August 13th 1974.)

 

For more see section below "Purifying the Body" from Pacharatra Pradipa, Iskcon GBC.

Impurities of the Self

Since contamination spreads by touch, the pjr must be careful to avoid touching impure items such as the holes of the body, hair, the lower part of the body, the cloth covering the lower body, feet, the floor, or any impure substance. Offered articles are considered impure for one who is going to offer fresh articles. Therefore the worshiper must be careful to avoid touching offered items.

According to Manu, there are twelve impurities (mala) exuding from the body. A person must purify himself by cleansing the body with earth (or soap) and water after he contacts the first six impurities: fat, semen, blood, marrow, urine, or stool.

Water alone purifies a person after he contacts the second six impurities: nose mucus, phlegm, tears, perspiration, ear wax, and exudations from the eyes.

Other contaminating agents are alcohol; low animals such as pigs, donkeys, dogs, and crows; low-class people (calas and mlecchas); hair; nails; bone; corpses (human or animal); the smoke from a funeral pyre; a menstruating woman; eating; sleeping; sex; passing urine or stool; sinful activities; ucchia (food remnants); and the birth or death of close relatives.

Contagious disease is also contaminating. A person suffering from a skin disease, such as eczema, should not enter the kitchen or worship the Deity. If one has sores or wounds that could contaminate the paraphernalia or the Deity, one should also refrain from cooking and worship. A person suffering from a respiratory disease should not enter the kitchen.

Purifying the Body

After waking, a devotee should cleanse his body and its orifices by employing water and earth (or soap), by brushing the teeth, and by submerging himself in water. <See page ? for further details>.

When the parts of the body below the navel and the forearms become contaminated by wine or the first six bodily impurities, one should purify them by scrubbing the affected area with earth (or soap) and water.

If the upper body is contaminated, one should purify the whole body with earth (or soap) and water and then bathe fully.

A person should bathe to purify himself after sex, a bad dream, shaving, vomiting, purging, or after touching a dead body, a woman in her menstrual cycle, a cala, or a dead animal or its fat or bones.

A woman purifies herself during her menstrual cycle by bathing on the fourth day.* A woman possessing a bad mind is purified by her menstrual flow.

*If a woman's menstrual period lasts more than three days, it is better if the woman refrain from touching the Deity or anything related to the Deity worship until her period is actually over. The reason for this prohibition is that, at the very least, menstrual contamination is like having passed stool without bathing afterward. In a letter rla Prabhupda writes that for the worship of a Deity to continue uninterrupted it may be allowed, as an exception, for women to touch the Deity during their menstrual period, but that ``it is better if they don't." This allowance should be understood to refer to a rare exception, or to worship of household Deities. Temple managers should encourage male devotees to engage in the temple Deity worship, minimizing difficult situations that may arise due to women devotees' periods of contamination.

One should perform camana after coughing or sneezing, after sleeping, eating, drinking, bathing, dressing, spitting, or walking on a road, after urinating or passing stool, and after talking to calas and mlecchas.

One should also perform camana before eating, studying stra, or performing any religious activity.

The man of knowledge purifies himself of sin by endurance, by charity, by japa, and by austerity. A brhmaa is purified by accepting sannysa.A devotee purifies himself of an uncontrolled mind by the decision to follow the path of truth. He purifies himself of body consciousness by knowledge and austerity, and he purifies his ability to discriminate by receiving spiritual education.

Purification of Consciousness (citta-uddhi)

One's consciousness is purified first by Vaiava initiation, by which one receives Vaiava mantras for worshiping the Lord; then it is purified by one's performing daily sdhana and practicing Vaiava cra (proper Vaiava behavior). Purification of consciousness is very much interrelated with physical purification. The Viu-smti lists the purifying agents for the contaminated body and mind as spiritual knowledge, austerity, certain prescribed activities (such as chanting Gyatr at the sandhys), fire, certain eatables (such as paca-gavya), earth, water, cow dung, air, the sun, time, and cooked grains.

Among these, the foods are very important. If a person eats pure food he becomes pure, and if he eats impure food he becomes impure. Even though a person undertakes other forms of purification, if he eats impure food he remains impure. Therefore one must always be careful to partake only of pure food at all times.

``By performance of yaja one's eatables become sanctified, and by eating sanctified foodstuffs one's very existence becomes purified; by the purification of existence finer tissues in the memory become sanctified, and when memory is sanctified one can think of the path of liberation, and all these combined together lead to Ka consciousness, the great necessity of present-day society" (Bg. 3.11, purport).

Pure items

A person does not need purification after contacting the following items, for they are considered pure: items for sale in the market; goods received by begging; the mouth of a goat or a horse; mongooses; cows (except a cow's mouth, which is impure); elephants; horses; bees; a calf taking milk; cow urine, dung, milk, yogurt, ghee, and rocana; fried or roasted foods (other than meat, fish, or eggs); the hands of a craftsman, such as a potter; rays of the sun or moon; fire, wind, dew, or running water; the shadow of a tree; kua grass, honey, fruit, or essences; or anything certified as pure by an authoritative person.

Because Deity prasda is pure, a Vaiava is careful to eat only Deity prasda if at all possible. Since prasda is pure, after taking prasda one does not have to take a bath before worshiping the Deity.* If when taking prasda a devotee does not touch his mouth with either his hand or a utensil, such as a cup or spoon (when taking a small portion of mah-prasda, for example), then he does not have to change his cloth before worshiping the Deity. However, if his hand touches his mouth when he is eating, he must put on clean cloth to worship the Deity.

*However, the pjr must thoroughly rinse his mouth and wash his hands and feet; then he must perform full camana. He may not brush his teeth unless he takes a bath afterward. It is best not to eat prior to worshiping the Deity, since one may offend the Lord by belching! Also, with a full stomach one cannot concentrate properly on one's services to the Lord. Service performed directly in the Deity room should be done with full attention, not in a routine manner, for the pjr should always be aware of being in the direct presence of the Lord.

Purification of Articles (dravya-suddhi)

Contamination occurs when an article contacts any of the impure items listed previously. Serious contamination takes place when an article contacts the first six impurities from the body, or when it contacts any other heavily contaminating substance, such as alcohol. Before touching an unoffered item during worship, the pjr should purify his hands by performing samnya-arghya with water from the paca-ptra.

The left hand, which is considered impure, should not touch the Deity directly while He is being bathed. (If the Deity is made of metal, during the polishing, the pjr may hold or touch the Deity with a cloth held in his left hand.)

Articles become free from contamination in different ways, depending on their nature. In the case of serious contamination, things made of iron and similar metals are purified by fire (by bringing the object to a red-hot state); jewels, stones, and conch shells by being buried for seven nights in the ground; objects of horn, ivory, and turtleshell by planing the surface; and cloth by removing the contaminated portion. When things made of wood or earthernware are seriously contaminated, however, they should be discarded.

When articles are mildly contaminated through contact with impure items such as food remnants, they may be purified in the following ways: gold, silver, conch shells, jewels, stones, and spoons are purified by water; yaja utensils, such as the sruk and sruva (wooden ladles), by rinsing with warm water; other yaja utensils by scrubbing with kua grass and water; an sana, bed, and vehicle by water; and grains, deerskin, cloth,* thread, linen, fruits, flowers, grass, and leaves by washing them in water if extensively contaminated, or simply by sprinkling if the contamination is slight.

*Cloth washed by a dhob (professional launderer) is not considered uci; it should not be worn by pjrs or Deity cooks. Dry-cleaning is also not suci, since alcohol, which is most impure, is used in the process.

We continue with purification methods for mildly contaminated objects: Blankets are purified by soap berries (rta-phala), silk by saline earth, linen by mustard seeds; cotton cloth is purified by washing with soap and water, then drying in the sun and wind. Iron and bell metal are purified by ash; tin, copper, and lead are purified by tamarind and water. Wood and floors are purified by planing or scraping. Liquids are purified by straining; containers of gourd or coconut are purified by scrubbing with the hair from a cow's tail. Earthernware, if glazed, is purified by water; different types of items altogether are purified by sprinkling with water. Raw rice is purified by discarding the bad part; boiled rice is purified by discarding the impure part, chanting Gyatr, and sprinkling the rice with water. The ground is purified by sweeping and smearing it with cow dung and water, by sprinkling with cow urine and dung, by burning, by the treading of cow hooves, by time, and by digging. Boats, paths, grass, and brick constructions are purified by wind and sun. Water for one's own bath or for Deity worship is purified by flowing water, which should be clear, sweet-tasting, and sweet-smelling. In order of preference, water should be taken from the following sources: the Gag or Yamun, other trthas, a river that flows directly to the ocean (that is, not a tributary), a tributary river, a natural spring, a lake, a pond, a large man-made reservoir, a small man-made reservoir, a well, and a pot.(Pancharatra Pradipa)

 

 

Consideration of Purity and Impurity (uddhi-vicra).

Vedic society is highly aware of purity, both gross and subtle. Objects have been classified according to their grades of impurity and the methods necessary to purify them. This is called suddhi-vicara, an understanding of how to maintain purity. What follows is a summary of these principles, as Lord Krishna outlines them to Uddhava in the rmad-Bhgavatam (11.21.7---15):

``O saintly Uddhava, in order to restrict materialistic activities, I have established that which is proper and improper among all material things, including time, space and all physical objects.

``Among places, those bereft of the spotted antelope, those devoid of devotion to the brhmaas, those possessing spotted antelopes but bereft of respectable men, provinces like Kkaa and places where cleanliness and purificatory rites are neglected, where meat-eaters are prominent, or where the earth is barren, are all considered to be contaminated lands.

``A specific time is considered pure when it is appropriate, either by its own nature or through achievement of suitable paraphernalia, for the performance of one's prescribed duty. That time which impedes the performance of one's duty is considered impure.

``An object's purity or impurity is established by application of another object, by words, by rituals, by the effects of time, or according to relative magnitude.

``Impure things may or may not impose sinful reactions upon a person, depending on that person's strength or weakness, intelligence, wealth, location, and physical condition.

``Various objects such as grains; wooden utensils; things made of bone; thread; liquids; objects derived from fire; skins; and earthy objects are all purified by time, by the wind, by fire, by earth, and by water, either separately or in combination.

``A particular purifying agent is considered appropriate when its application removes the bad odor or dirty covering of some contaminated object and makes it resume its original nature.

``The self can be cleansed by bathing, charity, austerity, age, personal strength, purificatory rituals, prescribed duties, and, above all, by remembrance of Me. The brhmaa and other twice-born men should be duly purified before performing their specific activities.

``A mantra is purified when chanted with proper knowledge, and one's work is purified when offered to Me. Thus by purification of the place, time, substance, doer, mantras, and work, one becomes religious, and by negligence of these six items one is considered irreligious."

The Hari-bhakti-vilsa: provides further details concerning uddhi-vicra:(Pacharatra Pradipa)

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