Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrating Our Ancestors

This month I am starting to restore the ancestral home (more than 100 years old) of my grandfather at a small village named Edanganni (10 Km from the formal Chola capital of Jayankondam, in the south Indian state of Tamilnadu about 280 Km from Chennai).

Though I knew due to my association with Chinese culture for brief period that April is the time of commemoration of the ancestors I did not know the full background. Hence I did some research on the internet and found that I was right about the month but there is more to this festival as you can read here.

“The Qingming Festival usually falls in April in the solar calendar. At the very beginning, it was a very important solar term. The weather gradually turns nice after the Qingming Festival. Having undergone constant evolvement, the day has become a festival for the Chinese people to commemorate their ancestors. The Chinese people now prefer to choose Qingming as the tomb sweeping day. With the concept of environmental protection deeply rooted among the general public, it is now a trend to have an environmental-friendly tomb sweeping day, such as carrying out public memorial ceremony, public commemoration through the Internet, etc.

The Qingming Festival is the most important day for people to offer sacrifice to ancestors. It started from the Zhou Dynasty, with a history of over 2500 years. Qingming is one of the 24 solar terms in China, indicating the coming of late spring, thus the best ploughing and growing time, while "Cold Food Day" is a day when folks sweep the ancestors' tombs and eat cold food. Qingming was adjacent to Cold Food Day, so later on they gradually became one festival, and thus "Cold Food" became another name for Qingming, and dusting the tomb and eating cold food turned into the customs of the day. Qingming has evolved into a festival carrying rich culture and profound meaning.”

“Qing Ming” literally means “Clear Brightness”. There are two meanings; one that the dreary winter has been replaced by bright spring and the other is that the souls of the ancestors have been liberated from internment in the human body and have passed on to the bright realm of the ‘Chi’.

This is the reason that kites are flown during this festival. The aspiration for ascendancy of the soul is commemorated through the physical symbol of the kites taking to the bright skies.

The eating of the cold food and the ban on lighting the fire of cooking also symbolize the return to nature of the human body and the absence of all transformative action, which is the nature of fire, as the body is now returned to its basic elements.

Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food and libation to the ancestors. The rites are very important to most Chinese and especially farmers. Many believe that if the ancestors' spirits are not properly cared for, they will become hungry ghosts that can cause trouble for the living.

The meaning of this celebration (Qingming Festival on 2nd April 2010) and ritual of caring for the ancestors should be one of gratitude for whatever we have inherited in our deeper self from our ancestors. . Today the inheritance is merely consigned to the property or bank accounts, but the true inheritance is the values that we imbibe from our forefathers. I still remember the generosity with which my grandfather used to treat all the farm labourers and servants in the house. Our true tribute should be in inculcating these values. We may refurbish the ancestral home sweep and decorate their tombs but if all the richness of their lives do not make any impact on us we will have to encounter the ‘hungry ghosts’ of the spiritual vacuum within us and be troubled by the meaninglessness of our empty lives.

Love to you all


  1. For the first time we have received a full 'story format with a moral' from you!!!!!
    Congrats and you can use this format occasionally

  2. Hey Tibs
    this is a lovely article
    We were sitting about having a family meal yesterday discussing what is the significance of Easter, particularly for those of us who do not follow any religion. This has given me some ideas
    Thank you

  3. 'A hundred times every day, I remind myself that my inner and outer lives are based on the labour of others,living and dead,and that I must exert myself in order to give, in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.'I was reminded of this lovely quote of Einstein as I read today's blog.As we pay homage to our ancestors we also undertake an assurance, to enrich and upgrade their value based lives through our own.

  4. SS, thanks for the suggestion. I will try to use this format in future posts whenever a situation demands.

  5. Samia,
    Thanks for your appreciation. Every festival and ritual had a deeper meaning. The festival of Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Christ, should not be seen in a historical context. The Egyptians believed in the resurrection. I will be doing a post on this shortly.

  6. Subathra, thanks for the sharing. Every great scientist understood that it is not purely their contribution whenever a innovation or discovery was made. This is the reason the saying "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantium humeris insidentes" is a Western metaphor meaning "One who develops future intellectual pursuits by understanding the research and works created by notable thinkers of the past"
    This saying was famously uttered by seventeenth-century scientist Isaac Newton.
    Let us continuously pay homage to these great souls!