Garuḍa Purāṇa 10
Garuḍa, the bird now seeks answers for the following questions from the Lord. 1. The difference between offering gifts directly and through others. 2. The difference between offering gifts when one is healthy and after becoming sick. 3. Gifts offered after one becomes unconscious, causing the violation of scriptural dictums.
The Lord begins to answer. A cow offered as a gift when one is hale and healthy, fully conscious, without any doubt on merits accruing on giving this gift, is the best choice. The place and the recipient of the gift is also important and to be considered very carefully. The gift should be given only according to the dictums of dharma śāstra-s. Gifting hundreds of cows at the time of death, or when someone is gifting when the donor himself is unconscious, or after his death does not yield any results. Proxy or power of attorney does not hold good as far as gifts are concerned. Good karma multiplies by giving a gift to a deserving person. If such gifts are given during one’s younger age, the good karmas go on multiplying forever. Gifts should be given out of one’s own earnings. The gifts should never be offered by borrowing. Pomp and vanity should never be practiced while giving gifts. By giving such gifts, sins of the donor gradually get wiped out. Receiving a gift from a pious person does not affect the receiver of the gift. However, it is very important that gift should never be given to the underserved. If gifts are given to the undeserving people, it causes the downfall of both the donor and the beneficiary and their respective families. It is also said that such wrongful gifts affect twenty one generations of both the donor and donee.
It is said that everyone should offer something as a gift daily, particularly on special occasions. The gifts should be offered directly and not through someone else. If one does not have a son, he should perform the funeral rites for his wife and himself. The same principle also applies, if one aims for liberation. Fire rituals should not be performed in an expensive way. What is required in a fire ritual are a few logs, ghee for oblations and the mantras.
Gifting of a bed with accessories, gifting of a cow and gifting a virgin in marriage are considered as very precious gifts and if sold or shared by the donee seriously affect his family and his next seven generations. Nobody knows the time of his death. As long as one is alive, one should continue to give gifts to the deserving, however small the gift may be. Such gifts help his subtle body after death to travel in a comfortable path to the world of ancestors. Even if one has a son to perform his last rites, it is better to perform rituals like vṛṣotsarga (letting lose a bull calf), commonly known as vṛṣotsarjanam, held on the eleventh day from the date of death.
This ritual should be performed as follows during one’s lifetime. This rite should be performed on sun’s northern transit, known as uttarāyaṇa, preferably in the month of kārttika (October-November), on the twelfth lunar day (dvādaśi) of both waxing and waning moon, in conjunction with an auspicious star, at an auspicious time, in a clean and sanctified place. He has to perform japa and homa (oblations in the fire) through a priest, who is well versed in this ritual. After completing japa and homa rituals, the bull calf is sanctified with water kept in a pot. The calf is then decorated with flowers and ornaments. Then in the left ear of the calf, certain mantras are recited and the bull calf is set free. Then regular śrāddha is performed.
After completing this ritual, the following gifts are also made. Minimum three pairs of footwear, minimum three pots containing gingelly seeds, a cow with its calf, an idol of Viṣṇu, a boat made up of sugarcane leaves, ghee with a brass vessel, etc. These gifts are symbolic in nature and are believed to help the departed soul while travelling all the way to the world of Yama. With all the gifts, gift in cash should also be given. Those who offer all these gifts are blessed by Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. They are worthy of worship. When they die, they reach the heaven and take a long sojourn to be born again as a human. Depending upon his karmas, he finally gets liberated, not to be born again.
The Lord then speaks about rituals immediately after death.
Further reading: Garuḍa Purāṇa mentions about several gifts. Those days, men were leaning Vedas full time. They do not undertake any other job except learning Vedas. The entire Vedas cannot be learnt in one’s life time. Learning Vedas does not mean memorizing the verses of Vedas. The rituals prescribed by Vedas are also important. Yajur Veda discusses at length, even about the construction of a fire altar. The construction of a fire altar is done by reciting several mantras. Several measurements and several sizes have been prescribed. In order to encourage men to know Vedas, they are provided with gifts both in cash and kind. For example, a gifted cow is used to nurture the family of the donee. Such donees make their sons to learn and study Vedas. Vedas were practiced hereditarily. Such knower of Vedas are worshipped and always come to the rescue of those who suffer. They pray for the general wellbeing of everyone. However, the situation is different today. Everything is commercialized.
Of late, one can find those men providing people with several valuable gifts. For example, educating the poor, providing shelter to the homeless, donating to orphanages and old age homes are some of the common charitable works undertaken by many. One should make the act of giving such gifts in person a practice. One should personally go to an orphanage and serve them in person. It is not enough that mere cash donation is made. The smile that blossoms forth in the faces of those orphans is several times more powerful than all these gifts.
In the same way, one is duty bound to maintain his/her aged parents. If they are ignored during their old age by sending them to old age homes is a huge sin. Money cannot buy everything. Rebirths happen not due to one’s wealth. The cause of rebirth is only one’s own accrued karmas. One may pay for his parents’ expenses, but it is important to keep his parents with him. If this is not done, any amount of charity will be of no use.