“Since a son delivers his father from the hell named ‘Put’, a son is called putra; he who protects his ancestors in every way.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 107.12)
पुन्नाम्नो नरकाद् यस्मात् पितरं त्रायते सुतः।
तस्मात् पुत्र इति प्रोक्तः पितॄन् यः पाति सर्वतः।।
punnāmno narakād yasmāt pitaraṃ trāyate sutaḥ।
tasmāt putra iti proktaḥ pitṝn yaḥ pāti sarvataḥ।।
The Sanskrit word for “son” has a deeper meaning. The word is a compound of two important concepts. Just as the son does not arrive at random, without some prior work and intelligence regarding placement, so the responsibilities within that role are nontrivial.
The word is putra, and it refers to hell and delivering. In essence, the son has the potential to deliver the father from hell. Should that be the fate due to past deeds, all hope is not lost. The offspring, the future generation, can lift back to a better condition. This is through both the work they accomplish and specific worship they conduct.
To conduct the worship, they should first learn the process. They have to be made aware of the entire reason for the worship, for the importance of supporting others. In this way, the same concept of putra can give a basic framework for the responsibilities of the parents.
Even the animal community follows this, and no one had to instruct them, as such. It is second nature. You protect the children. Based on their level of ability, progression through the different stages, you offer more assistance.
There is a reason for the often invoked expression of the birds one day leaving the nest. Part of the protection is to ensure that the children will be protected into the future, as history shows that the parents are more likely to depart the world prior to their offspring.
Children imitate the adults. This will never change. It can be both a bad thing and a good thing. If the father is addicted to drugs and alcohol, the children will notice. If the mother is abusive and known for throwing things in anger, endangering the lives of the other residents in the home, the children might one day follow the behavior.
What do parents value most in life? What is most important to them? If the child were to grow up and take on an occupation, what should they use to gauge success? What is their ideal point of reference?
This is where the concept of putra comes in. Even without explicit instruction or lengthy discussions on higher topics, simply by giving an example others will be able to understand. If the father worships on a timely basis, is clean both externally and internally, is straightforward in his dealings with others, and hopes for the most fruitful end to life, others will be influenced.
The best destination of all is a return to the spiritual world known as Vaikuntha. This automatically finishes the cycle of birth and death. One who reaches that realm never has to return.
पुनर् आवर्तिनो ऽर्जुन
माम् उपेत्य तु कौन्तेय
पुनर् जन्म न विद्यते
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
If an elder showed me the way in their dealings and their regular worship, I will keep that in the memory for a long time. Even if I no longer have the association of that guardian, if they departed this world decades ago, the memory remains.
Someone who I hold in high regard found it important to chant the holy names and live in a way to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Perhaps that is what I should follow. Maybe they knew something that I have yet to figure out. Perhaps that connection to the Divine was the reason they were such a great person and the reason I cherish them so.
Giving sufficient protection,
And showing proper direction.
The guardian obligation fulfilling,
Routine in worship instilling.
Just from the example to show,
Years later still to know.
That God everything and complete,
Hoping one day to meet.
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