Pitru Paksha - Shraddh

Pitru Paksha,the "fortnight of the ancestors",also called in different places as Pitri Pokkho,Sola Shraddha, Kanagat, Jitiya, Mahalaya Paksha and Apara paksha.This is a 16 th lunar day period when Hindus pay homage,via food offerings.to their ancestors.Pitru Paksha is considered by Hindus an inauspicious period,which is also known as Shraadh or tarpan.

In western and southern India, it falls in the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (September - October),starting from the full moon day (Poornima),falling immediately after the Ganesh festival and ending with the new moon day known as 'Sarvapitri amavasya' or 'Mahalaya amavasya'. In North India and Nepal,this period corresponds to the dark fortnight of the month Ashwin.

The subtle tamasik yama frequencies reach the earth in higher proportions during the four Hindu calendar months (chaturmas) following the Hindu New Year day.The yama frequencies operate also in the Yamalok area. Since departed ancestors' subtle bodies reside in this region, one can reach the ancestors during this fortnight, with the help of the predominant yama frequencies.

Hence, Hindus consider this fortnight to be ideal for performing rites for ancestors, believing that during this period, subtle bodies of deceased ancestors from Yamlok, visit their relatives on the earth.So if the rite of shraadh is performed on one of the days in this fortnight, then the soul of the deceased ancestors get peace for the rest of the year.

As per the scriptures, if the ancestors are contended with the shraadhs, they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity, and ultimately liberation,heaven and salvation (moksha),to the person who performs the rites.

Shraadh involves oblations to three preceding generations - by reciting their names - as well as to the mythical lineage ancestor (gotra). A person thus gets to know the names of six generations (three preceding generation, his own and two succeeding generations - his sons and grandsons) in his life, reaffirming lineage ties.

It is also said that Pitru Paksha emphasises the fact that the ancestors and the current generation and their next unborn generation are connected by blood ties.

The current generation repays their debt to the ancestors in the Pitru Paksha. This debt is considered of utmost importance along with a person's debt to his gurus and his parents.

Irrespective of the lunar day rules, special days are marked for people who died in a particular manner or had a perticular status in life. Chautha Bharani and Bharani Panchami, the fourth and fifth lunar day respectively, are marked for people deceased in the past year.

Avidhava navami ("Unwidowed ninth"), the ninth lunar day, is for married women who died before their husband. Widowers invite Brahmin women as guests for their wife's shraadh.

The twelfth lunar day is for children and ascetics who had sacrificed the worldly pleasures.The fourteenth day is known as Ghata chaturdashi or Ghayala chaturdashi,which is reserved for those people killed in war or suffered a tragic death.

In Bengal, 'Mahalaya' marks the beginning of Durga Puja festivities,when the goddess,Durga is believed to descend the Earth.Bengalis wake up early in the morning and recite hymns from the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi) scripture. Offerings to the ancestors are made in homes and at puja mandaps (pandals).

The Mother's father or the Daughter's son also marks the first day of the month of Ashwin and beginning of the bright fortnight.It is assigned for the grandson of the deceased maternal grandfather.

The Pitrupaksha fortnight is a reminder of our subtle existence and the spiritual measures needed in the form of last rites (antya sanskar) and other rites like shraadh, to ensure a smooth passage from existence in the physical to the subtle planes.

It observed that due to some or other reasons many of these subtle measures are not practiced or neglected or forgotten. This has caused the sufferings created by the subtle bodies of ancestors, who suffer, as their smooth passage was not taken care.This has led to matrimonial problems, difficulty in conceiving a child,bearing handicapped children, miscarriages,short life etc.

The Sarvapitri Amavasya - Mahalaya Amavasya

The Sarva Pitru Amavasya or Mahalaya Amavasya is observed on No Moon day during Mahalaya paksha shraddh.Pitru Amavasya falls during Ashwin month as per North Indian calendar followed in Uttar Pradesh Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.

Mahalaya Amavas is the last day of Pitru Paksha. Sarvapitri amavasya (all fathers' new moon day), is observed for all the ancestors, irrespective of the lunar day they died. It is the most important day of the Pitru Paksha since who have forgotten or neglected to perform shraadh can do so on this day.

A shraadh ritual performed on this day has significance of the rites conducted in the holy city of Gaya,which is the most sacred place to perform the rite, and hosts a fair during the Pitru Paksha period.

However, on Sarvapitri amavasya or matamaha, the daughter's son can offer shraadh for the maternal side of his family if a male heir is absent in his mother's family.From the next day of This amavasya,The Durga Navaratri festival begins.

Rituals

The ritual of shraddha should be performed for one's deceased father, grandfather, great-grandfather on the paternal side and the mother, grandfather, great-grandfather on the maternal side.

One can also perform these rites for one's deceased stepmother, grandfather, great-grandfather, great great-grandfather, grandmother,teachers, priests, friends,great-grandmother, great great-grandmother, wife, son, daughter, paternal uncle, maternal uncle, brother, paternal aunt, maternal aunt, sister, son of paternal uncle, son-in-law, nephew (sister's son), father-in-law, mother-in-law,the Guru and disciples.

Prior to performing the rite, the male should have experienced a sacred thread ceremony.castes only perform the shraadh for one generation. The ritual is also held on the death anniversary of the ancestor.

The shraadh is performed only at noon, usually on the bank of a river or lake or at one's own house.Families may also make a pilgrimage to sacred places like Kashi,Banaras,Varanasi,Gaya etc.to perform shraadh.It is recomended that the shraadh should be performed by the eldest son or a male relative of the paternal branch of the family.

The male who performs the shraadh should be take a purifying bath beforehand and is expected to wear adhoti. He wears a ring of darbha grass. Then the ancestors are invoked to reside in the ring. The shraadh is usually performed bare-chested, as the position of the sacred thread worn by him needs to be changed multiple times during the ceremony.

The shraadh involves pinda-daan, which is an offering to the ancestors of pindas (cooked rice and barley flour balls mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds), accompanying the release of water from the hand. It is followed by the worship of Vishnu in form of the darbha grass, a gold image or Shaligram stone and Yama. The food offering is then made, cooked especially for the ceremony on the roof.

The food offerings made to the ancestors are usually cooked in silver or copper vessels and typically placed on a banana leaf or cups made of dried leaves. The food must include Kheer (a type of sweet rice and milk) , rice, dal, the vegetable of spring bean (guar) ,lapsi (a sweet made of wheat grains),and a yellow gourd (pumpkin).

The offering is considered to be accepted if a crow arrives and eats the food; the crow is believed to be the messenger of the ancestors.A cow and a dog are also fed, andBrahmin priests are also offered food. Once the crow eats the 'Pinda' and Brahmins have eaten, then only the family members are allowed to take lunch.In some families the Bhagavata Purana and theBhagavad Gita is recited and also donations are made to charitable trusts and orphanges.

Legend

The legendary hero 'Daanveer' Karna (of epic Mahabharata)was very rich and known for his generousity. When he was alive he donated wealth in form of gold,pearls and jewels.He never offered food obligations to his ancestors and always donated jewellary.

When he died he was taken to heaven for his charitable acts.But no one served food to him there. Instead they were serving him gold.When Karna asked the king of death,Yama about this, Yama clarified him that he had donated only jewellaries and not food.Yama further advised him to give food to the nnedy people,then only he would get justice in the Yamlok.

Since Karna had no successor on the earth at that time because Karna's sons were dead in the war.So no one was there to perform charity in his memory.Karna soon requested Yama to give him 14 days to perform charity to the Prithvilok.

Yama agreed and Karna appeared on the earth and performed rituals to his ancestors and gave food to the needy people.When he came back to heaven, he was offered plenty of food.So It is strongly believed that by donating food and offering obligations during this period of Pitru Paksha,one can give passage to his dead ancestors for salvation.