“Pitra Paksha” is a 16 lunar day period in Hindu calendar when Hindu’s invoke the blessings of their ancestors, by offering food and performing rituals.“Pitra” is a Sanskrit word referring to the ancestors and “Paksha” is also a Sanskrit word referring to a fortnight or a lunar phase. Hence “Pitra Paksha” means a fortnight for the ancestors.
“Pitra Paksha” is conducted to please the ancestors and seek their blessings. It is also considered inauspicious by Hindus, because of the death rites performed during the period, which is known as Shraddha or tarpan. There is a custom to offer food (known as tarpan) to the departed ancestors in order to please them.
Hindus believe that during the “Pitra Paksha” their ancestors descend from the Pitrulok (world of departed souls) to accept their offerings and to bless them with happiness, prosperity and an unbroken family lineage.
Pitra Paksha 2019
“Pitra Paksha” starts on the day of Purnima (full Moon), also known as Purnima Shraddha and concludes sixteen days later on the day of Amavasya (Dark Moon), known as “Sarvapitri Amavasya”.
“Pitra Paksha 2019” began with “Shraddha Purnima” on Friday, 13th September 2019 and will conclude with “Sarvapitri Amavasya” on Saturday, 28th September 2019.
On the first day of observance, rituals were performed in houses, in which ancestors were venerated and meals were served as a symbol of honour and respect.
People from different states are heading to Bodh Gaya, which is a holy place considered auspicious for performing Shradha rituals.
A kind of fair is organized on the banks of Falgu River in Gaya with thousands of devotees from across the country coming to honour their ancestors.
Everyday a new ritual is being performed as per the custom and religious requirements of the devotees.
When is Pitra Paksha Scheduled/Shraddha Performed
Pitra Paksha falls in the second fortnight (paksha) of the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada, corresponding to the September month in Gregorian calendar. It begins on the first day of the fortnight (Pratipada) and ends on the no moon day on “Sarvapitri Amavasya”. The period of Pitra Paksha often witnesses the Sun’s transition from northern hemisphere to southern hemisphere; an astronomical event known as “September Equinox” or “Autumnal Equinox”.
In West Bengal the day corresponding to Sarvapitri Amavasya is called “Mahalaya” and is very significant for Bengalis from the point of view of pind daan and also as it marks the beginning of Durga Puja festival.
As per the custom and as mentioned in ancient texts, the rituals of Shraddha should be performed during the late afternoon hours.
Legend of Pitra Paksha/Shraddha
Hindu’s believe that the souls of three preceding ancestors reside in a different world (Pitra Lok), lying between heaven and earth. When someone from the succeeding generation dies, the soul of the first ancestor is relieved from the Pitra Lok and transcends to heaven, meeting God. Thus the Shraddha rites are performed for only three preceding generations.
Another legend of Pitra Paksha is related to a major character – “Karna” in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. When Karna died in a war in Mahabharata, his soul moved to heaven and was given gold and jewels as food. Hungry and unable to consume the offerings, Karna turned to Indra for answer. Indra is the king of Heaven, thus Karna asked him as to why he was being served gold and jewels as food.
To which Indra told Karna that the latter had been an ardent donor throughout his life, but had never donated or offered food to his ancestors, to please them. Realizing his mistake, Karna requested Indra for amendments to correct his mistakes. Thus Lord Indra allowed Karna to return to earth for a fortnight to perform Shraddha of his ancestors by offering food and water. This period of a fortnight is known as Pitra Paksha.
Pitra Paksha begins with an astronomical event when Sun enters into the zodiac sign of Kanya (Virgo). It is believed that the souls of the ancestors descent from Pitra Lok to their descendant’s home and stay there for a month till the sun ventures into next Zodiac sign Vrischika (Scorpio); accepting food offerings during the first half of the month.
Pitra Paksha/Shraddha History
The oldest mention of Pitra Paksha is found in ancient Hindu epic – Mahabharata, composed around 400 BCE; though, the actual events of Mahabharata occurred much earlier around 3139 BC.
Mahabharata mentions, Bhishma Pitamah telling Yudhishthira about Shraddha or pind daan or offering to the ancestors. The first teaching on Shraddha was given by a Vedic saint known as “Maharishi Atri” to another saint called Maharishi Nimi. Thus first Maharishi Nimi started following the rituals of Shraddha, which subsequently was adopted by other saints and common people, over the passage of time.
Saint Nimi belonged to the Ikshvaku dynasty and was an ancestor of Lord Rama. Therefore, the ritual of Shraddha dates back a long time, even much before the birth of Rama during 5114 BCE.
Pitra Paksha/Shraddha Significance
“Pitra Paksha” is a significant event for Hindus. It is a period to remember and revere the departed ancestors and to seek their blessings. It is regarded as a compulsory ritual performed by a son to make sure that the soul of his ancestor reaches heaven. Garud Puran – one of the ancient Hindu scriptures also mentions that there is no liberation for the soul of a man unless the rites are performed by his son.
The ancient scriptures stresses on pleasing one’s departed ancestors by offering food and water during Pitra Paksha. If one duly performs the rituals with devotion, then the ancestors will bless the family members with prosperity, longevity, wisdom and salvation and ensure that the family lineage continues eternally.
While performing the rituals one has to speak out the names of his ancestors, thus reaffirming his lineage ties and letting him to know his fore fathers as well as gotra. It also ensures that the preceding and the succeeding generations are connected emotionally and also by blood ties. It’s kind of a mandatory debt that the present generation pays to their departed ancestors.
Pitra Paksha Rules/Procedures for Shraddha
Shraddha of a deceased ancestor is performed during a day of Pitra Paksha. The corresponding day of Pitra Pasha for the ancestor’s Shraddha is chosen based on the nature or cause of death or their social status.
The fourth and fifth days respectively known as Chaturtha Bharani and Bharani Panchami are for the people who have died recently a year back or for those who died on Chaturdashi and Panchami tithis.
The ninth lunar day is called “Avidhava Navami” and is dedicated to the Shraddha of married women who died before their husbands and also for those who died on navami tithi. The 12th day is dedicated to the Shraddha of ascetics.
14th Lunar Day is called Ghayala Chaturdashi and is dedicated to the people who died of arms or suffered a violent death.
The last day or the sixteenth day of Pitra Paksha i.e. “Sarvapitra Amavasya” is the most important day as on this day the rites for all the ancestors irrespective of their cause or nature or time of death, could be performed on this day.
Who Can Perform Shraddha and For Whom
The first rule of the Shraddha is that it should be performed by the eldest living male member of the family. The Shraddha is performed only for the preceded three generations. In the absence of a male member in the family, daughter’s son can also offer Shraddha to his maternal side, only on Sarvapitri Amavasya; however, a girl is prohibited from offering pind daan.
Ancient and Modern Customs
During the ancient times the rituals were performed devotedly with the performers and their families abstaining completely from consuming meat, onion, garlic and other tamasic foods. People even abstained from shaving, taking head bath or cutting nails. But with the passage of time and busy schedule, significant changes have been made in these age old customs. Nevertheless, today people follow the rituals but also have relaxed the rules of grooming for their own convenience.
Some families now readily use onion and garlic in food, except in the food prepared for the offering. The custom of inviting priests for a meal has also been decaying due to busyness of life.
In older days girls refrained totally from offering Shraddha, but in modern days the thoughts and beliefs of people has changed. Today, many families allow their daughters to do pind daan and venerate their ancestors for bringing peace, prosperity and harmony.
Varanasi, Gaya, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Nashik and Rameswaram are some of the famous places for performing pind daan to the ancestors during Pitra Paksha. In Varanasi, the Shraddha is performed on the banks of holy river Ganga and in Gaya it is performed on the banks of river Falgu.
Gaya is the most significant place to offer Shraddha, as it was in Gaya on the banks of Falgu River that Rama’s wife Sita offered pinda to the former’s father – Dasharatha.
An annual fare during the Pitra Paksha is organized on the banks of river Falgu in Gaya. Gaya witnesses millions of pilgrims from every corner of the country during the Pitra Paksha.
Rituals of Pitra Paksha/Dos and Donts
Pitra Paksha – Dos
The following rituals are performed during the Pitra Paksha in a common Hindu household.
1) The Shraddha is performed by the eldest male member of the family.
2) Like as in any other Hindu festival or ritual, it is mandatory for the performer to take bath and cleanse his body as well as mind.
3) The performer wears a ring made of Kusha grass (salt reed grass) in his ring finger of the right hand. It represents a courteous and humble gesture to call the ancestors to accept the offerings.
4) Next, the pind daan is offered to the ancestors. The person who offers food is supposed to remember his ancestor’s name, respectfully inviting them to the house and accept the offerings. The food offered generally constitute of rice, barley, chapatis etc, but must be prepared without using onion and garlic and offered in plates made of leaves of banana or some other plant.
5) After offering the food to the ancestors, Kusha grass is offered to Lord Vishnu invoking his blessings in one’s life.
6) The food is also offered to the crow who the Hindu’s believe to be the messenger of Lord Yama.
7) Priests are also invited to the house and food is offered to them. Care must be taken to not use onion and garlic in the food for the ancestors as well as for the priests.
8) Recitation of religious books like – Garuda Purana and Agni Purana should be made during the day.
9) Lastly, all the family members should eat their meals together.
Pitra Paksha – Donts
There are also few things which must be avoided during the “Pitra Paksha”, as given below-
1) Any new purchase or a starting a new business must be avoided during the month.
2) Cutting hairs, nails or washing hairs should also be avoided.
3) Non vegetarian food and use of onion and garlic must be avoided.
4) Food and water should be offered to animals and birds like cows, dogs and crows and they should not be harmed in any way.
“Shraddha” is a method to connect and remember your ancestors and to show your love and respect for them. Anyone who performs the rituals with dedication, devotion and a clean heart and mind will definitely be blessed with prosperity, contentment, longevity and a lineage succession.