Almost every culture in the world honors its dead ancestors. The Japanese Buddhists observe Bon-Odori where families come together to welcome their ancestral spirits. Mexicans observe Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, is indeed a celebration specifically for remembering the dead, the saints, martyrs, and all other faithfully departed. In Chinese culture, there is an entire month called ‘ghost month’ which is dedicated specifically to honoring their ancestors.
Likewise, in India, too, HIndus have a period of paying homage to their departed ancestors. This period of 16 days is called Pitra Paksha – ‘Pitra’ means Ancestors and ‘Paksha’ means a fortnight. Thus, the sixteen days of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada is Pitra Paksha. This Paksha begins on Purnima – Full Moon Day and ends on Amavasya – No Moon Day. The last day – “Sarva Pitri Amavasya’ or the ‘Mahalaya Amavasya’ – is a day meant for honoring all the ancestors.
This year, Pitra Paksha starts on 13 September, 2019 and ends on 28 September, 2019.
Pitra Paksha is not a time for celebrations. It is, in fact, a fervent period meant for remembering the departed ancestors and performing special rites for the salvation of their souls. Hindus believe that during the Pitra Paksha, their deceased ancestors leave their abode, Pitralok (Land of the Dead) and descend on Prithvi Lok viz the Earth.
STORY BEHIND OBSERVANCE OF PITRA PAKSHA
In Mahabharata, when the legendary Karna reached heaven after death, he was offered food made of solid gold. In his lifetime, he was famous as ‘Daanveer’ due to his bigheartedness and generous nature. He complained to Lord Indra that he was very hungry and obviously, cannot eat gold. Indra smiled and reminded him that though he offered a lot of gold in charity when alive, he never offered any food to his ancestors or perform Shraddha ceremony. Karna realized his mistake. He requested that Lord Indra give him one chance to return to Earth and correct his mistake. Lord Indra granted him his wish. Karan returned to Earth and fed the poor for 16 days. This was the period of Pitra Paksha.
MAIN RITUALS OF PITRA PAKSHA
There are three main rituals of Pitra Paksha – Tarpan, Shraadh and Pind Daan.
- ‘Trup’ which means satisfaction is the root word of the word ‘Tarpan’. Tarpan means paying oblations to Gods, Sages and ancestors by offering water to satisfy them. Black sesame (til) seeds are added to the water offered. One should perform this ritual while standing in a river or a water body. Tarpan for the deceased ancestors is performed facing south. A ring made of dried Kusha or Durva grass is worn in the finger while performing the ritual.
- Pind Daan is another ritual performed along with Shraddha. This involves making an offering of ‘Pindis’. Pindis are balls made of cooked rice and barley mixed with black sesame seeds, cow’s milk, honey, sugar and ghee. Pind Daan is usually done either in a silver plate or a leaf.
- The word ‘Shraddha’ has originated from ‘Shraddha’ (faith). Shraddha is the ritual of offering food to the priests (Brahmins). While feeding the priests one expresses his gratefulness to his ancestors through them. Besides food, clothes and money are also distributed to the Brahmins and the poor.
IMPORTANCE OF CROWS IN PITRA PAKSHA
Hindus believe that crows are messengers of Yama, the God of Death. Any food fed to the crows directly satiates the ancestors’ spirit. According to the Puranas, the crows had tasted the nectar, Amrit – which made them immortal. Even today, it is widely believed that no crow dies its natural death. It dies only sudden death due to an attack or accident. Both crows and Peepal tree represent the Pitrus – the dead ancestors. Hence, feeding crows and watering the Peepal tree are important rituals of Pitra Paksha. Besides the crows, there is also a custom of feeding cows, dogs, ants and beggars during PItra Paksha.
POPULAR PLACES OF CONDUCTING PITRA PAKSHA RITUALS
- Brahma Kapal Ghat, Badrinath
- Haridwar in Uttarakhand
- Dev Prayag in Uttarakhand
- Trimbakeshwar in Nashik, Maharashtra
- Bharat Kund in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
- Vishranti Tirth in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
- Assi Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
- Triveni Samgam in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh
- Naimishaaranya in Uttar Pradesh
- Narmada Ghat in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh
- Avantika, Kshipra Ghat in Madhya Pradesh
- Pehova in Kurukshetra, Haryana
- Pushkar in Ajmer, Rajasthan
- Matrugaya Kshetra, Siddhpur in Patan, Gujarat
- Dwarka in Jamnagar, Gujarat
- Gaya Ghat in Bihar
- Jagannath Puri in Orissa
- Tirupati in Tamil Nadu
RULES REGARDING FOOD PREPARED FOR OFFERINGS
- The food prepared is Sattvic – ie without onion and garlic. Non vegetarian food is strictly prohibited.
- Root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, colocasia, radish, carrots, etc and also vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage, and drumsticks too are not to be used. Even strong spices should be avoided.
- Urad dal wadas, rice kheer or payasam, seasonal vegetables like all types of gourd, raw plantains, lady finger, green beans, dals, leafy vegetables, seasonal fruits, etc are preferred.
- Food is usually served on banana leaves.
- After the food has been prepared, keep aside food for cow, dog and crow. Then offer food to Brahmins (priests) and needy people. Only after all of them have been satisfactorily fed, can the family members consume the food.
To read about REMEDIES FOR PITRA DOSHA IN A HOROSCOPE, click HERE.