We are who are today because of our ancestors whose genes we inherit and who contributed significantly to our early foundation in life. Every part of our identity, from the language we speak to the dress we wear and the food we eat, comes from the generations before us. In Hindu belief, this debt towards one’s ancestors (pitra rin) is substantial and comparable only to one’s debt to their parents and their gurus.
Pitru Paksha is the annual fortnight dedicated to thanking the departed ancestors. During this sixteen day period, it is believed that souls from the Pitru-loka come down to earth to reside in their kins’ homes. Hindus use this time to remember their ancestors with puja and food offerings.
Pitra Paksha in Mythology
The tradition of offering donations during Pitru Paksha was initiated by Karna. Being a charitable person, Karna had donated gold and precious things throughout his life. When he died and his soul went to heaven, he was given only gold and jewels to eat. He went to Indra and asked the reason for this. Indra told him that despite donating many things, he had never donated any food to his ancestors. Karna reasoned that since he didn’t know of his ancestors, he had never donated anything. Indra then allowed Karna to go back to earth for a fortnight to do Shraddha and seek redemption. This period came to be known as Pitra Paksha.
Most Important Day
Of the sixteen days in this fortnight, the Sarvapitri amavasya or the Mahalaya amavasya is meant for all ancestors, irrespective of the lunar day they died. It is the most important day of the Pitru Paksha and those who have forgotten to perform shraddh can do so on this day. It is said that a shraddh ritual performed on this day is as fruitful as one conducted in the holy city of Gaya, so try not to miss this date.
Pitra Paksha is Observed:
• To express our gratitude to the departed ancestors
• To gratify the souls of departed loved ones
• To reap their blessings and gain health, wealth, knowledge and longevity
• To ensure that souls of ancestors ascend to heaven and ultimately attain moksha
• To connect the present generation with the past ones
What You Can Do at Home:
• Perform a simple tarpan and offering of til to ancestors
• Offer balls of rice mixed with sesame (pind) to the crows and animals
• Feed a Brahmin and including in the meal the favourite dishes of your ancestors
• Read holy scriptures such as Garuda Purana, Agni Purana and stories of Nachiketa and Ganga Avataram
• Conduct recitals of Bhagavata Puran and Bhagvad Gita
• Donate a set of clothes in the name of your dear ones
• Perform japa and meditation for added spiritual benefits
Things to Avoid During This Time
Pitru Paksha is not the best time to make new beginnings. Avoid starting any new businesses, going on long distance journeys or buying a new home or property during this period. Astrologers advise that auspicious ceremonies like marriages, celebration of new baby’s birth and moving to a new home should not be scheduled during this fortnight. Therefore, either try to prepone these events or postpone them so that they don’t fall during this fortnight.
Eating non vegetarian food and drinking alcohol can be avoided out of love and respect for ancestors. And lastly, clear your mind of all negative thoughts and any malice towards anyone. Prayers that are offered with a pure heart and a clear mind have the power to transform the universe around you.