Pitra Paksha is a 16 day period in Hindu calendar when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors (Pitrs) through food offerings. Pitra Paksha literally means “fortnight of the ancestors” and follows the fortnight immediately after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. It begins on the first day of the fortnight (Padyami) ending with the new moon day known as Pitra Amavasya.
We, the current Generation, have taken all the things that we have today for granted. But without the contributions from our ancestors, we would not exist; nor we would have all the things that we possess today. This is a period when we express our gratitude to all our ancestors.
Karna and the Ritual of Performing Shradh
We all know of the king Karna from Mahabharata. He was the son of Sun God. During his life he was considered to be very deeply involved in charity. He could not say no to anyone. When he died and went to heaven the gods gave him food made of gold. Karna asked the gods why he was given food made of gold when he was known as a famous king who did a lot of charity work. The King of the gods Indra told him that this was so because Karna, in his life, was only donating gold and gems.
He never offered food and water to the poor and neither to his ancestors. King Karna realized his mistake and he wanted to correct the same. The gods decided that Karna will be allowed to get back to earth for sixteen days and feed the poor and the needy. This would help him to get rid of the problem.
These sixteen days when king Karna was on Earth were called the Pitra Paksha. These days are considered very inauspicious and even today no new activity or a good task is done on these days. The Hindus offer prayers and food to the ancestors in this time. This ensures that the pitra dosha is done away with. It also ensures that the entire family is blessed. The Pitra Paksha is followed only by the male members of the family.
The Ritual of Shradh involves the male member, usually the eldest son of a family. After a bath he is required to wear a ring made of kush grass. The kush grass is symbolic of benevolence and is used to invoke the ancestors. Pind Daan, the ritual of offering of rice, sesame seeds (til) and balls made from barley flour is performed. The blessings of Lord Vishnu are then invoked using another holy grass known as darbha grass. Darbha grass is known for its unhindered growth and similarly helps to remove obstacles in one’s life. Food that is specially prepared for the event is offered in memory of one’s ancestors. Crow is considered the messenger of Yama. It’s considered as an auspicious sign if a crow eats the food offered during this ritual.
Next, Brahmin priests are offered food after which the family members have their meal. Reading Holy Scriptures such as Garuda Purana, Agni Purana and the stories of Nachiketa and Ganga Avataram is considered propitious during this time.
The souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside in Pitra–loka, a realm between heaven and earth. This realm is governed by Yama, the god of death, who takes the soul of a dying man from earth to Pitra–loka. The performance of Shradh by a son during PitraPaksha is regarded as compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven. He who has done meritorious actions on this earth-life becomes united with his ancestors in the Pitra-Loka and lives with them. May our ancestors bless us with all their heart and soul. May their souls rest in peace.