Mahalaya (Pitru) Paksha – remembering ancestors

Pitru Paksha (means “fortnight of the ancestors”) to pay homage to ones ancestor (Pitrs), by way of food offerings to brahmans.

  • The period is also known as Pitru Pakshya, Pitri Pokkho, Sola Shraddha, Kanagat, Jitiya, Mahalaya Paksha and Apara paksha.
  • Pitru Paksha is considered by Hindus to be inauspicious, given the death rite performed during the ceremony, known as Shraddha or tarpan.
  • It falls in the Krishna paksha of Bhadrapada (September) and is Ganesh festival falls in first paksha or Shukla paksha of Bhadrapada month.
  • First day Padyami / new moon day is known as Pitru Amavasya, Peddala Amavasya, Mahalaya Amavasya.

Legend

  • Pitru Loka: This is a realm between heaven and earth governed by Yama, the god of death. who takes the soul of a dying man from earth to Pitru–loka.The souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside here.
  • When a person of the next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites with God, so Shraddha offerings are not given. Thus, only the three generations in Pitru–loka are given Shraddha rites, in which Yama plays a significant role.
  • Karna died and his soul transcended to heaven, where he was offered gold and jewels as food not real food to eat. Indra told him that he never donated food but gold all life and never performed Shraddha to ancestors as he is unaware of them.
  • Karna was permitted to return to earth for a 15–day period known as Pitru Paksha, so that he could perform Shraddha and donate food and water in their memory. Later he ascended to heaven and enjoyed his food.
  • Son performing Shraddha during Pitru Paksha is regarded as compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven.
  • Garuda Purana says, “there is no salvation for a man without a son”. A householder should appease ancestors (Pitris), along with the gods (devas), ghosts (bhutas) and guests.
  • Markandeya Purana says that if the ancestors are content with the shraddhas, they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity, and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha) upon the performer.
  • Mahalaya amavasya rites can also compensate a forgotten or neglected annual Shraddha ceremony. The ceremony is central to the concept of lineages. Shraddha involves oblations to three preceding generations—by reciting their names and gotra.
  • Mahalaya ending marks the formal beginning of the Durga Puja festival

Shraddha perfomring rules

When and where to perform

  • The shraddha is performed on the tithi during the Pitru Paksha, when the ancestor usually a parent or paternal grandparent died.
  • Mahalaya amavasya is intended for all ancestors, irrespective of the day they died.
  • Performed only at noon (Aparnaham), usually on the bank of a river or lake or at one’s own house.
  • At pilgrimage to places like Varanasi and Gaya
  • Performed by the eldest son or male relative of the paternal family, limited to the preceding three generations.
  • The daughter’s son can offer shraddha for the maternal side of his family if a male heir is absent in his mother’s family.
  • Male who had sacred thread only eligible to perform shraddha.

Food offerings

  • Pure vegetarian foods offered.
  • Count of 2 or 3 curries, pickles, sweets are made with items not of Viswamitra srishti.
  • Cooked in silver or copper vessels and served on banana leaves
  • Priests are also offered gifts, favors who may please ancestors.

Rites of Shraddha

  • Performer should take a purifying bath beforehand and is expected to wear a dhoti.
  • He wears a ring of kush (dharbha) grass. Then the ancestors are invoked to reside in the ring. The shraddha 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 shraddha 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 offering is considered to be accepted if a crow arrives and devours the food; the bird is believed to be a messenger from Yama or the spirit of the ancestors. A cow and a dog are also fed, and Brahmin priests are also offered food. Once the ancestors (crow) and Brahmins have eaten, the family members can begin lunch.

Om Namo Narayanaya.