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Pitru Paksha
Observed by Hindus
Type Hindu
Begins full moon day of Bhadrapada
Ends Sarvapitri amavasya: new moon day
Date September/October
Celebrations 16 lunar days (the period comprises of 16 lunar days, which may not correspond to 16 solar days)
Observances Shraddha: paying homage to their ancestors, especially by food offerings
Related to Ancestor worship

Pitru Paksha (Sanskrit: पितृ पक्ष), also spelt as Pitr paksha or Pitri paksha, (literally "fortnight of the ancestors") is a 16-lunar day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors (Pitrs), especially by food offerings. This death rite is known as Shraddha or tarpan and is considered as an inauspicious ceremony. In southern and western India, it falls in the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (September-October), beginning with the full moon day (Purnima) that occurs immediately after Ganesh festival and ending with the new moon day known as Sarvapitri amavasya or Mahalaya amavasya or simply Mahalaya. In North India and Nepal, this period corresponds to the dark fortnight of the month Ashwin, instead of Bhadrapada.[1]

The period is also known as Pitri Pokkho (Bengali: পিতৃ পক্ষ), Sola Shraddha ("sixteen shraddhas"), Kanagat, Jitiya, Mahalaya Paksha and Apara paksha.[2][3][4]

Legend

According to Hindu mythology, the souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestor reside in Pitru-loka, 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. When a person of the next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites with God and are thus not given Shraddha offerings. Thus, only the three generations in Pitru-loka are given Shraddha rites, in which Yama plays a significant role.[5] According to the sacred Hindu epics (Itihasa), at the beginning of Pitru Paksha, the sun enters the zodiac sign Virgo (Kanya) and at this time, it is the believed that the spirits leave Pitru-loka and reside in their descendants' homes a month until the sun enters the next zodiac Scorpio (Vrichchhika) - the next full moon. Hindus are expected to propitiate the ancestors in the first half - the dark fortnight.[3][6]

When the legendary donor Karna died in the epic Mahabharata war, his soul transcended to heaven where he was offered gold and jewels as food, but Karna needed real food to eat in heaven. He asked the lord of heaven, Indra the reason for serving gold as food. Indra said that Karna had donated gold all his life, and never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddha. Karna replied since he was unaware of his ancestors, he never donated anything in their memory. Karna was allowed to return to earth for a 16-day period, when he performed Shraddha and donated food and water in their memory. This period is now known as Pitru Paksha.[7] In some legends, Yama replaces Indra.[8]

Importance

Shraddha by a son in Pitru Paksha is considered a must for the ancestor soul to attain heaven. In this context, the scripture Garuda Purana says "there is no salvation for a man without a son".[5] The scriptures preach that a householder propitiate ancestors (Pitris) along with the gods (devas), ghosts (bhutas) and guests.[2] The scripture Markandeya Purana says if the ancestors are happy with the shraddhas, they will bestow upon the performer health, wealth, knowledge and longevity and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha).[3]

Shraddha performed on Sarvapitri amavasya can also compensate for a forgotten or neglected annual shraddha ceremony, to be held on death anniversary of the deceased. According to Sharma, the ceremony is central to the concept of lineages. Shraddha involves oblations to three preceding generations, by reciting their names as well as to the mythical lineage ancestor (gotra), thus a person in his life gets to know the names of six generations in his life: three precding generation, his own and two succeeding generations - his sons and grandsons.[2] Usha Menon presents a similar idea: pitru paksha emphasizes the fact that the ancestors and the current generation and their next unborn generation are connected with blood ties. The current generation repays their debt to the ancestors in pitru paksha. This debt is considered of utmost importance along with a person's debt to his gurus and his parents.[9]

Rules of shraddha

When and where

Shraddha is performed on the specific lunar day in Pitru Paksha, when the ancestor (usually parents or paternal grandparents) was deceased. There are exceptions to the lunar day rule, special days are allotted for people who died by a particular death or their status before death:[3][5]

  • Chautha Bharani and Bharani Panchami - the fourth and fifth lunar day respectively - is allocated for people deceased in the past year.
  • Avidhava navami ("Unwidowed ninth") - the ninth lunar day is for married women, who died before their husband. Widowers invite Brahmin women as guests for their wife's shraddha.
  • The twelfth lunar day for children and ascetics, who had renounced the worldly pleasures
  • Ghata chaturdashi or Ghayala chaturdashi - the fourteenth for people killed by arms, in a war or suffered a violet death
Durga 2005

Mahalaya marks the formal beginning of the Durga Puja festival

  • Sarvapitri amavasya - ("all father's new moon day") is meant for all ancestors, irrespective the lunar day they died. It is the most important day of the Pitru Paksha and those who forgotten to perform shraddha, can do so on this day. The shraddha done on this day is considered as fruitful as one done in the holy city of Gaya.[3] In Bengal, Mahalaya (Bengali: মহালয়া) marks the beginning of Durga Puja festivities. Bengali people traditionally wake up early in the morning on Mahalaya day to recite hymns from the scripture Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi). Mahalaya is the day when goddess Durga is believed to descend on the Earth. Offerings to the ancestors made both in homes as well as puja mandaps.[10][11]
  • Matamaha ("Mother's father") or Dauhitra ("Daughter's son"): It is the first day of the month of Ashwin and beginning of the bright fortnight. It is assigned for shraddha of the maternal grandfather by the grandson.

The ritual is also held on the death anniversary of the ancestor. The shraddha is performed only at noon, usually on bank of a river or lake or at one's own house.[5] Families may also journey pilgrimage places like Varanasi and Gaya to perform Shraddha. Gaya considered sacred to perform shraddhas, holds a fair in Pitru Paksha.[12][3][4]

Who and for whom

Shraddha has to performed by the son (usually the eldest son) or male relative for paternal section family, limited to preceding three generations, however on Sarvapitri amavasya or matamaha, the daughter's son can offer Shraddha for his maternal side of the family if a male heir is absent in his mother's family.[5][3] Some castes only perform the shraddha for one generation.[3] The male who would perform the rite, should have undergone the sacred thread ceremony. Since the ceremony is considered inauspicious, in the royal family of Kutch, the king or heirs of the throne are prohibited to conduct Shraddha.[5]

Food

The food offering to the ancestors is usually cooked in silver or copper vessels. It is usaully on a banana leaf or cups made of dried leaves. The food must include rice Kheer - a sweet made of rice and milk, lapsi - a sweet porridge made of wheat grains, rice, dal - lentils and the vegetable of spring bean (guar) and yellow gourd (pumpkin).[5]

Rites of shraddha

The male who performs the shraddha, should be purified by a bath and is excepted to wear a dhoti. He wears a ring of darbha grass, in which the ancestors are invoked to reside. The shraddha usually is performed bare chested, as the position of the sacred thread worn as the person has to be changed a number of times in the ceremony. The shraddha involves pinda-daan - offering of pindas (cooked rice and barley flour balls mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds) with the release of water from the hand - to the ancestors. It is followed by the worship of gods Vishnu in form of the darbha grass, a gold image or Shaligram stone and Yama. This is followed by offering the food, specially cooked for the ceremony, on the roof. The offering is considered as accepted if a crow arrives and eats the food. The crow is considered a messenger of Yama or the spirit of the ancestors.[3] A cow and a dog is also fed. Brahmin priests are offered food and then after the ancestors (crow) and the Brahmins have eaten, the family members have lunch.[5]

Other practices

Some families also conduct ritual recitals of scriptures like the Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavad Gita.[5][13] Some families also perform charity in name of the deceased, give gifts to Brahmin priests or pay Brahmins to recite prayers for the ancestor's well-being.[13]

References

  1. The days of Pitru-paksha are same according to the Gregorian calendar, but Pitru Paksha is the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada in the Hindu calendar called Shalivahana era that begins with month Chitra and has months beginning with the bright fortnight, but it is the dark fortnight of Ashwin in the Vikram Samwat calendar beginning on the month Vishakha with months beginning on the dark fortnight.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sharma, Usha (2008). "Mahalaya". Festivals In Indian Society. 2. Mittal Publications.. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Z6OYRUEAF7oC&pg=PA72&dq=pitru+paksha&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=pitru%20paksha&f=false. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Underhill, M M (2001). The Hindu religious year. Asian Educational Services. pp. 112-6. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Fb9Zc0yPVUUC&pg=PA114&dq=mahalaya&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=sraddha&f=false. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Vidyarathi, L P. The Sacred Complex in Hindu Gaya. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 13, 15, 33, 81, 110. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=S4FidiusPr0C&pg=PA34&dq=mahalaya&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=mahalaya&f=false. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 Dilipsingh, K S (2004). Kutch in festival and custom. Har-Anand Publications.. pp. 61-64. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=oPUFiGRH07IC&pg=PA66&dq=pitru+paksha&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=pitru%20paksha&f=false. 
  6. Sastri, S. M. Natesa (1988). Hindu feasts, fasts and ceremonies. Asian Educational Services.. pp. 15-17. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=_ibsEj8ihuoC&pg=PA15&dq=mahalaya&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=mahalaya&f=false. 
  7. Chauturvedi, Dr. B K (2006). "The Best Charity: Food and water". Tales from the Vedas and other Scriptures. Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.. pp. 192-3. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=Z8zjLliIBGQC&pg=PA193&dq=pitru+paksha&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  8. Chatterjee, Deepam (18 September 2009). "Speaking Tree: Mahalaya Amavasya & Navaratri: Legend of Karna". The Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/opinion/edit-page/Speaking-Tree-Mahalaya-Amavasya-Navaratri-Legend-of-Karna/articleshow/5023627.cms. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  9. Menon, Usha (2003). "Morality and Context: A Study of Hindu Understandings". in Valsiner,Jaan and Connolly, Kevin J.. Handbook of developmental psychology. SAGE. pp. 446. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=4d7FOANFv00C&pg=PA446&dq=pitru+paksha&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  10. Sharma, S P; Gupta, Seema (2006). "Durga Puja: Mahalaya". Fairs and Festivals of India. Pustak Mahal. pp. 38. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=wPPr9HdmnHcC&pg=PA38&dq=mahalaya+Durga+Puja&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=mahalaya%20Durga%20Puja&f=false. 
  11. TNN (19 September 2009). "Mahalaya ushers in the Puja spirit". The Times of India. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/city/delhi/Mahalaya-ushers-in-the-Puja-spirit/articleshow/5028658.cms. Retrieved 2009-09-27. 
  12. Justice, Christopher (1997). Dying the good death: the pilgrimage to die in India's Holy City. SUNY Press. pp. 43. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=TW4jG0hxHcUC&pg=PA244&dq=pitru+paksha&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=pitri%20paksh&f=false. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bryant, Clifton D. (2003). Handbook of Death and Dying. SAGE.. p. 647. http://books.google.co.in/books?id=3z9EpgisKOgC&pg=RA1-PA647&dq=pitru+paksha&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a#v=onepage&q=paksha&f=false. 
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