Pitru Paksha or Shraddh ceremony is a 16-day period when we pay homage and respect to departed ancestors, parents and relatives through various rituals and offerings. It is a day when we pray for souls that have passed on to rest in peace. It generally falls between the months of September — October during the waning half of the moon.
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. However, Karna needed real food to eat and asked Indra, the Lord of the heavens, why he was served gold as food. Indra told Karna that he had donated gold all his life but had never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddh. So, the only items that could be offered to him were gold and jewels.
Karna said to Indra that he was unaware of his ancestors all his life and never donated anything in their memory. Karna was permitted to return to Earth for a 15–day period to make amends, perform Shraddh, and donate food and water in their memory. This is today called Pitru Paksha.
Pind Daan (food offerings) and Shraddh are carried out as per holy scriptures written by Sages, giving great satisfaction to the Pitrs (ancestors). By performing Shraddh, sons help their fathers further their journey after life on Earth. Pitri Paksha emphasises that the souls of the ancestors and current generation, along with the next unborn generation, remain connected by blood ties.
The current generation repays debt to the ancestors during Pitri Paksha. This debt is considered to be of utmost importance along with a person’s debt to his Gurus and parents. As per Hindu mythology, it is believed that when humans die, their mortal body gets turned to dust. However, soul still remains, until it finds another mortal body to reside. The cycle of rebirth can cease, and soul can receive salvation if these sacred rituals are performed by the family members of the deceased.
On each day of the fortnight, Tarpan (oblations of water) and Pindas (cooked rice and barley flour balls mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds) and meals are offered to the departed souls by the surviving relatives. It is believed that deceased relatives wander around on Earth as Pretas (restless souls) until Shraddh ceremonies are performed, after when they are able to pass over.
Only when Shraddh is performed, the soul is able to attain a position among other ancestors or Pitrs in their blissful abode called Pitr-Loka.
Shraddh is most auspicious when it is performed by the eldest son or other male members of the family to honour the dead and offer oblations. Part of the food offering is also given to the cows and crows. Feeding cows and crows is a very important part of this ceremony as they help remove bad karmas.
Cows are said to be associated with Aditi, the mother of all gods. She is the element of earth. Cows are generous and docile creatures that give more to us than she takes for herself.
By serving cows during Pitri Paksha, Pitr Dev get gratification and absolution. Shraddh rituals are also not complete without feeding cows. You can also feed grass to them. Cows are considered sacred and during Pitru Paksha offering food to them is said to be equal to offering food to Brahmins.
Those belonging to the Brahmin community (priestly class) are fed with meals and given donations, as it is believed that during this period whatever is given to the Brahmins reaches the departed souls.
Kheer, a sweet milk and rice preparation is specially made and offered to the departed souls on this occasion. On the last day of the fortnight (dark moon night), oblations are offered to all those ancestors whose death is not known.
The male who performs the Shraddh should take a purifying bath beforehand and is expected to wear a Dhoti (garment). He also wears a ring of Darbha grass. Then the ancestors are invoked to reside in the ring. The shraddha is usually performed bare-chested, as the position of the Yagyopavita or Janeu a sacred thread worn by him needs to be changed multiple times during the ceremony.
The Shraddh involves Pind Daan (rice offering) 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 God.
The food 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. Cows are fed and Brahmins are also offered food. Once the ancestors (crow) and Brahmins have eaten, the family members can begin lunch.
Our ancestors are not only our family members or relatives but also our teachers, mentors, role models, friends, and guardians, who have contributed to our welfare and growth in current or previous lives.
This creates an implied obligation on us to respect them and their parental desires and calls for following good deeds. If by any chance this is not followed by anyone, it may embarrass the souls of the ancestors, which, in turn, becomes Pitr Dosh (curse of ancestors).
How Pitr Dosh occurs:
There are many ways by which Pitr Dosh can occur out of which the following are some of the main reasons:
- There are three types of Pitru Doshas, or in other words, it can be attributed to three causes:
- deeds of our ancestors
- effects of planets in our birth chart
- one’s own past/ present life karma
- Ancestors play a very important role in our luck. To receive their blessings, they have to be happy.
- A horoscope can indicate great prosperity and luck in a given time period of a person’s life, but some placement of planets in houses can indicate the presence of Pitru Dosha (Ancestor’s curse) and because of this there may be obstacles in receiving good luck and blessings of ancestors.
- There are special prayers that can remedy Pitru Dosha and uplift your life, only a good astrologer knows these secrets.
The effect of the planet Sun, which casts its light on the tenth house of ancestors plays an important role. Sun controls the heart, person’s honour, feelings, eyes, skin, progeny, fame, etc.
When the Sun is weak in our birth charts, a person may feel or suffer from humiliation, dishonour, poverty, rejection, demotion or other embarrassing situations.
The other factors due to which Pitr Dosh can occur are:
- Lack of fulfillments of parental desires of our ancestors.
- If certain wishes remain attached to the soul of the ancestors.
- If someone fails to remember and honor the ancestors properly.
- A sudden and unnatural death of any relative ancestors in early age.
- Bad deeds (bad karma) of our ancestors in earlier life, knowingly or unknowingly, are embarrassing their souls.
- Bad deeds (bad karma) of children, knowingly or unknowingly, are embarrassing the soul of ancestors.
- It is written in the scriptures that Pitr Dosh occurs if any ancestors up to the 7th generation on the father’s side and up to the 4th generation on the mother’s side have expired at an early age or have had an unnatural death.
Life, according to Rishi (Sage) Kindam is like a river which flows between 2 banks, right and wrong. This river known as life includes both right and wrong. A good person does right and does not let wrong near him, like a swan, knowing the difference between milk and water.
In the Mahabharata Rishi Kindam describes 3 types of debts, a man has to repay in this world.
These three debts are Dev Rin, Rishi Rin and Pitr Rin.
Without clearing this 3 Rins (debts) a person should not leave this world and if a person does so then his life gets insulted and wasted.
- Dev Rin is of Lord Vishnu and is cleared by Daan (donation).
- Rishi Rin is of Lord Shiv and is cleared by achieving knowledge and sharing it.
- Pitr Rin is of Lord Brahma and is cleared by children by performing Pind Daan (rice offering) for their Ancestors.
A person not clearing these debts is considered to be running away from Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva (Creator, Operator, Destroyer = GOD).
God is the Supreme Truth, and the resting place for all souls at the end of our journeys is Supreme Truth (God) alone.