Pitra Paksha or Shraadha – Ancestral Hindu Traditions
Pitra Paksha (पित्र पक्ष), also known as “Shraadh (श्राध)” or “Mahalaya (महालय)”, is a fortnight (fourteen days) dedicated to paying homage to our departed ancestors. It is observed during the dark fortnight of Ashwin or Aswayauja and usually occurs in September/October. The last day of the Pitra Paksha is known as “Mahalaya Amavasya” (October 3rd/4th) – the great night of the new moon or Amavasya. It is perhaps the most significant day of this fortnight as the ceremonies conducted on this day are considered to be the most beneficial to the “Pitra” or the ancestors.
According to Hindu tradition, the “Shraadh” (derived from the word “Shraddha”, which means “any action performed with utmost faith and devotion”) performed for our ancestors invokes great blessings for the one performing the recommended rituals. The rituals consist of performing pujas for our ancestors on the particular day(s) or tithi(s) of their death as mapped to the days of this fortnight. The puja is followed by a traditional feast for the pandits or priest performing the puja. In addition, one may choose to donate food, clothing and money to the pandits as charity or shraddha.
Swami Sivananda writes:
It has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to you or not. Charity in the form of food is important during this observance. The gift of food is the greatest gift. Therefore, one is encouraged to perform charity throughout the year, not only during the Mahalaya fortnight but all through the year.
The ritual of offering oblations of water to our ancestors is referred to as Pitra Tarpan (पित्र तर्पण). This ritual was perhaps designed as a means for paying respects to our ancestors on a regular basis throughout the year, instead of during the particular fortnight of pitra paksha. The pitra tarpan ceremony is a simple act of repeated chanting of shaanti mantras (mantras for peace to the departed souls) and offering a simple oblation of water on the new moon or amavasya day of each month. The “Mahalaya” amavasya is the most auspicious of these new moon days over the entire year – pitra tarpan offered on this day is considered the greatest offering to the ancestors.
Shaanti Mantra for Pitra Paksha
Asato-Maa, Sad Gamaya (असतो मां सद्गमय) – From untruth to Truth! Untruth is the death of the ego. The Truth is eternal and immortal. So once you are part of the Truth, there is no question of death at all. The greatest barrier stopping enlightenment is the barrier of ego. Therefore, to experience God, we should see that the ego dies as early as possible.
Tamasoma, Jyotir Gamaya (तमसो मां ज्योतिर्गमय) – There lies the light of wisdom. Tamas is the darkness. Jyoti is the light. With light, darkness is dispelled. Darkness is death. The light is Truth, Bliss, Peace. The light is eternal.
Mrityor maa, Amritam Gamayaa (मृत्योर्मां अमृतं गमय) – Lead me from death to immortality through purity of purpose.
Om shantih, shantih, shantih – Let there be peace in the physical, mental and spiritual plane.
In memory of my Dad and my grandparents. And my maternal Aunt and Uncle who raised me as one of their own for fourteen years, and loved me till their last breath.. I offer you my deepest homage and respect.
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