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.

9513DD8F-7814-4814-B7CE-9385B805B70E.jpgAccording 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.

Pitra Tarpan

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.
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Shaanti Mantra for Pitra Paksha

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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.

Audio – Asato Maa – Shaanti Mantra (edited extract)

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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.

What did you think of this article? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Namaste!

  • sudhin

    According 2 srimad bhagwatam one can uplift his forefathers by daily reciting bhagwatgita shlokas .1 chapter is a must by which they get the power if thy r here, 2 higher planes & bless the active generation. if bhagwatam parayan for 7 days also has the same effect. any person can immediately come in contact with god with this 2 acts and if continued thrghlife time he free’s 21 past and 21 future generations.sri bagwad gita .

  • sudhin

    According 2 srimad bhagwatam one can uplift his forefathers by daily reciting bhagwatgita shlokas .1 chapter is a must by which they get the power if thy r here, 2 higher planes & bless the active generation. if bhagwatam parayan for 7 days also has the same effect. any person can immediately come in contact with god with this 2 acts and if continued thrghlife time he free’s 21 past and 21 future generations.sri bagwad gita .

  • http://www.facebook.com/ramani.rangan Ramani Rangan

    I realize that when we become orphans it is mostly honered when the loss is when we are young. I am 71 and have been an orphan for 15 years and I feel the absence of my parents even at this late time in my life. I miss them and the support of their love, kindness and wisdom. I remember that both my Mother and Father missed their parents very much too. I wish to honor all people in this time that no matter how old they are that have lost their parents or those that cared for them like a good and loving parent. Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti! Namaste

  • Prof.Shaktidev Mukherjee

    While paying regards to our ancestors we should also recollect various mistakes committed by them for which we are suffering today.We should then pray to God that we should not or say our next generation should not commit such mistakes which will harm their future generation.Let education enlighten us and we should be able to think correctly and develop the capacity to predict the future effects of our action today.We should not hide our mistakes and weaknesses from our youngers and we should never expect them to bow down before us for blessings,let them have the courage to face truth and should not feel shy to accept their mistakes so that they do not repeat it in future.

  • Rajendra Kumar Jain

    I want about dipawali amawasiya for pitra dosh best or bad ,I have shani-surya pitra dosh in my kundli

  • vipin

    This article & this website is good for everyone who wants to pray their ancestores.shraadh is realy important for hindu’s.

  • kasturi

    God can give you only what you deserve based on your Karma. But only Pitra can give you what you desire.

    • veena

      I really liked this .

  • Maria

    For the passed two to three days, I have been thinking of my Ancestors, very deeply. This information is so blessedly ON TIME. I appreciate your consideration in sending this.
    Thank you so much again and always.

  • Jayanta

    ((((((((( OM )))))))))

  • sreevidyasivam

    It is said that only ancestores can bless us with children especially a boy to keep the VAMSAVRIKSHA grow and to do the tharpan to our selves and forefathers ,so that they are given this food and water in the heaven( pritu loka) and in turn they bless us with prosperity and peace .It is also said that during this paksha the forefathers visit our home and awaite for this food and water and if not given will curse us.,Papa will have prayachita but sapa(curse) will follow in the births to follow and you have to have it..Hence it is said not to get curse from elders .beleive and practice.Don't get distrubed for otheres comments.faith is the route foprall goods.

    • Sanjiv

      Sreevidyasivam- what you have explained as “sapa(curse) will follow in the births to follow” is very true. I have seen this happening to some relatives and friend’s families. However I could not understand the meaning of VAMSAVRIKSHA ? My father passed away 2 yrs ago in India on navmi tithi,he was cremated on dashmi. I could not attend that time but my elder brother did all rituals /pujas. While I traveled from USA to attended his last rituals and did every thing what was supposed to be done that time and afterward here in USA. Now I see him in dreams on each his tithi, some time I see black snakes in dreams and some time real alive snake in my garden. I do not understand what is the indication of all this ?  I live in USA for over 10 years. I am facing lots of challenges and troubles at my job here.
      Do you know any solution or remedies for this problem ? Thanks a lot for your reply.

  • S R MURTHY

    Some of us may not have performed the shraddha of our ancestors due to many reasons.For such of us this coming Amaavaasya known as Mahaalaya Amaavaasya is the day to perform .At a convenient place and within our budget.
    If only we can imagine the vast universe surrounding the Earth we live-and the creator of
    all creation-we will begin noticing the Vedic truths and follow the tradtion and live in peace.

  • I B Mishra

    This is a good article.One should know how we are considering attachment with departed soul.

  • Dr R K S Rathore

    This article has made me more informed about the purpose and process of Tarpan & Shradha

  • Indra Neel Mukherjee

    Very Informative … very unique site !

    May God bles !