Shraadh Paksha or Pitru Paksha
The Significance and Ritual of Shraaddha
(Excerpts from Satsang of Pujya Bapuji & Scriptures)
The next life of a jiva is essentially determined by its previous Samskaras. Shraaddha, as such, is performed with the objective that a jiva may attain a better life in its next birth. The ritual, that is carried out with faith, accompanied by recitation of Mantras for satiating the manes, is known as Shraaddha. In this process, ‘Pindadaana’ is made to the manes with ‘Shraddhaa’; hence it is called ‘Shraaddha’. We gratefully perform Shraaddha for the manes who in turn help us circumvent obstacles in our lives.
In the Varaha Purana, Markandeya Rishi has described the ritual of Shraaddha to Gaurmukh Brahmin in the following words:
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 through food offerings. The period is also known as Pitru Pakshya,
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 Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (September–October), beginning with the full moon day (Purnima) that occurs immediately after the Ganesh festival and ending with the new moon day known as Sarvapitri amavasya, Mahalaya amavasya or simply Mahalaya, this period also corresponds to the dark fortnight of the month Ashvin.
According to Hindu mythology, the souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside in Pitru–loka, a realm between heaven and earth. This realm is 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, 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. According to the sacred Hindu epics (Itihasa), at the beginning of Pitru Paksha, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Virgo (Kanya). Coinciding with this moment, it is believed that the spirits leave Pitru–loka and reside in their descendants’ homes for a month until the sun enters the next zodiac—Scorpio (Vrichchhika)—and there is a full moon. Hindus are expected to propitiate the ancestors in the first half, during the dark fortnight.
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 heaven, the reason for serving gold as food. Indra told Karna that he had donated gold all his life, but had never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddha. Karna said that since he was unaware of his ancestors, he never donated anything in their memory. To make amends, Karna was permitted to return to earth for a 16–day period, so that he could perform Shraddha and donate food and water in their memory. This period is now known as Pitru Paksha. In some legends, Yama replaces Indra.
The performance of Shraddha by a son during Pitru Paksha is regarded as a compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven. In this context, the scripture Garuda Purana says, “there is no salvation for a man without a son”. The scriptures preach that a householder should propitiate ancestors (Pitris), along with the gods (devas), ghosts (bhutas) and guests. The scripture 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.
Hari Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi
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