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Significance Of Pitru/Shraddh Paksha In Our Life

Sunil Kumar and Geetha Patil

Significance Of Pitru/Shraddh Paksha In Our Life
by Sunil Kumar and Geetha Patil

The Sanatanis all over the world have the opportunity to honor and pay respect to all their deceased loved ones during the Pitru Paksha (Fortnight of ancestors), through performing Shraddha (Hindu death rituals) that started Friday, September 29 and concludes on October 14, 2023. During these 16-days lunar period of Bhadrapada, people pray for their deceased ancestors by organizing pujas and offering food to the Priests, animals, and birds, and poor people.  Shraddh Paksha usually falls the day after Anant Chaturdashi and Sharad Navratri (usually around Aug-Sep). Shraddh is performed on the same lunar date (tithi) as the one when the person passed away. (Example: If an ancestor passed away on the tenth day of the month in the lunar calendar, his/her Shraddh is observed on the tenth day in the aforementioned Shraddh period).  It is done for three generations (of the deceased): Parents, grandparents, great grandparents.  Sarva Pitru Amavasya or Mahalaya Amavasya is the final day of Pitru Paksha and regarded as the most important day of the time for honoring all the ancestors, if the particular tithi is missed or unknown. 

What is Shraddh and its significance?

Shraddh, originally a Sanskrit word, is a combination of two words “Sat" meaning truth and "Adhar" meaning basis, which means an act that is performed with all sincerity and faith especially in behalf of departed ancestors as is said, “Shraddhyaa Kriyate Yaa Saa.” In Sanatana Dharma, Shraddh is the ritual that is dedicated to worship and satiate one’s ancestors and express one’s unconditional reverence, homage, and food offerings to one's 'ancestors' (Pitá¹›us), with all honesty and absolute devotion in it. It is performed as a "day of remembrance" for both the father and mother separately, on their respective 'tithi' – death anniversaries as per the Hindu calendar. In addition, Shraddh rites are performed in the honor of the entire community of 'pitra' –from both paternal and maternal side – collectively during the Pitru Paksha right before Sharad Navaratri in autumn. People not only remember their ancestors and value one's roots but also believe that during these days ancestors visit Earth. Therefore, people want to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks to their deceased parents and ancestors for bringing them to this world and for blessing them to be what they are and praying for prevailing peace in the world.

Why is Shradh performed?
According to Hindu mythology and scriptures like Agni, Garuda, and Vayu Purana, the Shraddh rite is both a social and a religious responsibility consigned on all male Hindus (with the exception of some sanyasis, or ascetics). Hence, in Bharat, the demand for the birth of sons reflects the need to ensure that there will be a male descendant to perform the Shraddh ceremony after one’s death, since the vibrations of the son and the vibrations of the Pitrus are similar. Moreover, Pitrus find it easy to imbibe the Tarpan offered by the son during the Shradh Vidhi.

The reason behind performing Shraddh is that after death, the soul wanders in the various worlds before attaining Moksha/salvation. It is therefore intended to pacify, nourish, protect, and support the spirits of the dead in their pilgrimage from the lower to the higher realms, preceding their reincarnation and reappearance on Earth or attaining Moksha. Hence, the ritual is observed to repay our debts and thanks to the ancestors and also donate foods, water, clothes to the priests, temples, and needy people in the ancestor’s names to purify their wrong deeds and help them to move to the higher realms easily. In general, the worshiping and feeding of the departed soul rites are performed between the 11th and 31st day after someone’s death, depending on caste traditions, and at regular intervals thereafter. The first annual death anniversary is observed by a Shraddh ceremony that enables the deceased (Preta) to be admitted into the assembly of ancestors (Pitri) and gives the soul a momentum allowing it to move to a higher region.


What are the Shraddha rituals?

Shraddh is usually done at home, holy places, on the banks of a river, lake, ocean, temple, and in the shade of forest/gardens with Tulsi (Holy basil plant) and Amla trees under the guidance of a priest. The specificity of the Shraddh ritual may vary from caste to caste traditions but generally, it consists of six components. 1) It is mandatory to take a dip in the holy river or any divine Kund, which may be locally present or at home and dress up in white clothes and keep an ‘Anga Vastra’ on the shoulders. Then, invoke the presence of ancestors by offering prayers to Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Yama. 2) Invite a priest to worship and feed him later. 3) Perform the fire ritual (Home) appeasing the Agni by reciting Mantras and ask the god to forgive the deceased's mistakes and sins. 4) Pinda Daan (way to salvation) – is offering of Pindas one by one while reciting the names and Gotra (lineage) of the ancestors. A Pinda is a rounded ball of rice and barley flour mixed with water/milk and honey and dotted with sesame seeds. Pinda Daan helps in the process of achieving Mukti or final emancipation from the cycle of deaths and rebirths. It assists in liberating the departed loved one's Atma or spirit from this cycle. 5) Offer hot water with a Tarp, the Kusha grass, and leave the barley flour and black sesame in the flow of water. 6) Extend your hospitality by offering of food and Dakshina (fees) to the priests who performed the ritual and get their blessings. 

What to do if you cannot perform the rituals of the Shraddha Ceremony Pooja?

In case you are unable to establish connection with the priest/temple and not be able to perform the proper rituals of the Shraddh Ceremony due to lack of time or other unforeseen reasons, one can simply throw some sesame seeds in the flowing water and then offer sesame to Brahmanas. Arpana is performed by sprinkling some water around the offerings three times in a clockwise direction. While offering, please chant Om Pitru Devaaya Namah - three times Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya - three times and then finally Shree Krishna Sharanam Namah - three times. This act is considered auspicious and along with this, you can offer foods, clothes, and utensils to the poor, and foods and grains to animals, cows, and birds as charitable deeds.

Who can offer Pinda?

Sanatana Dharma has laid out the chart so that Shraddh can be performed for every deceased individual and provide the soul with momentum to attain Moksha. Male children (sons - including one, whose thread ceremony has not been performed), or other male relatives such as father, brothers, grandsons of a son or daughter ((if he is one of the heirs to the property), cousin’s son, uncle, maternal uncle typically perform the Pinda Daan. However if there are no close male relatives that are willing or able to perform Pinda Daan then female relatives such as mother, wife, daughters, granddaughters and daughter-in-laws can do that. Sapinda individual (anyone from seven generations and belonging to the same family lineage), Samanodak individual (anyone after the seven generations and belonging to the same Gotra (The same family domain), disciple, Upadhyay (Brahmans), friend, son-in-law of the deceased individual – in the order given can perform Shraddh. In the case of a joint family, the head of the family (eldest in the family or one who shoulders the responsibility of taking care of everyone) should perform all the Shraddhs. Per Dharmasindhu, the Holy text, ‘If a deceased individual has no one to perform Shraddh, then it is the duty of the king to perform that individual’s Shraddh’.

What are the advantages of performing Shraddha rituals?

Performing Shraddha ritual to the departed souls in the Pitru Paksha of first year of death helps the soul with new momentum and us to worship and thank them for their efforts and achieve our success in the following areas of our life with their blessings. By doing this, we gain:

1.      Financial and familial stability, progress, and happiness in life

  1. Better business skills to run it with smoothness and success
  2. Knowledge of worldly lessons to do good deeds
  3. Spiritual enlightenment to do good deeds and move towards Moksha
  4. Better education and knowledge, career, and cooperative life partner without much delays

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