Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!

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Pitru Paksha, a term derived from the Sanskrit words “Pitru”, meaning ancestors and “Paksha”, a fortnight phase, is considered a sacred observance in Hindu culture. I am talking about the Pitru Paksha because this period holds deep spiritual significance, and at its core lies the Bhagwat Puja. It is a profound ceremony that seeks to pay homage to departed souls and invoke their blessings. 

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
Homage to ancestral soul

According to scientists, for 20 million years, humans and their ancestors have existed on this planet. Damn, a lot of time! And since they lived before us for hundreds of thousands of generations, they have given us something. Hence, Pitru Paksha Shradh, a solemn period in the Hindu lunar calendar, illustrates the immense significance of our ancestors in our lives. The rituals performed during Pitru Paksha are not just acts of devotion; they are a heartfelt expression of gratitude, seeking forgiveness, and an opportunity to seek blessings from the departed souls who continue to guide and protect their living descendants. 

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
Tarpan or Pind dan

It is also referred to as Mahalaya Paksha, which occurs during the waning phase of the moon in the Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (usually in September or October), this time from (29 Sept – 14 Oct) 2023. Amavasya, the New Moon day, holds special significance during Pitru Paksha. This observance occurs over 16 days, performing rituals dedicated to one’s ancestors, known as “Pitrus“. 

Food offering

It is believed that during Pitru Paksha, the gates of the afterlife are opened, allowing the spirits of the departed to visit the Earth. Families take this opportunity to perform Shradh ceremonies, which involve offering their ancestors food, water, and prayers. In the Hindu religion, the belief is that the soul wanders in various worlds after a person dies. People perform shradh rituals and repay their dead ancestors’ debts to ensure they find peace and tranquillity and bless the living.

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
offering food & water

There is a famous legend behind Pitru Paksha- after the death of noble warrior Karna, his soul reached heaven. In heaven, he was not provided with regular food; instead, he had gold and jewels to eat. Looking at the custom, his frustrated soul addressed this issue to Lord Indra -why was he not being served actual food like others? Lord Indra revealed throughout his life that he donated all these things to others. However, food was never given to his ancestors. Karna’s explained the reason for his act, upon which Lord Indra allowed him to return to Earth for 16 days. He donated food to his ancestors during this period, which came to be known as Pitru Paksha.

Mythological legend

There is a rooted belief that the souls are said to wander in the Pitru Loka – a realm between Earth and heaven, due to their Karma or unfulfilled desires or if they were caused hurt by someone. The soul can only break free from the birth, death, and rebirth cycle. Only if it detaches itself from worldly pleasures. Therefore, family members should perform rituals to attain Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Such as Pind Daan and Tarpan to satisfy the departed souls’ hunger and thirst.

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
Ganga Ghat

Moreover, shradh is an act of remembrance and a way to seek forgiveness for any neglect or mistakes made towards one’s ancestors. It is believed that by performing these rituals, one can cleanse their Karma and seek blessings from their forefathers. Hindus believe that by offering food, water, and prayers during Pitru Paksha, they can receive the blessings of their ancestors. These blessings are believed to bring prosperity, happiness, and protection to the living family.

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
An act of remembrance

Hence, this Pitru Paksha, I dipped in the holy Ganga and wore new clothes. I performed Tarpan, where the Pandit made me wear a ring of Kusha grass, symbolizing the invocation of ancestral souls. Performing Tarpan, where water is mixed with flour, black sesame seeds, barley, and Kusha grass. Then, it is offered to the ancestors’ souls. Later, the food offered to the ancestors is distributed to the needy and poor. 

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
Garh Mukteswar Ganga Ghat

Pitru Paksha has evolved over the centuries to adapt to changing times and lifestyles. It is a time-honoured tradition highlighting the deep connection between the living and their ancestors. It is a period of reflection, reverence, and remembrance, where rituals are performed to honour and seek blessings from departed souls.

Pitru Paksha: Honoring Ancestral Spirits!
A ritual is performed to honour departed souls.

As the world continues to evolve, the essence of Pitru Paksha remains unchanged. It is a reminder that, in honouring our past, we find strength and guidance. The future ensures a continuous thread of love, respect, and tradition through the generations.


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