Pitru Paksha is the period of 16 days beginning with the Purnima Shradh and culminating with the Mahalaya Amavasya or the Sarvapitru Amavasya. During this period Hindus worship their ancestors by observing the Shradh ritual.
When is Pitru Paksha observed?
It falls in the Bhadrapad month as per the Amavasyant calendar followed in the south and in the month of Ashwin according to the Purnimant calendar followed in the north. However, the dates of Pitru Paksha and Shradh rituals fall on the same day and only the nomenclature differs in North and South Bharat.
It generally begins on the day of the full moon (Purnima) or the day after the full moon. It is a period to offer prayers to one’s departed ancestors and Hindus offer puja, follow Shradh rituals and undertake daan activities during this period.
Significance of Pitru Paksha
Hindu Dharma places as much significance on the after-life as it does on leading one’s life in the mrityuloka (earth). The ultimate goal of human life is attaining moksha. When an individual dies, the anyeshti karma destroys the body facilitating the onward journey of the atma (roughly translated as the soul).
Pitrus are deceased ancestors and they expect their descendants to offer pind-daan to satisfy their thirst and hunger. There are 96 such days designated to propitiate the Pitrus.
Mahalaya Paksha or Pitru Paksha is the most important of the time periods to offer Shradh and pind-daan to them. The action which is undertaken with Shraddha (faith) is said to be Shradh.
It is referred to as Mahalaya Paksha since Pitrus dwelling in the pitruloka congregate on bhuloka (earth) to accept ritual offerings from their descendants. It is believed that Bhagwan Yama has set aside the Pitru Paksha as a time for the Pitrus to visit their earthly relatives.
Pitru Paksha rituals and regulations
This period is exclusively dedicated to the Pitrus and hence celebratory activities such as weddings, grihpravesh functions, homa, and other such functions shouldn’t be undertaken during this time.
Additionally, one must not consume certain types of food such as onion, garlic, meat etc. Similarly, shastras forbid men from shaving their beards in the Pitru Paksha. Following the regulations and performing the puja of the ancestors earns their blessings thereby helping one to earn merit.
In addition to performing Shradh for the Pitrus, one should undertake activities such as Pitru tarpan, bathing in holy rivers, mantra japa, and daan. Nirnaya Sindhu Grantha written by Mahamahopadhyaya Kamalakara Bhatta in 16th Century CE states that these activities undertaken during the Pitru Paksha period earns great merit to the doer.
Important days of Pitru Paksha
Although, the entire period of Pitru Paksha is important for performing Shradh rituals, certain days have been designated as significant days during this time. The first is Maha Bharani which is the day when Bharani nakshatra occurs during the Pitru Paksha. Bharani nakshatra is associated with Bhagwan Yama. The other days are Saptami, Madhya Ashtami/Ashtami, and Trayodashi.
Sarva Pitru Amavasya
Drikpanchang explains the significance of Sarva Pitru Amavasya:
If someone is not able to perform Shraddha on all Tithis then single Shraddha (for all) on this day is enough to appease all deceased souls in the family. If death anniversary of ancestors are not known or forgotten then those Shraddhas can be performed on this Tithi. That’s why Amavasya Shraddha is also known as Sarvapitra Moksha Amavasya.
Also Mahalaya Shraddha for those who died on Purnima Tithi is also done on Amavasya Shraddha Tithi and not on Bhadrapada Purnima. Although Bhadrapada Purnima Shraddha falls one day before Pitru Paksha but it is not part of Pitru Paksha. Usually Pitru Paksha starts on the next day of Bhadrapada Purnima Shraddha.
Performing Pitru puja during the Pitru Paksha satisfies the deceased ancestors and earns their blessings in the form of good health, prosperity, and progress.