Mallika likes to research about world cultures and traditions, the secrets they hold and the scientific and philosophical thinking.
In every culture, there is a special page for honouring the dead and paying respect to the passed souls like ancestors, family, and friends, near and dear. It is a way of remembering them and reminiscing their love and affection.
According to Vedic Hindu tradition, 96 days in a year are allotted to pay homage called shraaddha to ancestors/pitrus. Among them, Pitru Paksha/the fortnight of ancestors has immense importance in ancestral worship.
In this article, let us see all the details about Pitru paksha.
Before diving into the details, let’s know the basics of the Hindu calendar.
- The Hindu calendar is lunisolar.
Lunisolar calendar: The calendar, where the apparent movements of both the moon (moon phases) and the sun (sidereal year), as seen from Earth are taken into the account.
Sidereal year: The time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun once, with respect to the fixed stars; taking the stars as a reference frame.
It is also the time taken for the Sun to return to the same position with respect to the fixed stars after apparently travelling once around the ecliptic.
- A sidereal year consists of 365 days and a lunisolar calendar consists of 12 lunar months, each month consists of 30 lunar days or 30 tithis.
A tithi is a lunar day according to Indian astrology. It is the time taken for the Moon to proceed 12 degrees east from the Sun. This is envisaged as the first tithi, pratipada during Shukla Paksha. When the moon proceeds another 12 degrees east i.e. 24 degrees, it is second tithi, Dwitiya and so on. When the moon proceeds by 180 degrees, it is said to be Purnima and 360 degrees, it is said to be Amavasya.
The addition of longitudinal angle of 12 degrees between sun and moon is always constant on that particular tithi regardless of which month or which phase the moon is in (waxing or waning phase/Shukla or Krishna paksha).
- The 12 lunar months according to Hindu calendar are:
Lunar Month - Gregorian Months
1. Chaitra - March to April
2. Vaisakha - April to May
3. Jyeshta - May to June
4. Aashaada - June to July
5. Shraavana - July to August
6. Bhaadra pada - August to September
7. Aashwayuja/Ashwina - September to October
8. Kaarthika - October to November
9. Maarghashira - November to December
10. Pushya/Pausha - December to January
11. Maagha - January to February
12. Phalguna - February to March
Fortnight is 15 days or approximately 2 weeks. According to the Hindu calendar, a fortnight is called paksha.
- The 30 lunar days are further divided into two fortnights, a bright fortnight and a dark fortnight. Each fortnight comprises of 15 days.
- The bright fortnight is the period of brightening moon (waxing moon) and called as Shukla Paksha (Shukla means white). The dark fortnight is the period of fading moon (waning moon) and called as Krishna/Bahula Paksha (Krishna means dark). Each fortnight has the following tithis:
1. Prathama/Padyami/Pratipada – First day
2. Dwitiya – second day
3. Tritiya – third day
4. Chaturthi - fourth day
5. Panchami – fifth day
6. Shashti – sixth day
7. Saptami – seventh day
8. Ashtami – eighth day
9. Navami – ninth day
10. Dashami – tenth day
11. Ekadashi – eleventh day
12. Dwadashi – the twelfth day
13. Thrayodashi – thirteenth day
14. Chaturdashi - fourtheenth day
15. Purnima - fifteenth day; Full moon.
1. Prathama/Padyami/Pratipada – First day
15. Amavasya; New moon.
- There are two traditions followed while categorising a month, Amanta and Purnimanta. In Amanta, a month starts after new moon/ Amavasya i.e. the month starts with Shukla paksha. In Purnimanta, a month starts after full moon/Purnima i.e. a new month starts with Krishna Paksha.
- Note: Here for this article, we are taking the Amanta tradition into account while referring to a month. The month starts with Pratipada (first day or tithi) of Shukla Paksha and ends with Amavasya/new moon. So, a month has a full moon in the middle of the month and new moon at the end of the month.
Pitru Paksha – The dark fortnight of the ancestors
The fortnight of ancestors is called Pitru Paksha; Pitru/pitr/pitri means ancestors. Pitru is the right word in Sanskrit. In this period, Hindus can pay homage to their ancestors, passed away family, friends and other people and this is a period for the veneration of dead or to worship the ancestors.
It falls on the dark fortnight/Krishna paksha of the sixth lunar month (maasa/maasam) - Bhaadra pada maasa; around September – October. For most years, the autumnal equinox (the sun transitions from the northern to the southern hemisphere) falls within this period. It can be called as Indian Halloween but the traditions are completely different.
Names: Pitru paksha, Solah Shraddha, Mahalaya paksha, Apara paksha.
1. Mythological Reason:
There is an interesting mythological story behind this homage. According to the Mahabharata epic, when the legendary and mighty hero and donor Karna died, his soul is transcended to heaven where he was offered only gold and jewels as food and he could not eat them. When he asked about the reason, behind it, the God of Heaven, Indra told him that since he had donated gold in all of his life and he did not donate food to his ancestors, he couldn’t get food in the heaven. 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 15 days by the lord of death-Yama, so that he could perform Shraaddha to his ancestors and donate food and water in their memory. He performed all the rituals with devotion and offered food and water to his ancestors and prayed to them for their blessings and returned to heaven and after that, he was offered food and water.
Lord Yama, the cosmic purveyor of death granted a special boon that offerings made during this period are said to reach the ancestors directly. From that time, this period of 15 days are dedicated to the dead ancestors and thus it is called Pitru paksha.
2. Astrological reason:
To understand this, let’s try to understand the kindergarten level basics of astronomy and astrology.
We all know that Earth rotates around its axis while revolving around the sun and moon revolves around the Earth and Sun also revolves around the galaxy. The movement of the earth around the sun makes us feel that the sun is moving around the stars. This imaginary path of the sun is called the Ecliptic and it is also the plane of the earth’s orbit around the sun.
According to Indian astrology:
- The sky, when seen from the earth, appears as a sphere with the earth as its centre.
- This hypothetical sphere is called the Celestial Sphere or Celestial Globe. To an observer on earth, the sky overhead appears as the upper half of the sphere appearing as a dome and the other half of the sphere is below the circle of the horizon.
- Our solar system is very small when compared to our galaxy and universe. The distances of stars seen in the sky are so huge that they hardly appear changing their positions in the celestial sphere even for thousands of years.
- In other words, the celestial sphere is imagined like a black hollow sphere on which the stars are fixed, without any movement on its surface from inside. The earth is considered to be at the centre of the sphere.
- The Sun and Moon both move around the earth on apparent circular paths, with their centres as the centre of the earth. The two circular paths cut each other on two points and these two points are 180 degrees apart from each other. These two nodal points are called Rahu and Ketu. In ancient times, only 5 planets namely Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were known, as they can be seen by naked eyes. If the sun, moon, Rahu, Ketu and the known 5 planets are taken into account then there would be 9 planets which are one of the basic blocks of astrology.
- All these planets move on an about the 9-degree wide circular path on this celestial sphere with stars as fixed points and earth being the centre. This circular path is known as Zodiac.
- The total Zodiac is of 360 degrees and it is divided into 12 signs or Raasis, each sign/Raasi having 30 degrees. This resembles a belt known as the Zodiac belt or Raasi chakra.
- There are also 27-star constellations or nakshatras which exists in 12 Raasis or signs in the zodiac. Thus there are 2 ¼ stars in one Raasi. (12 x 2 ¼ = 27). Each nakshatra has 13 degree and 20 minutes. Indian astrology is based on 27 stars, 9 planets and 12 raasis.
Our sun revolves around this zodiac belt completing each sign/Raasi in a month and thus it takes 360 days or 1 year to complete one zodiac cycle.
Pitru paksha marks the end of one zodiac cycle of 12 signs and also marks the end of the cycle of 27 nakshatras. It is like a knotting point for both zodiac signs and nakshatras.
Why Pitru paksha is known as Solah Shraaddha?
Solah is a Hindi number means 16. Wondering if a fortnight comprises of 15 days then why it is called 16? The period of pitru paksha lasts from pratipada (first day) of Bhaadra pada Krishna paksha to pratipada of Aashwayuja Shukla paksha. Here one extra day is added to this fortnight though the last day of this paksha ends with Mahalaya Amavasya/new moon.
- Shraaddha is the Vedic Hindu traditional offerings and death rites performed to dead in guidance of a pundit/purohit.
- The offerings are made by reciting the names of the ancestors and their gotram. The gotram/gotra is the name of the mythical lineage ancestor from whom the lineage had started.
- Thus a person gets to know the names of the six or seven generations (three preceding generations, his own and two succeeding generations-his sons, grandsons and his great-grandson, if possible ) in his life, reaffirming lineage ties.
It is a way to pay homage to the dead and ancestors and should be done with utmost dedication and devotion to please the respective ancestors. The offerings are composed of:
1. Tarpana (offering water with honey and black sesame seeds)
2. Pinda (circular balls of cooked plain rice mixed with honey, ghee and black sesame seeds).
3. Food offerings or anna daana to Brahmins and people on behalf/in the name and memory of dead.
4. Charities/alms/daanam/donations like clothes, money, things etc. to poor, needy and beggars in the name and memory of dead.
5. Prayer and meditation to the ancestors for their blessings.
For whom the Shraaddha is done:
- It involves oblations to Pitrus, a person’s dead three preceding generations of both paternal (father, grandfather, great grandfather) and maternal (mother, grandmother, great grandmother) ancestors.
- It is said that after death, the ancestors reside in a realm called Pitru Loka.
- It can also be done for dead other relatives and friends and pet animals as well according to the Vedic rituals.
Why do we need to pay our respects to the dead?
According to Hinduism:
- A person has the past, present and future in everything. The three are linked together and the duties or doings/karma (good or bad) of a person are interrelated to these three phases of life.
- One of the importance of Hinduism resides in the law of Karma. It is a very powerful concept and fact to make an individual do good deeds and avoid bad before birth, after birth and after death. This goes for the lineage as well. A person’s lineage consists of 7 generations:
1. Past: 3 from the past; father, grandfather and great grandfather.
2. Present: himself and
3. Future: 3 from the future: son, grandson and great-grandson.
It is the absolute evidence that the ancestors and the current generation and their next unborn generations are all connected by blood ties. The current generation has to repay their debt to the ancestors through offerings and seek their blessings.
- Every person is born with five debts/runams and that person should try to pay some of the debt owned in his/her life. Without these five, no individual on this Earth can live. Paying homage to ancestors is one of the debt among the below:
1. Ancestors – Debt to parents, ancestors; Pitru runam
2. Gods – Debt to devas; deva runam
3. Sages – Debt to gurus/teachers/saints for the knowledge; Rishi runam
4. Society – Debt to people; manushya runam and
5. Environment – Debt to elements, nature; bhuta runam.
- According to Garuda Purana (a sacred Hindu text), by worshipping the ancestors, one attains longevity, children, health, good fortune, prosperity, abundant food and heaven. The ancestors bless their progenies for their remembrance, respect and love.
- The Vishnu Purana states that one, who with faith, performs the rituals for the ancestors makes the whole world content.
- It is a way to harmonize ourselves with the forces of nature. Those who live in this world and those who departed are all one vital part of the power of consciousness that underlies creation. Therefore the giving and receiving of prayers, blessings and good bring auspiciousness to our lives and to the lives of those who preceded us in this world.
- If the ancestors are neglected and proper homage or due is not paid to them, a curse is known as pitru dosha- a karmic debt falls upon the descendants of the family.
- It is a karmic effect that reflects as the planetary combinations in a person’s horoscope.
- It also occurs due to any bad deeds/karma done by the ancestors in their lives. The intensity of the karma depends on the bad deed done. The effects are so severe such that they have to be borne by the succeeding descendants of the family.
- The bad deeds are done by the existing family members.
- If Proper homage with respect and devotion is not paid by the descendants.
Signs of Pitru Dosha:
- Presence of Pitru Dosha in one’s horoscope may bring about some inevitable and unexpected hardships in a person’s life.
- It causes severe ups and downs in one’s lifespan. The person tends to suffer from a lack of mental decisiveness and money.
- Problems in marriage, childbirth, health, understandings between wife and husband, loss of wealth, disturbances in the family occurs.
- Unable to conceive, having no male child and only females.
- The health of children is not good and frequent sickness prevails.
- Hindrances in family development, business, loss of money, insufficient food etc.
- Birth of physically and mentally handicapped children.
When and by whom the Shraaddha should be done?
Who should perform?
Shraaddha should be performed by the eldest son or a male relative of the paternal branch of the family, limited to the preceding three generations.
It can also be done by the daughter’s son for the maternal side of his family if there is no male heir in his mother’s family and that too only on the day of Mahalaya Amavasya i.e. on the new moon day which comes at the end of pitru paksha.
When should be performed?
Shraaddha should be done on:
Usually on the same tithi in pitru paksha as the tithi of death of a person. For example, if a person died on the tithi Dwitiya in any lunar month, then Shraaddha should be done on Dwitiya tithi on the fortnight. This is because a tithi essentially is the longitudinal angle of 12 degrees between the moon and the sun, remains constant on that particular tithi regardless of which month or which phase the moon is as in waxing or waning phase/Shukla or Krishna paksha.
For whom shraaddha should be done
Lunar day/Tithi - Person
1. Pratipada,1st day - Maternal grandfather
2. Chaturthi, 4th day - Family members, who died in the previous/last year
3. Panchami, 5th day - Unmarried members
4. Ashtami, 8th day - Father
5. Navami/ Avidhava Navami/Unwidowed ninth, 9th day - Married women who died before their husband.
6. Dwadashi, 12th day - Children and ascetics
7. Chaturdashi/Ghata/Ghayala Chaturdashi, 14th day - People killed by arms, in war or suffered a violent and horrible death.
8. Mahalaya Amavasya, new moon - To anyone who died, ancestors, family, friends, pets etc.
Note: If the 4th and 5th lunar days are associated with Bharani nakshatra, then it is more efficient to do shraaddha but annual shraaddha should be completed for them.
Rules to be followed in this period:
This is the period that the ancestors and the dead people visit their progeny homes and they reside for one month starting when the sun passes through Virgo/Kanya raasi and after one month, the sun enters the libra/Tula sign. Certain rules should be followed during this period:
- No auspicious ceremonies like marriage, annaprasana, gruha pravesham/house warming etc. should be conducted.
- An environment of peace and positivity should be maintained at homes.
- No new ventures like buying new things, house, vehicles, starting a new business etc. should be started, as this period is not suitable for auspicious celebrations.
- It is better to avoid any travelling like oversea travelling, out of town, country etc. because it is a dark period and said that many souls good and bad will wander on this earth during this period. If travelling is to be done, it is better to take precautions from gurus or priests.
- Other living beings like dogs, cows, birds, ants etc. should be fed and no harm should be done because it is said that ancestors would come disguised as animals to check how people would treat them.
- Arguments, fights, lies should be avoided as it is the period of repentance and to seek blessings from the Pitrus.
Rules to be followed by the person performing the shraaddha:
- Shraaddha should be performed with utmost devotion and respect towards Pitrus.
- While performing, silence, peace should be maintained. It shouldn’t be performed in a hurry.
- Bell should not be rung during the ritual.
The person performing the shraaddha should:
- Maintain celibacy/brahmacharya.
- Avoid consuming alcohol, paan, supari, beetle nut, tobacco and nonveg.
- While consuming food, there are some rules like ingredients such as onions, garlic, chickpea, cumin, black salt, black mustard, cucumbers, brinjal, dals/lentils like masoor dal, black urad dal, should be avoided.
- Should not cut nails, shave and haircut.
- If shraaddha is performed at their house/plot, then daan/charity/donations should be given at their plot or land because the charity given on other’s plot or house will not reach the ancestors.
- Should not use leather made products like belt, wallet or footwear while performing the ritual.
- Clothes should not be washed on that day.
- New clothes should not be worn for the ritual. Only washed and clean clothes should be worn.
Food rules in Shraaddha:
- Shraaddha is the homage to ancestors through food (Pinda) and water (tarpan).
- The food offerings should be cooked in silver/copper/bronze vessels. Iron vessels should be strictly avoided. Silver is said to be auspicious for the ritual.
- Foods like Kheer, lapsi, rice, dal and vegetables like colocasia, cluster beans, pumpkin/yellow gourd, and tindora/gerkins can be cooked.
- Cucumber, onion, bottle gourd, asafoetida should not be used.
- The food is typically placed on a banana leaf or cups of dried leaves or a leaf plate. While serving food, salt should not be placed on the leaf plate. Direct salt consumption is prohibited during the ritual.
Holy places for Shraaddha:
It is said that at least once in a lifetime, shraaddha for Pitrus should be performed in holy places or at the banks of holy rivers for more efficient results and blessings. It frees the ancestor’s soul from the cycle of life and death and helps them to seek Moksha or liberation. As per Hindu mythology, the places are:
- Kedarnath, Uttarakhand state
- Brahma Kapal, Badrinath, Uttarakhand
- Kapal Mochan, Yamuna Nagar, Haryana state.
- Sannihit Sarovar, Kurukshetra, Haryana
- Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh state
- Prayaga, Uttar Pradesh
- Mathura, Uttar Pradesh
- Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
- Pushkar, Rajasthan state
- Siddhpur, Gujarat state
- Chanod, Gujarat
- On the banks of Falgu River, Gaya, Bihar state
- Nasik, Maharashtra state
- Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh state
- Avantika, Madhya Pradesh
- Puri, Orissa state
- Shakti Peet- Birija Devi (also known as Nabhi Gaya), near Jajipur, Orissa
- Pithapuram, also known as PadaGaya, Andhra Pradesh state
- Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu state
Mahalaya Amavasya is the new moon that comes at the end of Pitru Paksha.
Names: Sarvapitru Amavasya, Pitru Amavasya, Peddala Amavasya, Mahalaya Amavasya and simply Mahalaya.
Importance of Amavasya:
In Sanskrit, Amavasya means “no moon”. On this day, the moon is not visible though it is present.
In old religious cultures, a new moon is considered to have great power and is considered auspicious for the worship of ancestors. It is not auspicious for travelling or to work instead concentrate on the rites of a new moon. Some traditional workers like masons, goldsmiths etc. do not work on the new moon and instead, they work on Sundays.
Mahalaya Amavasya is the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites because shraaddha can be done on this day to any deceased person relative or not. A shraaddha ritual performed on this day is considered as fruitful as one conducted in the holy city of Gaya.
Other methods to pay homage to ancestors:
Shraaddha is one of the Vedic ways to pay homage to ancestors but in some Hindu Families, it is not allowed as per their traditions. Some families perform a rite called “Sambrani Dinam” or simply “Dinam”. Dinam means the day on which homage is paid to ancestors. In this tradition, there are 5 types of Dinams observed when a person dies:
- Chinna Dinam – observed on the fifth day from the actual day of death. For example, if a person died on April 3rd 2020, Chinna dinam is observed on 8th April.
- Pedda Dinam – observed on 11th day from the actual day of death. For example, it is observed on 14th April.
- Maasikam – observed on the date of death as the actual death day after a month. For example, if a person dies on April 3rd, then Maasikam is observed on May 3rd.
- Samvastharikam – observed in the 11th month from the actual death day. For example, it is observed in March 2021. It is like an annual shraaddha.
- On any day in Pitru Paksha to connect the dead person’s soul to the ancestors and it will join them in Pitru Loka.
Rituals and Rules:
- When a person dies, the family members will have one-year untouchability until they perform Samvastharikam to the dead person as a token of respect and love to their relative.
- Here untouchability means, they do not celebrate any festivals, do not wear new clothes, and do not perform auspicious celebrations like marriages, house warming etc. do not visit any temple or any pilgrimage sites or holy places.
- After the annual ritual only, the family become purified and they continue the auspicious celebrations.
- In this tradition, a homage to ancestors is paid in the evening around 6.30 to 7.30 pm by lighting an earthen lamp with one wick, offering new clothes, food, and water mixed with Tulasi or holy basil leaves, burning Sambrani/loban- a type of incense, breaking a coconut and finally giving an aarti on one of the broken coconut pieces to the ancestors. Bell is not rung in this process.
- Sambrani powder is sprinkled on hot charcoals and the incense is burned offering aromatic scent to the ancestors. It is very important in this ritual. That is why it is called Sambrani Dinam.
- Food offered:
Sweets, Jower roti, masala rice, eggs, non-veg like chicken, mutton, potato masala curry, raitha and the foods and drinks which are favourite to the ancestors etc. Mutton is a must in this ritual as it is said that without mutton, the offerings do not reach the ancestors.
- Prayer is made to the Pitrus for their blessings and forgiveness. After the food offering is done, the family remembers can have dinner.
- In this tradition, only the family members connected to the family near and far relatives are allowed to do the rites. Other families are not allowed to participate in this ritual as every family has their traditions.
- The remaining food is to be fed to dogs and crows on the next day and the house is cleaned after that.
Paying our respect to ancestors and dead is very important as they are the blocks on which our lives stand. Their knowledge, traits, life source and the ability to give another life rests within us through their DNA and the blood ties. Whatever the offerings and rituals are done, praying with devotion and love is the main part of homage.
Every person should be thankful to them remembering our roots and their contribution to our life.
Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavanthu! Om Shanti hi!
Mallika Lotus (author) from Hyderabad, India on September 07, 2020:
Thank you @ Mr Yogi, for your encouragement and blessings.
Seek Inwards Yogi from Hyderabad on September 07, 2020:
Congratulations! A very elaborate article on Pitru paksha covering very minute details. The mythological connection to Karna is educative. Some of the basic astronomy you have shared is very enriching. The explanation of Indian Astrology and zodiac is very useful.
Most importantly, thank you for reiterating the significance of paying homage to the ancestors. I consider them our nearest gods, easily accessible and more readily propitiated!
It’s not out of fear that one should offer pitru tarpanam or perform shraaddha, it should be out of respect and love. It is called Shraaddha because it should be performed with Shraddha meaning Belief and Faith.
Thank you for the timely article! May your ancestors continue to shower their blessings on you and your family!
Mallika Lotus (author) from Hyderabad, India on September 05, 2020:
Thank you Mr. Bhatt. Please accept my humble salutations.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 05, 2020:
Well done Mallika. Very elaborate and useful. Keep up your good work in hubpages.