Pitru Paksha (fortnight of the ancestors) is a 16–lunar day period in the Hindu calendar when people honor their ancestors.
According to Hinduism, the souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside in Pitru–loka, a realm between heaven and earth. It is said that when we honor and remember our ancestors during this time, they bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity, and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha).
This is the time to repay our debts to our ancestors and it is one of the most important debts we have to repay in this lifetime. It is believed that it is during this 16 day period our ancestors come down to earth to bless us.
Dates: Pitru Paksha begins on 21st of September and ends 6th of October. (For local timings download the align27 app.)
The last day of Pitru Paksha is known as Sarvapitri Amavasya or Mahalaya Amavasya which is the grand finale and the most significant day of Pitru Paksha.
Legend: When the legendary 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, a ceremony performed in honour of ancestors.
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.
Do’s and Don’ts during Pitru Paksha
1. Take a trip down the memory lane to remember your ancestors. Thank them, feel grateful, and ask them to come and help you with any challenges or obstacles you are facing in life.
2. Avoid aggression, vengeance, violence, anger-related issues during this period so you can focus on remembering your ancestors with utmost faith and sincerity.
3. Donation – You can help people who are less fortunate than you and this is the most beneficial deed that will make your ancestors happy.
4. Meditation – It is said that deep meditation brings freedom and relief not just to our own self but to our ancestors as well.
5. Avoid Non-Vegetarian food and maintain a light sattvic vegetarian-based diet.
6. Avoid starting new projects during this period.
7. Follow the daily rituals on the align27 app as there are few important days during this period – When the moon transits Bharani or Magha or the tithi is pratipad or navami.
8. If you remember the tithi of the day when your ancestors had passed away, the same tithi during this period should be used to perform tarpan for them. If you do not remember you can just do it on the day of Mahalaya Amavasya.
Why do we worship our ancestors?
Water has two units of life, Fire has three units of life, Air has four units of life, Space has five units of life, Trees have six units of life, Animals have seven units of life, Human beings have eight units of life, and are known as Ashtavasu. Superhuman blossomed beings, who do extraordinary work, whether it be very good or very bad, have nine units of life.
Furthermore, humans can develop up to sixteen units of life. When we die we become more powerful in some way. We go between nine and ten units of life. This is strange but true. That is why ancestors are worshiped.
The moment this body drops, the spirit has become free, without boundaries, and nothing can stop it. The spirit moves around freely. If it is bound in the body, you have only eight units of life but when you die, then you have access to the ninth and tenth units, so you gain much more access to the planet. That is why ancestors have the capacity to bless you.
They have more ‘life’ than you because their spirit is freed from the limited body. They have the power to know, cognize and bless you. You can feel their presence. So when you pray to them, they can grant you certain boons. They are able to bestow unto you to whatever extent they are powerful. Ancestral worship can be found in China, Latin American and many other countries.
In the Christian tradition, there is All Soul’s day, where you respect the souls and ask for their blessings.