Paksha (Sanskrit: पितृ पक्ष), also spelt as
Pitru paksha (in West and South) or Pitri paksha (in North and East),
(literally "fortnight of the ancestors") is a 16–lunar day period in
Hindu calendar when Hindus pay homage to their ancestor (Pitrs),
especially through food offerings. The period is also known as Pitru
Pakshya, Pitri Pokkho, Sola Shraddha ("sixteen shraddhas"), Kanagat,
Paksha and Apara paksha.
Paksha is considered by Hindus to be inauspicious, given the
death rite performed during the ceremony, known as Shraddha or Tarpan.
In southern and western India, it falls in the 2nd paksha (fortnight)
Hindu lunar month of
Bhadrapada (September) and follows the fortnight
immediately after the Ganesh festival. It begins on the Pratipada
(first day of the fortnight) ending with the no moon day known as
Sarvapitri amavasya, Pitru Amavasya, Peddala Amavasya, Mahalaya
amavasya or simply Mahalaya. Most years, the autumnal equinox falls
within this period, i.e. the Sun transitions from the northern to the
southern hemisphere during this period. In
North India and Nepal, and
cultures following the purnimanta calendar or the solar calendar, this
period may correspond to the waning fortnight of the luni-solar month
Ashvin, instead of Bhadrapada.
3 Rules of Shraddha
3.1 When and where
3.2 Who and for whom
3.4 Rites of Shraddha
4 Other practices
5 See also
According to Hinduism, the souls of three preceding generations of
one's ancestor reside in Pitru–loka, a realm between heaven and
earth. This realm is governed by Yama, the god of death, who takes the
soul of a dying man from earth to Pitru–loka. When a person of the
next generation dies, the first generation shifts to heaven and unites
with God, so Shraddha offerings are not given. Thus, only the three
generations in Pitru–loka are given Shraddha rites, in which Yama
plays a significant role. According to the sacred
Hindu epics, at
the beginning of Pitru Paksha, the sun enters the zodiac sign of Libra
(Tula). Coinciding with this moment, it is believed that the spirits
leave Pitru–loka and reside in their descendants' homes for a month
until the sun enters the next zodiac—Scorpio (Vrichchhika)—and
there is a full moon. Hindus are expected to propitiate the ancestors
in the first half, during the dark fortnight.
When the legendary donor
Karna died in the epic
Mahabharata war, his
soul transcended to heaven, where he was offered gold and jewels as
Karna needed real food to eat and asked Indra, the lord
of heaven, the reason for serving gold as food.
he had donated gold all his life, but had never donated food to his
ancestors in Shraddha.
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 15–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
The Tarpan (Offering holy water to the manes) is being done at the
Jagannath Ghat, Kolkata, at end of the Pitru Paksha.
The performance of Shraddha by a son during Pitru
Paksha is regarded
as compulsory by Hindus, to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes
to heaven. In this context, the scripture
Garuda Purana says, "there
is no salvation for a man without a son". The scriptures preach
that a householder should propitiate ancestors (Pitris), along with
the gods (devas), ghosts (bhutas) and guests. The scripture
Markandeya Purana says that if the ancestors are content with the
shraddhas, they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge and longevity,
and ultimately heaven and salvation (moksha) upon the performer.
The performance of Sarvapitri amavasya rites can also compensate a
forgotten or neglected annual Shraddha ceremony, which should ideally
coincide with the death anniversary of the deceased. According to
Sharma, the ceremony is central to the concept of lineages. Shraddha
involves oblations to three preceding generations—by reciting their
names—as well as to the mythical lineage ancestor (gotra). A person
thus gets to know the names of six generations (three preceding
generation, his own and two succeeding generations—his sons and
grandsons) in his life, reaffirming lineage ties. Anthropologist
Usha Menon of
Drexel University presents a similar idea—that Pitru
Paksha emphasises the fact that the ancestors and the current
generation and their next unborn generation are connected by blood
ties. The current generation repays their debt to the ancestors in the
Pitru Paksha. This debt is considered of utmost importance along with
a person's debt to his gurus and his parents.
Rules of Shraddha
When and where
The shraddha is performed on the specific lunar day during the Pitru
Paksha, when the ancestor—usually a parent or paternal
grandparent—died. There are exceptions to the lunar day rule;
special days are allotted for people who died in a particular manner
or had a certain status in life. Chautha Bharani and Bharani Panchami,
the fourth and fifth lunar day respectively, are allocated for people
deceased in the past year. Avidhava navami ("Unwidowed ninth"), the
ninth lunar day, is for married women who died before their husband.
Brahmin women as guests for their wife's shraddha. The
twelfth lunar day is for children and ascetics who had renounced the
worldly pleasures. The fourteenth day is known as Ghata chaturdashi or
Ghayala chaturdashi, and is reserved for those people killed by arms,
in war or suffered a violent death.
Mahalaya marks the formal beginning of the
Durga Puja festival
Sarvapitri amavasya (all ancestors' new moon day) is intended for all
ancestors, irrespective of the lunar day they died. It is the most
important day of the Pitru Paksha. Those who have forgotten to
perform shraddha can do so on this day. A shraddha ritual performed on
this day is considered as fruitful as one conducted in the holy city
of Gaya, which is seen as a special place to perform the rite, and
hosts a fair during the Pitru
In Bengal, Mahalaya (Bengali: মহালয়া) marks the
Durga Puja festivities. Mahalaya is the day when the
Durga is believed to have descended to Earth. Bengali people
traditionally wake up early in the morning on Mahalaya to recite hymns
Devi Mahatmya (Chandi) scripture. Offerings to the ancestors
are made in homes and at puja mandaps (temporary shrines).
Matamaha ("Mother's father") or Dauhitra ("Daughter's son") also marks
the first day of the month of
Ashvin and beginning of the bright
fortnight. It is assigned for the grandson of the deceased maternal
The ritual is also held on the death anniversary of the ancestor. The
shraddha is performed only at noon, usually on the bank of a river or
lake or at one's own house. Families may also make a pilgrimage to
Varanasi and Gaya to perform Shraddha. An annual
Paksha Mela at Gaya on the banks of River Falgu. Pilgrims from
all corners of the country visit Gaya for offering Pinda to their
Ancestors. According to Bihar Tourism Department estimates, some
5,00,000 to 75,00,000 pilgrims arrive in the Gaya city during the
Paksha Mela every year.
Who and for whom
It is essential that Shraddha be performed by the son—usually the
eldest—or male relative of the paternal branch of the family,
limited to the preceding three generations. However, on Sarvapitri
amavasya or matamaha, the daughter's son can offer Shraddha for the
maternal side of his family if a male heir is absent in his mother's
family. Some castes only perform the shraddha for one
generation. Prior to performing the rite, the male should have
experienced a sacred thread ceremony. Since the ceremony is considered
inauspicious due to its association with death, the royal family of
Kutch, the king or heirs of the throne are prohibited from conducting
The food offerings made to the ancestors are usually cooked in silver
or copper vessels and typically placed on a banana leaf or cups made
of dried leaves. The food must include
Kheer (a type of sweet rice and
milk), lapsi (a sweet porridge made of wheat grains), rice, dal
(lentils), the vegetable of spring bean (guar) and a yellow gourd
Rites of Shraddha
Pinda Daan is being done at the Jagannath Ghat, Kolkata, at end of the
The male who performs the shraddha should take a purifying bath
beforehand and is expected to wear a dhoti. He wears a ring of kush
grass. Then the ancestors are invoked to reside in the ring. The
shraddha is usually performed bare-chested, as the position of the
sacred thread worn by him needs to be changed multiple times during
the ceremony. The shraddha involves pinda-daan, which is an offering
to the ancestors of pindas (cooked rice and barley flour balls mixed
with ghee and black sesame seeds), accompanying the release of water
from the hand. It is followed by the worship of
Vishnu in form of the
darbha grass, a gold image or
Shaligram stone and Yama. The food
offering is then made, cooked especially for the ceremony on the roof.
The offering is considered to be accepted if a crow arrives and
devours the food; the bird is believed to be a messenger from
the spirit of the ancestors. A cow and a dog are also fed, and
Brahmin priests are also offered food. Once the ancestors (crow) and
Brahmins have eaten, the family members can begin lunch.
Some families also conduct ritual recitals of scriptures such the
Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavad Gita. Others may be
charitable and present gifts to the priests or pay them to recite
prayers for the ancestor's well-being.
Hindu genealogy registers at Haridwar
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pitru Paksha.
^ "2016 Shraddha Days". Drik Panchang.
^ a b c Sharma, Usha (2008). "Mahalaya". Festivals In Indian Society.
2. Mittal Publications. pp. 72–73.
^ a b c d e f g h i j Underhill, M M (2001). The
Hindu religious year.
Asian Educational Services. pp. 112–116.
^ a b c Vidyarathi, L P (1978). The Sacred Complex in
Concept Publishing Company. pp. 13, 15, 33, 81, 110.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dilipsingh, K S (2004).
Kutch in festival and
custom. Har-Anand Publications. pp. 61–64.
^ Sastri, S. M. Natesa (1988).
Hindu feasts, fasts and ceremonies.
Asian Educational Services. pp. 15–17.
^ Chauturvedi, B K (2006). "The Best Charity: Food and water". Tales
from the Vedas and other Scriptures. Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.
pp. 192–193. ISBN 978-81-288-1199-9.
^ Chatterjee, Deepam (18 September 2009). "Speaking Tree: Mahalaya
Amavasya & Navaratri: Legend of Karna". The Times of India.
^ Menon, Usha (2003). "Morality and Context: A Study of Hindu
Understandings". In Valsiner, Jaan; Connolly, Kevin J. Handbook of
developmental psychology. SAGE. p. 446.
^ Sharma, S P; Gupta, Seema (2006). "
Durga Puja: Mahalaya". Fairs and
Festivals of India. Pustak Mahal. p. 38.
^ TNN (19 September 2009). "Mahalaya ushers in the Puja spirit". The
Times of India. Retrieved 2009-09-27.
^ Justice, Christopher (1997). Dying the good death: the pilgrimage to
die in India's Holy City. SUNY Press. p. 43.
^ "Gaya to host 2013 Pitri
Paksha Mela from September 18". Retrieved
25 September 2013.
^ a b Bryant, Clifton D. (2003). Handbook of
Death and Dying. SAGE.
p. 647. ISBN 978-0-7619-2514-9.
Death in Hinduism
Vedic rituals after death
Festivals in the
Regional New Year
Cheti Chand (Sindhi)
Gudi Padwa (Marathi, Konkani)
Pana Sankranti (Oriya)
Pohela Boishakh (Bengali)
Ugadi (Telugu, Kannada)
Vaisakhi (North & Central India, Nepal)
Shravana Putrada Ekadashi
Pausha Putrada Ekadashi