Pitri Paksh is an opportunity to express gratitude to our ancestors for the sacrifices they have made to make our lives better!
In 2015 Sylvester Stallone visited the holy city of Hardwar, India and performed shraddha ceremony for his deceased son Sage who died in 2012. Stallone was having visions of his dead son until he met Prateek Mishrapuri, an Indian astrologer in Los Angeles who guided him to perform a shraddha ceremony to release the soul. After doing the ritual, Stallone said that he ceased having those visons.
Pitri Paksh (Pitri-ancestor; paksh- fortnight) is a fortnight dedicated to the worship of the departed ancestors in the Hindu calendar. It will be observed between 02-17 September this year. The ceremony performed to honour the departed ancestor is called shraddha. A shraddha is usually performed by a male member and has social and religious benefits.
Hinduism believes that man is a soul or Atman, a part of the universal soul or Paramatma. At death the corpse is burnt but several rituals are performed to assist the soul in its journey toward the land of the ancestors named Pitri Lok and ruled by Yama, the god of Death. Swami Muktananda in his book Play of Consciousness recorded his visit to Pitri Lok during his meditation and his recognition of many elders from his village.
For Shraddha ceremony, the house is cleaned. Family members abstain from meat and alcohol, and engage in prayer and meditation to develop a positive mind. On the southern direction of the family house a root of kush grass is planted and during sunrise offerings of tarpan (a mixture of black til and white rice in water) is made at the root of the kush grass accompanied with the chanting of a mantra. The offering goes on for three to five or all fifteen days. On the final day, family members and other relatives joined in the preparation of a range of dishes. Before the offering of the meals is done, a final Pitri Havan is performed.
During this period of Pitri Paksh many families listen to readings from the Garud Puran, a text detailing the journey of the soul and the rites and rituals to be performed and the mantras to be chanted.
Ancestral worship is not confined to Hinduism as other cultures share in this worship. However, Hindus are the only people that have dedicated an entire fortnight for the worship of the ancestors. No new projects are started and worship of the gods and goddesses is put on hold.
“Veneration of the dead or ancestor reverence is based on the belief that the dead have a continued existence and/or possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living… While far from universal, ancestor veneration occurs in societies with every degree of social, political, and technological complexity, and it remains an important component of various religious practices.” (https://wikitravel.org/en/Ancestor Worship Festivals around the World)
Countries with a Buddhist-Confucian culture such as China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Korea have special days in their calendars for ancestral worship. In Mexico street processions are held celebrating the Festival of the Dead, a pre-Columbian festival. In Europe and other parts of the world including Trinidad and Tobago, the worship of the dead is observed as All Saint’s Day by Roman Catholics. Many take to the graves of their ancestors, lighting candles and making offering of foods.
In 2015 Sylvester Stallone visited the holy city of Hardwar, India and performed shraddha ceremony for his deceased son Sage who died in 2012. Stallone was having vision of his dead son until he met Prateek Mishrapuri, an Indian astrologer in Los Angeles, who guided him to perform a shraddha ceremony to release the soul of his son. After doing the ritual, Stallone ceased having the visions.
Pitri Paksh was brought by our indenture ancestors and implanted in this social environment. While Christians have frown on such religious practices, our ancestors were steadfast in their devotion, thus defying the proselytizers.
The observance of these sacred rituals on behalf of the departed ancestors is critical to our history as it symbolizes cultural persistence. If today we celebrate our cultural heritage with pride, it would be because of their grit and determination amidst hostilities and ridicules.
One swami put forward the theory that the binding of the roots of the kush grass is symbolic of the unity necessary for the family and community to succeed.
Pitri Paksh is an opportunity to express gratitude to our ancestors – a thanksgiving- for the sacrifices they have made to make our lives better. It is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the many who have done so much to have us where we are today.