A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pitru Paksha – Shraadh

From today starts a fortnight of one of the most inauspicious period of the year as per the Hindu calendar. This period is known as Pitru Paksha and all good deeds, like asset purchase, investments, marriages, inaugurations of new ventures, etc. are put on the back-burner for a later and a better day. But this is the superstition part of it. Let us understand the concept first.

Pitru stands for ‘forefathers’. Paksha here means a ‘fortnight’. Paksha in Sanskrit refers to a wing of the bird. A lunar month with two fortnights is imagined as the two wings of a bird. Pitru Paksha – thus implying the fortnight of the forefathers is observed during the waning phase of the moon, ending with the darkest night (no-moon night) of the month, which is known as the Mahalaya Shradh Pitru Paksha, considered to be the most important day of the inauspicious fortnight.

As per the scriptures, after a person’s death his dead body (sthula sharira) is burnt and funeral rites (antyeshti) are performed. This is performed to liberate the soul (jeevatma) from the body, but the same needs a vehicle to do so, i.e. thru a linga-sharira (subtle body). Departed souls hover around the crematorium, and they are known as Pretatma (ghosts). These Pretatma’s have no physical existence and thus are in a continuous state of restlessness. The funeral rites are carried out to provide peace and rest to the restless souls. It is these rituals which help the Pretatma get an intermediate body, between linga-sharira and sthula sharira (dead body). This intermediate body helps the body to proceed to the journey to the Pitri-loka (land of the forefathers).

What is done after the death is antyesti and what is done during this period is shraadh (better defined as a commemoration for the departed souls). This period is strictly dedicated to ones ancestors, three generations of them.

According to mythology, it was Yama, the god of death, who is supposed to have explained the importance of shraadh performed during Pitru Paksha. Different Puranas, like the Agni Purana, Garuda Purana and Matsya Purana, have details given about the rituals of shraadh. It is also said that this is the period when the gods go to sleep, thus the souls get nothing from the gods. In hunger and thirst the restless souls come down to earth looking for their family members to provide them their food and drink. Ignoring their wants would not be quite becoming of their present generations.

The most auspicious place to perform such shraadh is on the banks of the river Shipra in the city of Ujjain. According to mythical references, Lord Rama is supposed to have performed the last rites of his father there and since then the place is known as “Ram Ghat”. If one is not able to go the Ujjain, then Gaya in Bihar is the next most auspicious place for this, besides many other places of regional significance.

Finally, shorn of all the rituals and myths, this is a fortnight of remembrances. It reminds all of us to be grateful to our forefathers for this day and it is not asking for too much to pray for the departed souls, who have left this world, either through natural or abnormal deaths. Even if our rational mind, seething with scientific virtues, does not justify the superstitions of the fortnight, it might still be a good idea to just remember our forefathers and silently pay obeisance to them.

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