There are various rules and rituals that constitute the Pitru Paksha, one of the most important being 'Pind Daan'. When dead, the soul of the deceased enters 'Pretloka'. This transient soul, Pret, needs to progress to the Pitru Loka, and the Pind Daan becomes a gratifying medium. Giving daan or donation in the form of pind-balls of cooked rice or barley offered with water and sesame helps the soul rise from Pretloka to Pitruloka, where the deceased can attain peace.
The Hindu manuals depict Samsara as the endless ocean of deaths and rebirths. The Jiva, or the soul, travels through different bodies and is tied to this never-ending cycle which harbors chains of attachments. Pind Daan severs these attachments from the real-world and helps the soul migrate to the higher realms of peace and relief. Consisting of black sesame or gingelly seeds that store energy, Pind is the food of the spirits that energizes it to transcend into higher levels.
There are various pilgrimage places in India where the rituals of Pind Daan are performed, but Gaya, amongst all, is considered of supreme sanctity. Gaya in Bihar is a place sacred to Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus alike. It's a place where Ram, Sita, and Lakshman are believed to have offered Pind Daan to their father Dashratha, the descendant of the Ishvaku dynasty and the king of Ayodhya. Narad Purana states that when the Shraddha is performed in Gaya one attains to Brahma Loka.
After shedding the physical body, the souls reside in Pitru Loka with Yama, the God of death, and other forefathers. With nothing to eat in those realms, the hungry souls depend on the 'Tarpan', or oblation, done by their descendants on earth. Agni Deva, or Fire is said to play an important role when one makes an offering to ancestors. It is through Agni, representing the latent fire of digestion, that whatever is offered reaches the Pitra. After sunset, with the source of fire and all power subsiding, Pind daan and Tarpan are never performed in the absence of the Sun God.
Pind Daan can be done on all fifteen days, or can be done for ten days or is best to be done on the specific tithi of the death falling during the Pitra Paksha. In case one does not know the tithi of the death, then it is recommended to be done on the Mahalaya. Pitru Tarpan is the simplest of all the rituals and becomes a way of gratifying the ancestors and freeing them of all their material attachments. Pure water, a place made of Kusha grass, raw milk, garland of flowers, rose petals, betel nut, black sesame seeds and sacred thread called Janeu are some of the requirements while doing the tarpan. Done facing a particular direction, all the ancestors with their names are remembered with reverence. Tarpan releases one of pitra rin (rin; debt). When the ancestral souls are fed and prayed for, they attain peace and bless their descendants on earth.
There are 1008 sacred places in India to perform Tarpan, Pind Daan, and Mahalaya Shraddha. Varanasi, Triyambakeshwar, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Rameshwara, among various others. Shraddha can also be performed at holy rivers like Ganga, Godavari, Narmada, Sindhu, Kaveri or Cauvery, and Brahmaputra.
Shraddha is not a mechanical activity and hence cannot be performed without prior knowledge of mantras. For this, a learned Pandit is often hired and various mantras are recited. Vishnu, Brahma, Rudra,
and other Gods are invoked and summoned. The soul visits the place of ritual in the form of ling-deha. These Gods are called upon to protect the ling-deha from all the negative energies orbiting in the atmosphere.
Feeding cows and crows is another important ritual practised during the pitra paksha. The intensity of black colour of the crow signifies the raj-tam predominance of the Pind Daan. The subtle sheaths surrounding the crow and the ling-deha are moist. Due to this similarity, the ling deha of the deceased can enter the form of the crow when called upon during the Pind Daan. The ling deha, in the form of a crow, partakes of the Pind. Through the Pind, the ling deha derives energy both at the physical and subtle level. It is through this energy that it can thrust itself out of the earth's atmosphere, severing all ties of material attachment and taking up the further journey to the higher realms of attaining perfection. The soul feels gratified on consuming the pind offered to him by his lineage and can now continue with his arduous journey. The River Vaitarni lies between the Earth and Narak, or the realm of Yama. As per the Garuda Purana, the righteous see the river filled with nectar, but the sinful souls see Vaitarni filled with blood. It is stated that holding on to the tail of a cow, the deceased can cross this dreaded river.
The twelfth day is called Dwadashi Shraddh. One seeks the blessings of the children, holy men, and sages who renounced worldly pleasures and also those who died on this day. The Dwadashi Shraddh rituals are done to ward off the dangers of a lingering ghost. By safely transferring the Preta to the secure Pitru Loka, the soul is now gratified, making the twelfth day the most dramatic of the Pitru Paksha.
Worshipping Shivling with milk and water
, keeping 16 or 21 peacock feathers in the house, feeding milk and water at the root of the peepal tree, reciting Bhagwad Gita
, and following Brahmacharya, i.e., abstinence from alcohol, meat, and sex, are various other customs followed by people during the Pitru Paksha. Making donations and charities to the Brahmans, along with items like cooking utensils, a bed, personal items, money, and enough raw food for the year, is also an important part of constituting the sixteen-day ritual.
Pitru paksha holds very high significance in our Vedas where it is firmly believed that our ancestors are our spiritual guides and affect our daily lives. Max Mueller, the famous German philosopher once said, 'The Rig Veda is the most ancient book in the world'. Divided into eight chapters with 1017 verses, it contains hymns for burial and cremation of the dead along with Atharva Veda. Pitru paksha is the time of year when the earth's descendants fondly remember their forefathers. These ancestors nurtured them when they were weak and frail, fed and clothed them and upon their death it is believed that their wandering souls come seeking energies for their higher transformation and, in exchange, bless humanity with health and happiness for future generations.
They mark the connection between the earth and the other realms that man is yet to come across.