Mahalaya Amavasya and Pitri-paksha
last updated 25th August 2006

kuryäd apara-pakñéyaà
mäsi prauñöha-pade dvijaù
çräddhaà pitror yathä-vittaà
tad-bandhünäà ca vittavän

kuryät—one should perform; apara-pakñéyam—during the fortnight of the dark moon; mäsi—in the month of Äçvina (October-November); prauñöha-pade—in the month of Bhädra (August-September); dvijaù—twice-born; çräddham—oblations; pitroù—unto the forefathers; yathä-vittam—according to one's means of income; tat-bandhünäm ca—as well as relatives of forefathers; vitta-vän—one who is sufficiently rich.

A brähmaëa who is sufficiently rich must offer oblations to the forefathers during the dark-moon fortnight in the latter part of the month of Bhädra. Similarly, he should offer oblations to the relatives of the forefathers during the mahälayä ceremonies in the month of Äçvina.(Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad. Srimad Bhagavatam 7:14:19.)

The dark fortnight of Aswini Month  is known as Mahalaya Paksha or the fortnight especially sacred for offering oblations to the departed ancestors. The last day of this period, the new moon day (Amavasya), is considered as the most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites (or in simple terms offerings to our dearly departed ancestors). This year it falls on the 8th September- 22nd September 2006.

In the Puranas there’s a true story of an account of how important this period and day really is. The renowned hero of the Mahabharata, Karna (the Pandavas half brother), when he passed on, he ascended to the heavenly planets and the great charity he had performed in his lifetime was returned to him hundredfold. But, it was all gold and silver; there was no food, as he had not done any food-charity! He prayed to the god of death (Lord Yamaraja). So, he was sent back to earth for fourteen days, to make up for this deficiency.

For fourteen days, he fed Brahmins and the poor, and offered oblations of water. On his return to the heavenly planets, he had food in plenty. It is these fourteen days that are commemorated in the Mahalaya Paksha. Due to the grace of Yamaraja, it has been ordained that offerings made during this period benefit all the departed souls, whether they are connected to you or not. The offerings reach the ancestors very quickly like an express delivery. This is the boon of Lord Yamaraja. Jai Sri Yamaraja.

Charity in the form of food is important during this observance. Life depends upon food. You cannot preach religion to empty stomachs. This human body is the most important vehicle for realizing God. How precious must food be which keeps the body fit for spiritual practices! The gift of food is the greatest gift as Lord Krsna says to Sri Arjuna in the Bhavishya uttara Purana: - " O son of Kunti, all the forefathers and devas in heaven become very satisfied when one gives food grains in charity."

Therefore, give food in plenty, not only during the Mahalaya fortnight but also all through the year.

Many hold the view that" Ok I will gave a loaf of bread in charity but what’s in it for me." Now this sort of mentality is rather sad and unfortunate as "whatever the right hand does the left hand should not know" or i.o.w do not perform charity with some intention of gaining something. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavat Gita that this charity is in the mode of total ignorance. Remember that "whatever goes around comes around" and Lord Krsna has seen what you have done and that will not go by unnoticed. Remember that we are all God’s children regardless of our beliefs and will you allow your blood sister/brother to starve? Of course not!!! So by feeding the needy this pleases the Supreme Lord immensely and it’s something that He will not forget. That you can be rest assured with.

So what can you give on this day: As Lord Krsna said to Sri Arjuna that grains should be given. But you can also give vegetables, fruits, beans, flour, sugar, salt (yes salt this is esp. recommended in the Garuda Purana), etc. I.O.W. give a little of each (like a hamper) so that the person can cook and feed his/her family for a meal or two.

Who to give it to: - you can give it to a poor family or to your family priest.

Most important: - just before giving the charity pray to Lord Ram/Krsna/Visnu asking Him the benefits that you are going to receive for donating these items to please give that punya-karma (spiritual merits) to all your ancestors. Please try to perform this charity before noon as Pitr Paksa ends just after noon on the 3rd.

In the Garuda Purana Preta khanda II 10.50-55 Lord Visnu says to Sri Garudaji " On the day of Amavasya (new moon day), the airy manes (the ancestors) stand at the door of their descendents in order to receive their food. They remain there till sunset. When they do not receive their food they fall in despair and out of suffering heave long sighs and go back cursing the descendents. Therefore, one should carefully perform shraddha (offer food) to your ancestors on the new moon day (Amavasya) every month. Well why are you hearing this for the first time? Well that’s a million dollar question, which I can’t answer.

Finally many people have emailed me asking what if for example one of their ancestors became a cow, what happens then. Good question. Obviously the cow is not going to come to your house to eat the food that you offered. What happens is that the food (the merits) that you have offered to that ancestor goes to that person or in this case the cow. In the Garuda Purana Preta Khanda II 19. 26-27 Garudji said: " O Lord Visnu, things are gifted by the relatives at home in the favour of the deceased. How do they reach the deceased and who receives them?" Lord Visnu replied " O Garudji, Varuna dev (the deva in charge of the oceans) receives those gifts and hands them over to Me. I give them to Suryadev, and from Suryadev the deceased person obtains them" so from the above verse its quite clear whatever you give on behalf or the food that you offer to you ancestor, the food/gift goes go to that entity in whatever form it is in.

Compiled for the upliftment of Sanatan Dharma (The Eternal Religion)

By Narottam dasa in Rep South Africa   031 403 2681 or 082 714 1504

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Pitr Paksha (The Memorial Period for the dead)

The Pitr (forefathers) Paksha (phase of the moon) or simply "The auspicious period for remembering those who have passed away" is very significant in the Hindu culture. In writing this article we hope to enlighten people from all cultures as to why we honour this very auspicious period of 15 days which comes in the dark half phase of the month of Ashwini (around September), set aside as a Memorial and thanksgiving to the departed souls, who, when on this Earth, made some contribution to make it a better place. We acknowledge our indebtedness to these ancestors at this period. It is an observance accompanied by intense bhakti (devotion) to the Supreme Lord. This year (2005) Pitr Paksa is between 18th September to 3rd October.

Especially in South Africa many Hindus observe this very important period for just a few days. Now that’s just not right. On the 18th September Pitr Pakse starts and continues for 15 days (until the 3rd of October). Many offer food after three days when they are performing their havan. That’s incorrect. This memorial period is not only for three days rather it’s for 15 days. If a guest comes to your house will you make the guest starve? No of course not then why are they being not fed daily. Remember you do not have to cook 10-15 preparations. Whatever you cook for yourself on that day you can offer to the Pitrs. How is this done? On a tray place a banana leaf. On the banana leaf place a teaspoon of all the food that was cooked. Then in a corner of your yard in a clean place offer the food together with a small cup of water or milk. Say " all my ancestors please partake in this prashad". Then leave that food. One should do this for 15 days. On the last day you can either perform a havan or donate in charity (whatever you like and can afford – like 3 three types of grains, fruits, vegetables…) to your family priest or a poor person.

All religions, sects, even tribes follow different observances when a member of the family passes on. The rites are based on certain beliefs and convictions enshrined in religion. One of the cornerstones of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is the belief in the eternity of the Atma (Soul). The Atma leaves the body at death but life does not end there but continues after death as Lord Krishna says in Bhagavata Gita 2.20 "For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. The soul is unborn, eternal, ever existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain."

The final rites after death are called Antyeshti, during which the body is cremated or buried depending on the age of the deceased. The ceremonies performed after the 10th, 13th day followed by the 6th, 12th month, and yearly ceremonies are all called Shraddha. The annual Shraddha performed during Pitr Paksh falls into the same category of rituals.

The Sanskrit word Pitr embraces God in all His aspects, the earliest sages, and our immediate ancestors to the third generation, and all our departed friends and relatives.

The followers of Sanathan Dharma (Hindus) express their gratitude and devotion by oblations of water (Tarpan) in memory of these ancestors. Oblations are made to God, to the Devi/Devas, Rshis and to our ancestors. The offerings are performed daily for 15 days. Tarpan is done as follows: In a dish of half filled water add some milk, sugar, honey, a few grains of barley, a few drops of ghee, and flowers petals – mix these items. Now face East and keep 3 pieces of Kush grass across both palms forming a cup and offer this water in the dish – NOT on the ground – in the name of as many deities as possible. Then face north and offer water in the name of the rishis. Then face south and now add til (Sesame seeds) into the water and offer this in the name of the pitrs (forefathers). Remember that the water is only offered in the dish. Only after all offerings have been completed then the dish of water is dropped on a plant. This can be repeated as many days as one desires in the 15 days.

Havans (except Wedding, Sacred thread ceremonies, Katha and Jhunda and so forth are not performed) during this period is recommended. Food prepared MUST FIRST be offered to the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna/Rama/Vishnu then that offered food becomes sanctified food (Prashad) and only then must that prashad be offered to the forefathers. By performing it in this way the forefathers bless that family immensely since they are eating Vishnu prashad, which relieves them very quickly, from whatever bad situation they are in. Charity should also be performed at this time, as this is most beneficial.

Is Pitr Puja Necessary?

Some people are of the opinion that Pitr Puja should not be performed because the Atma or the deceased has already taken birth again. It might have been born as an animal, bird, insect, human form or whatever form that the soul would receive in accordance with the karmas (actions good or bad) of previous lives. After the Sapindi ceremony (the 13th day ceremony performed 13 days after the cremation of the deceased), the Pitr Puja becomes obligatory on the descendants. Every human being has to pay three debts with which he is reborn and that is (1) indebt ness to the Supreme Lord, (2) to the Rishis, and (3) to the forefathers. Now what does it matter if the soul is re-born? A simple analogy from everyday life will make it clear. A person named Ram owes a sum of money to Gopal who was residing at a certain address at the time when the debt was incurred. Subsequently, Gopal changes his place of residence, and begins to live at another place. Does this absolve Ram from his indebtedness? No. After all death is the leaving of one body by the Atma and birth is the taking on of a new body. Bhagavad Gita (2.22) aptly describes the process "Just as one removes old clothes and puts on new ones, so does the Jivatma abandon an old body and obtain a new one" For further elucidation we may liken transmigration of the Soul to one abandoning a house which is old and beyond repair and taking residence in another home. Besides, Pitr Puja is a memorial service in which the devotee remembers as well as prays, addressing the departed he says: "O Pitrs in whichever form you may be, wherever you may be, we wish to remember and pray for your peace and welfare". Auspicious mantras are recited for the welfare, prosperity and peace of all beings.

References: Bhagavat Gita,

Garuda Purana,

Astaang Shraddha Paddhatee