Shradh Paksha, also known as Mahalaya or Pitru Paksha, is a significant period in the Hindu tradition dedicated to performing rituals and ceremonies in honor of departed ancestors. It is believed that our existence is a result of our forebears’ blessings and deeds, making it our duty to pay homage to their souls for their peaceful journey in the afterlife. Shradh is mentioned in various ancient Hindu scriptures, with prominent references in the Brahma, Vishnu, Vayu, Varaha, and Matsya Puranas. Additionally, the Mahabharata and Manusmriti also detail the significance of Shradh.
What is Shradh?
Shradh is a practice rooted in Vedic times. A sacred act performed following specific rituals to offer oblations, donations, and homage to one’s ancestors who have departed from this world. The Brahma Purana describes Shradh as follows: “The act of giving with faith and as per one’s capacity, aimed at the Pitras (ancestors) during the auspicious time, place, and moment, through the Brahmins, is known as Shradh.”
Deities Associated with Shradh
Hindu scriptures and texts identify Vasu, Rudra, and Aditya as the deities presiding over Shradh rituals.
The Purpose of Shradh
Each individual in the lineage, namely the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, is considered Vasu, Rudra, and Aditya, respectively, during Shradh. Shradh rituals are believed to satisfy these ancestors’ souls, and the mantras and offerings made during these ceremonies are said to reach and nourish all departed ancestors. It is believed that by conducting Shradh for one’s forefathers, they find contentment and, in return, bestow blessings upon the family, bringing prosperity and good health.
Shradh and Ancestral Connection
A person who has passed away and has been in the realm of ancestors for a year is referred to as a “Pitar” or ancestor. Shradh serves as a means to provide nourishment to these ancestors. During the Shradh ceremony, various mantras are recited and offerings are made, ensuring that the ancestors receive sustenance. It is believed that these ancestors enter the body of the individual performing the Shradh, and through the prescribed rituals, they are satisfied, leading to the family’s well-being and prosperity.
Shradh Ritual Items and Procedure
To perform Shradh, it is essential to engage a qualified Brahmin priest. Additionally, specific food items are necessary, such as sesame seeds, black gram, rice, barley, water, and dishes prepared without onions and garlic. During the Shradh ceremony, a clean and serene environment is maintained, and anger is avoided. Rushing through the rituals is discouraged, as it may provoke the ancestors’ anger. Shradh is conducted in the afternoon, accompanied by a meal for Brahmins.
Considerations for Shradh
Certain food items are prohibited during Shradh, including masoor dal, rajma, kodu (a type of grain), chana (chickpeas), and flaxseeds. Consuming stale food or food prepared the previous day is also discouraged. Shradh cannot be performed at someone else’s house; it should always be conducted at one’s own home. If one doesn’t have a home, a public place should be chosen.
Significance of Kush and Til in Shradh
Kush grass and sesame seeds hold particular significance in Shradh rituals. It is believed that Kush represents the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The tip of the Kush grass is associated with deities, the middle part with humans, and the base with ancestors. Sesame seeds are considered dear to our ancestors and are believed to dispel negative energies.
Importance of the Pind in Shradh
In Shradh, a Pind is prepared by mixing milk, sesame seeds, and cooked rice. This Pind symbolizes the ancestors’ bodies and is offered during the ceremony to nourish their souls.
The Role of Crows in Shradh
In Hinduism, it is believed that after death, the soul takes birth as a crow for a brief period before moving on. Therefore, during Shradh Paksha, crows hold special importance. Family members offer food to crows as a way to feed their ancestors. If crows do not come to eat the offered food, it is considered an indication that the ancestors are dissatisfied. In such cases, rituals are performed to appease them.
Shradh Dates in 2023
This year, Pitru Paksha will commence on September 29th and conclude on October 14th, 2023. During this period, it is essential to remember our ancestors with reverence and perform acts of virtue to bring peace and liberation to their souls. Shradh Paksha reminds us of our deep-rooted connection with our ancestors and underscores the importance of gratitude and familial bonds in our lives.