By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Pitrpaksa, PitRpakSa, Pitrripaksha
Pitṛpakṣa literally means ‘the fortnight dedicated to the forefathers’.
Occurence of Pitṛpakṣa
The 15 days of the dark fortnight of the month Bhādrapada are called ‘Pitṛpakṣa’ or ‘Mahālayapakṣa’ and the new-moon day as ‘Mahālaya Amāvāsyā’. These days are considered to be extremely auspicious for performing the obsequal rites to the departed ancestors.
Legend Behind Pitṛpakṣa
The story goes that Karṇa, the great hero of the Mahābhārata, could not get any food to eat when he went to the higher region after his death, though he could get plenty of silver and gold there. This was because he had donated plenty of gold and silver but not food. Distressed much by this, he prayed to Yama, the god of death and through his grace returned to this earth during this Mahālayapakṣa, gifted plenty of food and then returned. Hence, annadāna or giving food to the hungry is an important duty enjoined in the observance of these days.
Rituals of Pitṛpakṣa
On all the fifteen days, offerings are made to the departed manes, including those whose names or manner of death are not known. Men of the family generally observe some austerities during this period, like not shaving the hair or the beard, not paring the nails and so on. Feeding the priests with khīr or pāyasa during this period is considered to be highly pleasing to the pitṛs or manes.
- Pāyasa means the pudding.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore