By Swami Harshananda
Preta literally means ‘one who has gone away from here’.
This word is generally used to indicate the disembodied spirit of a dead person, especially during the first ten days after death. In order to free it from that state, a handful of water mixed with sesame has to be offered to the deceased on a stone placed on kuśa grass and one large pirida is to be offered on kuśa grass everyday for ten days.
The word is also used to indicate a ghost, generally the spirit of a great sinner. Such ghosts, which are called bhutas, pretas and piśācas are supposed to be in the retinue of the deities Rudra and Kālī.
- Kuśa grass means Poa cynosuroides.
- Pirida means the rice-ball.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore