By Swami Harshananda
Sometimes transliterated as: Paitrka-mantras, PaitRka-mantras, Paitrrika-mantras
Paitṛka-mantras literally means ‘sacred formula associated with the pitṛs or manes’.
Origin of Paitṛka-mantras
During the times of the Ṛgveda persons who died here were believed to go to the pitṛloka and live there in subtle bodies. They were propitiated through certain rites, now well-known as śrāddha, wherein oblations were offered for them into a duly consecrated fire. The fourteen mantras of the Rgveda used in such rites are called ‘paitṛka-mantras’.
Parameters of Paitṛka-mantras
The ṛṣi or sage of this group of mantras is Saṅkha-Yāmāyana. The pitṛs are the devatās or deities. Triṣṭup and Jagatī are the meters used. These mantras are recited during the funeral rites performed in the śmaśāna.
Classification of Paitṛka-mantras
The first seven mantras are the prayers to the pitṛs for accepting the offerings and protecting the performer. The eighth one is addressed to Yama, the god of death, to accept the offerings given to him. The next two are an invitation to Agni, the god of fire and a prayer to him. It is interesting to note that in these mantras are categorized into three groups:
- Uttama - the best
- Madhyama - middling
- Adhama - the lowest
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore