Mahalaya Amāvāsyā and Pitṛ Paksh (Ancestors Ritual)
Mahalaya Amāvāsyā: Importance and Relevance
Amāvāsyā (Sanskrit: अमावस्या), the “dark phase” of the Moon when it is within the 12 degrees of angular distance between the Sun and Moon before conjunction, is an important ritual for worshiping one’s forefathers. Mahalaya Amāvāsyā is the king of Amāvāsyā. This ritual takes place once per year, but additional rituals (Pitṛ Paksh) can be performed monthly.
Who should do the Mahalaya Amāvāsyā Ritual?
- Anyone who wishes to express their gratitude for having been born in this world.
- Those who have pitṛdosha in their horoscope must do so if they are interested in reducing or getting rid of the pitṛdosha.
- Those who have putradosha in their horoscope must do so if they are interested in reducing or getting rid of the pitṛdosha.
- Those who have unending problems in life, (i.e., one problem after another).
- Those who have unending problems with loans and debts.
- Those who have unending problems with disease and ailments.
Pitṛ Paksha: Meaning
Pitṛ Paksha (पितृ पक्ष) is Sanskrit for, “fortnight of the ancestors.” Pitṛ translates as, “ancestors,” and Paksha translates as, “fortnight.” Pitṛ Paksha is, therefore, a 15-lunar day period during which Hindus pay homage to their ancestors – mainly through food offerings.
The worship of our ancestors consists of:
- Tharpanam (i.e., offering food to the departed souls/ancestors)
- Annadhaanam (i.e., feeding the poor)
When Pitṛ Paksha Takes Place
This period begins on the day of the full moon (Poornima), which occurs immediately after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, and ends on the day of the new moon (Amavasys), known as Sarvapitri Amāvāsyā or Mahalaya Amāvāsyā.
In southern and western India, it falls in the 2nd paksha (forthnight) Hindu lunar month of Bhadrapada (September) and follows the forthnight immediately after the Ganesh festival. It begins on the Padyami (first day of the forthnight) ending with the new moon day known as Sarvapitri Amāvāsyā, Pitṛ Amāvāsyā, Peddala Amāvāsyā, Mahalaya Amāvāsyā, or simply Mahalaya. Most years, the autumnal equinox falls within this period, i.e. the Sun transitions from the northern to the southern hemisphere during this period.
In North India and Nepal, and cultures following the purnimanta calendar or the solar calendar, this period may correspond to the waning fortnight of the luni-solar month Ashvin, instead of Bhadrapada.
The Tharpanam is done at sunrise on all 15 days of the ancestor fortnight from the first day onward. Along with this one must also give food, clothes, footwear, cooking utensils to poor people (every day of this 15 day period) – at least one packet of food to some poor person or a pilgrim. Without such offerings the worship of ancestors is incomplete.
Karunya Tarpanam During the Pitṛ Paksha
During the 15 days of the Mahalaya Paksha (and especially on the Mahalaya Amāvāsyā day), offer tharpanam pooja – not just to your ancestors, but also to plants, trees, animals, birds, insects and all living things that have been sacrificed for your sake. This is called “karunya tharpanam,” an act of gratitude to these beings.
Feeding animals, birds, insects and other creatures is a daily duty, but it is particularly important during this ancestor fortnight. Feeding cows and crows is a must. When in India, visit at least one of the many Pitṛ Mukti (ancestor salvation) places, such as Kasi, Rameswaram, Gaya, Prayag (Allahabad), Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, Mantralayam, SriSailam, Papanasam, Thiruvaiyaru, etc.
How to Determing the Best Shradh (Death Rite) Times
Shraadh is to be performed in Aparaanha kaal. Other times are not very good for performing Shraadh. Performing it after Saayankaal should be avoided.
Divide the length of day into five equal parts. The fourth part is the best period for Shraadh ritual. In this example, we assume that sunrise is at 6AM and sunset is at 6PM:
- Praatha – 06:00 to 08:24
- Sanghava – 08:25 to 10:48
- Maadhyaanha – 10:49 to 13:12
- Aparaanha – 13:13 to 15:36
- Saayankaal – 15:37 to 18:00
The Annual 15 Moons of Pitṛ Paksha
The Pitṛ Paksha ritual spans from the 1st Moon (immediately after Poornima) until the Amāvāsyā and each day is ruled by a specific Tithi of the Moon (Lunar days). The benefits of doing tarpanam on the specific moon days are given in the in the chart below:
Lunar Days or Tithi Benefits of Specific Lunar Days Tarpanam
- Prathamai Thithi: Gives wealth
- Dvithiyai Thithi: Grants the continuation of lineage
- Thrithiyai Thithi: Gives business prosperity
- Chathurthi Thithi: Gives ability to overpower enemies
- Panchami Thithi: Grants prosperity
- Sashti Thithi: Grants good reputation
- Sapthami Thithi: Secures inner strength and spirituality
- Ashtami Thithi: Blesses with intelligence
- Navami Thithi: Receive support from women folk
- Dasami Thithi: Grants success in your profession
- Ekadasi Thithi: Grants prosperity and intelligence to your children
- Dwadasi Thithi: For continuation of lineage and success through education
- Trayodasi Thithi: Buy own vehicles
- Chathurdasi Thithi: Peace and longevity
- Amāvāsyā Thithi
If you miss any of the above days, this Amāvāsyā is mandatory and your last chance for the year. This is also an essential day for doing Tarpanam for those who died due to weapons or accidents. During this day, the known and unknown souls that have departed during the last 30 years are respected like God.
Sage Agastya’s Treatise on Pitṛ: Paksha Rituals (Mahalaaya Shraadh)
Sage Agastya says that not only immediate children, but everyone, must pay respects to their ancestors. The Hindus believe that for 15 days each a year our ancestors visit, every day from sunrise to sunset, in hope of receiving our offerings. Offerings of water and sesame seeds, quenches their hunger and thirst and in return for this, they shower multitude blessings on us. Also the doors of Vishnu-Lok remain open for all Pitṛs for 15 days in a year during Pitṛ-Paksh.
It is said that the Pitṛs can enter Vishnu-Lok either based on their individual good karma or from a request by their descendants. By doing the Shraadh ritual the descendants send a request to allow their ancestors to enter Vishnu-Lok. In case our ancestors have already attained Vishu-Lok owing to their own good karma then our prayers for them will take them to higher realms. It is precisely for this reason that our ancestors line up in hope and expectation during the 15 day phase of Pitṛ-Paksh.
If you deem ancestors to be unimportant and go about your daily jobs unconcerned, they leave in disappointment and dejection after waiting for you for 15 days. This dejection and disappointment of ancestors translates into “curses” which manifests as obstacles and hurdles in daily life leading to suffering. On the other hand if you choose to welcome, honor and bid them farewell with your offerings then it translates into “blessings”. “Ancestors’ blessings” is to be thought as help and luck that you receive everyday.
How to Perform the Monthly Pitṛ Paksh Ritual
Every month, the Amāvāsyā day is considered auspicious for the worship of forefathers and pujas are performed.
There are two ways to perform this ritual: 1) request a purohit to help you or 2) do it by yourself. Should you perform it by yoursef, find a quiet corner of a room or balcony where you can sit facing east.
You will need:
- A dharba grass mat to sit on
- Water in a metal bowl
- A small bowl of black sesame seeds (til) for men and white for women.
- A plate into which you can release water
- The list of mantras that is recommended by Sage Agastya:
- Pitṛ Gayatri
- Avaahanam Mantra
- Pitṛ Mantra
- Gayatri Mantra
First pray the following:
All ancestors from my father’s side, all ancestors from my mother’s side, all ancestors from the side of my spouse, all ancestors known and unknown to me, all Pitṛs who may have no descendants, all Pitṛs whose descendants may have forgotten them, all friends who have passed into the spirit world, the souls of all animals that gave up their bodies feeding me and my family, directly or indirectly, may you all please turn your kind attention towards me.
Then chant the Pitṛ Gayatri Mantra eleven times in succession as an act of invitation of your Pitṛs in the spirit world. In doing so, their attention turns towards you. You may not know who your Pitṛs (ancestors) are, but when you begin to chant the Pitṛ-Gayatri mantra you will start feeling their vibrations.
Om Pitṛ Ganaaya Vidmahe Jagat Dhaariney Dheemahi Thanno Pitro Prachodayaat.
By the time Pitṛ-Gayatri is uttered it is believed that you have the attention of your Pitṛs.
Then request them to accept your offering of black sesame seeds and water. This request is made by chanting the Avaahanam Mantra three times in succession:
Om Aagachhantu Me Pitṛ Emam Grihanantu Jalaanjalim.
The meaning of the above mantra is “I wholeheartedly invite you into my home to accept my offering of sesame seeds and water to quench your hunger and thirst.”
Next, chant the Pitṛ-Mantra three times in succession:
Om Sarva Pitṛ Devaaya Namaha… Triptayaamidam Tilodaham – Va – Jalaanjalim… Tasmai Swadhaa Namaha… Tasmai Swadhaa Namaha… Tasmai Swadhaa Namaha… Tasmai Swadhaa Namaha…
Take black sesame seeds in your right hand. While chanting Pitṛ Mantra, pour water over the sesame seeds into the plate. Water must flow in between your thumb and index finger (not from the front of your palm flowing over other fingers). The water that will flow between thumb and index finger will flow towards South direction as you face East. The direction of Pitṛs is South. Sitting facing eastward, therefore, is best.
If you have anything else to tell your Pitṛs, do so now.
Next, request them to proceed to Vishnu-Lok, the gates of which you have desired open by your prayers and good wishes.
Finally, chant the Gayatri Mantra eleven times in succession, during which time your Pitṛs will depart happily.
Om Bhur Bhavah Swaahaa Tat Savitru Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Deemahi, Dheeyo Yonahah Prachodayaat
In the end you will experience an amazing peace and happiness for having completed one of your main duties in life.
It is said that the departed souls request Lord Maha Vishnu to grant them permission to visit their descendants on earth. Vishnu allows them to be with them in His month of Purattasi during the 15 long days of the Mahalaya paksha.
Sit facing East with a pitcher of water, a large metal bowl, and a small bowl of sesame seeds (white for females, black for males) placed on your right side.
All Ancestors from my father’s side, All Ancestors from my mother’s side, My Spouse’s Ancestors, Ancestors known and unknown to me, Pitṛs with no descendants, Pitṛs whose descendants have forgotten them, Friends who have passed into the spirit world, the Souls of all plants and animals who gave up their bodies to feed me and my family, directly or indirectly… May you all please turn your kind attention towards me.
Recite 11 times:
Om Pitṛ Ganaya Vedmahe
Jagat Dharani Dheemahi
Tanno Pitṛ Prachodayat.
Om aagachhantu me Pitṛ emam
Turn your right hand palm up so that your thumb points to the South (direction of ancestors) and place 1/3 of the sesame seeds there.
Then pour water over the seeds so they flow into the metal bowl from the South facing side of your hand, along the thumb.
As you do this say:
I wholeheartedly invite You into my home to accept my offering to quench your hunger and thirst.
Repeat the above part from “Om aagachhantu” through the seed offering two more times using all the seeds.
Then pray for all your ancestors to enter Vishnu Lok, or to gain higher levels there. Pray that any sin or trouble caused by you or your ancestors now or in past lives please be forgiven.
Then repeat this mantra 3 times:
Om sarva Pitṛ devaaya namaha
triptayaamidam tilodaham va
jalaanjalim tasmai swahaa namaha
tasmai swahaa namaha
tasmai swahaa namaha
tasmai swahaa namaha
You can now speak any personal message you have.
Finish your message by saying to your ancestors:
You may now proceed to Vishnu Lok which gates you have desired open.
Finally, recite Gayatri Mantra 11 times to close:
Om Bhuh | Om Bhuvah | Ogm Suvah | Om Mahah | Om Janah | Om Tapah | Ogm Satyam
Om Tat Savitur Vareniyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi | Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracodayat
Omapo Jyoti Raso’mrtam Bramha Bhurbhuvassuvarom ||
– From the Taittiriya Aranyakam, Mahanatayanaya Upanisad VI. 35.
oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ tát savitúr váreniyaṃ bhárgo devásya dhīmahi dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt