Shraddh or Shradh offered during Pitru Paksh (dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha) in the month of Ashwin (September – October) is of great importance in Hindu religion. Shraddh is the ceremonies and rituals performed for the departed souls of dead ancestors. It is believed that the souls will attain peace by the Shraddh rituals performed during the fortnight. In 2016, the Shraddh Pitru Paksh begins on September 16 and ends with Mahalaya Pitru Paksha on September 30. Mahalaya Pitru Paksha is on September 30. (You can get Pitru Paksha fortnight 2016 date details in this latest article).
According to Hindu mythology, the Shraddh performed on Ashwin Pitru Paksha reaches the ancestors immediately and their souls will rest in peace. Hindu Puranas are full of details about Shraddh, especially Agni Purana, Garuda Purana and Matysa Purana. It is Yama, the god of death in Hindu mythology, who explained the importance of Shraddh performed on Pitru Paksha.
According to Matysa Pura, Agni, Vasus and Rudras act as intermediaries during Pitru Paksha Shraddh and take the rituals and food offered to ancestors. The ancestors bless those performing the ritual. In some places, the last day of the Shraddh is of great importance. The ritual is usually conducted near temples or on river banks.
The Shraddh or rituals performed during this period benefits all the dead ancestors. It is believed by Hindus that all the sinful acts committed by the dead will be cleansed by the shraddh. Those departed souls who do not receive Shraddh are said to wander aimlessly on Earth.
Pitru Paksha Shraddh is also offered by people to ancestors whose death dates they have forgotten. To relatives who had no children and who met with violent death like accidents or murder. Those people who failed to perform the annual shraddh (performed on the death date) also offer Shraddh during Pitru Paksha.
The customs and rituals performed during Pitru Paksha Shraddh vary regionally. Some people fast on the day. Some people observe specific customs like abstaining from non-vegetarian food during the fortnight and some do not cut their hair or shave.
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