Shraddh or Shradh offered during Pitri Paksha (dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha) in the month of Ashwin or Ashwini (September – October) is of great importance in Hindu religion. Shraddh, also known as Tarpan, is the ceremonies and rituals performed for the departed souls of dead ancestors in Hinduism. Pitri Paksha Shradh is a period of 15 days and the most important day is the Mahalaya day. It is believed that the souls will attain peace by the Shraddh rituals performed during the fortnight. In 2012, Pitri Paksha begins on September 30 and ends with Mahalaya Pitri Paksha on October 15.
It must be noted that in regional calendar followed in Maharashtra Pitri Paksha falls in the month of Bhadrapada.
According to Hindu tradition, the Shraddh performed on Ashwin Pitri 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 Pitri Paksha.
According to Matysa Pura, Agni, Vasus and Rudras act as intermediaries during Pitri Paksha Shraddh and take the rituals and food offered to ancestors. The ancestors bless those performing the ritual. In most places, the last day of the Shraddh, Mahalaya, 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.
Pitri 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 Pitri Paksha.
The customs and rituals performed during Pitri 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.
The rituals are usually performed under the guidance of a learned person or priest.