Pitru Paksha or Mahalaya Paksha is a period spread over 15 days in the month of Ashwin in the Krishna Paksha according to the North Indian Purnimant calendar while according to the South Indian Amavasyant calendar; this phase falls in the Krishna Paksha in the month of Bhadrapada.
Interestingly, though the names of the months in the two calendars differ, people in both the region perform shraadha rituals on the same dates. This year, Pitru Paksha commenced on September 5 and will end on September 19.
During this period, prayers are offered by people prayers are offered by people in memory of their ancestors. Tarpanam is performed to pray for dead relatives’ souls.
According to Drikpanchang, the Pitru Paksha includes four rituals - Vishwadeva Sthapana, Pindadanam, Tarpanam and Brahman Bhoj(feeding a Brahman).
In most cases, people visit banks of the holy rivers- like Ganga, Yamuna or the confluence of rivers – Triveni Sangam – to perform Shraadha rituals.
The ritual includes elaborate symbolisms which specific meaning and purposes.
The male member of the family who performs Shraadha rituals for his ancestors must wear a dhoti (a piece of unstitched white cotton cloth).
Many tonsure their heads, take bath before performing the rituals.
They wear a ring made of Kusha grass or Darbha in the ring finger of their right hand.
They are expected to remain bare-chested as long as the rituals get completed because it would require them to change the position of the sacred thread (Janeyu/moonj) a number of times during Shraadha.
The rituals include Pind daanam – pind are balls made of cooked rice, cow’s milk, Ghee, sugar and honey. These are offered to the ancestors. Crows are often regarded as representatives of the dead. So when they eat the pind that has been offered, it is believed that the ancestors have gladly accepted offerings by their kin.
Besides Pind Daanam, Tarpanam is also performed. It includes offering water with black sesame seeds and Kusha grass.
Then people offer their prayers to Lord Vishnu in form of a Shaligram and Yama, the God of Death.
After this, the Brahmin priests are served food. People also donate food to the poor and needy.