Mahalaya Amavasya – A Day to Appease the Deceased

Mahalaya Amavasya, which is just a public holiday to some residents of Kudla, is a day of great significance to others. It is the last day of the Pitru Paksha, also known as Mahalaya, the dark fortnight dedicated to making offerings of food and water to the deceased members of one’s family. The last day of this dark fortnight is called Mahalaya Amavasya, a special day that comes just before the Navarathri.

The Philanthropic Karna

Karna, the great warrior and philanthropist of the Mahabharata, is known for his generosity. He donated a lot of wealth and gave generously to charity. When he died and went to heaven, he was rewarded with gold and precious stones. But he did not receive any food.

When he asked Yama, the god of death, the reason for this, Yama (Indra, the king of gods, in some versions of the same legend) told him that he was being punished for not making any offerings to his ancestors. Karna replied that he did not do so because he did not know who his ancestors were. He also requested to be allowed to return to earth for a fortnight so that he could make the required offerings. This fortnight came to be known as Pitru Paksha.

The Belief System

Here is a set of beliefs associated with Pitru Paksha:

  1. Believers say that offerings made during Pitru Paksha benefit the souls of all deceased souls, irrespective of whether they are related to the person making the offerings.
  2. According to the Hindu texts, the souls of three generations of ancestors reside in Pitru Loka, a place sandwiched between earth and heaven. Yama, the presiding deity of death, rules over Pitru Loka. Only the souls of three generations of ancestors can reside in this place. When a member of the new generation dies, the first generation is granted entry into heaven. During Pitru Paksha, offerings are made to the souls of ancestors residing in Pitru Loka.
  3. Hindus make offerings of food and water to their deceased ancestors during Pitru Paksha. If they forget or don’t find time to do so, they can consider Mahalaya Amavasya as their last opportunity to make offerings. Mahalaya Amavasya is dedicated to all deceased ancestors, a sort of common death anniversary.
  4. The offerings are usually made by the eldest son of the family or a male relative belonging to the paternal side of the family.
  5. The offerings are cooked in special silver or copper utensils and served in leaf cups or on banana plates. Believers usually serve kheer, wheat porridge, rice, dal, spring beans, and gourd to their deceased ancestors.
  6. Since Pitru Paksha is considered to be inauspicious, believers do not make any purchases on those days.

The Rite

The eldest male member of the house performs the rites after taking a purifying bath and changing his sacred thread. He offers pindas (balls of barley flour and sesame seeds or cooked rice) during the ceremony and worships Vishnu.

He then serves the offerings to the deceased ancestors on banana leaf plates or leaf cups on the roof or terrace of the house. When a crow eats the offering, it is considered as accepted by the deceased ancestors. This is because crows are believed to be either messengers of Yama or spirits of ancestors. The family eats only after a crow pecks at the offering on the terrace.

Some families recite the Bhagavata Purana and the Bhagavad Gita and/or donate to charity on this day.

Mahalaya Amavasya

Biswarup Ganguly (GFDL), CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Concept of Pitr Dosha

Pitr Dosha is a curse you invite on yourself if you fail to appease the deceased members of your family. Hindus believe that their failure to make offerings to deceased ancestors angers them. Deceased ancestors will bless them with success and prosperity only if they please them with tarpan (offerings) every year.

How will you find out if you have Pitr Dosha?

If you have Pitr Dosha, you may be facing one or many of the following problems:

  • You are never successful in anything you do irrespective of how hard you work.
  • You suffer from chronic diseases that do not respond to medical treatment.
  • You have no success in your business or career.
  • Your married life is full of strife and misery.
  • You remain childless although you have been married for several years.
  • You keep losing your wealth and property.

There is only one way to get rid of Pitr Dosha—make offerings to the manes and appease them. That’s why you have Mahalaya Amavasya.

Featured Image Credit: By Krish Dulal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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