What is Mahalaya Pitru Tarpan?
Mahalaya Pitru Tarpan or Pitru Paksha Shradh is an important Hindu ritual. It is usually observed at the end of Pitru Paksha on the occasion of Mahalaya. Devi Paksha (the auspicious period when Durga puja is celebrated) begins with the end of this ritual.
Photo credit:Rudraksha Ratna
Mahalaya Pitru Tarpan is observed to invoke the dead ancestors offering them food and water in the form of Pind (balls of cooked rice and/or barley flour mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds offered to ancestors during Hindu funeral rites).
Ramchandra and Tarpan
According to the Ramayana story, in the Treta Yuga, Sri Ramchandra worshipped goddess Durga (an incarnation of Divine Mother) in the Bengali month of Ashwin (October-November), an uncustomary time to conquer Lanka and rescue Sita Devi, his consort. According to the Hindu scriptures, Durga Puja is usually performed in spring. So the Durga Puja Sri Ramachandra performed in the month of Ashwin (October-November) is also called Akaal Bodhan (an uncustomary time for commencement of the worship). According to Hindu tradition, one has to pay homage to the deceased ancestor before any good deed. This is what Sri Ramchandra did before the conquest of Lanka.
Durga Puja, the biggest Bengali Hindu religious celebration, begins when the melody of Chandipath (recitation from the Chandi) and Mahishasurmardini programme floats in the morning of Mahalaya. Now almost all the important Puja performances are inaugurated in the Mahalaya.
Karna and Tarpan
Another explanation is found in the Mahabharata. According to the Mahabharata story, when Karna’s soul passed away after death, he was given gold and gems as food. When Devaraja asked Indra the reason for Karna, Indra said that the giant Karna had donated gold and gems throughout his life, but never offered food or drink for the purpose of his ancestors. Karna then said that since he was not aware of his ancestors, he did not intentionally offer food to the ancestors. For this reason, Karna was allowed to return to earth for 16 days to provide food and water to his ancestors. This days (Paksha) is known as Pitrupaksha.
Is Mahalaya Pitru Tarpan Inauspicious?
Many people think that the word Mahalaya comes from ‘Mahat'(great) and ‘Alay'(place). In Hinduism, it is believed that the ancestors come to this world from the afterlife at this time in the hope of getting water and Pind. So Mahalaya is an auspicious ritual. But a question arises from time to time as to why the Mahalaya Pitru Tarpana (offering of water to the manes or to gods) is considered as ‘Shubh’ (auspicious). According to a renowned scholar, ‘The Tarpana performed on the occasion of Mahalaya is not limited only to the anchestors. Dev Tarpan, Rishi Tarpana, Divya Tarpana are also should be observed on this day. Besides, the tradition of satisfying all the deceased in Tribhuvan (three worlds) through offering water is mentioned in Hindu scriptures. Even those who had no relatives or friends in this materialistic world should be offered water. In this way, if the souls of all the deceaed relatives and non-relatives in the universe are satisfied with offering water, then why should that day be considered as inauspicious?