Sohra Shraddha also known as Pitri Paksha or Mahalaya is a 16-day period in the Hindu calendar when people pay homage to their ancestors or pitri.
According to Hindu mythology, the souls of three preceding generations of one’s ancestor reside in a realm between heaven and earth known as pitri lok. This realm is overseen by the god of death, Yama, who takes the spirit of a dying man from earth to the pitri lok. Sohra Shraddha is a 16–lunar day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors (Pitris), especially through food offerings. The period is also known as Pitri Paksha, Pitri Pokkho, Kanagat, Jitiya, Mahalaya Paksha, and Apara paksha. So let us know more about this famous Hindu ritual which lasts for 16 days before the arrival of Dashain.
Origin of Sohra Shradhha:
The story of Sohra Shradhha begins with the tragic hero Karna who died in the epic Mahabharata war. After his death, his soul transcended to heaven where he was offered gold and jewels as food. Karna was shocked and did not understand why he was not offered real food so he asked Indra, the lord of Heaven, why he was served gold instead of food. Indra told Karna that he had donated gold all his life, but had never donated food in the name of his ancestors.
Unaware of this, Karna told Indra he wanted to make amends. Indra was okay with it and Karna was to return to earth for a 16–day period so that he could perform the shraddha rituals, and donate food and water. Keeping that in mind, the practice of Sohra Shraddha has been passed down from one generation to another with its importance still remaining intact.
How is it Performed?
In Sohra Shraddha the eldest son performs the puja while the other sons participate in it. It is conducted with the belief that this will ensure their ancestors’ souls will rest in peace in heaven.
A day before the shraddha during Sohra Shraddha or any other time, ekchhaki is performed, which is when the sons in the family eat only one meal for the day which usually consists of roti and vegetables without oil, spices, or salt in it. The next day, the one who performs the shraddha must take a purifying dip before the ritual starts.
After that, the shraddha is performed bare-chested, as the position of the sacred thread, Janai, worn by him needs to be changed multiple times during the ceremony. The shraddha involves pinda-daan, which is an offering to the ancestors of pinda (cooked rice or barley flour balls mixed with ghee and black sesame seeds). It is then followed by prayers to Lord Vishnu and Yama, the god of death.
When is it Performed?
As per Hindu mythology, every individual who wants to perform this ritual should do it on the same tithi that one of their ancestors died on. During this period, the senior male member of the family gives tarpan (water) to the three preceding generations every day depending upon the death anniversary on the basis of the Hindu traditional calendar called patro.
Do and don’ts in Shradhha?
One should feed animals like dogs, cows, and crows during shraddha. Sohra Shradhha is a time of repentance so make sure to be kind and courteous during these 15 days. One must also avoid the consumption of non-vegetarian food items. Alcohol, tobacco, and food like meat, onions, garlic, and brinjals should also be avoided.
Why is shraddha important?
The rite is performed for the deceased father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and also for the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. It is intended to nourish, protect, and support the spirits of the dead in their pilgrimage from the lower to the higher realms, preceding their reincarnation and reappearance on Earth. It is compulsory that the shraddha is performed by a son to ensure that the soul of the ancestor goes to heaven. If the ancestors are content with the shraddhas, they will bestow health, wealth, knowledge, and longevity, and ultimately heaven and salvation upon the one who performs it.
May peace and happiness prevail in every family with the beginning of this year’s Sohra Shraddha, may the blessings of the Pitri remain forever, may the door of heaven be opened, and may the Pitris live in peace!