Pitru Paksha is a sixteen day period in which Hindus honor and give respect to their ancestors. During this time period – which begins on the first Purnima (full moon) following Ganesh Chaturthi and ends on Peddala Amavasya – allows participants to not only honor those from their direct biological lineage, but also those who have contributed to their spiritual, moral and/or their intellectual development either in this life or during previous lives. These individuals can be family, friends, mentors, teachers or anyone else who has touched their lives in a meaningful way.
According to legend, when the warrior King Karna died during the Mahabharata War and his spirit ascended to heaven, he was given meals of jewels and gold to eat instead of food. Realizing that he couldn’t sustain himself on these items, he addressed the lord of heaven Indra and asked him why he wasn’t receiving real food. Lord Indra then told him it was because he gave these items as donations his entire life but never donated food to his ancestors. To which Karna replied that he wasn’t aware of his ancestors. Hearing this argument, Indra agreed to let Karna return to Earth for a fifteen day period so he could make amends and donate food in his ancestor’s memory. A period of time which is now known as Pitru Paksha.
During this time, the ritual of Shraddha is performed. This specifics of this ritual may be different from person to person, but usually it combines three components. The first part is Pindadan, the offering of Pinda to the ancestors. Pinda are rice balls that are usually made of goat’s milk, ghee, sugar, rice, honey and sometimes barley. The second part of the ceremony is Tarpan, the offering of water mixed with kusha grass, barley, flour and black sesame. The final part of the ceremony is Feeding the Brahmin. This is giving food to the Brahmin priests. Also during this time, it is considered auspicious to read from the Holy Scriptures.
However, there are also some things that must be avoided during Pitru Paksha. Participants are supposed to avoid engaging in new endeavors; eating non-vegetarian foods; shaving or getting haircuts; eating onions, garlic or eating junk food.