People of Indo-Caribbean descent in America observed the annual Hindu rite of Pitri Paksh (more popularly known as Peter Pak in the Caribbean) that concluded last Tuesday morning and that was immediately followed with the commencement of the auspicious Navratri festival. Pitri Paksh means a fortnight of prayers (and morning rituals) for the souls of the ancestors and immediate relatives. It is a period of reflection, remembrance, prayer, and offerings for the departed ones. The ritual is not the end product but rather it is a means acknowledging the sacrifice and contribution of those who died. Almost all of the mandirs held or conducted pitri puja on two Sundays this month and some even on a weekday. This is a period for worshipping on behalf of the pitris or ancestors.
Pitri Paksh is one of five yagyas that a Hindu normally performs every year: Brahma Yagya (communication with God through pooja or worshipping); Rishi Yagya (recitation from the scriptures); Pitri Yagya (adoration and obeisance to our ancestors); Nri Yagya (love and compassion to fellow humans); and Bhoot Yagya (compassion to lower animal).
The Pitri rituals, called shraddh, are different from the normal worship of the God during a regular puja or any other festival like Navratri or Shivratri. Shraddh is mainly performed for the soul of the dead and for three generations of Pitris, namely the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather, etc. Pandits explain that when performed for all the ancestors, seven generations of ancestors are believed to benefit from it. Departed spirits who may be dwelling in heaven or hell (as may be) as well as those who may have reborn as humans or as any other form of life, all benefit from oblations offered during shraddh rituals. Shraddh must be performed with faith, devotion and reverence. According to Hindu scriptures, a son who does not perform Shraddh for his ancestors is an ungrateful son. The scriptures condemn such a person to a life of misery and poverty. Thus, family members tend to make offerings for the soul of loved ones during Pitri Paksh.
To reinforce the point, Pitri Paksh is the time to pray for the souls of the deceased and to express deepest gratitude for their contributions to society. Our ancestors made immense contributions and rendered tremendous services to humanity during their lifetime. Pitri Yagya is a time when we remember the old women and men who made contributions to the world and to our civilization and who are responsible for our presence in the world today. They are responsible for who we are in the Caribbean day. It is because of them that we enjoy position in society and material benefits They provided for our education and for our culture and traditions and many of the things that we use today. Thus, it is a duty that we pray for their souls. And while paying tribute to the ancestors, worshippers are also praying for their own souls. It is two weeks of homage (prayers) to those who passed away in one’s lineage (ancestry) or siblings. People petition God to forgive the souls of their departed ancestors (for any wrong doings) so they can rest in peace.
Pitri paksh is observed during the dark fortnight of the month of Ashvin (Sep/Oct) in the Hindu calendar. Pitri Paksh is not praying to the dead but praying for the dead. During this period, the God of Death, Yamraj, is propitiated and offerings are made to him to be kind to the departed souls. There is fasting, performance of special rituals, and chanting of mantras from Sam Veda. Offering of water (with black till seeds), flowers, and kush grass are common. Round balls of rice and flour, called pinda, are also offered and then dissolved in water.
Prayers are also offered for one's own soul for God to be merciful on them in the after life. Praying and making offerings during pitri is one of the important duties of every person according to the Hindu belief. It is a means of instilling reverence for elders in the minds of the younger generation.
On each morning of the fortnight, special offerings are made to the ancestors whose lunar date of death corresponds to that particular day. Some mandirs held special nightly discourse on the festival while all mandirs conducted a special Sunday of services praying for the departed. On one day, favorite food items of the departed person are specially prepared at home and offered to Yamraj and the departed soul after performing a puja. It is noted that during pitri paksh, people generally do not start new projects, buildings or start investments. Pitri Paksh culminates with the beginning of navratri which is the worshipping of the universal mother