The Fortnight of the Ancestors: Pit-Paka

September 25 - October 8, 2018

One of the traditions followed on the Siddha Yoga path is the observance of Pitṛ-pakṣa,1 which means the “fortnight of the ancestors.” This period of two weeks falls on the Indian lunar month of Aśvina, which corresponds to the Gregorian calendar months of September or early October. The origin of this tradition harks back to India’s oldest scripture, the Ṛgveda. Pitṛ-pakṣa is described in scriptural texts, mainly the Purāṇas,2 as a powerful occasion in which we honor and express gratitude to those who have come before and laid for us a path to walk upon—our departed relatives, friends, benefactors, and countless souls who have brought grace, wisdom, protection, and love to our lives.

By Vedic tradition, the term “ancestors” includes three generations of departed relatives from our father’s side and from our mother’s side, that is, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. It also includes other relatives such as departed spouses, children, siblings, aunts and uncles, and parents-in-law. During Pitṛ-pakṣa, one can also honor friends, neighbors, teachers, mentors, and even beloved animals that have left this world.

According to the Garuḍa Purāṇa, by worshipping one’s ancestors one attains longevity, children, heaven, fame, health, strength, good fortune, happiness, prosperity, and abundant food.3 The Viṣṇu Purāṇa states that one who, with faith, performs rituals for the ancestors makes the whole world content.4

The observance of Pitṛ-pakṣa is a way to harmonize ourselves with the forces of nature. Those of us who live in this world and those who have departed from it are all part of the one vital power of Consciousness that underlies creation. Therefore, the giving and receiving of prayers and good will brings about auspiciousness to our lives and to the lives of those who preceded us in this world.

Through the observances of Pitṛ-pakṣa, a person confers the merits of their spiritual practices as blessings to the departed ones. Pleased by the worship performed for them, the ancestors in turn grant blessings to their descendants and friends.

Recommended Observances

It is traditional during Pitṛ-pakṣa to dedicate spiritual practices such as meditation, chanting, mantra repetition, and prayer to our ancestors. Another powerful way of sending blessings to our departed ancestors and friends is dedicating to them the recitation of Śrī Guru Gītā.
 
On behalf of our ancestors, we can also make donations to not-for-profit organizations like the SYDA Foundation, or give food or clothing to a charitable organization.

Recommended Abstentions

During this fortnight, it is recommended that people refrain from beginning new projects or major undertakings. While long journeys such as cross-continental or international travel are not recommended, short-distance air and car travel are fine. If you find that you must travel during this time, it is good to be especially vigilant and alert, and to offer prayers for protection. Travel considered auspicious during Pitṛ-pakṣa is that which is undertaken as a pilgrimage or to begin spiritual practice.

Please consider these guidelines as suggestions, and make plans that are most appropriate for your situation.

Prayers

The following passages from the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā invoke the presence of the eternal Truth as the undying heart of all beings. During Pit-paka, you can offer these to your beloved ones who have departed as an invocation of the Truth.

Perfection

oṁ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya
pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate.
oṁ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

Om. That is perfect. This is perfect.
From the perfect springs the perfect.
If the perfect is taken from the perfect, the perfect remains.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!5

The Undying Supreme Self

The supreme Self is not born, nor does it ever die.
Having once existed, it never ceases to exist.
The supreme Self is unborn, eternal, changeless, and ancient.
It does not die when the body dies.6

The Pervasive Ātman

The Inspired Self is not born nor does he die;
he springs from nothing and becomes nothing.
Unborn, permanent, unchanging, primordial,
he is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.

Smaller than the small, greater than the great,
the ātman is hidden in the core of every creature.
One free from desire and thus free from grief
sees the greatness of the ātman by grace of the Ordainer.7

The Self Who Dwells in the Heart

Once freed of all desires that lie in the heart,
then a mortal man becomes immortal.
Even in this life he attains to Brahman.

Once all the knots of the heart are cut,
then a mortal man becomes immortal.

The Person of a thumb’s size, the ātman within,
ever dwells in the heart of beings.
One should draw him out of one’s body with care
just as an inner stem is drawn from its sheath.
Him you should know, the Pure, the Immortal;
him you should know, the Pure, the Immortal.8

The Immortal Reality

From unreality lead me to reality;
from darkness lead me to light;
from death lead me to immortality.9
 


1 The Sanskrit term Pitṛ-pakṣa can be pronounced as “pitri paksha.There is no vowel after the , so that letter is pronounced as a regular English “r” with the slight sound of an “i.”

2 The Purāṇas are Sanskrit texts of India that recount the deeds of gods and the creation, sustenance, and dissolution of the universe.

3 Garuḍa Purāṇa 10.5.57-59: Sankśipta Garuḍa Purāṇa, Geeta Press, Gorakhapur, Uttar Pradesh, India; (trans. from Hindi by Pratibha Trimbake)

4 Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.14.2: Viṣṇu Purāṇa,Geeta Press, Gorakhapur, Uttar Pradesh, India; (trans. from Hindi by Pratibha Trimbake)

5 Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad; Nectar of Chanting, SYDA Foundation, 1983, p. 68

6 Bhagavad Gītā, 2.20; Darshan Magazine, v. 52

7 Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.18, 20; ed. & trans. Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience—Mantramañjarī, All India Books, Books, Pondicherry, 1977, p. 566

8 Katha Upaniṣad 6.14,15,17; Ibid, p. 568

9 Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.3.28; Ibid, p. 599