Pitru Paksha is the time of the year when all Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. It occurs during the Hindu month of Bhadrapada, starting on the full moon day and ending on the new moon day. During the days of Pitru Paksha, people perform death rites of their ancestors, known as Shraddha or Tarpan.
According to the legend when Karna, the great warrior, died in the war of Mahabharta, he was directly escorted to the heavens. He was a great man who had donated gold and jewels to the needy all his life. Upon his arrival the gods welcomed him with open arms and gave him jewels and gold to eat. When he asked that how he can eat all this. Lord Vishnu then told him that since he had donated gold all his life and never offered food to his ancestors, he must eat the Gold. Karna apologised and was given a chance to return to earth for 15 days. In these 15 days he worshipped his ancestors and offered them food. It is this period of 15 days that is known as Pitru Paksha today.
It is said that when someone of the oldest generation of a family dies, his soul is departed to a region between earth and heaven, known as Pitru-lok. It is believed that Lord Yama rules this place. Upon the death of someone from the next generation in the family, the souls of the previous generations are departed to heaven where they are united with God. Pitru Paksha involves worshipping the ancestors of three generations along with Yama. When the Pitru Paksha commences, the spirits are said to leave Pitru–lok and for a month, they stay in the homes of their descendants. People are expected to please and worship their ancestors during this period.
It is essential that the son of the family perform the rituals of Shraddha. The son should take a purifying bath beforehand and is expected to wear a dhoti. He wears a ring which is used to invoke the spirits of the ancestors. The food offering consists of Kheer, Lapsi, Rice, Dal and vegetables prepared with Spring Bean and Yellow Gourd. The food is prepared especially on the roof. The ceremony is said to be successful if a crow eats the food. The family eats only after offering food to the crow (crow is considered to be the form of ancestors) and the brahmin.
It is a popular belief that during the days of Pitru Paksha, the beginning of anything new must be strictly avoided. It is also essential to perform Shraddha with a clear mind and with full devotion.