Pitr Paksh: A Life Lived Without Gratitude is no Life at all
Every year Hindus observe for a period of fifteen days what is commonly known as Pitr Paksh. Pitr means ancestors and Paksh a fortnight. During this period offerings in the form of Tarpan are made in a special but simple ritual for the benefit of the departed ancestors. While the observance of Pitr Paksh has its religious importance, it is in appreciating the greater role of the ritual that it’s true significance is realized.
Every human being has developed and become what he or she is today because of the sacrifices of the ancestors. Without the foundations laid down by them, without their love and compassion, their selfless service and dedication we would not be what we are today. The first amongst those who have made those sacrifices are our grandparents and our parents. However, there are an incredible number of persons whom we know and perhaps most we do not know, without whose contribution to the world we would not have grown and developed to our present status.
It is in this regard that Pitr Paksh becomes an annual reminder to us of the importance of gratitude. Is This world and our communities and families will be a far better and interpersonally enhanced, will be characterized by greater harmony, if the value of recognizing the practice of gratitude is fostered. The spiritual and moral development of an individual requires the embracing of human and spiritual values, some say they are one and the same.
Gratitude to the ancestors by making offerings to God on their behalf, by engaging in acts of charity, by feeding the poor and hungry, by clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless, by contributing to the education of students is a way of reminding us that we are what we are because someone made sacrifices for our future. It is however important to recognize that the practice of gratitude also helps to foster the growth of humility. Without humility we run the risk of becoming arrogant and disrespectful, of self-centered behaviour shutting out the needs of others and living in human silos. By recognizing the contribution of our ancestors to our lives we reduce the temptation to think and act as if we are by ourselves the only contributor to our development.
In HInduism the word dhanyavaad means to speak of the gifts we receive, Loosely translated, it means Thank you. However its deeper significance lies in its true meaning. In the Ramayana of Tulsoidas is written the following verse.
SO DHANYA DHANYA PRATHAMA GATI JĀKĪ
DHANYA PUNYA RATA MATI SOI PĀKĪ
DHANYA GHARĪ SOI JAB SATSAMGA
DHANYA JANMA DVIJA BHAGATI ABHAMGA
“Blessed is the wealth that is dispensed in charity! Blessed and ripe is the intellect that devotes itself to works of piety! Blessed the hour spent in communion with the saints! Blessed the life unceasingly devoted to the righteous people!”
In the life of Lord Rama we witness the practice of gratitude. He thanked hanuman for the sacrifices hanuman made in finding Sita. He rewarded the boatmen for ferrying him across the Ganges. and he himself performed pooja to Lord Shiva by installing a lingam at Rameshwaram. On his return to Ayodhya he gave gifts to all the monkeys who assisted him in the battle with Ravana. The practice of dhanyavaad becomes real when like Rama we perform an action or actions to support and reflect the value. We live in an interdependent world, not independent of the existence of others including non- human forms, the environment and nature. It is essential that we remember this at all times and strive to practice it.
But Pitr Paksh also has another important human dimension. Just like we reflect during this time on the way our lives have been enhanced by the contributions of our ancestors and others, we must also use it to reflect on how we are contributing to the present and by extension to the future. This is a time when we can do a great deal of soul searching, when we can develop our own strategic plan for our secular and spiritual development. it is a time when we can ask and attempt to answer, who am I and where am I going? To ask and answer how have I been making use of this gift of a human birth and to make changes as are necessary.
Pitr Paksh is more than a ritual. It can be a life enhancing fifteen days.
BY SURUJRATTAN RAMBACHAN