Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mahalaya - Pitru Paksh....the legend

Today is Mahalaya....marked as the auspicious beginning of Durga Puja, the greatest of the festivals in Bengal. The countdown for festival begins from the Rathayatra when the construction of the Durga idol first begins. From the day of 'Janmastami', everyone eagerly awaits Mahalaya. Mahalaya only marks that the preparations for the Durga Puja has reached the final level and everyone starts counting hours for the ceremony to inaugurate. Mahalaya means Homecoming.
According to the Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga who was married to Lord Siva returns to her paternal residence during the Puja, and this is the preparation for the welcome of the diving homecoming. (to know more in details refer to my previous blog article, "Durga Puja, the mythology, the ritual" written in Oct'09). It is on the dawn of Mahalaya only that the artists, the makers of the Durga idols, paint the eyes of the Goddess. This is known as Chakshudanam, literally meaning - giving eyes. The famous idol makers in Kumartuli or Kumortuli, a popular place in Kolkata, remain very busy with this all the day.

There is also a very interesting legend & story from Mahabharat, the mythological epic, which is of significance. It explains why Pitra Paksh is marked by Daan & Charity. When Karna, died in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, his soul went straight to heaven.
In his lifetime, he was popularly known as Daanveer Karna, & because of this quality & all the good deeds, he earned a place in heaven. It is said that, everyday, after he finished taking his bath & made ritual offerings to Surya Devta (Sun God), if anyone approached him and asked for anything he would give, without any hesitation, even if that meant risking his life. When the war of Kurukshetra was imminent, Karna gave away his Kavach Kundal ( protection shield) to Indra Devta ( King of the Gods), who came in the disguise of a brahmin asking for the Kavach - Kundal as daan(donation), in order to save Arjuna.
So when the soul of Karna transcended to Heaven, amongst many things to enjoy, he was offered gold & jewellery for food. Hungry & astonished at this strange offering, Karna asked Yama, the God of Death & Destiny, "Oh Lord, why dont I get normal food to eat? Why am I given gold & jewellery instead?" Lord Yama said, "My dear Karna, you made such wonderful charities during your lifetime on earth & therefore you are getting them back manifold, but unfortunately you never gave food in the name of your ancestors......you did not perform Shraadhh!! Hence you are deprived of food here". To this Karna said, "But my Lord, I never knew who my ancestors were, till almost the end of my life. I was known as Sutputra, throughout my life. I came to know about my original family, my Pandav Lineage just before the beginning of the war & hence had no time or reason to perform Shraadh. I performed Dharma to the best of my abilities & knowledge."
Lord Yama knew the truth of all the curses Karna had to face in life, & gave Karna the chance to make amends. Legends say that Karna was given permission to come back to earth for a period of 15 days to perform all the rituals that were left unfinished....to offer & donate food & water in the memory of his ancestors. Karna came down to earth & as instructed by Lord Yama, fed many Brahmins & needy persons for 14 days. This period, since then, came to be known as Pitru Paksh. It is believed that these 15 days, the souls of our ancestors are the closest to the orbit of earth, & if we fail to recognise them, they return to their abode unsatisfied & unhappy. The 15 days are named as Pratipath, Dwitiya, Tritiya, Chaturthi, Panchami, Sasti, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami, Dashami, Ekadashi, Dwadashi, Trayodashi, Chaturdashi & Sarvapitru Amavasya or the New Moon Day. Mahalaya marks the end of this Pitru Paksh.  This is the reason, in the Hindu society, why no elaborate celebrations like wedding, purchasing something prominent like house, vehicle etc is done during these 15 days.

Offerings done on Mahalaya day is also known as Tarpan. Considering the whole of India, there are more than 1008 Pitru Mukti Sthals (ancestor salvation spots), including the well known ones like Varanasi, Prayag, Gaya, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Trambakeshwar, Rameshwaram, Nedungudi, etc. It is said that, in all these Pitru Mukti / Moksha Sthals, the exalted Pitru Devas themselves accept your Tarpan, Arghya & Shraddha offerings at all times, particularly during the Pitru Paksh fortnight.

Om Namah Shivaye.....


Trupti said...

Lovely post Ronnie :)

gayatri bhadkamkar said...

Very good post and great timing!

As I was coming to office, I saw hundreads of people performing this Shraddha rights near Powai lake today morning and then it struck me that today is 'Sarvapitri Amavasya'.

Also, one question: Mahalaya is the (Big/Huge)End of what?

Biprashish said...

Hi Gayatri,
Mahalaya has two meanings - one is the big beginning of the festive season(with the end of Pitru Paksh) & the other is Homecoming, where Maa Durga begins her journey from Kailash(Heaven) to her paternal home on Earth.