The annual observation of Pitri Paksha (Sanskrit) or Pitar Pak (Bhojpuri) is a fortnight of Hindu reverence for their ancestors (pitris). This year it took place from September 1, through today.
Shri Raviji, spiritual leader of the Hindu Prachar Kendra, sent me a comprehensive discourse about the observations. I have condensed them here.
He wrote that during Pitri Paksha or Pitar Pak, Hindus set aside all celebrative activities, business ventures or organised religious events at home in the community, except for personal sadhana or daily duties.
The fortnight is marked by dedicating finance, groceries and donations to social work, in the name of one’s pitris.
The days are delegated for ritualised remembrance and homage to divine pitris, authors of Hindu sacred heritage, ancient and ancestral lineage. In Trinidad and Tobago, some traditions also single out their immediate jahagees who made the journey across the kaalaa paani to the Caribbean.
Hindus traditionally practised Sanyukta pariwaar (extended family). Nowadays, there are both extended families and nuclear families. But during Pitri Paksha, families gather at the ancestral home or by the eldest male. In this way, Pitri Paksha pulls back the extended family, or at least part of it, for a day.
Much is made of the various dishes that were loved by the ancestors during their lifetime. All are involved in remembering the various secret family ingredients, techniques and tastes. And the reunion provides an annual rehearsal of family jokes and stories.
When Raviji took time out of his work regarding the National Yagna for Enlightened Citizens and sent the above information to me, I was pleasantly surprised to see the similarities between the practices of Pitri Paksha and what I had written about a ritual for observing Emancipation Day.
Very early on, the late Chief Servant, Makandal Daaga, had suggested that Africans should focus on the spirituality of Emancipation Day. He believed Emancipation Day should be used as a time for strengthening, linking the ancestors, the present generations and the unborn. In practical terms, he said that in every African home, family members should “light a candle, say a prayer, play a drum” on Emancipation Day. He left fashioning the ritual up to each household.
I based my ritual on African Thanksgiving practices.
I asked that particular attention should be paid to the African ancestors. “We share common or nation ancestors. They are the progenitors of the African people... Among the Nation ancestors are persons, named and unnamed, male and female, who fought for our Emancipation... Our family ancestors are the predecessors of our blood-lines.”
My list of activities is simple. I have suggested: Emancipation Day greeting cards. Inviting family and friends. Cleansing homes. Cleansing ourselves by a period of fasting.
And of course, there are the further ritual acts of libation, prayer, song and dance. The serving of a communal meal is equally as important as the ritual. I wrote that families should provide food from their own cuisine and agricultural produce.
I further suggested that celebrants should use Emancipation Day as one of the dates during which attention should be paid to the less fortunate in our society. Whatever one can do should be done. One may wish to feed, clothe and/or visit others around this time.
Contributions may be made to hospitals, hospices, homes for children, the aged and convalescents. In my own case, I have started an Emancipation Day to Republic Day Educational Assistance Drive.
I also wrote that on Emancipation Day, every African family should recall its own history of accomplishments, oral or written.
Imagine, if in the schools we had curricula with programmes of appreciation and respect about important spiritual events like Pitri Paksha and Emancipation Day, this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic state would develop a better foundation for national unity.