The dark fortnight of the soul

Mumbai's Banganga Tank at Walkeshwar is the site for rituals and ceremonies during the ongoing Shraddh period

Shraddh or Shradh, sometimes even spelt as Shraddha is usually offered during Pitru Paksh (dark fortnight or Krishna Paksha) in the month of Ashwin and is of great importance in Hinduism.

Shraddh is basically ceremonies and rituals performed for the departed souls of dead ancestors. It is believed that the souls will attain peace by the Shraddh rituals performed during the fortnight. In 2011, the Shraddh Pitru Paksh began on September 13 and will end with Sarva Pitru Amavasya, which is on September 27. Pitru Tarpan is performed on this day at the Holy Banganga Tank.

Pitru Paksha lasts a fortnight when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. According to Hindu mythology, the souls of three preceding generations of one's ancestors reside in Pitru-loka, a realm between heaven and earth.
It is believed that when the legendary donor, Karna died in the epic Mahabharata war, his soul transcended to heaven, where he was offered gold and jewels as food.

Karna though needed real food to eat and asked Indra, the Lord of heaven, the reason for serving gold as food.
Indra told Karna that he had donated gold all his life, but had never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddha (Shraddh). Karna said that since he was unaware of his ancestors, he never donated anything in their memory.

To make amends, Karna was permitted to return to earth for a 16-day period, so that he could perform Shraddh and donate food and water in their memory. This period is now known as Pitru Paksha.

Food offerings made to ancestors are usually cooked in silver or copper vessels and typically placed on a banana leaf or cups made of dried leaves. The food must include kheer (a type of sweet rice and milk), lapsi (sweet porridge made of wheat grain), rice, dal (lentils), the vegetable of spring bean (guar) and a yellow gourd (pumpkin).

Pramod Mandrekar, Municipal Councillor for ward No 214 says, "A drawback of these rituals performed at the Holy Banganga Tank is, that since it is a tank, the food and banana leaves contaminate the water. Because of the ghee content in the offerings, a layer is formed on the top of the water. This causes suffocation for fish and other marine life in the tank."

Mandrekar says, "Usually, these rituals are performed on the banks of rivers where there is flowing water, so species are not endangered. But here at the Banganga Tank, it is almost a stagnant water body, therefore the danger to the marine species at the tank. Every year, we clean the tank immediately the following day, but there are still a lot of marine species that are lost."

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