I agree with Pandit Charranlall that Pitri Paksh (GC Oct 17) is an occasion to reflect on our lifestyle and to honour our ancestors, who made enormous sacrifices for our well-being. In N.Y., Guyanese-Americans observed the annual rite of Pitri Paksh (more popularly known as Peter Pak in the Caribbean).
During Pitri Paksh, a fortnight of prayers for the souls of the ancestors, people petitioned God to forgive the souls of their departed ancestors (for any wrong doings).
Performing pitri pooja in the U.S. is a practice that goes back to Guyana and India. Some of the Guyanese temples in the U.S. also hosted lectures, and performed rituals for the departed souls.
During Pitri Paksh, the God of Death, Yamraj, is propitiated, and offerings are made to him to be kind to the departed souls. During this period, prayers are also offered for one’s own soul, for God to be merciful on that soul in the after life.
The fortnight preceding the new moon is specially consecrated for the propitiation for such departed spirits.
Pitri Paksh is not praying to the dead, but praying for the dead. Pitra Paksha is the time to express deepest gratitude to deceased elders. Family members fast, perform special rituals, and chant from the holy pages. Offering of water and flowers is common.
On each morning, special offerings are made to the ancestors. As explained on an Internet website column, Pitri Paksh rituals, called Shraddh, are performed. Guyanese do Pitri Pooja with the offering of dhaar (water and black till seed) at sunrise. Families get together and make these special offerings, and sing bhajans for the souls of their fore-parents and other relatives who passed away.
Pitri Pooja is different from normal worshipping. Shraddh is mainly performed for three generations of Pitrus, namely the father, the grandfather and the great grandfather. When performed for all the ancestors, seven generations of ancestors are believed to benefit from it. Departed spirits who may be dwelling in heaven or hell, as well as those who may have been reborn as humans or as any other form of life, all benefit from oblations offered during shraddh rituals.
Shraddh must be performed with faith, devotion and reverence. According to Hindu scriptures, a son who does not perform Shraddh for his ancestors is an ungrateful son. Hindu scriptures condemn such a person to a life of misery and poverty.
According to one pandit on a website, those deceased whose date of death is not known, and whose annual Shraddha cannot be done also get these oblations of Pitri Paksha. Souls whose lives were cut off by violent, accidental or unnatural deaths, and to whom, therefore, offerings cannot reach in the ordinary course, to them, too, the Pitri Paksha offerings reach directly.
Some people make daily offerings for the entire two weeks, while others make offerings only for (an odd number) a few mornings and then offer sidha. On one particular, favourite food items of the departed person are specially prepared and offered after performing a puja. Round balls of rice and flour, called pinda, are also offered, along with the sacred kusha grass and flowers, amidst sprinkling of water, black till (sesame seeds), and chanting of mantras from the Sam Veda.
According to Hindu beliefs, the pitris look forward for these offerings from relatives. If the pitris are pleased with the offerings, then the Lord showers his grace on the devotees, and is merciful on the soul.
When we perform pitri pooja, God is pleased with our actions. Offerings made at that time reach all departed souls, whether they were kins directly in the line of the offerer or not.
Even those who died without progeny receive these oblations given on Pitri Paksha. Every family makes these offerings.