Our concern and respect for the departed is brought forth through regular tarpan-arpan. Tarpan means offering water to our ancestors while reciting their names and appropriate mantras. ‘Arpan’ means preparing dishes that the deceased person relished, and offering the same to a Brahmin on the day of his shraadh. A boiled rice mixed with jwar or millet, flour, black sesame and kusha grass is also offered to birds in the form of a pinda. The pinda represents the soul of the departed ancestor.
Alternatively, the pinda can be immersed into some flowing holy water. This offering is known as pinda-dana, which propitiates the unliberated soul. The pinda souls that reside in Pitriloka are limbless and without any stomach. But, they have a very keen sense of smell. By way of tarpan arpan, through the aroma of the offered food, these souls get satiated. Therefore, whatever we offer to them should be pure, aromatic, fresh and clean and should be offered with faith and regard; only then do they accept our offerings.
Lord Yama bestowed a boon on mankind that ‘whoever offers tarpan-arpan to his ancestors will receive their blessings’.
As a thanks giving gesture, Hindus propitiate their ancestors during the mahalaya paksha or sharada paksha between the full moon and moonless nights of the ashwin maas-September-October. The significance of propitiating one’s ancestors by such rituals is detailed in quite a few Puranas – the Vishnu, Varaha, Vayu and Matsya Purana. Both Manusmriti and the Mahabharata also explain the importance of shradh. It is believed that during the fortnight of the waning moon of the ashwin maas, the astral bodies of ancestors leave their abode, the Pitriloka, to spend the fortnight in their descendants’ homes in Prithviloka or earth, and expect them to offer tarpan.
Since astrologically and astronomically, the earth is closest to the during these fifteen days, all offerings reach our moon ancestors quickly. Scientifically, the period between 14 July and 13 January is known as dakshinayan lack of sun. During these months of the year, the or sun is below the equator, towards the South Pole. From 13 January, e.g., the day of makar sankranti, the sun starts its northward journey. It is believed that the dakshinayan period refers to a negative state of mind. The chaturmas, the first four months of dakshinayan-ashadh/June-July; sawan/July-August; bhado/August-September; and ashwin/September October-have maximum negativity. During this period, no auspicious event is held by the Hindus, including marriages.
The negative state of mind in ashadha is related to anger; in shravana, to disturbed mind; in bhadra, to non-fulfilment of one’s desires and uncontrolled ego; and in ashwina, it relates to the discontent arising from non-fulfilment of desires of our ancestors, particularly during amavasya. For this reason, shradhs are performed during ashwin maas.
It is believed that once shradh or pinda dana is successfully performed at Gaya, in Bihar, there is no need to perform the ritual thereafter. The only ritual that has to be performed is ‘remembrance’ on the shradh day, by doing some charity in their name.
Astrologically, the importance of Gaya is due to its on this planet. A prayer or a ritual carried geo-location out here is quite effective as it reaches its desired destination, provided it has been sincerely said and precisely performed.