THE MAHALAYA AMAVASYA.
"ALL SOULS DAY."
The fortnight preceding the New Moon of the 22nd September is consecrated by the Hindus for worship of their Pitris or the Sainted Dead. The Puranas tell us that when the Sun enters the Sign Virgo, the Fathers come down to the earth to renew and strengthen the bonds that draw them to their posterity. They hover over the sub-lunar sphere which was their former abode and are satiated with the good things which their descendants offer them with due ceremony.
The place where the oblations are to be made, must be sequestered, facing the south, the region of the departed spirits, and besmeared with cow-dung. The divine Manes are always pleased with an oblation offered in empty glades, naturally clean, on the banks of rivers and in solitary spots. But during this fortnight they are a little less fastidious and accept offerings made in one's own house with as much zest as those made in Gaya on ordinary occasions.
The pious folks with whom the work-a-day world is not too much, and whose minds turn heavenwards, offer them the tarpana (water oblation) of each of the fourteen sacred days. The more worldly people, however, reserve their complete homage to their Manes for the last day of the dark fortnight, which is the Mahalaya Amavasya. The heavenly fathers come down to earth with a determination to receive their due and linger on it till the Sun enters the Sign Scorpio, i.e., till about the next Full-Moon day. Hence if one fails to perform puja to them during these days, one may do so during the fortnight succeeding the New-Moon. If even then the oblations are not made, they are supposed to go away disappointed cursing their undutiful children.
The following is the song of the Pitris heard by Ikshvaku, the son of Manu, in the groves of Kalapa (skirts of the Himalayas):- "Those of our descendants shall follow a righteous path, who shall reverently person us with cakes at Gaya. May he be born in our race, who shall give us on the 13th of Bhadrapada (September-October) and Magha (February), milk, honey, and clarified butter." – Vishnu Purana.
The Pitris do not care so much for the nature and quality of the things offered as for the proper thoughts, words, etc., of their votaries. If these are satisfactory and pleasing, then, on being invited, they come and take their places according to their rank on small cusions made of folded blades of grass. Their gratification depends not only on the quality of the offering but also on the appositeness of the occasion. The days considered fir for their worship are those of the New-Moon, the New year, Solar and Lunar eclipses, certain lunation's of the dark fortnights, the solstices and when the Sun is in Aries.
The chief characteristic of all religion is a dependence on the unknown. A very early manifestation of this sense of dependence was a belief, springing up naturally in the hearts of the people that their fathers and mothers, when they departed this life, departed to a Beyond, wherever it might be, From a belief that their fathers existed somewhere, though they could not see them anymore, might have arisen also a belief in another Beyond, the dwelling place of the Gods. The instinctive belief in the immortality of the soul is but another phase of the primitive love of the child for father and mother.
The worship of the ancestors has played a most important part in India from the most ancient to the modern times. There are hymns in the Rig-Veda addressed to the Fathers. There are full descriptions of the worship due to the Fathers in the Brahmanas and Sutras. The epic poems, the law books, the Puranas, are full of references to the worship of the ancestors. The whole social fabric of India, with its laws of inheritance and marriage, rests on a belief in them. So great was the importance attached to the worship of the Pitris that we read in Manu (III. 203): "An oblation by Brahmans to their ancestors transcends an oblation to the duties."
The worship of the dead is common to all Indian races. A living faith in the departed ones forms an important element of the religious cults of even those tribes who do not betray any signs of having come under the influence of the Aryans. The Ghasiyas and the Kharwars of Northern India and the Kisans, Bhuiayrs, the Bhils and the Santals of Central India, all worship their dead. It is a striking and important feature of the religion of the Khands, who propitiate their ancestors on every occasion of worship. The Yerukalas (Koravar) and the Yenadis of Southern India do not lag behind the other aborigines in their ardor for the worship of their dead.