The Story Behind Mahalaya Amavasya

Today is Mahalaya Amavasya. What does a day dedicated to honoring those who have passed, have to do with the Mahabharata?

Also known as: Pitru Moksha Amavasya, Pitru Amavasya, or Sarvapitri Amavasya. It marks the beginning of a 15 day period to pay homage to our ancestors.

It usually falls between September and October. This year, it’s from October 1st through October 16th.

It is celebrated worldwide; particularly popular in West Bengal and other parts of India. Families set up altars with pictures of their ancestors, offer water, flowers, incense, and a lit diya (lamp), recite prayers or mantras, and share food offerings as prasad with the less fortunate.


What is this 15-day period and how significant it is? 

This 15 day period is known as Pitru Paksha. During this time the souls of our ancestors are thought to be closest to the earth, roaming around.

In Pitru Paksha, the family performs rituals and rites in the belief that it would help our ancestors to attain peace and give us and our lineage their blessings. The family make sure that the ritual is performed perfectly well because, if not, our ancestors soul may leave the earth feeling dejected that we did nothing for them.

In several parts of India, there are still some regions where these rituals and rites are performed yearly, on the day of our ancestors death, in a belief that we may have left somethings to do that our ancestors wanted to do.


How do we ensure that our ancestors soul is in peace?

This is the main part for this ritual. If this is not happen, the whole family will be saddened for sure. During Shraadh, the family cooks a meal in memory of their loved one and serve it to a crow. If the crow accepts the food, it is considered that our ancestors soul has attained peace.

Do you think what is up with this crow?

There is a belief that Crows are believed to be the link between the two worlds (living and the dead), as ancestors visit the living in the form of a crow. When the crow accepts the food, the family feels like ancestors are having the food.


Let understand this with a short story in Mahabharat!!! 

Once upon a time, there was an extraordinary warrior named Karna. He was the older half-brother of the Pandavas -- the very guys he was fighting against. But because he was born "spiritually" out of wedlock, he was put up for adoption, and didn't learn about his birth mother, Kunti, until he was on the path to kill one of her (other) sons, Arjuna.

These details aren't relevant to the story -- just giving you added context.

This story isn't about his life though. 
It's about his "life" after death.

When Karna died and went to heaven, he was offered gold and jewels to eat as food. While he had donated a ton of wealth during his lifetime, he had failed to offer any food to those in need. To make amends, Lord Yama (the God of death) allowed Karna to return to earth for 15 days so that he could perform Shraadh and donate food and water to the poor, in his ancestors' memory.

If we fail to acknowledge them, they leave feeling dejected that we did nothing for them. Whereas if we perform the appropriate rituals and rites, they attain peace and in turn, give us and our lineage their blessings.

This 15 day period is known as Pitru Paksha, during which time the souls of our ancestors are thought to be closest to the earth, roaming around.

Rituals and theology aside, Mahalaya Amavasya is meant to remind us of all the things we've taken for granted.  Without our forefathers, we literally would not exist. Nor would we be where we are today without their contributions (i.e.: we wouldn't have cars without a horse carriage). So while on the surface, we perform these rituals to pay homage to those who have passed, it's actually an expression of gratitude for all those generations who lived before us.

I didn't mean to skip the last two weeks of #TheologyThursday but I've been trying to figure out how to prioritize things as I step into my new role, working on Modi Toys full time. But yesterday, both my MIL and mom casually made a reference to Mahalaya Amavasya and Shraadh, and it reminded me why I started this series in the first place: to uncover "the why" behind our traditions and rituals.


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Modi Toys is a children's brand of toys and books inspired by ancient Hindu culture. We exist to spread joy and to spark curiosity in the next generation through our innovative soft plush toys, illustrated children's books and free learning resources. Our weekly Theology Thursday series covers a wide range of topics rooted in Hinduism to help us better understand the origins of traditions, the symbolic meaning of rituals, and the stories behind Hindu holidays and festivals. The more we can understand "the why" behind this 4,000 year ancient religion, and make sense of it in this modern age, the greater we can appreciate and preserve our rich Hindu culture. While we take great care in thoroughly researching the information presented, we may occasionally get some things wrong. We encourage a healthy and open dialogue so we can learn together. Please leave a comment below or email us directly at to address any concerns. 


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